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Fear Of Abandonment And Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Therapy.

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Fear Of Abandonment: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Therapy

Borderline Personality Disorder falls into two categories, both of which are peopled by individuals who are yearning for love:

(1) The Acting Out Borderline.

(2) The Quiet Borderline.

Essentially both types of Borderline Personality Disorder are characterised by individuals with deep fears of real or imagined abandonment and rejection, by those closest to them. When someone with BPD perceives abandonment is likely they can respond in two extreme ways, depending upon whether they have the Acting Out or the Quiet type of the disorder. The Acting Out Borderline is well-known for their explosive rages, which can escalate from shouting, cursing, swearing and spitting to physically lashing out. Individuals with BPD can be ‘triggered’ by innocuous responses from people close to them. This is due to the fact that the disorder is triggered, in part, by the ‘core wound of abandonment’, which itself stems from lack of sufficient parental love as a child, perhaps even involving separation from a parent(s) for extended periods. (Childhood abuse is also correlated in many instances too.) This means that the triggered BPD individual is not ‘really’ only raging against the person towards whom their vitriol is projected in adult life, but at an unconscious level, in the direction of the parent(s) who abandoned them in childhood. Each real or imagined rejection or criticism triggers the ‘core wound of (childhood) abandonment’ and the rage that is constantly bottled up inside wells up from within, in an explosive capacity. In such moments an Acting Out Borderline can say and do very unpleasant things, which they do not always fully recall, due to coinciding temporary dissociation and distortion of reality. Such a condition is characterised by volatile romantic relationships, which follow a pattern of: Idealisation: Devaluation: Discarding. The BPD individual becomes obsessed with a person (termed the ‘favourite person’ by writers on the subject) who is unwittingly put on a pedestal. They might refer to them affectionately as ‘My Prince’, or even ‘My God’, or some other extreme form of idealisation. Unfortunately, when unmanaged this disorder always follows a cycle, which means that after a period of Idealisation, Devaluation is sure to occur. It seems Devaluation is triggered by a combination of factors, which can include (a) perceived rejection, (b) feeling engulfed by the affection of the object of their attention and the need to create space. Both instances result in conflict and Devaluation, either due to the perceived rejection or because of the feelings of engulfment. Depending upon the severity of the conflict event this can either result in a complete fracture in the relationship, bringing it to an end, in which case the once Idealised person becomes ‘demonised’ in the mind of the Borderline and Discarded, or gradually the fear of abandonment will overshadow the conflict or need for distance, drawing them back into the relationship, to keep cycling through this ‘I Love You, I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me’ process. If the one-time partner becomes fully discarded, this can result in ‘Punishment’ from the Borderline individual. This occurs because one of the problems BPD individuals face is that they have difficulty managing nuances and holding two conflicting points of view (EG. In reality, a person can be on the whole a good person who sometimes reacts poorly – but for people with BPD any person they are closely romantically attached to is perceived as either wholly ‘good’, or completely ‘bad’, they cannot recognise the alternative point of view. This process is called ‘Splitting’.) When punishment occurs, it can take many forms including the phenomenon known as Triangulation: the Borderline individual will try to draw others (a process called Proxy Recruitment) into a vendetta against their ex-partner by, for example, attempting to create conflict between the person being ‘punished’ and another who is (sometimes unwittingly) ‘on their side’. These malicious enablers who collude with the person with BPD are termed 'Flying Monkeys', after the malignant winged apes from the Wizard of Oz, who are sent to attack Dorothy. Remember though, the person being ‘punished’ isn’t really the individual at the time, but rather the absent parent, from long ago. The current partner is merely the unfortunate target for the Acting Out Borderline’s explosive rage. Unfortunately many counsellors are inadequately experienced to be able to identify and treat this disorder. BPD individuals often become ‘therapy addicts’, during which they adroitly conceal their disorder from the unwitting counsellor and use the time instead to talk about how ‘troubled’ those closest to them are. This provides the illusion of wellness, whilst concealing a serious unaddressed disorder. Left unchecked such a person is doomed, sooner or later, to repeat the Idealisation and Devaluation cycle in every relationship, perhaps ultimately leading to the Discarding stage. Conflict is assured (even desired: some BPD individuals often feel empty inside and will try to fill this void with extreme emotions, be they love – or hate: anything will do rather than (in many cases) dealing with the true source of the void: childhood abandonment). Interestingly: I recently read that some individuals with BPD who suspect they might have BPD symptoms but who want to avoid fully dealing with the possibility, preferring to live in denial, will, if someone close to them begins to notice the symptoms as well, Devalue and Discard that person too. Having Discarded a partner though, if the partner attempts to move on and begin a relationship with someone else, it's commonly understood that some people with Borderline Personality Disorder will attempt to sabotage their ex-partner's new relationship. They don't want them - but they don't want anyone else to have them either, it seems.

