SYCHOANALYTIC writers tend
to focus on identityor, to be more precise, the lack of a stable
identityas the core of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). But in
my experience, given what I know about identity
(its all a frauda social illusion),
the real core of BPD, and other personality problems with Borderline elements,
is rage. Rage is a raw and primitive form of
anger as a response to intellectual, physical, or
Personality Disorder applies as a descriptive
term to a person who, among other things, is characterized
Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined
Unstable self-image or sense of self
Impulsivity (usually involving sexuality,
alcohol, or drugs)
threats, or self-mutilating behavior
Periods of emotional volatility and
instability of mood
Chronic feelings of emptiness
Frequent arguments, constant
anger, recurrent physical fights
The clinical diagnosis of
Borderline Personality Disorder requires several specific criteria, but many
persons can experience some BPD symptoms apart from any clinical diagnosis.
These symptoms tend to
develop from early childhood experiences of chronic emotional abuse, sexual abuse,
physical abuse, or a combination of various forms of abuse and trauma.
That is, when children are not raised in an environment of loving guidance and protection,
but are instead mistreated and manipulated, they will be crippled psychologically and
spiritually with a smoldering inner sense of self-loathing, mistrust of others, and
Regardless of whether or
not the symptoms meet the criteria for a clinical diagnosis of BPD, the treatment is the
same: learn to understand that the symptoms derive from childhood emotional injuries,
and then learn to respond to injuries in the present without falling into
The Rage from
If you have problems
with borderline symptomatology, and if you look closely, you will see that
all of your interpersonal difficulties in both the past and the present
wereand arebased in feelings of rage as a result of the trauma of
beingor feelingunnoticed and emotionally abandoned. Abandoned, traumatized,
and helpless. You will find that your whole being is given overconsciously or
unconsciouslyto inflicting hurtful
revenge on the world around you for neglecting your
emotional and physical needs and leaving you helpless.
In essence, this
rage is a dramatic attempt to get
back at the person who injured you. Even
masochistic self-abuse (also called
self-mutilation) can have a component of this revenge. In cutting, for example,
you let out your rage in slow, controlled doses; in seeing your
blood, you see yourself showing your woundyour lifes bloodto
the Other who, you feel, has disavowed the value of your
So, too, attempts
at suicide are attempts at revenge. Ill
show them! Maybe when Im dead they will realize how miserably theyve
Of course, suicide
can also have the component of a desire to silence the rage. Drugs, alcohol,
and sexuality can also be used to
silence the rage. But none of these attempts to distract
your attention from your rage can ever be successful. What is rage, after all,
but a frightened infant crying because he or she has been abandoned? Ignoring
the infant and walking away wont silence the crying. The only way to soothe
the infant is to pick it up and find out what it needs in the midst of its
fearprecisely what your parents didnt bother to do.
The Rage Continues:
Yes, when you
were a child, your father abandoned you
emotionally, if not also physically. Maybe he was alcoholic; maybe he was
emotionally distant; maybe he was weak and timid; maybe he was abusive; maybe
he abandoned the entire family. Maybe your mother was harsh and critical and, not
knowing how to accept you in real love, abandoned you
emotionally as well. Essentially, your parents pushed you away with their lack of
love, and they gave you the implied message, You dont matter. So,
to cope with that pain, you protected yourself by pushing your parents away. You
found your revenge on them by becoming emotionally closed
off; you hid your true feelings from them, and you
acted out in
disobedience to hurt them.
But now, as you
are older, the rage continues. Whenever others offend you, you become enraged
and you push them away, just as you pushed your parents away. Everyone who
offends you, you push away. But you dont push them away by cutting ties
with them, you push them away by making them reject you because you are so
desperate to be accepted.
The dynamic of
pushing away actually begins as a benign defense in childhood when,
confronted with your parentss general lack of real love you say, if only
silently to yourself in frustration, Stop! All you want is for
the mistreatment to stop. But then this initial protective act grows into an
aggressive act. You slowly transition from passively trying to stop the pain
to actively getting revenge by pushing away anyone who offends
Sooner or later,
then, you will look around and feel completely alone. Look! you
say to yourself. Im all alone! Even God has abandoned me!
