Kelly Bensimon: Borderline personality disorder comorbid with Paranoid Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a case study
Kelly’s full disclosure of her deeply integrated personality disorder totally came clean in this season of the Real Housewives of New York. It’s actually disturbing, mostly because she is so deeply primitive, and shows such evidence of deep trauma and woundedness that has permanently bifurcated her personality. One can only imagine the extent to which her trauma had split her ego wide open, shattering any sense of cohesiveness her psyche may have once had. Under stress, Kelly’s ego crumbles and she fully let that freak flag fly. My diagnosis is borderline personality disorder comorbid with narcissistic personality disorder co-co-morbid with paranoid delusions and passing lapses into psychosis.
Its almost funny watching the way of the borderline. Everything that comes out of their mouth is straight projection — she attacks someone, then retreats into delusions, claiming she was attacked. She goes from victim to bully to victim to bully while switching sides almost seamlessly, leaving you questioning your own sanity. The black/white, the off/on, the defenses that are raised by a hairpin trigger are all classic borderline. Her ego is unable to handle the stress that her narcissism presents on a daily basis so her personality structure works the way it knows how. The mirror is so everpresent with Kelly, everything must revolve around her or she will simply fall apart. When the spotlight goes on someone else, even for a millisecond, the razors come out. Her defense is up and the projection begins. Bethenny cooks a dinner for the women on the yacht, and her ego is unable to handle the threat this presents, so she goes into primitive survival-mode. She must derail Bethenny and attempt a power grab for the spotlight at all costs. Her ego and her needs as a human depend on it. I can’t help but wonder if her experience in the modeling industry, dealing with narcissists on an almost 24/7 basis, in an industry rooted in the most narcissistic of impulses, just further traumatized an otherwise traumatized child.
I imagine her children will either be deeply traumatized themselves or go on to be the kind of survivors that become therapists and analysts themselves. They might walk away from their harried childhoods with either major drug addictions and image problems or the ineffable strength that comes from surviving such a childhood. Actually, the younger one, Teddy, shows much promise — the way she defines herself with cutting humor and jabs at her mother — and this is coming from like, a 9 year old — are the kind of skills possessed by those gifted enough to survive a mother like that.
I imagine what it must feel like to be Kelly’s analyst, the deep empathy you’d have to develop in order to tolerate her and her delusional bullshit. I imagine empathizing for the wounded child locked inside of her 40 year old body. The abuse one must endure in order to be so primitively integrated — all of her defenses are on, all of the time, you say the sky is blue, she insists that its black. And then claim that you’re colorblind. Watching the manner in which she is so viscerally triggered by her jealousy of Bethenny really takes you back to the 7th grade.
I recall the episode last season when LuAnn’s mother is featured. The woman was like Queen fucking Elizabeth, a stone cold stoic in a Janet Reno dress. Their conversation was beyond distant, yet LuAnn tried to evoke some kind of false tenderness which was painful to watch. Hopefully her daughter, Victoria, finds herself a good therapist and puts in some good time on the couch. LuAnn’s son is definitely, I mean, most likely gay, and what a surprise, considering the lack of fathering he’s probably gotten — I’m sure having a professional narcissistic Count as a father wouldn’t provide much in the way of fuzzy, quality father/son bonding, let alone cohesive gender identity.
The triumvirate between Kelly, Jill and LuAnn exists because their ego structures allow for it — they are the only ones that could tolerate that behavior from each other. Every narcissist often finds themselves at the helm of a borderline. The borderline and the narcissist are really the tweedle dee to each other’s tweedle dum. Jill and LuAnn are narcissists, text book style — LuAnn, a model, daughter of a stoic WASP, and Jill, daughter of another narcissist — will naturally attract the neediness and mirroring that a Borderline can provide. In typical narcissistic fashion, Jill crashes Ramona’s party and is completely unable to recognzie the needs and emotional states of the other women. Watching her pathetic bid for dominance backfire in St John is so sweet, the ultimate in schadenfreude — it made me want to lend her 48 Laws of Power and the name of a good analyst.
