Lady Diana, Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Lady Diana’s headstone.
Photo courtesy pixabay.

Did Lady Diana have Bipolar disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, or what?

Some interesting questions from reader Gledwood about Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Lady Diana. See the comments after Levels or Types of Borderline Personality Disorder.

I never met Lady Diana and am not so much a follower of royalty, so I can’t give you a specific diagnosis about her. In fact, it is considered unprofessional for therapists to give opinions on someone they have not assessed. But maybe I can give you some general answers on these two conditions and on how psychiatric labels may not fit celebrities very well.

1. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Bipolar are very different conditions.

There may be some small similarities and someone could have both but my thinking is there are quite different conditions.

BPD is like a volcano erupting. Huge uncontrollable emotions. They love you – then they hate you, sometimes the emotions change in the same hour. BPD has a huge pain component. Most people with BPD were abused, molested, or had a non-affirming childhood. People with BPD often self-harm and they do it to relieve the pain not to find pleasure. They have trouble coping with negative emotions and will frantically try to find ways to stop having to feel bad.

Medication may help BPD and so will therapy but it is a slow process.

Bipolar is like a ride through the mountain in a car.

Sometimes down in the valleys in the shade and other times up near the top in the sun. Bipolar also involves some irresponsible impulsive behavior when manic but it is more about impulsive over-seeking of pleasure than anger-driven. The ups and downs happen more slowly and someone with Bipolar can have years of depressed behavior and mouths or years of overactive pressured behavior. Bipolar Disorder often responds to medication. Over-responding to antidepressants is one characteristic that makes us think – Bipolar.

Someone with Bipolar can be trapped by depression for long periods of time and stay stuck there.

Diana Spencer and Lady Diana were probably very different people.

Public figures are often very different in their personal lives than their public lives. The Royals can’t very well hang out at the local bar (or Pub.) Take that press about what someone is like based on their public appearances with a lot of salt. Many comedians and singers are very shy in small groups but once on stage, they can assume a whole other “persona.”

Fans need to be careful to not confuse the person with the character they play. Celebrities have the same problem and start thinking they are their character. There is a difference between being “typecast” and always portraying the villain and those performers who play themselves while on stage. My guess is that having to play the role made it hard for her to maintain old friendships and relationships.

The diagnostic criteria professionals use and the popular meaning of terms are not the same.

I see way too many people who are being called “Bipolar” who are moody, irritable or just plain hard to get along with but they do not necessarily have periods of either depression or mania.

The DSM descriptions are a lot longer than the oversimplified description in most blog posts. There are 11 factors listed for mania and mania is only one factor needed for a diagnosis of Bipolar I Disorder. Professionals need a lot of information before making these decisions.

Symptoms of both these and other disorders are normal traits that get out of control.

Despite the fact that I get paid to treat people with mental illnesses and substance use disorders I think we are trying to turn a lot of normal human emotions into diseases.

Everybody gets sad sometimes. Most of us do impulsive things. If you have never acted on an impulse we think you may have a problem with being obsessive or compulsive. Lots of us get into disagreements and don’t want to be around or talk to others who annoyed us. Someone who has BPD has a pattern of lots of unstable relationships their whole life.

The labels Bipolar and BPD apply to people with severe forms of these conditions; there are a whole lot of other people who have a few characteristics, sort of like one of these conditions. If you have just a few symptoms, counseling or other preventative measures may help you avoid developing a full-blown disease.

Other posts on Borderline Personality Disorder include:

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

What causes Borderline Personality Disorder?

Levels or types of Borderline Personality Disorder

Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder

Hope that helped with the case of Lady Diana, Bipolar, and Borderline Personality Disorder.

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4 thoughts on “Lady Diana, Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder

