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Girl, Interrupted | Study Guide

Susanna Kaysen

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Girl, Interrupted | Borderline Personality Disorder | Summary



Quoting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, third edition (known as DSM-III), Susanna describes the nature of her mental illness: borderline personality disorder. The most prominent element of the diagnosis is an unstable image of self that manifests in an inability to negotiate successful relationships, make choices, and adopt or accept a consistent value system. Other symptoms are fear of abandonment and sudden mood swings. All these symptoms result in the inability to function well in society. Borderline personality disorder is more often seen in women.


Susanna quotes the definition of borderline personality disorder accepted by the medical establishment's authoritative source. The definition highlights the patient's shifting sense of self: if the sense of self is disturbed, a person's relation to the world is disturbed as well, and a diagnosis of borderline personality can be made.

The author points out that this diagnosis suggests nonconformity is a sign of mental disturbance. The diagnosis would have been tricky to confirm in the 1960s, when a massive youth movement embraced nonconformity as its core belief. The author asks: Was her diagnosis legitimate, an error in judgment by a conventional medical establishment, or a combination of the two?

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