If you aren’t yet familiar with it, “Bunny Boiling” is a term referencing a scene in the movie Fatal Attraction. The movie stars Glenn Close as a person who is supposed to have Borderline Personality Disorder. (I don’t agree with that assessment, but that’s the consensus.)
There’s a scene in the movie where Close’s character, Alex, in retaliation for a perceived slight from the object of her affection (Michael Douglas), takes his family’s pet rabbit and boils it on the stove. No, I haven’t watched this scene. I would freak out or throw up or something, so I leave it to others to write about it. I learned about the term on the excellent site Out of the Fog, which provides support and resources for people in relationships, whether chosen or unchosen, with people with Personality Disorders.
What it boils down to (sorry, bad pun) is that the disordered person, for whatever reason/non-reason, takes something that is precious to the person they want to hurt, and breaks/destroys/kills it. It’s not a pretty thing.
And that’s one of the reasons I don’t think “Bunny Boiling” is a feature of Borderline Personality Disorder. In my experience, Borderlines rarely if ever take out their anguish on other people in planned, complex ways. Borderlines turn their pain in on themselves, via self-harm that may either be physical such as cutting/overdosing, or in exposing themselves to danger, usually subconsciously. Some Borderlines have rage attacks and level their explosive anger at people they love, and some hit or throw things.
But they are usually contrite and filled with self-loathing after these spontaneous outbursts, and that’s when self-harm becomes a risk.
Please note: The characterizations of Personality Disorders you will see here are a combination of my own clinical experiences, cross-checked with the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V.
Contrast that with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, where the person does not feel disordered at all. Rather, s/he expects the world to put her on a pedestal and worship her. If she thinks she is not getting enough adulation, she will attempt to emotionally cow everyone in her inner circle, using an arsenal of weapons such as intimidation, gaslighting, temper tantrums, physical and/or emotional abuse, and disregard of boundaries. She is not above stealing from her own family, and she is not above….Bunny Boiling. Outside the family, she is all smiles and sunshine, usually a pillar of the community, craving (and getting) admiration and accolades at work and in the community. The family is powerless to gain support from the community, because if they try to get help no one believes them, because the disordered person is SUCH an angel, anyone who speaks against her must be the devil incarnate.
I’ve noticed some overlap here with Antisocial Personality Disorder. Both Narcissists and Antisocials tend to have no remorse for the sometimes heinous deeds they do. They will willingly steal, and feel that it’s merely what they deserve to have, after all. They both use others for their own designs. They lack empathy. Neither type has any problem with destroying things belonging to other people, although they do it for different reasons.
Narcissists will destroy things belonging to loved ones because they feel they are not getting the attention or adulation they deserve; therefore they will steal/break/destroy/kill something of special value to the loved one or family.
Antisocials don’t need a motive. They do destructive acts because they enjoy it. I have had some horrific experiences with Antisocials, and have observed them torturing animals and getting sexual pleasure from it. I’ve had Antisocial children in my pediatrics practice as young as five or six, who purposely set the house on fire or set the family cat on fire, etc. Therapy did not help. It’s tragic and terrifying to see this developing over time in a youngster. I know that some of you who are reading this will be angered by my characterization of Antisocial Personality Disorder, and accuse me of demonizing it, but what I am describing is from my direct experience, so I can’t soft-pedal it.
I have written a lot about my mother and my anguish at trying to escape her abuse, only to get sucked back in. I’ve been doing a lot of work on myself around this, and I am starting to see the way the roles have played out over my lifetime. My mother is the Disordered One who has absolutely no remorse about tormenting me, kicking the dog, breaking precious fragile one-of-a-kind handmade objects, and saying shockingly denigrating things about my father in front of selected other people.
I am the scapegoat, the one she takes her anger and frustration out on, and then is furious that I don’t adore her the way she envisioned being adored by her child. For my part, I desperately seek ways to appease her and make her love me, or at least accept me, or at least stop treating me like a contemptuous piece of shit.