  1. I have a question which noboby ever seems to be able to answer effectively, but which is very important to me!

    Before asking the question, a little info …
    1) WHAT HAPPENED: I survived a most traumatic relationship with a narcissist;
    2) WHY?: I was too naive and too young and immature to understand who i was trying to relate to, plus i am an empath (not pollyanna though); plus I was wrongly taught that being patient and forgiving is natural and rational, because nobody’s perfect;
    3) PTSD: I was deeply affected by him and, as a result, a year after the discard, i was still so messed up that, for the first (and only) time in my life,
    at the time i even experienced one episone of dissociation, when subjected to further abuse in the working environment (I guess i just could not take any more of that, that i just paralized there and then, unnaturally calm though, feeling nothing except my body!), plus i kept dreaming about him;
    4) CONSEQUENCES: I reacted by becoming the exact opposite of what I was: from TOTALLY naive to TOTALLY suspicious and terrified of people (always wondering
    about their words, “WHAT and WHY are they saying THIS to me? What do they expect my reaction will be?” I even started obsessing about my own EYES
    and about keeping check with an absolute blank non revealing stare HOW others are watching ME through their eyes, to instantly notice IF they are
    getting my emotions and if they are making subtle sadistic smirks or smiles as a result of possibly detecting ANY kind of weak emotion,
    like fear, on my part; also new to me, I now can get terrible rages if I ever so get the feeling smbdy is treating me like my exN did).
    So: it’s like i feel a part of him is inside me, i don’t know how else to describe it!
    But still, the apparently contradictory thing is that: i am enormously more empathic than i used to be, like my empathy got enhanced somehow, not lessened!
    i.e. i sense other people’s pain immensly to the point i feel pain too if i see others sad (trust me: i experienced some remarkable situations
    where it was like i FELT all the pain the other person was feeling, instantly, to the point that i would start crying and sobbing and
    feeling desperate all of a sudden just looking through their eyes! Now i feel absolutely very protective and even more totally respectful and
    loving towards people who suffer, more than any other time before in my life!)

    POSITIVE ASPECTS ABOUT the N-experience:
    1) I now sincerely understand that being alone CAN be a blessing indeed, and that ANYTHING is better than being with Narcissists, given that you RECOGNISE that you are dealing with one;
    2) I now understand that my personal (human AND therefore NORMAL) fears, which all normal people have (loneliness, emptiness, finity,
    fear itself, sadness, not being worthy …), CAN be artfully used by others against me, and by means of myself
    (in other words: Ns let others be ruled by their own fears, … and when N-supply (this is what i was for him, an object)
    ultimately finds out, we have the additional self-blame and shame for letting Ns do this to us by our own selves!).
    3) I now understand that there are people with NO EMPATHY … believe it or not! understand it/accept it or not!
    4) I now am humble, and will NEVER ever again say “it could not happen to me!”, instead i don’t judge, i shut up and think “unless you live
    through that, you cannot understand what it feels like!”

    Since I want to stay away as far as possible from Narcissists … here is the question:

    “When I first meet somebody, how do I know: …
    … if I am talking to a Narcissist …. (not again please!)”

    But, what I really mean is, how would I know:
    … for sure (no doubts, and excluding other pathologies, if there are other pathologies which are similar or easily mistaken for N)
    … from the start (possibly just after a few weeks or months from meeting somebody)

    IF you answered that only a very good psychiatrist can know, and that there is no way for me to know …
    would you be implying that I am condemned to either:
    1) isolate myself from ANYBODY else
    2) or else, subject myself to possible Ns and ultimately find out, i.e. to find out only when it is too late for me to avoid feeling abused again?

    1) the urge to TRUST smbdy can be strong, and make us biased when objectivity is required, … we all look for love and care, it’s human!
    2) the ability of Ns to conceal how UNCARING, MEAN, and FALSE they are is truly excellent … and one always wonders and wonders and wonders
    is he? isn’t he? is he? isn’t he? … to the point of self-torture!
    3) giving a list of narcissistic traits is not useful, we who were once traumatised know only too well the traits … especially when very visible at last!

    PLEASE help with some useful answer!

    Sorre about the fake email address but i want to keep privacy


    • From the sound of your email you have really been through it. Your questions deserve a full answer, unfortunately that would take more time than I have this morning. Let me give you the short version. At this point you probably know more about narcissists than most professionals. We can study them in books but they almost never show up for treatment. They are convinced that there is nothing wrong with them and they send the others in their life to get fixed. Only the most severe narcissists are seen and then in a prison or psych hospital after some awful crime. You are probably becoming more empathetic because of “common bond” alcoholics empathise with other alcoholics, DV sufferers recognize each other and so on. The key for you recovery is to recognize that there are degrees of narcissism and degrees of trust. You need to learn to trust some but not to much and to look for excessive self-thinking rather than just narcissism,. Those with N are good at hiding this for a long time. Watch how this other person treats people who are of no use to them. It is easy to act nice to someone you want to get something from but they do not act nice to people that will not be of use to them.
      Lastly you may need a period of healing where you try to avoid focusing on others, especial romantic relationships and you just work on self-care. Hope that helps.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your answer.

