Borderline Personality Disorder
by Paul J. Hannig, Ph.D., MFCC, CCMHC, NCC
This is an excerpt from the full length article, Borderline Personality Disorder (BP): A Profile. It is written to include only the pathological aspects of the disorder with full recognition that healthy aspects of behavior do exist.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (American Psychiatric Association, 1994)
"the essential feature of Borderline Personality Disorder is a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects and marked impulsivity that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts."
Borderline Personality Disorder individuals cannot sustain emotional commitment. They change emotions in midstream and have difficulty holding on to feelings of love. Love turns to indifference, estrangement and perhaps back again to love. This dysfunctional cycle has its roots in early childhood. Borderlines lose their love for the parent of the opposite sex when the idealization of that parent breaks down. As a child, the BP experiences the opposite sex parent as being narcissistic, cruel and abusive. The child's love turns to hate and distrust. The opposite sex parent falls from the idealized pedestal and crumbles in the BP's eyes and heart. In parental relationships, the BP feels as though he/she has never really possessed mother. Mother is experienced as the one who abandons and is inaccessible as a real person. For the BP, this is experienced as a catastrophic loss and, as a consequence, may ultimately result in a serious depression.
The Borderline feels eternally alone and abandoned. Intense abandonment fears and inappropriate anger are experienced when they are faced with separation or even an unavoidable change of plans. Consequently, when the impaired self is activated due to family frustrations, stress, etc., the BP will lose and withdraw feelings of love for a significant other. They will experience intense abandonment fears and inappropriate anger when faced with the threat of separation (real or unreal) or even an unavoidable change of plans.
If there has been a death or some other loss, the BP looks to replace the lost nurturance and sustenance. Hence, borderline patterns of relationships are unstable and intense. If a BP feels that the other person in the relationship does not care enough, they may quickly switch from idealization to devaluation. The unspoken expectation of the borderline is for others to "be there" on demand at all times. Temporary commitment, withdrawal and the search for a perfect, all loving, non-exploitive love object is the continuous and dysfunctional emotional cycle of the borderline.
Many borderlines have a perfectly working, pleasant, alluring, seductive, competent, superman/woman facade and it is sometimes difficult to differentiate which self is being presented. However, the BP has an empty core at the center of identity. The feeling of emptiness (DSM-III-R) may have its roots in a very early gestational trauma (Hannig, 1981). The embryo's drive to survive depends on the ability to attach itself to mother's body (uterine wall). The need to connect is very strong while the failure to connect inutero may lead to emotional and physical disintegration and death (spontaneous abortion). Trauma during gestational attachment creates disordered adults who have difficulty connecting emotionally with other people. In many interactions, the BP is not emotionally present, relating from only pieces or parts of the self.
Borderlines have a strong and frantic need to control. For them, the loss of control signals the onset of some type of emotional or interpersonal abandonment or breakdown. When borderlines feel the world threatening to cave in, they become involved in external distractions that symbolically provide support, affiliation and the promise of salvation. The fear of being controlled by others will make the borderline hypersensitive to a therapist's style and interventions. It is easy to make inadvertent mistakes when relating to borderlines because of their hypersensitivity to parental control.
To overcome the debilitating aspects of the Borderline Personality Disorder, it is necessary that the missing aspects of the BP's core identity and real self be felt, recovered and integrated into a solid whole. However, due to the borderline's hypersensitivity, a therapist's spontaneous feedback may be inhibited for fear of crossing the borderline's diffuse, undifferentiated boundaries. When boundaries are unconscious, sometimes the only way to discover them is by an inadvertent violation. If this occurs, it can trigger paranoia and a negative transference towards the therapist. Unfortunately, for both client and therapist, the end result is a "no win" situation with the client generally terminating the therapy prematurely. When such a hypersensitive situation does occur, it is in the best interest of both parties to process their interaction and discover the etiology of the hypersensitivity to control
Some Characteristics of BP:
- A pervasive feeling of worthlessness, emptiness and
- Relationships have an on again/off again, destructive and "on
the brink" quality.
- Fear of ruining primary relationships. The partner of a
borderline may react to the BP's emotional chaos with anger and
- Borderline's test their partner's level of frustration tolerance
and anger. Borderlines can push partners to the limits of their rage
- Need for an inordinate amount of assurance and affection to
compensate for the heavy rejection experienced internally.
- Repetitive cycles of regressive behavioral patterns. The BP may
make demands for intimate partners to satisfy a deep need and to
alleviate the suffering for a lost, once loved parent. If these
demands are excessive, it may cause distance and eventual rejection.
- To varying degrees, borderlines are able to be in a relationship
while being partially or fully detached emotionally from the
- An inability to be assertive in a healthy way. When feeling
threatened or anxious, the borderline can become hostile, defensive,
accusatory and provocative.
- Eventual transfer of negativity onto their mates; i.e., they
lose love, withdraw, and become aversive to touch and sex.
Borderlines may transfer positively to extra marital symbols of
unavailability, with the hope for fulfillment.
- Pathological fantasizing or obsessing may become an escape from
depression, accompanied by paranoia about being helpless, immobile
- There is a love/hate ambivalence toward the opposite sex parent and a feeling of abandonment by the same sex parent. This leads to the deflated quality associated with depression.
Borderline Personality Disorder is a debilitating and destructive disorder. However, it can be healed. If you or someone you know displays more than half of these behavioral characteristics, please seek qualified professional help. Feel free to contact me for a free referral. Good luck in your Odyssey!
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