My father is the “Winged Monkey,” a term taken from the Wizard of Oz. The Wicked Witch of the (East or West, can’t remember) had a band of Winged Monkeys that she sent to retrieve Dorothy and crew when they escaped. In a Personality Disordered family/relationship, a Winged Monkey is the person who, after the scapegoat has fled, goes to her and explains that Mom really didn’t mean to say what she said, she was tired, she was aggravated about something at work, she had her period.
And the scapegoat, not wanting to believe that Mom is such a mean person, capitulates and returns to the abusive situation, hoping that this time will be different, and resorting time and again to appeasement behaviors to try to make Mom proud, so that THIS time she’ll be as nice to me as she is to everyone else. And since this is just another cycle-of-abuse situation, there is often a “honeymoon” period where everything is lovely, because Mom really didn’t want me to leave–she just wanted to throw me out.
I’ve tried all kinds of strategies to get away from my mother. I’ve been in therapy since 1984. I’ve utilized the Geographic Solution, even moving to the other side of the world to get as far away from her as I could. Hell, if they offered a one-way trip to Mars I’d jump at the chance.
There I was, on the other side of the planet, enjoying myself immensely, assuaging my guilt for enjoying life by calling Mom on Sundays and Thursdays. Then the Winged Monkey struck again.
He didn’t mean to do it. He just got awful sick, and they are awful old, and I couldn’t just let them flounder. Could I? So I packed up my stuff and came back to the States after four glorious years abroad, and moved into the barn. No bathroom, no kitchen, but it’s a roof and it has heat, and I’m damned well not going to live in the house with THEM.
Except now, as of about a month ago, it’s not THEM who live in the “real house,” because my Winged Monkey has moved into the nursing home, and it looks to be for the rest of his life. It is a tragedy.
Last Tuesday I was visiting him, as I do every day, and I brought along Noga, as I do every day. She has become the unofficial Therapy Dog at the nursing home. When we finally get to my dad’s room, after greeting all the residents and staff along the way, she cuddles up to him in his bed,
and he buries his hand in her silky fur. Sometimes he cries. If nobody stops her, she will lick his ears till he convulses with laughter. She is his angel.
Last Tuesday Mom was looking distracted and a bit agitated. She asked me if she could take Noga for a walk in the park that adjoins the nursing home. I didn’t see any harm in that, and I thought it might be therapeutic for Mom, as it was a beautiful day for a walk. I handed over Noga’s leash, and turned my attention to Dad, who was having a rough day as well.
Half an hour later, Mom came striding into the room with Noga gunny-sacked under her arm. Her hair (Noga’s) was a mess and her harness hung around her neck. I took her–she was shaking and grabbed onto me with her claws, terrified–and I noticed that the part of the harness that was hanging from her neck was a part that normally goes over her leg. The harness had been completely off, and hastily thrown on–not put back on properly.
“What happened?” I asked Mom, keeping my voice even.
“I don’t know, she got out of her harness,” says Mom, avoiding eye contact.
“Did she get scared and pull back? Did she see a rabbit or something?” I was hopeful there would be some rational explanation.
“No, she just got out of her harness,” Mom repeated.
I got a chill in the pit of my stomach.
First it was a group of four little shot glasses my dad had made, that he and I used to use every afternoon. They disappeared, and I found them behind the refrigerator after much grilling. Two of them are still whole, but the fridge is huge. I’ll have to wait for someone to help me, but for now they’re safe.
Next it was a really beautiful porcelain vase that my dad and I collaborated on–he threw the vase, and I painted it. It disappeared from its place on the shelf, and all the other pieces of pottery have been rearranged to fill the gap. She “doesn’t know” what happened to that either, and she’s not budging on this one. I think she sold it.
And now, I can only be grateful that whatever occurred to induce her to bring Noga back to me intact–whether it was a moment of remorse, or fear, or whether Noga simply would not leave her–she brought my Angel Puppy back to me.
Although I don’t fool myself that there will be no more “Bunny Boilings,” I will do my best to keep Noga safe, and not to let my own pattern of appeasement deliver her over to….her.