But God hasnt abandoned you. You did it all to yourself. You pushed
them all away yourself. You pushed them away in rage.
have to cope with dysfunctional parentsespecially when the mother is
demanding and the father is absent physically or emotionallythey learn
to suppress their own needs and capitulate to the needs of the parents.
Essentially, the children learn that hiding their true thoughts and feelings
is the surest way to survive.
child will carry this emotional hiding right into adulthood, where it will
cause frustrating difficulties in interpersonal relationships. Always holding
back your true thoughts and feelings, you will feel constantly misunderstood.
And then something oddthat is, something
unconsciousoccurs. Blind to your own psychological
defenses, and unable to see your role in the communication
difficulties, you will blame others for everything. Its your fault!
You will always be in conflict with others because, in blaming them, you fail to
see that you are unconsciously speaking the
angry wordsIts your
fault!that you feared so deeply to say to you own parents.
This hiding and
blaming can manifest in two particularly destructive forms of desire. First,
it can manifest as a desire to control circumstances to avoid being
blindsided (that is, taken by surprise), which will amplify the
defensive tendency to hide true thoughts and feelings; thus you can give others
the impression that you are manipulative, calculating, or untrustworthy. Second,
it can manifest as a desire to control others (You need to do
[this or that]!), which will more likely than not be followed by
outbursts of mutual anger.
How can there
ever be healing when those words of blameIts your
fault!are constantly on your lips?
of blame explains why BPD clients are so dreaded not only by friends and
spouses but also by many psychotherapists. If the psychotherapists havent
done their own psychological scrutiny to immunize themselves
from from getting caught in the unconscious of their
clients, those unwary psychotherapists will find that no matter how hard
they work, no matter how much of an effort they make, it only takes one BPD
client to make them feel like miserable failures.
The Trap of Seeking
the Acceptance of Others
Infants and very young
children are by nature helpless and entirely dependent on their parents’ care and
protection. Because parental rejection can threaten the children’s survival, children
develop a fear of rejection and an intuitive desire for parental acceptance.
In healthy families,
parents attend closely to their children’s needs and teach their growing children
the skills necessary to survive independently. Ultimately, the children will progress
from an all-encompassing desire for the parents’ acceptance to the development of their
own personal interests and desires, and they will be well prepared to enter society as
In dysfunctional families,
though, constant blame and criticism by the parents will keep the children in such a
state of fear that the children will suppress their own interests in order to maintain
a vigilant focus on the necessity of having the acceptance of their parents.
life this anxious focus on getting acceptance from others will define the nature of a
person’s locus of control (from the Latin locus,
place) as being external. Locus of control refers to the psychological “place” in
which a person puts responsibility for the outcomes of various life situations. Persons with
an external locus of control attribute outcomes not so
much to personal actions as to the actions of other people—or luck. Thus when you have an
external locus of control you essentially live in a perpetual feeling of frustration, always
blown about by the whims of the world around you. When you’re caught up in this state of mind,
it seems as if your life is being stolen from you. You can never rest, and you can never get
enough from life to feel satisfied. There is no room for your own interests and desires
because everyone always seems to get in your way, or let you down, or ignore you, or reject
you, and you always end up angry—and it all goes back to the
childhood pain of not getting the acceptance of your parents.
If you are always focused
on external things, you will always have a bottomless reservoir of resentment for your
rage to feed upon.
In contrast, persons with an
internal locus of control perceive that they can
personally exert command over the outcome of any situation because their motivation is
always internal; that is, focused on their personal desires. With such a state of mind, you
will not be thwarted by obstruction from external events, and you will keep your focus on the
objective you are seeking. Even if you encounter a situation that is truly impossible (such
as changing the behavior of another person, or of preventing a natural or social tragedy)
you will still have command over your reactions to that situation.
