Borderline Personality and Abuse

A closeup of a strong defiant woman's face.

Borderline Personality and abuse

borderline personality disorder (BPD) is highly associated with the verbal abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, and/or domestic violence often suffered by those who are non borderline. The propensity for abusiveness in those with BPD is instigated by the narcissistic injury that is at the heart of the core wound of abandonment

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.

The roots of abuse in BPD, particularly in intimate significant other relationships with Non Borderlines have their genesis in the borderline’s re-living of this deep intra-psychic pain. 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.

borderline personality and abuse Borderline Personality and Abuse

Borderline Personality and Abuse

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.

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. This is what makes borderline rage so primal, so intense, and in the case of the borderline so raw and unmanageable in terms of often triggered dysregulated emotion of those with BPD.

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A.J. Mahari lives in Ontario, Canada. She is an Author, Speaker, Counselor, Life Coach, BPD/Loved Ones Coach, NPD/Loved Ones Coach, Mental Health Coach, and Self-Improvement Coach. She has been described by many as an insightful and astute student of life’s ups and downs. A.J. is a Mental Health Professional. A.J. writes from her own life experience, education and over 20 years of experience working with clients with Personality Disorders or the Loved Ones of those with them. You can purchase any of A.J.'s 35+ Ebooks or Written and Narrated 45+ Audio Programs or work with her as a your Counselor or Life Coach. She is a sexual abuse survivor and recovered from Borderline Personality Disorder many years ago. She is also an adult living with (“high functioning”) Asperger's Syndrome.


  1. Anon

    March 30, 2016 at 3:51 am

    This is the most stigmatising, ignorant rubbish I have ever read. I have bpd. I am not abusive. stop making assumptions !

    • kolby

      April 18, 2016 at 4:27 pm

      My girlfriend has bpd and treats me like shit so yah it happens deal with it

      • Nick

        May 24, 2016 at 6:18 pm

        Hahahaha proving you are not abusive by BEING ABUSIVE. Classic borderline.

  2. Sean Bennick

    March 30, 2016 at 9:30 pm

    There are no assumptions being made, this is the reality being faced by many family members of loved ones with BDP that go untreated. I’m glad that you aren’t abusive, and there are many with BPD that aren’t. This article was written to educate and advise those that are and those that are dealing with loved ones who have BPD and aren’t being treated or are being undertreated.

    The piece is not meant to be stigmatizing, in fact the author, AJ Mahari has herself recovered from BPD and writes extensively on the subject. I stand behind her fully, and I stand behind the article. If you’d like to present an opposing viewpoint, please feel free to present me with an article and I’ll consider publishing it.

    • Ivan

      May 24, 2016 at 8:45 am

      Hello Sean. I have written an article that, although is not an opposing viewpoint, is written from the other perspective as the husband of a BP wife. We have an increasingly successful relationship, stemming from a great deal of hard work, so what I have to say is written from personal experience, like AJ Majari, but I am not a mental health professional. I think that what I write would be valuable because, unlike many husbands who are desperately searching the web for answers to their chaotic relationships, I am well past the anger and desperation and may be a voice of reason when these poor men are mired in confusion, essentially lacking the ability to reason.
      I do understand why Anon is upset. Although this article is very fair and insightful, so much of what you find on the Internet on the topic of BPD is stigmatizing, judgmental, and, frankly, downright verbally abusive against those who suffer from BPD. I would simply like to offer an alternative way to view those with BPD, that would prove helpful for those who have BPD as well as their mates.
      So, if you are interested, would you please let me know the proper method for submitting an article. Thank you for reading.

  3. Jason Draper

    April 9, 2016 at 10:52 am

    This is one of the most insightful articles regarding BPD and a Non BPD relationship. I’ve been married to BPD woman for 22 years and this article describes the pain and suffering that Ivd seen my wife go through. The more I tried to love, protect and be the person that I thought she wNted me to be was never enough and triggered her pull/push behavior. Ivd finally got the courage to file for divorce but I worry about her wellbeing and survival. I love her so much.

  4. Victor brown

    April 12, 2016 at 8:11 am

    this article i need to help me find someone to help and understand my children…i don’t know where to start…i need to help my children daughter age 5 son age 10….3 and a half years ago… my son reported my ex his mother dragged him down stairs and beat him…school filed dcyf report and said he had been crying i don’t want to go home for 3 weeks.. he is diagnosed autistic because testing scores are all over the place so high and low they don’t make sense,,,daughter diagnosed with anxiety…recently got a ptsd diagnosis for son….

