Reviewed by: Ryan House, PsyD Clinical Psychologist
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is highly associated with verbal abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, and/or domestic violence often suffered by those who are non-borderline.
Recent findings suggest that further research is necessary to better understand the association and differentiation between psychological dysfunction and trauma processing, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal sensitivity of individuals diagnosed with BPD.
The propensity for abusiveness in those with BPD can be instigated by the narcissistic injury that is at the heart of the core wound of abandonment.
- Borderline Personality and Abuse
- Intra-Psychic Pain Is the Root
- Borderline Rage
- Emotional and Psychological Arrest
- Why Life Can Seem Constantly Painful
- The Cycle Continues
- Borderline Personality and Abuse Awareness
- Borderline Personality and Abuse “The Dance”
- The Pain of Borderline Relating
- What Non-Borderline’s Need to Do
Borderline Personality and Abuse
Those diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or those with BPD who may not even know they have it, are more likely than the general population to be verbally, emotionally/psychologically, physically abusive.
But what is behind the connection between Borderline Personality and abuse?
The reality of this is such because borderlines lack a known, consistent self, and they struggle with abandonment fears and abandonment depression that stem directly from a primal core wound of abandonment that arrests their emotional and psychological development in the very first few months of life.
This arrested development impacts most, if not all, areas of relating and leaves borderlines unable to interact in age-appropriate healthy ways.
Ways of relating that unfold in the present and that aren’t layered with deep intra-psychic pain – pain that is unresolved.
Intra-Psychic Pain Is the Root
Pain that is triggered through attempts to be emotionally intimate with someone else. The intimacy that non-personality-disordered people enjoy is stressful and overwhelming to the borderline.
It enlivens the borderline’s worst nightmare – the unresolved pain of the core wound of abandonment.
It arouses all the maladaptive defenses of the borderline because he/she re-experiences the terror and panic of either his/her past experience of feeling annihilated or engulfed and/or his/her fear of being annihilated or engulfed, often alternately when trying to be close to someone one else.
This sets up an approach-avoidance conflict, a “get-away-closer” style of trying to relate that has its roots in the “I hate-you-don’t-leave-me” struggle of the borderline who experiences any withdrawal of intense, close, (albeit also threatening) intimacy, attachment or bond as a threat to his or her safety at best, and entire existence (psychologically) at worst.
Add to this that when there is any distancing or break in the intensity and symbiotic-like closeness (if in fact closeness is ultimately achieved) the borderline then fears, and/or feels abandoned.
This conflict of fearing or re-experiencing annihilation versus engulfment and then the re-experiencing of the fear of or actual feelings of abandonment that the borderline experiences, often subconsciously, in trying to be in relationship to other, causes the borderline to be triggered back to his/her original core wound of abandonment feelings in such a way as to trigger the primal feelings of helplessness, loss of control, needs equaling survival, thwarted needs being akin with the death of the lost self.
This whirlwind of unregulated emotion meeting with fear and distrust generates the original feelings of rage that this core wound of abandonment aroused in the first place.
A Wound of Abandonment Can Feel Like Psychological Death
The core wound of abandonment, when one is very young and experiences it, is the experience of psychological death. It is intense and arouses the borderline to fight for survival while they experience the sheer terror of feeling like they might actually just die or be killed by what they are feeling.
This heightened state of arousal is both psychological and biological – it is physiological. It is a strong drive to survive and rage is at its core.
Rage is the most primal feeling generated and the most protective defense that a young infant can muster to try to have the caregiver return to once again provide some sense of being for the infant.
Feelings and reactions of rage are experienced by those who go on to develop BPD so early in life that they precede cognitive and verbal development.
It is pain that has long-since been dissociated from and abandoned by the borderline. This abandoned pain of BPD is the ignition switch that needs only the hint or flicker of an emotional flame to ignite a combustible, all-too-often abusive rage like no other.
This is what the borderline regresses to.
When the borderline is in a regressed and to varying degrees dissociated experience, the non-borderline partner is experienced by the borderline as that withdrawing or abandoning caretaker from the past that was needed for literal physical and psychological survival.
