Strong Feelings: Living With Borderline Personality Disorder

Anger and hatred–or compassion? What feelings does bpd evoke for you?

Posted Oct 22, 2018

 (c) kozzi/fotosearch
Frequent rages can indicate a borderline personality disorder.
Source: (c) kozzi/fotosearch

In my clinical practice, in my TEDx talk, and also in the books that I write on marriage and on coping with negative emotions, I mainly address the challenges that everyone faces from time in their relationships and in their personal emotional experiences.  Borderline personality disorder falls into a different category. 

What is borderline personality disorder, or bpd as it is commonly called?

Most people experience super-strong negative emotions only when challenged by a particularly painful or frightening circumstance.  For someone with bpd, intense negative feelings may arise on a daily basis. Someone with bpd may be able to function normally at times, particularly at work, with emotional eruptions managed effectively for the most part.  However untreated or particularly severe bpd can make normal functioning difficult to sustain at all, and can invite drug use, rages, abusive behavior toward self and toward loved ones, and other extreme behaviors.

As I have written in an earlier blog-post, men and women with borderline personality disorder suffer from what at core seems to be an amygdala dysfunction.  The amygdala—an almond-shaped set of mental controllers that lie deep in the brain—controls when and how intensely feelings come up to warn you of danger. 

When the amygdala is hyper-reactive, it gives false alarms of danger and false alarms of the seriousness of a provocation.  With this disorder, not getting something you want can feel catastrophic.  People can appear to be abandoning you when that was not their intent.  And people may in fact want to get away from you because so much drama overwhelms or exhausts them.  

The result of excessive amygdala reactivity is episodic intense emotional storminess.  Depression and anxiety frequently replace moments of calm.  Anger ranging in intensity from mild irritation to frightening rage can erupt at any moment.  These emotional hurricanes can wreak havoc on the lives both of people with the disorder and of others who deal with them.

For many, and maybe most, people who struggle with bpd, situations of potential loss of relationship, which the person with bpd experiences as potential abandonment, feel particularly terrifying.  At the same time, many other life stresses—criticism, disappointments, not receiving what they feel they are entitled to, and more—can cause emotional upheavals. 

Why this post?

A reader of one of my earlier blog posts on bpd wrote in the Comments section a poignant description of living with borderline personality disorder.  I do not know if the writer was male or female.  Both men and women struggle with bpd.  Both men and women often are misdiagnosed as addicted, narcissistic, paranoid, obsessive, depressed, highly anxious, sociopathic or abusive rather than as also having a borderline disorder. 

In any case, the reader's description of borderline phenomena, I am hoping, could be helpful for the many people who either struggle personally with or live with someone who has this emotionally disruptive and destructive disorder.

The poem/prose this person wrote affected me deeply.  Thank you to "Growing Up BPD" for sharing your profoundly insightful perspective.  I am confident that your clarity, realism, and compassion will prove helpful to many readers.

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Warning: The first verse in the poem below includes one sentence describing an act of cruelty to animals.  Readers with bpd tendencies might want to prepare themselves before reading.

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Comment Submitted by "Growing Up BPD"

I grew up with a BPD father
He physically abused myself and siblings
He verbally abused us
He abused my mum
He also had alcohol addiction that escalated his behavior and made him more unpredictable
We moved every few years because he could not settle and burnt community relationships
He kept changing his work - he was a printer, a shop owner, a fisherman
Life was hell
He killed our cat's kittens one night in a drunken raging episode. We heard him bashing the kittens against the fence railing to kill them. We were 5 kids under the age of 12 when that happened
He believed problems were brought on by others

I have BPD
My emotional stability is challenged every day
I can feel anger, hatred, abandonment, love, happiness, awe at life, depression, clarity and fog within a 24hr period. The emotional instability is like standing in front of a truck and trying to hold it from rolling down a hill.
My ability to study and stay focused takes every ounce of will. Knowing I'm intelligent but unable to tap into that consistently impacts my sense of self-worth
My career has been impacted because of episodes that take me away from work
I have attempted to end my life twice during episodes
I have used alcohol and drugs to try to stop the deep pain that I feel. The pain is an empty unloved loneliness, a pit of blackness that never leaves. It is always on the edge of my consciousness regards other positive feelings I may feel in the moment.

I was misdiagnosed until my mid 40s
Hospitalized
Put on drug cocktails
Put through various therapy attempts
The shame I feel about myself because of my emotional episodes is deep, to the point I withdrew from relationships because I didn't want anyone to see the ugliness of an episode.

BPD is insidious
I grew up with it twice
As a family member whose childhood was about surviving
As an individual who's own growth and personal realization has been impacted by the same illness.

My dad was a casualty of an undiagnosed mental health illness.
I love him and I forgive him
He was and is not the illness.
He suffered as did our family

In later life, he had massive medical issues
Through 5 years of taking him to doctors and hospitals, I got to know the man behind the illness
It was during that period I saw the man my mum fell in love with, the illness that took his life away

Behind the illness is a person
The person is not the illness
They are a person whose one life is being torn away from them by a medical condition.

Final note on bpd from Dr. Heitler to readers

If the above writing describes your experience or the experience of someone you know, this awareness can mark the beginning of change.  Help is available.

There are now many borderline personality disorder treatment options. Do avail yourself of these.  Your life, and the lives of your loved ones, can become far less painful and far more gratifying.  Wishing you all the very best.

Dr. H.