In contrast the Quiet Borderline will respond in what appears to be a diametrically opposite way to the Acting Out Borderline. Rather than raging, they will simply quietly begin to distance themselves from the individual they perceive has criticised them, or is about to reject them. No shouting. No lashing out. Politeness ensues, along with diminishing contact. The person they’re backing away from might never know either how hurt the Quiet Borderline feels, or how much they now dislike them. Unlike the Acting Out Borderline there will be few obvious clues… other than growing distance. The cycle though is the same: Idealisation: Devaluation and Discarding. The distancing is a form of ‘punishing’ too: but in a passive/aggressive manner. ‘You hurt me – so I will ignore you’. Depending upon the severity of the fracture, the Quiet Borderline might return to the relationship, or they might completely Discard the one-time object of their attention.

Many people with BPD engage in denial, it is a characteristic of the disorder, along with dissociation, paranoia and memory distortion. Denial can be a powerful obstacle. There is evidence that BPD can be caused by several factors including childhood trauma, predisposition... and heredity. One person who was verbally and physically abusive to her partner and who once grabbed a kitchen knife in a rage, holding it to her wrists, from which her partner had to risk his own safety, in order to wrest it from her hands, to protect her from herself, talked though of how her own father used to fly into rages and froth at the mouth, once even pinning her mother down on the stairs whilst holding a knife to her mother, who, then, after leaving her partner in an apoplectic rage, moved in with her by now elderly mother, for a period of months - until her mother's constant physical and verbal abuse against her became so severe that she had to move into rented accommodation, seemingly never making the connection between her parents' actions and her own aggressive raging behaviour towards her partner. She could clearly see that her parents were ill, but lived in denial of her own illness.

Dissociation is characteristic of both forms of BPD. It is a defence mechanism enacted to help ‘remove’ the triggered individual from situations which would otherwise be too emotionally difficult to cope with. Unlike sociopaths, who have no real emotions or empathy, people with BPD in contrast have great sensitivity, and, untriggered they are amongst the most caring, empathic, kind, thoughtful individuals you are likely to meet. Depending upon the individual, stages between one triggering event and another can be short, or long. When the stages between one event and another are long in duration, the person with BPD can seem to be a ‘High Functioning Borderline’, meaning, most of the time, on the surface, for all intents and purposes, to outside observes who are unaware of the inner sense of void, lack of identity and co-morbid depression the Borderline struggles with often, all might appear ‘well’. Individuals with BPD then are sensitive souls, who struggle because of their increased sensitivity and due to the core wound of abandonment. (What’s more, brain-science shows that the part of the brain which governs the ability to be self-controlled in stressful situations is less developed in people with BPD: which is why they react strongly and then feel deeply ashamed or guilty afterwards: without correct treatment, they literally cannot stop themselves from responding when they’re triggered.) 