Issues That Trigger Rage
When the non-borderline partner, living, On The Other Side of BPD isn’t focusing 100% of his or her attention on the borderline (especially if you have actually attained closeness) and there is any experienced or even perceived break in the symbiotic connection that enables the borderline to feel somewhat secure (like the not having to attend to a child, or go to the washroom or any simple thing) – even when stressed by the closeness – and already beginning to cycle to the fear of the loss of it – the borderline will often react from this cesspool of ever-churning rage which is the protection for the very vulnerable and young abandoned pain of the borderline. This ends in a lashing out by the borderline personality, abuse is often the end result.
Different Expressions of Borderline Rage
All rage is not expressed the same way. All borderlines do not abuse in the same ways.
As you will see in my next article, there are many different forms that the abuse generated by this narcissistic woundedness takes. Some borderlines rage, literally, they scream and yell and throw things or hit people.
While other borderlines (known as quiet or “acting in” borderlines) may rage in such passive-aggressive ways that the non-borderline might not realize that the borderline is raging.
Rage is Always Smouldering
This inherent free-floating, always-at-the-ready rage, if you will, is the root source of a lot of the varying types and styles of abuse that non-borderlines are bombarded with.
It can often be sudden and seem to come out of nowhere because the source of it is deep inside the psyche of the borderline.
Emotional and Psychological Arrest
Borderlines lack a known self. They have not been able to emotionally or psychologically mature beyond a very early stage of emotional developmental arrest.
An emotional/psychological arrest that takes place when the developing authentic self essentially experiences a death, is lost to the borderline and is then supplanted by the false self.
Why Life Can Seem Constantly Painful
Life, for those with BPD, is, to say the least, one devastatingly painful experience of trying to live and exist in the absence of a known self in the fragmented pieces of the blurred experience of the here and now enmeshed with the past.
It is one perpetual separation-individuation crisis void of the big picture until and unless it can be resolved.
Current Feelings Trigger Past Wounds
Borderlines do not learn how to cope with the feelings that they have in the here and now, that trigger past intense unresolved feelings of the actual loss of the psychological self.
Lack of Object Constancy
Borderlines lack the ability to hold in any consistent or congruent way object constancy.
They experience relatedness as being as fragile as out of sight out of mind.
A bond that a non-borderline feels exists between him/herself and the borderline whether he/she is in the presence of the borderline or not is not something that the borderline can psychologically remember, trust, or believe.
Object constancy or any connectedness or attachment that could be defined as “secure” is fleeting for the borderline who has not been able to develop object constancy.
The fleeting nature of this inability on the part of those with BPD to hold object constancy in any consistent or congruent way leaves those with BPD in a very painful place – literally between a rock and a hard place in what is the classic relational no-win of an untreated person with BPD.
Loss of Authentic Self
This loss of the authentic psychological self is re-experienced over and over again and the fear of it and the fear of the pain of it grows each and every time one is triggered back to it.
The Cycle Continues
This builds both anger and a continually proliferating inability to cope with it in any constructive way.
Anything short of intense symbiotic connection that is uninterrupted will once again send the borderline cycling back around the re-experiencing of everything associated with the core wound of abandonment.
As the borderline cycles back to this enraging and vulnerable – which isn’t tolerable – place of abandonment depression (Masterson) and abandonment trauma so too begins the apex of the likelihood of abuse.
Along with abuse of all sorts, the result of this cycle is often a punishing talionic impulse acted on in the heat of the triggered-dissociated moment by the borderline in what are known as repetition compulsions.
Borderline Personality and Abuse Awareness
Most borderlines, until and unless they have substantial and successful therapy are not consciously aware of what I am describing here.
- Some are totally oblivious to their behavior.
- Some see their behavior as a means to an end and take little to no responsibility for it or any of its consequences.
- Others understand that they have acted poorly again, pissed someone off, have once again made real the threat of and/or fear abandonment and loss, but they do not understand why they’ve done it.
- Similarly, they have no clue how to stop it.
- Others project it out onto the non-borderline and think that everything that has come from them was actually done to them by the non-borderline.
This can be a crazy-making experience for the non-borderline. This is of little consolation to the non-borderline, however. It does not, at all, justify the abuse.
Will a Person With BPD Ever Change?