Alex initially came off as one of the more heinous housewives to me — something about her airy pretension and more-sophisticated-than-you attitude was so transparent that I just had to hate her. Not this season, folks. Alex has softened on me — and what once came off as abject narcissism has transmogrified into a more obvious insecurity that makes me empathize with her. Ultimately Alex is a gangly, awkward nerd inside and this facade of hers is just that, a facade. Behind the off season St. Barths and Brooklyn boutiques is an awkward girl that I would have probably befriended in high school. The real Alex McCord might just be a real person with feelings and thoughts and whatever. I’ve been noticing it more and more in the past few episodes, and something more forgiveable has emerged.
Perhaps it was the cringe-worthy tennis match between Simon and Mario (that is its own post right there) that softened her edge, or maybe it was the scenes and exchanges between Alex and Bethenny that just seem so…normal. It’s almost out of place to witness their conversations and not feel a twinge of hatred, envy or contempt — they just seem…normal? Perhaps I’ve lost my edge here and have undergone some sort of Real Housewives Stockholm Syndrome, but I stand firm in my defense of Alex.
It strikes me that maybe Alex has a narcissistic father — the type of name dropping aesthete that Simon strives to be — and perhaps we can see that in her lifestyle she strives to please, or reamain united with him. Or perhaps her mother was the overbearing type, demanding perfection and status from her brood that would lay the ground work for her and Simon’s endless Jones-ing, or keeping up with whatever standard of affluence their Brooklyn life affords them. My vote is on the father as being the narcissistic black hole — but as with most narcissists (prime example: Ramona and Mario) they tend to find one another and breed a narcissistic family — so she could easily have a narcissistic mother, too.
But family underpinnings aside, Alex’s humility and somewhat likeableness have penetrated my stone cold heart and I have developed sympathy for her — it cannot be easy to be on a reality show, nor can it be easy to be on a reality show like Real Housewives where your “character” is subject to being reviled by the entire country. Rough, right? But I digress — the scene where Alex meets with Bethenny to discuss her logo have began painting her in a positive light. She actually works and has an artistic talent! Imagine that? Can Ramona claim the same for herself? Hardly. I respect Alex and her intelligence — despite the painful pretentiousness she slips into from time to time — and the fact that she is a capable graphic artist is something to be noted. And appreciated, depending on your perspective.
Ordered from most-sane to most-insane, this list pretty accurately matches each “housewife” and their corresponding level of crazy:
1. Bethenny Frankel most-sane
2. Jill Zarin somewhat sane/occasional momentary delusions of grandeur
3. Alex McCord moderately/somewhat sane/delusional
4. LuAnn De Lesseps moderately/somewhat sane with occasional delusions of grandeur
5. Ramona Singer somewhat sane/delusional/narcissistic/neurotic
6. Kelly Bensimon hardly sane/borderline/immature
Oh holy god. I don’t think you can write this shit. Actually, I know you can’t, because the performance seen on tonight’s Real Housewives of NYC episode showcased Kelly Bensimon’s full-blown personality disorder and back alley acting skills beyond the scope of any typical reality show script. This is like, The Hills in the throes of Paxil withdrawal. Seriously there aren’t enough therapists, publicists or method acting coaches in the world to help this woman. Tonight Kelly Bensimon let the world know that she is truly, utterly, fucking insane. Whether or not she wanted to become “the Villian” on the show and use that to help propel her “career” — she writes for articles, remember? — is beyond me, but if that was her intention, then it is so gloriously failing and I’m loving every moment of it!
