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Page Contents: Introduction / BPD Symptoms / The Rage from Feeling Abandoned / The Rage Continues / The Trap of Seeking the Acceptance of Others / The Imaginary, the Real, and the Symbolic / To Heal the Rage / When Someone You Know Is BPD


PSYCHOANALYTIC writers tend to focus on identity—or, to be more precise, the lack of a stable identity—as the core of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). But in my experience, given what I know about identity (it’s all a fraud—a 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 emotional abandonment. BPD therefore is not some shameful illness that a person is born with. BPD is really just a collection of psychological defenses—all related in some way to rage—that children acquire in childhood as a way to protect themselves from the emotional trauma they experience in their families. In psychiatric terminology, these defenses are referred to as the symptoms of a psychiatric disorder.

BPD Symptoms

Borderline Personality Disorder applies as a descriptive term to a person whose behavior is characterized by:

Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment

Unstable relationships

Unstable self-image or sense of self

Impulsivity (usually involving sexuality, alcohol, drugs, or food)

Suicidal attempts or threats

Periods of emotional volatility and instability of mood

Chronic feelings of emptiness

Self-mutilation, cutting, and self-sabotage

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 rage.

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 rage.

The Rage from Feeling Abandoned

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 were—and are—based in feelings of rage as a result of the trauma of being—or feeling—unnoticed and emotionally abandoned. Abandoned, traumatized, and helpless. You will find that your whole being is given over—consciously or unconsciously—to 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 wound—your life’s blood—to the “Other” who, you feel, has disavowed the value of your life.

So, too, attempts at suicide are attempts at revenge. “I’ll show them! Maybe when I’m dead they will realize how miserably they’ve treated me!”

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 won’t 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 fear—precisely what your parents didn’t bother to do.


Speaking of suicide, let’s understand that the practice of cutting is not a suicidal gesture. Cutting refers to behavior that cuts the skin deeply enough to draw blood but not deep enough to cause death. The underlying meaning of cutting is twofold. First, the cutter experiences a sense of control over pain; that is, the cutter can administer physical pain in controlled “doses” rather than feel completely helpless in the midst of overwhelming emotional pain. Second, the cutter, by seeing her (or his) own blood, receives reassurance that she (or he) is actually a living person rather than an abandoned, lifeless piece of nothing.


The Rage Continues: Pushing Away

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 don’t 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 don’t 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 parents’s 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 you.


Sooner or later, then, you will look around and feel completely alone. “Look!” you say to yourself. “I’m all alone! Even God has abandoned me!” But God hasn’t abandoned you. You did it all to yourself. You pushed them all away yourself. You pushed them away in rage.

“It’s Your Fault!”

When children have to cope with dysfunctional parents—especially when the mother is demanding and the father is absent physically or emotionally—they 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.

Eventually, the 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 odd—that is, something unconscious—occurs. Blind to your own psychological defenses, and unable to see your role in the communication difficulties, you will blame others for everything. “It’s 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 words—“It’s 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 blame—“It’s your fault!”—are constantly on your lips?


The dynamic of blame explains why BPD clients are so dreaded not only by friends and spouses but also by many psychotherapists. If the psychotherapists haven’t 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 confident individuals.

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.

Consequently, throughout 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 wounded child.

The Imaginary, 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 language.

So what does “symbolically in language” mean? Well, here it will be necessary to explain the three realms of psychological experience.

The Imaginary

The Realm of the Imaginary derives from the pre-verbal state of childhood. As children, we need—and desire—others 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; it’s all based in the expectation that your needs should be fulfilled, and it provokes anger when your needs aren’t fulfilled.


Now, when a parent takes care of a helpless infant, the caretaking can be an act of pure—rather than imaginary—love in which the parent is concerned only for the infant’s 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 parent’s comfort than the child’s well-being.
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.

Furthermore, 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, protected—at least momentarily—from the reality of its own vulnerability.


The Real

The Realm of the Real  is the place of our essential fragmentation, vulnerability, and death. It’s the “place” where we find ourselves wounded and helpless. To most persons, it’s a terrifying place, and so most persons will do most anything to hide this reality from their own awareness. In fact, that’s the psychological function of a symptom: to hide a horrifying reality behind mental and physical manifestations such as addictions, anxiety, depressed mood, insomnia, lethargy, nightmares, weight gain, and so on.

Psychologically, 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.

The Symbolic

The 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” unspoken—and secret—thoughts 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 Rage

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 this—and 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.


The Triggers of Anger

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.



The Emotional Bridge

Next, follow 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.


Remember, your impulsive reactions to present injuries are the unconscious expression of the emotions and fantasies you originally experienced, but suppressed, in childhood.



The Remedy

Having understood 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, it’s 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. “You’re 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.”


It’s as 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 love.

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

Individuals with BPD symptoms are not bad persons, so it’s important to understand that, deep in their unconscious, they want someone to stand up to them rather than run from their rage; that is, they want someone to refuse to be pushed away by their hostility and to have the courage to face their BPD rage with compassion.

It’s also important to keep in mind that when they do explode in rage, their communication patterns tend to have the quality of “insanity”; that is, they can be dramatically impulsive and irrational. Note carefully that it is impossible to reason with insane communication because it’s just a frenzied visceral outburst; furthermore, being “nice” (e.g., appeasing, capitulating to demands, trying to avoid conflict, walking on eggshells) in response to insane communication will only reinforce it, not cure it.

Consequently, in dealing with someone who has BPD symptoms, it will be essential that you use strong but sensitive boundaries. Consider the following points when you set boundaries to protect yourself.

If the person is in a BPD rage, or is just blatantly rude, then use forceful and succinct containment of the unwanted behavior.

Contain the insanity.  When someone rants in BPD rage, more often than not facts can be distorted, and trying to defend yourself against unjust or unfair accusations will be futile. So calmly but firmly say, “That was inappropriate and unnecessary. Knock it off!” or “Cut out the hostility! That’s a sad lack of charity!”

If the person is in a relatively calm state of mind, then speak confidently yet politely to address the unwanted behavior.

Be careful not to tell anyone what to do.  Set boundaries by stating what you will do under specific circumstances. For example, say, “If I hear cussing then I’m going to [leave the room, or hang up the phone, etc.].”

Be willing to teach.  As an extension or the above point, 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 then I will be glad to listen to you. So go ahead, try saying it again, but with gentleness.”

Resist the temptation to respond to accusatory e-mail, text, or telephone messages.  Responding to such messages puts you in the impossible place of trying to reason with insanity. The only sane recourse is to ignore all such messages.


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The Spiritual Dimension of
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The Spiritual Dimension of
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