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Apparently about 1/3rd of individuals with BPD also have NPD. Narcissism is characterised by the need for constant admiration, termed ‘Narcissistic Supply’. The narcissist is in love with themselves and they engage in (to quote Sam Vaknin) ‘egoistic and ruthless pursuit of one’s gratification, dominance and ambition’. Once an individual is identified who will idolise the narcissist, the narcissist will ‘feed off’ the idolisation, until it runs dry, at which point they’ll ditch their partner, in favour of a new source of ‘supply’. Narcissists can be very vengeful to ex-partners. In many instances BPD individuals are attracted to NPD individuals because the BPD individual is driven to Idealise the object of their affection, whilst the narcissist, with his over-inflated ego, thrives on such attention. Whilst narcissists can display characteristics represented by sociopaths, such as habitual lying, grandiose opinions of themselves and their abilities, spitefulness, etc (indeed some sociopaths are termed co-morbid narcissistic sociopaths or malignant narcissists) it appears that at least in some cases, narcissism, in contrast to the diagnosis of malignant narcissism (which is perhaps a different condition,) is a problem of core wounding, rather than core malice. Like the individual with BPD, the narcissist too felt rejected or abandoned by a caregiver(s) as a child and the traits associated with narcissism are, arguably, maladjusted ways of seeking to feel good about the self, rather than feeling flawed and worthy of rejection. 

Bi-Polar Disorder

Many individuals who have Borderline Personality are often, it seems, first misdiagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder. Indeed, Bi-Polar Disorder is often co-morbid with BPD. Succinctly this disorder is characterised by fluctuating mood swings (which is also a symptom of BPD), ranging from mania, to depression. Rage, as with BPD, also figures, hence, I suppose, the prevalence for misdiagnosis. My understanding is that BPD mood swings are, in most cases, likely to be faster, for example, in some cases a Borderline mood swing can go from ecstatic to depressed in the space of an hour, whereas in Bi-polar cases the shift takes longer and lasts longer.


Borderline Personality Disorder is a chronic condition, which at first requires ongoing treatment.  The first step to recovery begins by recognising that you have Borderline Personality Disorder and then seeking professional treatment. It's advisable that any form of counselling or psychotherapy should also be accompanied by a consultation with your doctor which will mean that quite likely you'll keep your doctor notified from time to time of the progress that you're making in your therapy and of any other relevant issues that may crop up as you journey through the process of self-healing.

Mood disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder to the outside observer might seem confusing at best and illogical at worst when we see them occur in another.  This demonstrates our own (quite likely unintentional) ignorance of the situation. Mood disorders like BPD are very real to a person suffering the effects of such a condition. The depression is not merely due to laziness but is caused by a pervasive sense of hopelessness. An argument is not the result of malice or indifference, but is influenced by other factors which heighten a person's emotional sensitivity to one degree or another, temporarily beyond their control. There is a contributory factor, a cause and effect cycle that underlies these events. 

If you have a close friend or family member with a mood disorder like BPD, the first thing you might want to consider is to learn as much as you can about the mood disorder in question, including discovering what medical science says are the likely causes, what the symptoms include, and, perhaps most importantly - what it feels like for the person with the disorder to live with the condition. This will help you to develop empathy and compassion for them, rather than misinterpreting their behaviour and concluding that they are simply being 'problematic'.

It is important to recognise that Borderline Personality Disorder not only obviously effects a person's mood, shifting perhaps from sadness to anger in a short space of time, but it can influence other aspects of their behaviour too, which in turn can add extra pressures to a situation. For example, it has been noted that people who have a pronounced fear of abandonment, because they 'always expect to be abandoned' can be prone to misreading other people's facial expressions, perceiving anger or criticism in a neutral expression, or in the 'heat of the moment' perceiving malicious intent, where none exists. Renowned expert on the PTSD symptoms of Fear of Abandonment, Susan Anderson writes: 'People with abandonment trauma tend to react to lovers, family, friends, or therapists through a lens that warps reality in such a way that they perceive slights and injuries that may not have been intentional...'. They are prone to seeing rejection or threat where none exists (because, in part, they always expect to be abandoned 'in the end'). Nevertheless, when time has passed they are sometimes able to reevaluate the situation and notice that things were not quite as they may have seemed at the time. 