        Actually, your answer somehow gets very much to the crucial point:
        i.e. dealing with people (generally), and futher adds an angle the overall problem.

        You said I should understand that there are varying degrees of trust and of narcissism, and that i should focus on myself and pay attention how people react towards ALL other people, not just towards me or towards a few others who Ns could deem useful somehow.

        I value your advice, and it seems pretty sensible.
        At the same time though, I can’t help but feeling that it would be only too dangerous for me (or for anyone else) to believe that
        it is easy to get along in society without suffering damage, IF ONLY one is a healthy, well-balanced individual who is able to have the right attitude between:
        – excessive trust and excessive paranoia,
        – excessive self-insecurity and excessive self-assuredness,
        – excessive neediness and excessive self-sufficing
        – excessive selflessness, generosity, caring and excessive egotism, individualism, uncaring

        Once again, experience and instinct seem to warn me that the truth behind is far more elusive and complex.
        There is a saying that says “There is:
        – what you know you know
        – what you know you don’t know
        – and what you don’t know you don’t know (and this is scariest!)”

        Am i sounding paranoical?
        I can see that i sound a bit excessive, but i am willing to explain myself.

        I try to explain:

        Say for example we are in a common working environment or common real life social interaction (family, “friends” i.e. acquaintances).
        Say one might be able to get along nicely, without being too personal, no trust or distrust involved,
        with easiness, not feeling pressured to be liked or to show friendliness, being careful not to give
        messages which could be interpreted like “i want smthng from this interaction” or “you want smthng from my interaction”.
        Say one feels ok, it isn’t smthng difficult to do, because the N-experience made me stronger, therefore i
        am NOT faking it, but really i just want to live peacefully and relaxedly without being bothered or attracting Ns
        or the attention of any other kind of people, but just living and if someone gets interested to talk to me (not necessarily romantically)
        it is just because we have smthng interesting to share (culture, dialogue …) instead of reciprocal insecurities and personal issues.
        Ok, now say that i leave the working environment/social gatehring saying: “ok, nobody did me wrong, it was safe, no damage occured”.

        Would i be sure, else I be paranoical?

        Well, EXPERIENCE (not fantasy of my mind) has taught me it is PRECISELY “what you don’t know you don’t know” which is THE PROBLEM
        … which is the kind of thing about which Ns are expert about!

        I’ll explain how: Ns feed on ASYMMETRY OF INFORMATION, on ASYMMETRY OF KNOWLEDGE, on TRIANGULATION, on the ELUSIVENESS of how reality and
        interaction APPEAR (and what is reality BEHIND the curtains), i mean: they don’t really believe in reality anyway, they don’t even seem
        to have a coherent time-line in their life, apart from also pretending they don’t (which would be Gaslighting)!

        Anyway, I’ll explain how i learnt to fear WHAT I DON’T KNOW I DON’T KNOW, and why maybe i’m not that paranoical after all:

        i was nicely getting along with a man i interacted only to practice dialoguing in a foreign language,
        his brother is very interested in me and is very competitive with is brother, but nothing indicated that he could exaggerate
        in his efforts to isolate me from him and viceversa.

        One day, i meet again with the brother to speak german and somehow i sense that he behaves differently, coldly, even slighltly contemptuously,
        instead of just plain and normal like usual.
        I get baffled, and wonder if he is a little unbalanced after all, but anyhow, i’m used to the fact that people are strange sometimes
        and also our interaction is not based on personal trust so even if he were moody it wouldn’t really affect our interaction,
        since we only practice speaking german, and there’s nothing personal involved.

        Anyhow, deep inside, i must have associated the sudden change in his mood with my exN and i must have associated his with N-behaviour,
        therefore, after having bottled-up the negative association in my mind, I suddenly found myself (on impulse) telling him sarcastical things
        at a pizza gathering in front of his brother and two other people (his brother was amused, and in fact encouraged me to do so to some extent).
        At my light sarcasm, i could tell he was baffled.

        Only later, pondering, i suddenly realised (it was like an arrow in the brain for me really!)
        that his surprise at my sudden sarcasm somehow mirrored my own sense of bewilderment at his coldness during the dialogue in german.
        And when i realised it, i suddenly understood that we both had PROBABLY been manipulated (like puppets) from a master (unseen) pupeteer: his brother!
        Mind me, I can not be sure of it, it’s just my guess, but i think it is very likely!

