borderline personality disorder – Not Crazy But Misunderstood

Many often misunderstand the behavior of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). They struggle to express themselves, due to a fear of abandonment, so they often feel that their needs are not being met. Sometimes, they let others violate their boundaries because they cannot say no, so they end up feeling used, hurt or violated. They can bottle up how they feel, until they’ve had enough, often reacting in the heat of the moment. So, the real meaning of what they’re trying to say gets lost and not heard. Instead of being understood, they can be misunderstood as attacking or angry, when their built-up emotions come out.

Those with BPD can struggle to express themselves. They often wait until they’ve had enough and then react when they’ve negated themselves and put up with too much. It is often difficult for others to understand how they feel. When the person who is BPD does not know how to handle their intense feelings, and they finally let it out, it comes out in the wrong way. The person with BPD can appear to be blowing things out of proportion or accusing others of things they have not done. They often feel ridiculed for reacting, when others tell them that they are overreacting or seeing things the wrong way, which causes them to feel attacked and worthless.

How to understand a person with Borderline Personality Disorder

The person with a borderline disorder reacts this way to discharge all of the underlying pain that gets stirred up when they are triggered by feelings of abandonment or worthlessness. All of sudden, they feel that others are mistreating them when they have put everything into the relationship to avoid feeling abandoned. Often, their reactions can push loved ones away, causing them to feel abandoned. Other times, they can read into situations that cause them to feel unwanted, mistreated or abandoned, which may not be the situation at all. Some can put up with too much and do not know how to protect themselves, so they end up feeling victimised.

The borderline person who reacts to their feelings can misjudge situations based on their past childhood experiences, which impacts how they see others and feel about themselves. Due to the emotional misattunement in their childhood, individuals with BPD can misjudge how they see themselves and others. They often see themselves and others as split, as either ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’. Whereby, they perceive the behavior of others as ‘all good’ (loving, supportive, caring) or ‘all bad’ (uncaring, rejecting or mean). These split units prevent them from seeing themselves or others accurately. When others are perceived as behaving ‘good‘ towards them,  they can feel wanted or loved. When others are perceived to be behaving in a ‘bad’ manner towards them, they feel bad, abandoned and unloved. When they feel good (loved), they often ignore the bad aspects within a person, often putting up with a person with  Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Splitting prevents them from seeing the good and bad in others at the same time. To feel good, they will avoid seeing the bad aspects of a person. When hurt, they only see the bad in a person and not the good. So, they often make impulsive decisions about relationships based on splitting. Some will end a relationship or have an affairs when feeling hurt, by seeing all the bad traits of the partner, then regret it afterward, wanting the person back when they’ve missed the good aspects. Therapy helps the person with a borderline personality to see both sides of the split, so they can see themselves and others more clearly and make the right choices.

Just like a toddler that acts out and protests when they’re feeling abandoned, the person with borderline personality protests when they feel abandoned. Protesting feels like the only way to get a response from the caregiver. However, a person with BPD  can be seen as hostile when they protest as a bid for love, often pushing away loved ones who do not understand them.  When loved ones feel pushed away, this propels the person who is borderline to cling to their relationship to avoid abandonment.

How to understand the behavior of BPD and not react to it

It helps when loved ones can understand the fear of abandonment that causes them to react this way, rather than take their reactions personally. It can be confusing for loved ones who feel the relationship is good one minute, and then in the then next moment they feel hated or cut off, by the partner with BPD.

Many with borderline personalities are unaware of their triggers and feel that others cause them to feel bad or abandoned when often the feelings emerged from their past childhood experiences. The feelings get displaced onto others, to avoid feeling bad or abandoned. Others are seen as causing them to feel this way. It can be helpful for a person with BPD to understand what triggers them, so they can check out whether their feelings fit with the reality of the situation.

The child who became borderline often tested the parent boundaries. The child needed a parent who could be available and strong enough to withstand their tantrums, and set limits on them, while also emotionally regulating their distress. According to James Masterson, the parent often avoided their own feelings of abandonment. They often gave into the child, not setting limits or boundaries on their behavior. As a result, the child kept acting out, pushing the boundaries or limits, and causing the parent to be unable to cope or overreact to their behavior, having anger towards the child. As a result, the child internalised a parent who is seen as angry, attacking or mean, when they’re exploring themselves. When the child became angry or withdrew from the parent in order to get away, the parent often felt abandoned and withdrew loving support from the child, by not being maternally available when the child needed the parent for their developing self. So, the child felt abandoned in efforts to explore, or when they needed support from the parent the most. The result is a developmental arrest in the emerging self of the child that becomes borderline.

The child who was borderline felt abandoned when they attempted to separate or self-activate, away from the parent. In order to avoid separation anxiety, they focused on meeting the needs of the parent, giving up themselves. They replay the pattern of giving up the self to please others and avoid feeling abandoned.

James Masterson calls this underlying feeling the ‘Abandonment Depression’, which propels the child to find ways to please the parent in order to activate their attachment system and avoid abandonment. As an adult, the person who is borderline defensively avoids these abandonment feelings by finding ways to feel attached or loved, compromising their own self and often ending up in situations that work against them.

As a relationship counsellor, I see how individuals who are borderline ignore issues within a relationship, by avoiding to express themselves, so that they avoid abandonment.   They are often passive in addressing any issues and often comply, but then they become angry when their needs have not been met. They often end up taking on-board on other peoples problems, rather than taking control of themselves. They focus on others instead of themselves. They inevitably give up themselves to please others, so they blame the relationship. They will often sacrifice themselves to avoid abandonment. They can give up everything for love, and then resent the relationship when they’ve lost themselves. Counselling in Melbourne service allows the person who is borderline to focus on themselves. They can find a clear pathway for themselves, rather than focus on others to avoid abandonment or feel good. This will allow them to make the right decisions for themselves, rather than doing what is best for others. When they develop a clear sense of self, they can say no, set boundaries and not get drawn into situations that are destructive for them.

Nancy Carbone Offers individual psychotherapy, relationship counselling and couples counselling. She specializes in the treatment of personality disorders from the Psychoanalytic International Masterson Institute in New York. You can visit her at www.counsellingservicemelbourne.com.au , http://www.counsellinginperth.com.au/ and Facebook.


Photo by Morgan Basham on Unsplash