Watching her rant at the seemingly composed and mentally-sound Bethenny provide the perfect foil on which to examine her. After all, how do we know what is insane without knowing what is sane? In contrast to Bethenny’s adult behavior, we can clearly understand that Kelly’s emotional maturity and sense of self are probably on par with that of a teenager. She shows us the simplest of all defense mechanisms: she projects, she lies, she reaction formations. If the attention shifts toward someone else we see her eyes glaze over in disinterest. She acts like a pro of the cool social brush off, the eye roll, the flippant “that’s so cute” — what, is that her answer to Paris Hilton’s trademarked “that’s hot?” Seriously? Am I really watching this? In Kelly we see an immaturity that more closely resembles an angry 14 year old than that an early 40s casting couch whore. She shows us that perhaps being an upwardly mobile ex-model and wannabe socialite means little more than acting like a sadistic cheerleader drunk on the koolaid of her own narcissistic grandeur.
I am an east coast gal, so perhaps I could never truly “get” the ridiculous opulance and suburban sprawl seen in Real Housewives of the OC — I just don’t fully understand the nature of gated communities nor do I get the outdated philosophies of a Republican stronghold like Orange County. But I digress — this post is about NYC and why I find this series highly, highly entertaining!
Another thing that is unique about NYC is that the social stratification goes back much further than the modern-day real estate boom that made the OC what it is today. The Astors ruled the social world in NYC for decades longer than Coto de Caza even had a zipcode. The bootstrapping moms of the OC like Vicki Gunvalson, who went from single parenthood to OC ballin’ by doing nothing more than hard work, have no place in NYC. In New York there are middle class people who would be considered rich in any other city, Rich people who are just well off, and actual wealthy people — as in, the social elite, or “socialites” if you will. The latter are a sect of people whose social ascent is strictly upward — these are the children and spouses of the old Money — the bankers, the original J and P and Morgans and Chases, or at least, the people who run in the same circles as Rich People with a capital R. But the history lesson stops there — perhaps the only people with a legitimate “claim” on this lifestyle are ex-models and sometime-elite LuAnn Delesseps (I refuse to call her the Countess) and Kelly Bensimon. While these two women are nowhere near the level of status as say, the Hearsts, their stake in the NYC social world is strictly based on their ability to fuck, marry and breed with rich, powerful men. The buck stops there, really, because no self respecting “real socialite” would ever be caught dead on such a dangerously pedestrian show like Real Housewives. (Side note: Olivia Palermo, despite your best efforts on MTV’s The City to portay otherwise, you are not a real socialite. Sorry!)
But regardless, someone like Kelly Bensimon (an ex-model, emphasis on the ex, because despite her height, really, much is left to our imagination how someone like her could ever be conceived as a face for Clarins — credit to her wikipedia article there) is probably the only “legitimate” socialite on the show. To quote my favorite “character”, Bethenny Frankel, Kelly runs with the “fabulosity crowd” and made a name for herself after fucking, breeding and divorcing her pseudofamous French fashion photographer ex husband Gilles Bensimon.
Now I’ll admit it, this is one of my favorite shows. Real Housewives of Orange County isn’t so much amusing as it is able to invoke the most basic of all Schadenfreude in its viewers — I don’t envy you nor do I want your wife and all the bullshit that being Nouveau Riche brings with it.
This season brings with it a new dynamic with the arrival of two new housewives, Lynne Curtin, a 40-something matron who imagines herself as still being 22, and Gretchen Rossi, a gorgeous yet possibly sociopathic gold digger with a sugar daddy who paid her to take care of him during his battle with cancer. Judgments aside, this was one of the most entertaining seasons yet!
I’m not sure what it is — perhaps its Orange County itself that acts as a perfect lens from which to examine the series. This opulent coastal location provides a perfectly sterile backdrop on which to project the ridiculous notions of wealth and beauty that the OC matrons provide. Now I am not going to do a full character rundown here – if you need to refer to the cast of players, check out Bravo’s Real Housewives of Orange County site here, and follow along.
