Given your response to Dominique in the newspaper, I would urge you both to educate yourselves around mental illness and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) so as to give appropriate advice.
Your letter displayed a lack of understanding and empathy for the writer and her sister. Given mental illness is prevalent and a growing concern in our society, to suggest to the writer that she give up on her sister, is frankly, not only ill-conceived but dangerous. You may not be aware how debilitating BPD can be, a mental illness which, for some people, can result in suicide.
Not only have you impacted the letter writer, but also others who are struggling with family members who have BPD symptoms or a BPD diagnosis, which is still largely misunderstood.
Ideally the writer and her sister should have been directed to seek professional advice to find a way forward and maybe this is still something you should do by retracting your advice and offering an apology.
cc: to newspaper editor
Gretchen, usually when we receive a letter like yours, it is because the column tripped the writer’s hot button. As is normally the case, your hot button and the facts in the column are at a variance.
A woman wrote asking for advice. She has been the target of rages and horrific verbal abuse from her sister for 20 years. She suspects her sister has BPD, but that sister will not allow herself to be diagnosed. The sister has been urged to get help by boyfriends, friends, family, and most remarkably, even her bosses.
The letter writer has offered to pay for her sister’s counseling, suggested hotlines and organizations, written heartfelt letters and had heartfelt conversations. None of it worked.
Now you want to shame the letter writer into being the victim of a woman with undiagnosed problems who refuses to get treatment. You want to use guilt on her by mentioning suicide, though there was no indication of suicide in the letter.
We’re not having it.
People bright enough to read the newspaper are bright enough to know there is help out there. “Seek professional help” might be news to the Awá in the Brazilian rainforest, but it is not news or helpful to the rest of us. The Awá don’t read our column. In fact, they don’t read at all.
Where is your compassion for the sister who is being tormented? What is clear to us is that you don’t want her to have a life.
Not only did you write us, you wrote the editor to silence us. “I’m telling your boss” doesn’t work on us. We don’t tailor our answers to please or displease newspaper editors. They, like we, are free to make their own decisions.
After we sent Dominique our answer, this is how she replied:
“Hello Wayne and Tamara, Thank you for such a thoughtful, incisive response. You are telling me much of what I already knew, maybe I was looking for permission, maybe I needed someone besides me to see the truth.
“Your advice is spot on. You are right, I need to close the curtain. Thank you again for all that you do and for your help. Warm Regards, Dominique.”
In Laurence Sterne’s novel Tristram Shandy, the narrator talks about his Uncle Toby. Uncle Toby is fixated on reenacting famous battles. It’s his hobbyhorse, and the term “hobbyhorse” refers generally to any topic a person can’t let go of.
Sterne’s narrator says, “…so long as a man rides his Hobby-Horse peaceably and quietly along the King’s highway, and neither compels you or me to get up behind him, pray, Sir, what have either you or I to do with it?”
We aren’t going to ride your hobbyhorse. Life offers tough choices. Platitudes don’t help. Our desire for happy endings does not outweigh reality.
~ Wayne & Tamara
Direct Answers Column for the week of April 1, 2019
Send Letters to: [email protected]
Wayne & Tamara answer as many letters as they possibly can.