Modern medical science is showing that mood disorders are caused by very real biological factors, often exacerbated by early life events (including abandonment and trauma) and other interpersonal difficulties (such as bullying at school). For example, people with Borderline Personality Disorder have been shown to have an overactive amygdala, and are often anxious and have a increased sense of threat awareness, whilst the prefrontal cortex does not exhibit the same kind of 'brake' or moderating effect on their strong emotions as happens in other people, which results in highly intense emotional reactions which are disproportionate to the situation being encountered. The brains of people with depression have been shown to function differently, particularly the amygdala, the thalamus and the hippocampus. Research has shown that the hippocampus for example can actually be smaller than the hippocampus within the brain of someone who does not have depression. In Bipolar Disorder the hippocampus has been shown to actually shrink, if the disorder is left unaddressed, no doubt, thereby worsening the symptoms. 

I'd like to share an analogy with you that has come to mind as I began to consider writing on the issue of Borderline Personality Disorder: imagine if you will a tornado sweeping in from out of 'nowhere', picking up everything in its path and throwing things around here and there - and then imagine what it would be like to become caught up in a tornado like this. You'd have no control whatsoever over what might happen to you. The tornado would be in total control, and you would be a victim in its grasp, until it dissipated and blew itself out and then, if you were lucky enough to survive, you'd have to begin to 'pick up the pieces', so to speak. This is what it can feel like for a person with Borderline Personality Disorder. The affective reaction they feel to certain life events can seemingly 'come out of nowhere'. For 'no apparent reason' they might feel sad or anxious... and confused because they themselves don't understand why.  They might feel irritated, angry or particularly vulnerable at a given time, and as a result things can seem overwhelming, resulting in a proverbial 'straw that broke the donkey's back' argument with a loved one, for no meaningful reason. In each instance, the person experiencing these feelings is a victim. They do not choose to feel like this.  They are like innocent bystanders caught up in a tornado, with little or no control over what happens, until the tornado subsides.  This is why compassion on the part of their loved ones is vital. Your loved one doesn't want to feel like this, it isn't nice for them, they suffer a great deal because of the mood disorder.  

What will Borderline Personality Disorder Therapy involve, you might ask?  First of all, you will need to receive a clinical diagnosis from your doctor, psychiatrist or clinical psychologist of Borderline Personality Disorder. I must receive a copy of this diagnosis. Without such evidence, for clinical reasons, I cannot work with you. When your diagnosis is presented we can then meet to explore the possibility of working together over a period of time. Therapy will require time and commitment on your part. You will need to prepare to be fully open and honest with regard to your circumstances and symptoms. Partial discussion will not likely achieve very good results.  You will also be expected to remain in contact with your doctor, as we seek to develop insight and understanding of your symptoms and of how they positively and negatively affect your life. And then you'll be given the opportunity to practice using certain cognitive and behavioural methods for improving your situation, in real life circumstances.  It takes full commitment to improve a chronic condition like BPD. (Anyone who says otherwise is being disingenuous.)  However, if you're prepared to commit fully to the therapy process then you have the potential to make meaningful progress. 

Borderline Personality Disorder Therapy sessions are £50.00 per hour. In the first instance please phone me on 01392 580680 to discuss the possibility of working together. Therapy sessions take place in the Bournemouth area.


Some useful videos by other people:


Living With Borderline Personality Disorder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_xdWrx_TTI 


Healing Abandonment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OOzXAz9Z8aA 


An Open Letter From Those With Borderline Personality Disorder To Their Loved Ones: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGXdxtZZisE 


Crash Course Videos:

This video provides an up-tempo overview on the subject of personality disorders in general: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4E1JiDFxFGk 

And here's a video by the same presenter on the subject of psychotherapy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nEL44QkL9w 

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