I’ll start with my favorites. Tamra Barney is perhaps the most amusing of the bunch – she seems to show a shred of humility and humor from behind her overly botoxed mug. One can strongly suspect narcissism here, after Tamra emerged as the “hottest housewife” in the group. Tamra offered us her natural beauty and spunk, but following her debut on the series, she returned to the show with a freshly taut face and a new set of implants. Whatever. But after watching Tamra on the reunion, she was even more plastic than she was before! This partially saddened me because owing to her natural looks, she didn’t really need to improve upon her “floor model” of a face. It is sad to see that once-hot moms like Tamra and Lauri Waring totally bastardize their looks with one too many Restalyne injections and one too many sessions with the collagen lip plumper. Tamra, if you’re out there, listen to me. Stop now. Stop now while you’re ahead! You are so beautiful and genuine (for the most part), so quit trying to improve upon what was already a perfect model! This is what the disease of narcissism does – it makes you want to turn back the hands of time and try to tear down your true self and rebuild your false self from some overly artificial model of hotness that your narcissistic mind has convinced you is real beauty. Tamra, you don’t want to end up like Faye Dunaway, stop now before you turn into a full fledged Lauri Waring.
I was unaware that people were actually reading this blog. I was also unaware that I had to “manually” approve my comments. So here, I will address all the previous comments stemming from the fact that I made the claim that Katelynn’s father is gay — let me back up and say that by no means do I equate being gay with being a pathological narcissist. I think gay people can make wonderful, loving parents. And truly, the only thing that matters in a child’s life is love, security and acceptance — unconditional love and acceptance, that is.
But back to the topic of gay — If both of the child’s parents are emotionally present and treat their children fairly, with love, nurturing, guidance and appropriate discipline, then wonderful parents they will make. However, something is clearly remiss in the dynamic of Rob and Cristina. And on that note, allow me to admit that for the record that I don’t feel particularly comfortable running through the gamut of judgment in regards to a small, relatively defenseless child. I don’t feel particularly comfortable referring to Katelynn in such a critical manner – she did not ask to be born nor did she ask to become a beauty queen. Her natural beauty was a gift, and one that should not be used to manipulate her – from here on out these judgments will be leveled at her caretakers, for they are the ones with the power and ability to control their behavior and curtail their own narcissism in order to best accommodate their child’s needs.
While many in the psychoanalytic community see homosexuality as a neurotic lifestyle choice, let us leave those assumptions at the door, and instead focus on the ability to parent, regardless of sexual preference. Rob comes off as a highly insecure person – one doesn’t need to cite the times he is seen conducting interviews from behind his stunna shades. I mean, come the f on, Kanye West you are not. We can imagine that this behavior will go on to eventually embarrass his daughter – as Rob ages, we can imagine that like many narcissistic women, he will fight this natural progression with whatever method he can – botox, chemical peels, steroids – to continue to prop up his false-self with flashy fashions and be-dazzled sunglasses. Will his daughter learn to find her self worth inside or will she constantly look to others to evaluate her worthiness?
One chief characteristic of narcissistic parents is their inability to regard their child’s needs, especially when the child’s needs are perceived as inferior to that of the parent’s. This is seen during the series when various young girls are in the throes of a temper tantrum or are otherwise rebelling against the restriction that training for a pageant brings. It seems the editors don’t show us examples of the parents taking a time to “check in” with their child and their feelings regarding the pageant. If the argument continually remains “but she loves doing it! she wants to be in pageants!” then why are the editors showing us examples of the children, rather visibly and audibly, expressing their discontent with pageantry?
One must begin to wonder what happens to the budding and fragile self concept of a young girl when she is trained to sublimate her uniqueness into the robotic canned response of a beauty queen. What would happen during interview if when asked what her favorite activity was she said “playing in the mud” instead of “shopping for shoes!” Would the illusion shatter? Would the idea of these children parading around like prostitots suddenly seem unsavory? The very notion that these children must eliminate their true selves in favor for the manicured, spray tanned, teased, painted, prodded and poked version of them is just gross. The sense that thes girls have of their own worthiness is constantly being tested by their performance: they made a wrong turn there, pivoted on the wrong foot here, didn’t smile, smiled too much, forgot their lines, messed up their dance. At what point to these girls totally lose sense with themselves and truly perceive their performance as a real life indicator of their worth?
