Insecurity in Men with Borderline Personality Disorder

Insecurity hangs like a cloud over these men's lives

Posted May 30, 2014

Insecurity refers to a lingering feeling that you can’t count on your loved one: that somehow you will be let down, rejected, or abandoned. Insecurity is a dynamic force that drives behavior in both women and men who have BPD. However, insecurity typically shows its face in different ways in men versus women. But more of that shortly.

Insecurity has its roots in actual experiences—of rejection, abuse, or abandonment—and it affects how the man you love relates to you, even if those kinds of experiences have no basis in your relationship with him.

In some cases these experiences are truly severe. I’ve heard stories of men who were locked in a dark closet or basement as punishment. Others were mercilessly ridiculed, beaten, or even deprived of food or shelter. Some were sexually molested. It’s easy to see how such experiences would lead to insecurity.

But insecurity can also result from less dramatic but still damaging experiences. Here is one man’s story:

My parents divorced when I was about six years old. My father had a drinking problem. He also worked a lot of overtime at his job. He had built what he called a ‘workshop’ in a detached garage, but it was mostly just a place he went to in order to drink. It was heated and had a television. It also had a bar. After quick dinner, Dad would go to his ‘workshop’ almost every night, and I wouldn’t see him until the next day. For a while, after the divorce, my father saw me pretty much every weekend. Then, after about six months, he took another job and moved out of state and I would see him once a month. That lasted maybe another six months. After he met the woman who eventually became his second wife he would drive up to see me less and less. That was hard. The most difficult thing, though, was when he’d call and say he was coming up to see me. I would wait for him on the front porch, and he wouldn’t show up. After a while my mother would come out and tell me to go inside, but I would insist on sitting there on the top step, sometimes for hours. I remember I didn’t cry, but neither could I talk. I just felt so empty inside.

Did this man experience abandonment? He sure did. Was this abandonment as severe as being locked in a dark basement as punishment? Perhaps not. But it’s easy to see how it could sow the seeds of later insecurity: that feeling that your loved one can’t be counted on.

In another case, a man named  Paul experienced abandonment fairly regularly. It happened whenever his mother would stand by while he was being beaten or ridiculed by his stepfather, instead of coming to his defense. In Paul's experience his mother had ambivalent feelings about him: he could never be sure--would she come to his defese, or abandon him?

It isn’t difficult to imagine how these men’s experiences, different as they are, could both lead to different degrees of the insecurity that is a central component of borderline personality disorder. The problem, for men with BPD, is that they are usually very reluctant to open up--to reveal these experiences and how they may have affected them. Often their partners have no idea (or at best a vague idea) of what life was really like for them as children. By remaining a closed book these men deprive themselves of the healing power that can come through a truly loving and unambivalent relationship.

Another way to think of insecurity is in terms of distrust. You can think of trust as a set of beliefs that:

  • Most people can be counted on to do what they say.
  • Most people tend to be honest and trustworthy.
  • Most people do not seek to take advantage of or abuse others.

Not surprisingly, people who score higher on scales measuring trust tend to be better adjusted overall than those who do not. They are less anxious, less prone to depression, and have more satisfying relationships. Distrustful (insecure) people, in contrast, go through life in a guarded way, always vigilant against being let down or taken advantage of.

Does this describe you, or someone you love? If so, just how distrustful, on a scale of 1 (very trusting) to 10 (very distrustful) do you think you may be? How do you think your distrust may affect your closest relationships? Does it help to bring you closer together, or make you want to keep your distance?

Now, how does insecurity manifest itself in men differently than it does in women? I a word, men are inclined to externalize their insecurity. Whereas women with BPD are often self-destructive in an overt way (by cutting or compulsive overeating, for example), men reveal their insecurity by becoming overly controlling, jealous, and intolerant of differences. In the man with BPD insecurity reveals itself in an attitude of “It’s my way or the highway.” They are also likely to try control their partner’s behavior (and limit their freedom as well) as a way of compensation for their deep distrust.

One final point, which is that most people are not consciously aware that they hold beliefs associated with distrust and insecurity. In other words, they do no walk around saying to themselves “I can’t count on my loved one to be there when I need her (0r him),” or “My loved one will probably abandon me,” or “My loved one will not tell me the truth.” As a result the beliefs associated with insecurity tend to operate on an unconscious level and are reflected in the men's actions.

Sometimes—for example when they are asked to fill out a questionnaire or read a set of bullet points such as those just presented—a man just might have a sudden insight into just how distrustful and insecure he is. That insight, in and of itself, can mark the starting point for change.

@2014 by Joseph Nowinski, PhD

 Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and author of Hard to Love: Understanding and Overcoming Male Borderline Personality Disorder.