Those diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are much more likely to be abusive than those in the general population. Non borderlines in relationships to or with borderlines often suffer verbal abuse, emotional abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, and/or domestic violence. 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.
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, particularly in intimate significant other relationships of those with BPD, have their genesis in the borderline’s re-living of this deep intra-psychic pain. It is emotional 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 defences 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 equalling 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. 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 triggered-rage is often then hurled at the person closest to the borderline, in the here and now in ways that are divisive and abusive.
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.
When the non borderline partner 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 non 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 behaviour. Some see their behaviour 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.
The borderline, in the active throes of BPD, 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).
The borderline has no idea who he/she really is. He/she often feels as if he/she does not exist 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.
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.”
If you are a non borderline and you are being abused by someone with BPD, take care of yourself, and do not excuse the 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, however, 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 have to end relationships with those with BPD due to these attachment issues that lead borderlines who cannot overcome their abandonment fears to thrust them into the role of a parent. A role that is “no-win” and a role that will continue to produce rage and, more often than not, abuse from those with BPD until and unless they get significant professional help.