However, clearly I write about this here to say that if a borderline is not getting treatment, and I mean for real, not just going through the motions type of treatment, there is no logical reason to even begin to believe that the abuse that any borderline in your life is perpetrating upon you will stop.
The very thing that you most want from your borderline (or wanted if you’ve left the relationship) in terms of what it means to have a relationship and to relate was not ever even on the table because the borderline is not an emotionally/psychologically mature being.
BPD’s Immature Relational Ability
The borderline is still a very wounded and very young child, emotionally, in terms of the ability or understanding of how to actually relate to others.
This is the case because what borderlines do is not relate to others for who they are but as an extension of the borderline – and more to the point – as an extension of the parent (usually mother) that most failed them or by whom the borderline most feels abandoned, for whatever reason(s).
No Concept of The Real Self
The borderline has no idea who he/she really is. He/she often feels as if he/she does not exist.
This is especially true if the borderline does not have an other to project all of his/her feelings out onto and an other from whom they then require the mirroring back of an identity of what is a painful lack of known self.
Borderline Personality and Abuse “The Dance”
In her book, The Narcissistic/Borderline Couple, Joan Lachkar, Ph.D., writes,
“For the borderline, the focus is primarily on bonding and attachment issues. Borderlines often form addictive love relationships (including normal dependency), they form parasitic relationships, and project their needs in hostile, threatening ways. Because their defenses and demands are excessive, borderlines tend to remain in the dance, rarely achieving their aims.”
The dance that Lachkar refers to, in my past, for me, as I look back now many years into recovery when I was borderline, was one of seeking to re-invent, re-experience, re-do, the ruptured relationship with my mother.
This wound caused me to lose my authentic self to the defensive and manipulative abusive narcissistic defenses of the borderline false self in such a way that would once and for all satiate the developmental needs arrested at the time of my core wound of abandonment and teach me how to actually bond without feeling like it would kill me.
The dance, for me, was one of seeking to recreate and recapture that symbiotic relationship that I never had the chance to have with my mother, through others, in an end-justifies-the-means kind of way, that was, at times, very abusive to others in my life, in the past, on my part.
That dance was a complicated punishing and unforgiving dance of codependency through which I sought to resolve what for years seemed like the unresolvable woundedness that was the source of my rage and the abuse that I perpetrated against others in the name of trying to actually be psychologically born which is necessary in order to get on and stay on the road to recovery.
Narcissistic Defense Mechanisms
Most, if not all borderlines, have, as a result of this core wound of abandonment, a well-developed defense mechanism of narcissism and also have varying degrees of narcissistic injury that manifests in the and through the false self.
This narcissistic injury or wound and its subsequent usage as a defense mechanism along with the narcissism seen in the false self of those with BPD are not to be lumped together with Narcissistic Personality Disorder – they are not one and the same at all.
Incapable of Adult Intimacy
Borderlines who live from a false self and who do not have an active and keen awareness of their own core wound of abandonment and their abandoned pain are not capable of age-appropriate adult intimacy or relating.
It is from the core of this emotional dysfunction that borderlines end up abusing either themselves, others, or both. Non-borderlines, are often on the receiving end of many types of abuse.
The Pain of Borderline Relating
The very nature of borderline relating makes for a dysfunctional and toxic relational style that non-borderlines will benefit greatly from learning more about so that they can deepen their understanding of BPD and also take care of themselves.
Many non-borderlines come to realize that they want and/or need to break free from the puzzling and painful maze that is borderline relating. Relating that is more often than not abusive.
What Non-Borderline’s Need to Do
If you are a non-borderline and you are being abused by someone with BPD, you need to take care of yourself. It won’t do you or the borderline any good to deny or excuse his or her abuse and think that having a personality disorder justifies it in any way – it does not.
You cannot control what a person with BPD does, but, you can make choices about what you will and what you will not live with. Once you make that choice you need to identify and make known boundaries that are firmly explained and firmly enforced consistently.
Many non-borderlines do not realize that the sane choice for them if the borderline in their lives is not getting help and/or cannot take personal responsibility and stop and change any and all abusive behavior and/or relating, is to leave, break free and take care of themselves.
© A.J. Mahari