Tag Archives: Kurt Cobain

Did Kurt Cobain Suffer From Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?

In the early nineties, whilst I was a student at Goldsmiths College, University of London, I was a big fan of Nirvana, and, in particular, Kurt Cobain (and I remember where I was when I heard of his not altogether unpredictable suicide by taking a massive heroin overdose, and, just to be on the safe side, shooting himself in the head).

Clearly, this was not a cry for help as to which some suicide attempts (often disparagingly, dismissively, even scathingly and contemptuously) are referred.

I still am a fan if Kurt Cobain, albeit a somewhat diminished and less impassioned one; if Smells Like Teen Spirit comes on the radio, I might even be moved to turn the volume up half a notch (mustn’t annoy the neighbours).

It is over twenty years since I first read the biography on Kurt Cobain, Heavier Than Heaven, but, from it, we gain a rich insight into the roots of Cobain’s grave adult psychological difficulties.

In fact, his early life experiences resemble my own to a degree that I can only describe as eerily uncanny; I summarize these experiences below:

Kurt Cobain was born in 1967, as was I.

When very young, he was described as ‘excitable and sensitive’.

However, his parents divorced when he was nine (mine divorced when I was eight) and he became withdrawn, rebellious, confrontational and defiant.

He also lost his confidence and felt ashamed that he came from a ‘broken home’ (when my own parents divorced whilst I was at prep school, I, too, felt deeply ashamed and lived in terror that my classmates would find out [divorce was far less common at the time]; like all young children, I didn’t want to be seen as different, but to be ‘just like everyone else. I assume Cobain experienced similar painful sentiments).

Cobain’s father remarried, as did mine, but Cobain deeply resented his stepmother who lavished attention upon her own child whilst neglecting him (again, this mirrors my own experience ; my stepmother, who was a religious fundamentalist, regarded her own son as a kind of mini-messiah and myself as spawn of the devil (going so far as to shout at me in ‘tongues’ during an argument I had with her when I was thirteen).

Meanwhile, Cobain’s real mother’s new partner was abusive towards her and Cobain witnessed domestic violence. (When I was about ten my mother let a habitual criminal, possibly schizophrenic man move in with us as her sexual partner; whilst he was in and out of Pentonville prison, he was not physically violent though, to the best of my knowledge).

Cobain’s behaviour became increasingly disturbed during his adolescence (as did my own) and eventually his father made him move out to live instead with friends. Yet again, this mirrors my own experience; my own father, too, eventually threw me out.

When he was about sixteen, Cobain moved back in with his mother; however, one day, a couple of years later, he returned home to find she had packed up all of his belongings into boxes and demanded he leave (my own mother had chucked me out of the house when I was even younger – a mere thirteen).

Symptoms Of BPD That Cobain Displayed As An Adult.

First of all, let us remind ourselves of the main symptoms of BPD:

BPD sufferers experience a range of symptoms which are split into 9 categories. These are:

1) Extreme swings in emotions
2) Explosive anger
3) Intense fear of rejection and abandonment sometimes leading to frantic efforts to maintain a relationship
4) Impulsiveness
5) Self-harm
6) Unstable self-concept (not really knowing ‘who one is’)
7) Chronic feelings of ’emptiness’ (often leading to excessive drinking or eating etc. ‘to fill the vacuum’)
8) Dissociation ( a feeling of being ‘disconnected from reality’)
9) Intense and highly volatile relationships

For a diagnosis of BPD to be given, the individual needs to suffer from at least 5 of the above.

The Strong Association Between Childhood Trauma And The Later Development Of BPD:

It is now established beyond dispute that there exists a strong association between the experience of significant childhood trauma and the development of BPD in adulthood. We can easily infer from this that Kurt Cobain would have been at high risk of developing the disorder; indeed, he displayed many of the symptoms which I elucidate below:

  1. highly volatile relationships: epitomized by his relationship with Courtney Love
  2. self harm: Cobain was a heroin addict and, of course, carried out the ultimate self harming act : suicide
  3. feelings of intense emptiness : Cobain stopped deriving any pleasure from performing on stage, contrasting himself with Freddy Mercury who relished performing (Cobain was the opposite and said that he refused to ‘pretend to be enjoying himself’).
  4. impulsivity : epitomized by his drinking and drug taking. Also, as an adolescent, he indulged in vandalism.
  5. extreme mood swings : he experienced the profound depths of suicidal, existential despair.
  6. feelings of dissociation : exacerbated by his drinking and drug taking.
  7. unstable sense of self : for example, although he was not gay, he pretended to be when at school (or, at least, let others assume he was) and wished he was in order to ‘piss off homophobes.’

