Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics

, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp 465–482 | Cite as

Narrative self-appropriation: embodiment, alienness, and personal responsibility in the context of borderline personality disorder

  • Allan KøsterEmail author


It is often emphasised that persons diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) show difficulties in understanding their own psychological states. In this article, I argue that from a phenomenological perspective, BPD can be understood as an existential modality in which the embodied self is profoundly saturated by an alienness regarding the person’s own affects and responses. However, the balance of familiarity and alienness is not static, but can be cultivated through, e.g., psychotherapy. Following this line of thought, I present the idea that narrativising experiences can play an important role in processes of appropriating such embodied self-alienness. Importantly, the notion of narrative used is that of a scalar conception of narrativity as a variable quality of experience that comes in degrees. From this perspective, narrative appropriation is a process of gradually attributing the quality of narrativity to experiences, thereby familiarising the moods, affects, and responses that otherwise govern ‘from behind’. Finally, I propose that the idea of a narrative appropriation of embodied self-alienness is also relevant to the much-debated question of personal responsibility in BPD, particularly as this question plays out in psychotherapeutic contexts where a narrative self-appropriation may facilitate an increase in sense of autonomy and reduce emotions of guilt and shame.


Borderline Personality Disorder Phenomenology Narrative Embodiment Alienness 



This research was supported by the Danish Counsel of Independent Research (DFF). My thanks to Samuel Thoma, Ditte Winther-Lindqvist, Thomas Schwarts-Wentzer, and the members of Research Group for Philosophical Hermeneutics at Aarhus University for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The author declares to have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by the author.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Communication and PsychologyAalborg UniversityAalborgDenmark

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