Therefore, emotional healing
from the painful rejections experienced in childhood depends on your shifting your mental
focus away from what other persons do and toward a curiosity about your own inner
experiences. This process requires dedicated effort, but it can be done in psychotherapy.
If it is done well, you will recover a deep respect for your own personal interests and
desires, and you will experience the peace of mind of being free from the rage of a
the Real, and the Symbolic
Now, some persons
will insist that because your original wound happened in your early infancy,
before you could communicate with language (that is, in a pre-verbal
psychological state), the psychotherapist must take on the actions of a caring,
supportive parent until you can experience pre-verbal healing, and then you
can progress to a higher, cognitive level of treatment. Well, that idea misses
the point that you are now an adult with adult language skills, and that
the point of the treatment is to give adult linguistic expression to a trauma
that overwhelmed you as an infant precisely because the
trauma could not be contained symbolically in
So what does
symbolically in language mean? Well, here it will be necessary
to explain the three realms of psychological experience.
Realm of the Imaginary derives from the
pre-verbal state of childhood. As children, we needand desireothers
to take care of our needs, but, without language, we conceive of this caretaking
imaginally; that is, as images in our minds. Hence the realm of the
imaginary is all in our heads, so to speak; its all based in the
expectation that your needs should be fulfilled, and it provokes
anger when your needs arent
Now, when a parent
takes care of a helpless infant, the caretaking can be an act of
purerather than imaginarylove in which the parent is concerned
only for the infants ultimate good.
But once the child becomes capable of language and independent thought, then
caretaking can fall back into the imaginary realm and degenerate into mere
bribery, in which a parent gives only to manipulate the child
with game-playing and guilt into behaviors more
suited to the parents comfort than the childs
Even in adulthood the desire for romantic fulfillment in another person resides
in the realm of the imaginary because romantic fulfillment depends on fantasies
of someone giving you what makes you feel good. As hard as it is to
admit it, and as much as it contradicts popular culture,
romantic sentiment is based in self-indulgence,
not in a selfless love.
the pursuit of happiness, which characterizes contemporary culture, also
belongs to the realm of the imaginary. Whether it be the happiness
of drugs or alcohol or food or sexual stimulation or extreme risk-taking
or athletic triumph or political triumph, it all points back to an infant
wrapped in unconscious bliss, protectedat least momentarilyfrom
the reality of its own vulnerability.
Realm of the Real is the place
of our essential fragmentation, vulnerability, and
death. Its the place where we find
ourselves wounded and helpless. To most persons, its a terrifying place,
and so most persons will do most anything to hide this reality from their
own awareness. In fact, thats the psychological function of a
symptom: to hide a horrifying reality behind mental and physical
manifestations such as addictions,
depressed mood, insomnia, lethargy,
gain, and so on.
then, when you encounter the real you
experience a trauma. Or, more precisely stated, you
experience a trauma if you encounter the real with nothing
but symptoms and defenses from the Imaginary
Realm of the Symbolic is the realm of
language. The truth is, when bad things happen to you, that
is reality, but when, under the guidance of someone trained to interpret
the unconscious, you learn to voice your pain openly
and honestly in language, you enter into a
psychotherapeutic aspect of the Realm of the Symbolic, and horror can be
given containment. Learning to speak about pain and
terror provides a sense of safety through a compassionate acceptance
and taming, as it were, of your wild unspokenand
secretthoughts and feelings. Thus it truly becomes possible to draw
wisdom from pain and tragedy. For example, as a result of talking about
dreams, or of exploring mental associations of one
thing to another, an image can be formed of the hidden desires that may be
motivating your self-defeating behavior.
To Heal the
So, to heal your
rage, it will be necessary (a) to recognize that your rage affects you to
the core of your very being. It usually takes good, competent
psychotherapy to do thisand it takes patience
and emotional sensitivity. Then it will be necessary (b) to recognize in
the moment how feelings of rage follow right on the heels of feelings
of insult, abandonment, and helplessness. And then it will be necessary (c)
to push past your fear and make the conscious decision
to respond to that insult without rage.