These are just some examples. There are also, of course, countless references to his disturbed state of mind in his lyrics.

RETURN TO BPD AND CHILDHOOD TRAUMA MAIN ARTICLE – CLICK HERE

Heavier Than Heaven : A Biography Of Kurt Cobain (click image below):

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

Childhood Trauma : Kurt Cobain’s Childhood

Kurt Cobain's childhood

I was a big fan of Kurt Cobain (1967-1994) and his band, Nirvana. I therefore remember where I was when I first heard news of his death – it came on the TV in the gym I was in at the time (in an uninspiring town called Watford just north of London, UK, as you ask). I had three things in common with him.

I was born in the same year as he was (1967) and, also like him, had developed a considerable degree of both emotional and behavioural instability (despite doing, somehow, an MSc at the time). Thirdly, we had both experienced significant childhood trauma. (Actually, his parents divorced when he was seven years old, whilst mine had divorced when I was eight years old, so that’s very nearly four things in common. I was not, however, to the best of my recollection, an international grunge rock superstar.)

Like many sensitive children, it was obvious from an early age that Kurt Cobain was very creative. Also, like an increasingly large number of young people these days ( and it is certainly argued in some quarters that this ‘condition’ is over-diagnosed) he was labelled ‘HYPERACTIVE’ – now usually described as having ADHD (‘ATTENTION DEFICIT HYPERACTIVITY DISORDER’) and prescribed the drug called RETALIN (paradoxically, retalin is a derivative of amphetamine which, itself, more usually has a stimulant effect).

Due to his extreme sensitivity, Kurt Cobain experienced great distress and emotional trauma as a result of his parents’ divorce. When this shattering event occurred, he was just seven years old. It is recorded that he reported feeling unloved and deeply insecure after the divorce took place.

On top of all this, his life was made chaotic and disorganized by frequent moves to different geographical locations during which period he stayed with various different sets of relatives; this pattern of constant transience meant relationships he tried to form became disrupted and truncated.

Like many young people suffering from emotional distress, Kurt Cobain learned to mentally ‘escape’ – in his case by losing himself in his music and developing his enormous musical talent.

The psychological symptoms of his tortured emotional state started to manifest themselves in the form of INSOMNIA and a chronic stomach complaint which may well have been PSYCHOSOMATIC in origin ( the word ‘psychosomatic’ refers to the mechanism whereby mental stress causes physical problems – in other words, the mind’s effect upon the body).

In order to try to cope with his feelings of intense pain (both mental and physical) he started to ‘self-medicate’ with narcotics. (Psychologists would describe this as ADOPTING A MALADAPTIVE COPING MECHANISM IN ORDER TO DISSOCIATE FROM INTOLERABLE PAIN; see my post entitled: CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER (BPD) AND DISSOCIATION in order to learn more about the phenomenon of dissociation acting as a psychological defense mechanism.)

When his band, Nirvana, became an international sensation, the effects of fame (as many famous people discover too late) caused him further severe stress. He was not comfortable around the media and found the attention, in general, overwhelming and intrusive. He became deeply, clinically depressed, complained that he derived no pleasure whatsoever from performing in front of thousands of adoring fans, and, eventually, attempted suicide in March 1994. He entered a coma and was hospitalized.

Very soon after this, he entered a drug rehabilitation facility in Los Angeles in an attempt to address his drug addiction. Within two days, however, he fled the hospital, and, overwhelmed by feelings of despair and utter hopelessness, committed suicide in his home by first injecting himself with a massive overdose of heroin and then shooting himself in the head using a shotgun.

It is a very sad fact that many talented and creative people seem to be more prone than average to extreme mental turmoil. Kurt Cobain was one such person, and, this, tragically, led to a vastly talented, perceptive and sensitive human being’s life coming to a far too premature end.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).