    First some facts it wasn’t a relationship i was living in Costa Rica and contraception was tampered with.. I’ve learned i am an empath and was targeted…then being male i thought i could fix things.. then the frog in the water happened and i was living for moments when i wasn’t being abused.. i convinced myself the abuse was just against me not the children.. i was separated for friends and family …thru support groups and reading you know all the classic story how it happens…
    My sons beating got intense because starting school after a month they said he couldn’t ride the bus he had to ride the small handicap bus… Thats when things went ballistic….a month after the school reported the first incident to dcyf.. nothing was done nobody contacted…. then a month later i was beaten again b ex but she did it in front of son who told school and they filed another report .. then dcyf started to set up interviews… then ex tried to kidnap children back to costa rica…. then 5 days of court were i learned there is no perjury in family court… her lies were so blatant and easily proven that i was given placement with final say.. but they gave her unsupervised visitation and the abuse just continued.. i got children and myself immediately into therapy children have received in home therapy 20 hours a week each child for 2 years.. it took me a year to get it….the in home therapists have filed constant dcyf reports finally the children pediatrician wrote a letter an she has had supervised visitations for 5 months now….in those five months my son has gone from 25 incidents a ay of self abuse and 15 incidents a day negative self statements and several crying incidents…. with in a few weeks he went to 0 maybe 1 or 2 small incidents that he recovered quickly from…..
    The only help like in home workers and therapists seem to be what have have learned is they are Behaviorists….I can’t find a single person to talk to about abuse/ BPD….
    ….I was told since day one that all i can do is the best i can when children are with me and document document document.. I have done this and can’t get anybody to look at it or discuss it…If i try to talk about abuse/BPD they instantly stop me and start with they are just children and they just need rules and praise and ignore etc etc..
    Two books i have found that i believe opened my eyes are….Gentiling by William Krill and Just Like his Father by Liane J. Leedom……along with many support groups online I’ve learned about what happened… projection circular conversation ,passive aggressive, gas lighting, crazy making,,not to mention the sleep deprivation and bathroom abuse…
    This is difficult because i am the male… and it wasn’t a relationship love gone wrong trophy child thing…
    If i tell the stories of how life was when the ex was here.. i now know that nobody can hear them without thinking there must be something wrong with me also…
    If i mention any help or concern about my children displaying abusive BDP behavior i am chastised…
    I am in Rhode Island USA….for 3 years i have video or audio recorded every thing possible nobody will look at it…we just get throw in court and given dates a few months away then new incidents come up and were given dates few months away etc etc…
    The ex/mother still has nightly phone calls .. were she love bombs and infantizes to unnatural extents…
    The children have refused to go with her for 3 years.. i was forced to drop them at family court because of their violent refusal.. till pediatrician look at video and the physical effects it was having on my daughter…
    Its a story i know can’t be told and believed.. i have mountains of paperwork from school and therapists and nuero psych testing and video and reports from in home therapists… court transcripts… every insane text from 6 months before attempted kidnapping…
    How can i help the children.. how can i find a person to discuss abuse/BDP or since I’m not a professional it may be narc or sociopath or whatever kind of emotional abuse…
    my son is 10 so maybe soon someone will begin to pay attention but there is no-one willing to discuss anything about a 5 year old… I remember reading about a Dr Washburn who was adapting adult test for children..

    Any way i can tell when i am triggered with the feeling i am being abused by the children in the same way the ex/mother abused me…
    And i feel helpless and i feel i am made to feel bad when i try to discuss it….
    Thank you so much….if your ever interested in hearing about or seeing evidence of the unbelievable extent of abuse we endure i would be happy to share.. Thank you…..

    • Ivan

      May 24, 2016 at 9:20 am

      Call Department of Children, Youth and Families (Statewide toll-free 24-hour/7-day-a-week hotline: 1-800-RI-CHILD/1-800-742-4453) or your local police department if you haven’t already done so.
      This will take the situation out of civil/family court and put it in criminal investigation. If she is guilty of abuse, she will be removed from the picture as the mandatory prison sentence is substantial. Children that younge have a fairly decent chance of recovery with the negative source removed and really good therapy.
      Word of caution: make sure you have real proof… Good proof, that she is the source of the abuse, otherwise, things could get a lot worse. Skip the police and call DCYF (number above) to discuss your fears and proof if you are not confident your proof is solid, they sometimes have their own ways of gathering additional proof.
      Here is the Rhode Island statute defining child abuse:
      Code Section40-11-1, et seq.
      What Constitutes Abuse
      Child whose physical or mental health or welfare is harmed or threatened with harm including excessive corporal punishment, sexual abuse/exploitation, neglect, or abandonment

  5. Dr Richard Hamling, LMHC

    April 18, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    As a psychotherapist of more than forty years, this essay was one of the best written for the public and novice clinicians. The notion of stigma misses the point. It is only through true understanding that one can evolve to a stance of compassion, for self and other. When in training I recall a remark; “what we don’t know about ourselves can hurt ourselves and others”. This is true for therapists and patients alike.

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