The chief hallmark of narcissistic parenting is the insistence, or pathological desire, to have one’s child mirror the image of the narcissistic parent’s idealized self. To narcissistic parents, there is no separation between parent and child. The lack of boundary between where the parent end and child begins is simply not present here — the children exist to fit into the role the parent has assigned them. In this case, Brandi Jean, Katelyn and countless others are here to be the perfect little girls their mothers (or fathers) require them to be. Obeying and fulfilling this role offers parental love and approval. Losing and rebelling against these restrictions bring conflict and rejection. The mothers may insist the pageants are the child’s choice but how many 6 year olds choose long days of choreography and spray tanning over playing are few and far between. But any child will do what it has to do in order to receive parental love. The seeds of narcissism are being sown.
One interesting fact to note is that these beautiful girls are often the products of obese women whose days of beauty are long gone, or perhaps, never were. We wonder if their beautiful daughters winning titles substantiating their beauty allow their mothers, by extension, to be beautiful, too. Or perhaps the mothers as children were beautiful, or only valued for their beauty, and grew up subscribing to the edict of beauty above all else. Being raised in a family where image is everything can leave a dark hole of need when those superficial notions of worthiness are absent.
Here we meet Katelyn, a beautiful 6 year old with a beautiful,yet narcissistic mother, Cristina, and a narcissistic father, Rob, who is of dubious sexuality, but I’ll leave that last topic for another post. Jayne, on the contrary, is also another beautiful and precious girl, yet her parents don’t seem to possess the same degree of toxicity that we see in Kaitlyn’s parents. Jayne’s mother, Irina, is a transactional attorney from Eastern Europe and is portrayed as the easygoing foil to Katelyn’s intensely competitive parents. I am aware that dynamic could have been manufactured in the editing room, but somehow I don’t really think that’s the case.
One is left to wonder if it is Jayne’s mother’s immigrant status that leaves her as coming off more humane. Possibly she is lacking the American “go hard or go home” ethos and is able to allow her daughter to partake in the joy of the pageant without placing unrealistic expectations on her performance. Or more importantly, perhaps Jayne’s mother lacks the ability to dissect her daughter for parts of “usefulness,” in this case, beauty, that can serve as ego-gratifying extensions to the parent’s fragile sense of self. We can see Jayne’s mother’s lack of enmeshment in the pageant when she describes the beauty element of the competition as the “dressy wear part.” Perhaps her career as a lawyer fulfills a void in her own ego that doesn’t need to be filled by vicariously living through her child.
In one scene we see Katelyn Torres crying in the corner of the hotel room, just minutes before she is scheduled to go on for the “wow wear” portion of the contest. After being brutally rejected by her mother for coloring outside of the lines for her own spirit sign, she seeks solace in the corner of the hotel room, near her mother’s friend Lorena who also serves as her hairstylist. While in the midst of tears, her mother scolds her for crying and insists she will mess up her makeup if she continues. Lorena comforts her and says it will be okay. We wonder if this moment is just one of many that will serve as a place of deep wounding for Katelyn. Following a brutal rejection, the warm comfort of Norena has the ability to offset, or at least lessen the severity of her pain, knowing that she is still worthy of affection despite coloring outside the lines. Ultimately, Katelyn is reassured by her narcissistic mother that she isn’t “bad at coloring” but to add insult into injury, she is reassured that she is better at coloring than her cousin. Comparing one’s performance or achievement to another child’s is a prime example of narcissistic parenting. But after all, this is a beauty pageant we are talking about. It’s not exactly the extracurricular of choice for parents with healthy sense of self.