In order to avoid
falling into anger as soon as you feel hurt by someone, learn to scrutinize
carefully each event that upsets you. Ask yourself in the moment these questions:
What are your feelings about that event? How have
you felt hurt? Feel the hurt. Feel the pain of your helplessness—but feel it
without getting angry. Notice how hurt always precedes anger because
anger is a hostile reaction to feeling hurt.
A common way to
block out unpleasant and frightening emotions, especially emotions of helplessness,
is with anger, allowing free reign to impulses of hatred and revenge. When you
get angry you don’t really allow yourself to feel your inner vulnerability and hurt.
All you can think about in the moment is your desire to get revenge, to defend your
pride, to do something—anything—to create the feeling that you have power and
importance. In essence, your outbursts of rage paradoxically hide your inner
feelings of vulnerability, so you never recognize the hurt you’re feeling that
triggers your hostile reaction. All the bitterness and hostility is a big puff of
smoke, an emotional fraud. It hardens your heart toward others so that you can
seal off your own emotional pain.
each example of hurt back into its roots in the past to other times and
circumstances when you felt the same way. Carefully scrutinize your childhood
and examine your memories of painful events to discover what you were really
feeling then, in those circumstances.
impulsive reactions to present injuries are the
unconscious expression of the emotions and fantasies
you originally experienced, but suppressed, in childhood.
the previous two steps, now deal with each event separately, according to
the thoughts and emotions specific to that event. Do something constructive
and creative about each event individually, something emotionally
honest and not based in the desire to hurt the
other as you have been hurt. That is, choose something different from the
insanity of modern culture’s Satanic Rule: Do to others what they do to
you. Learn to express your thoughts and feelings to others without blaming
or criticizing them. Learn to express the hurt that underlies all your anger,
rather than just get angry.
Keep in mind
here that the part of you that falls into rage has
the emotional maturity of a two year old child. When you feel frightened,
its as if you become two years old again; you become a terrified and
angry victim, and all rationality and trust
flies out the window.
It will be important,
then, that the adult part of you be able to listen to the frightened
child part of you, as a wise adult would listen to a child: with patience
and kindness. Be gentle while the child cries and screams. Give the child
permission to cry. Then be firm in guidance. Youre crying because
you feel unloved, right? Well, to be loved it is necessary to show love to
others. So let your tears speak; understand what happened, and find
a way for everyone to be treated with respect.
simple as a-b-c. And that difficult. Because, essentially, the healing process
requires that you surrender your unconscious satisfaction in
being a victim and then learn to give to the world
around you the very thing your parents failed to give to you: real
You have been
rejecting love. You are even now rejecting love. Nothing in your life will
make sense until you remedy this problem.
When Someone You
Know is BPD
BPD individuals are
not bad persons, so it’s important to understand that BPD individuals want
someone to stand up to them rather than run from their rage; they want someone
to refuse to be pushed away by the hostility and to have the courage to face the
BPD rage with compassion.
Nevertheless, it’s also
important to keep in mind that BPD individuals are very sensitive to rejection, so
anything you say to them that has an accusatory tone will provoke intense
shame, such that they will stew in resentment and, sooner
or later, explode in rage.
Consequently, in dealing
with a BPD individual, it will be essential that you use strong, but sensitive
boundaries. Therefore, consider the following points
when you set boundaries to protect yourself.
in the passive tense. Rather than say, “You
hurt my feelings,” say, “I’m feeling very hurt right now.”
Be careful not
to tell anyone what to do. Set
boundaries by stating what you will do under specific circumstances. For
example, instead of saying, “Stop cussing!” say, “If I hear cussing, I’m going
to leave the room.”
Be willing to
teach. When someone speaks to you
with hostility, smile and say calmly, “I’m not going to listen to anything said
with rudeness, but if you speak to me kindly I will be glad to listen to you.
So go ahead, try saying it again, but with gentleness.”
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Related pages within A Guide to Psychology and
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Trauma and PTSD
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