        Most likely scenario: his brother (envious) told him some lie (or significantly changed the flavour) about smthng i would have said about him.
        As a result he was contemptuous towards me, leading him to treat me coldly (apparently without reason) and provoking my
        resentment (triggered by my interpretation of his behaviour like N-behaviour).
        My resentment, in turn, provoked my sarcasm towards him which again baffled him … but (strangely i thought) not his brother!

        Ta-ta!!! This is the masterpiece of utter chaos, confusion, manipulation and DIVIDE ET IMPERA of which Ns are capable of (and much worse)!

        So, you see: i’m not paranoical after all! It’s PRECISELY “what we don’t know that we don’t know” which makes N rule and disrupt us,
        no matter how balanced (but still human) WE are!
        Somehow, to be wise and balanced isn’t enough, when you don’t have the fantasy and malice which Ns have, unless i was a computer with no feelings!
        It’s like playing chess!!! Ns always think ahead (a million steps ahead), which i seem to be unable to do!
        While I rest, dream, eat, watch the world with wonder, …. an N would be thinking about his schemes and deciding what to do next
        to make other people’s lives a misery!

        Now, you might argue that i was unbalanced (and petty or immature) when i reacted with sarcasm to my subconscious resentment,
        and i would say “you are right!” … but that’s just the point, isn’t it?!
        WE ARE HUMAN, WE ARE NOT PERFECT, WE MAKE MISTAKES … and individuals with narcissistic personality disorder know that!!!

        And, there again, despite knowing how Ns behave and their overall distinctive “flavour”,
        i had NO WAY of suspecting/expecting that the guy would manipulate me and his brother
        like a typical N would do! Is he an N or just prone to behaving like one occasionally?
        The reason why i’m asking myself is that he is VERY different from my ex-N, so i’m wondering in how many different shapes they come!!!
        To be even more open to possible scenarios, he could simply have repeated behaviour which his brother might have used himself:
        they both might be Ns! But somhow a real N would not be fooled (even less: be surprised! They would quickly get the game and restore ranking order!)

        So, you see? Is there no hope to save oneself from the schemes one might find oneself involved into without even knowing?
        Is self-isolation the only possible remedy?! Because only if you don’t interact you can be sure that there’s nothing going on behind
        your back?!

        Also … somehow the most refined Ns never show you how they behave badly towards others … so you would not know, or suspect!
        In fact, it is quite the opposite!

        Here is an interesting example!

        Let’s say you enter a room and there’s someone sad and someonw very angry and bullying!
        Empath (with no knowledge of complexity of Ns) thinks:
        – poor person sad, he must be the victim!
        – bad person bullying, he must be the N!

        Well, WRONG GUESS!
        When, and IF, one of the two IS indeed one with a high degree of Narcissism (and knew you were an outsider watching):
        the N would be the one looking sad and victimised, while the bully would be the simply exasperated victim!

        You see … in the pizzeria i was (perceived as) the bullying N … and his brother was the (perceived) N when we were having german conversation
        and he suddenly was cold and overtly contemptuous)!
        But who was the REAL REAL N? Answer: the one you wouldn’t even see (!!!)… the amused spectator, the pupeteer behind the curtains!

        Also … the parents of these two, i happen to know them! I have a feeling that something’s off, but i don’t seem to get
        who’s the real pupeteer and what’s the game being played in this household!

        So … there again … how can I know there’s an N around BEFORE smthng like this happens (including in the equation that i am human and
        would make mistakes, instead of giving for granted that i would have to be perfect/and not make mistakes)?

        Because that’s just the point, to save oneself from this one would have to find a solution that would incorporate the fact that
        it’s impossible to be perfect, and therefore would be a responsive solution anyhow, incorporating that aspect too!

        P.S. About focusing on myself:
        It is three full years now (almost entering the fourth) that i have had time to heal and to ponder on my experience after the N discarded me,
        and i have kept far away from romance all these three years, no dates, no contact, just going along with my life
        and with my work. And it was just natural to me to keep away from romantic liasons, because i was feeling so empty and totally lifeless that i simply could not manage to forget about him all of a sudden, or pretend he never existed.
        Thankfully, now i reconciled with myself, and had the courage and patience to understand what happened and take my responsibilities.


  2. Pingback: Bipolar, Mania, Cyclothymic and Hyperthymic Posts | counselorssoapbox

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