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The term “Borderline Personality” is a largely misunderstood label that often gets used to categorise and generalise a person who exhibits a number of volatile, emotional and unstable behaviours. The psychiatric term “Borderline Personality” was only agreed and defined as late as the 1980’s. It is variously described by the American Psychiatric Association as “a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity”.
According to the American psychiatric manual which is known as the DSM – IV (2006), the Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is characterised by a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment;
- a pattern of unstable & intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation;
- identity disturbance: markedly and persistent unstable self-image or sense of self;
- impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g. spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating);
- recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures or threats, or self-mutilating behaviour;
- affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days);
- chronic feelings of emptiness;
- inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights); and
- transient, stress related paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms;
The Borderline Personality is one where the affected person can have an emotional state that demonstrate shifts between neurosis and psychosis, and who is particularly triggered by perception of, or real occurrences of abandonment or rejection. They exist part of the time in the borderline state of normality but are often bordering on or can be easily triggered into an unstable or psychotic state.
In this general framework there can be a number of exhibited behaviours and hence it has been the case that this definition can be wrongly used to label “difficult” or emotionally volatile adults. The Borderline personality does not have a healthy sense of self. Their childhood backgrounds will be found to have been chaotic, unsafe, or abusive, possibly in the face of being raised by a troubled mother, or possibly father.
It is known that a generational trauma wounding can run generationally in families. The 20th century was one marked by much trauma including two world wars, a Great Depression, and much hidden childhood sexual abuse. It has been shown that a Borderline personality may have developed under the roof of a mentally unwell, and possibly Borderline personality or Narcissistic mother.
The Borderline personality is one that has its wounding strongly attributed to the early life relationship with their mother. The established neuroscience work of Stephen Porges, and Sue Carter, which is collectively known as “The Polyvagal Theory” shows clearly how the disruption of the early life attachment process of a mother with its child can clearly traumatise the child to create a number of Bodymind health disorders, including Borderline Personality.
In my companion article How Early Life Attachment Affects Adult Intimacy and Relationships, I noted the key and primary role that the newly born infant child has with its mother. Our recent neuroscience based understanding of how the Attachment-Bonding process of the baby to its mother creates the very basis for a later stable and secure reality for that infant is a critical factor here.
Every child is born totally dependent on its mother for its survival and safety needs, its emotional, physical and food nourishment. A baby uses a process of mirroring with its mother to make sense of its world and to find secure attachment with the mother who interprets the world back to the baby.
Imagine if that mother is depressed, mentally ill, lives in an abusive relationship, regularly abandons the child in cold unempathic environments for long periods, or the baby exists with a mother who is either Narcissistic or a Borderline personality themself. Our human design is such that we should not replace or separate the mother from its infant child without very good reason.
This early phase of childhood from birth to age 3 represents a critical foundational stage for the development of the child’s reality, ego and mental and emotional stability. Render the mother insecure, unsafe or unavailable and watch how a deep and pervasive wounding develops in the child’s foundational reality and sense of self.
Before the age of three years a child does not have discrimination factors in their consciousness which enable it to understand that the world and what happens is not all about them. We say that children are ego-centric inasmuch that they internalise and attribute that what is going on with their parents is because of them. They do not understand that a parent has their own “stuff” going on that has nothing to do with them. Children believe magically that the world and other person events are tied to them personally.
As an extension of this natural naivety the child is incapable of understanding deception because they align their own beliefs to that of the mother and innately trust her judgement and reality. The problem exists of mentally or emotionally troubled adults having incongruence where the mother might feel one emotion but yet express another emotion, which is beyond the baby’s and emerging child’s comprehension to understand. They do not understand how hostility can be masked by a smile, which is a behavioural trait of both Narcissistic and Borderline personality adults.
In the cases where the mother has this type of incongruence in their personality and behaviour then the reality of the child will be impacted in a major way. Their stability and sense of reality will start to be compromised and to the degree that this incongruence occurs will be the degree to which the child starts life with a confused foundational reality.
In my pre-oedipal dynamics article I map out the 4 commonly accepted outcomes of childhood based on the type of mothering that any child got from birth to age 3. In the case of the Borderline personality the outcome for the child is described or categorised as being “Insecure-Disorganised” attachment.
This is a compromised outcome for the child who is then not resourced up to enter the important oedipal phase of childhood where all their psychological and emotional resources are required to deal with new, novel, complex and layered dynamics between themself, both parents, others, and life. The shaky foundational basis will intrude and affect them as they try and negotiate reality on a day to day basis with the increasing complexity of life that they must face.
Life becomes a constant challenge and is often reported as being like a drowning swimmer just trying to survive and keep their head above the water. When a child who was raised in the face of this set of early life dynamics comes into therapy they often report a common theme of an impulsive and disorganised self.
Commonly they report a fragmented, depressed, confused self as they were unable to understand their unwell or unstable mothers, and work out the realities of what conflicting representations their mother constantly presented them on a day to day basis. They do not typically present as a whole jigsaw puzzle, but as its parts which therapy should assist them in connecting up the pieces to find the bigger and connected picture of self.
The world of the child growing up with such a mother is an intensely dark and hostile emotional place, with cold hostility, craziness and inconsistency, abandonment, and possibly abuse dominating the themes of the family life and mother interactions. The child had the impossible job of making sane the insane, making stable the unstable, making safe the unsafe, and finding happiness in the face of suffering.
Such a child may or may not end up as a Borderline or Narcissistic adult personality themself from such a parent and a childhood. Borderline personality woundings can be multi-generational due to this fact and the wounding often constellates around women more so than men. A recent American statistic notes that nearly seven million Americans suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
The American Psychological Association notes that both men and women can end up suffering this disorder. It notes that men with this disorder often end up in the justice system and jail rather than the mental health system. This is because the impulsive, aggressive and unstable personality in men will often be found to act out in ways that see them labelled as antisocial, sociopathic, and are arrested for aggressive and violent behaviours, or drug and alcohol fuelled episodes.
Both men and women sufferers can have both suicidal impulses as well as psychotic episodes, and hence they exist on the borderline between sanity and insanity. As children they may have exhibited tendencies towards impulsive behaviours, rage-filled, oppositional, aggressive, depressed and violent swings (Lawson:2000).
The most famous description of the hellish lifestyle that a child faced growing up with such a Borderline personality mother, who also exhibited Narcissistic components, was the famous book “Mommy Dearest”. This autobiography is an account of life as the daughter (Christina Crawford) of famous Hollywood actress Joan Crawford. Here is a survivor account of the mothering dynamic that well represents the drama, craziness, hostility, unsafeness, and emotional roller coaster ride that a child endures in such a household with a Narcissistic/Borderline personality mother.
Children are apt to see their parents and significant others from a magical mind. In this way their early childhood is a blend of reality and supportive make believe figures, friends and characters. Some are drawn from their fairy tales, cartoons and stuffed toys. In the face of hostility, chaos, and abuse a child will often dissociate or leave their body or conscious state, and retreat into their own fairy tale reality in order to cope and survive.
Fairy tales then have a deep resonance with children as they describe in a child’s language and imagery the various personalities and people children have to deal with in the world. Children need fairy tales to learn about basic concepts of good and evil, loss and love. Children also resonate to the themes of such fairy tales and find hope and inspiration, and identification with heroes from such stories.
In my related article titled The Wizard of Oz – A Myth for our Age, I demonstrated how that tale was a deep psychological myth about the healing journey of men and women. The story in parable tells how they must deal with their inner woundings and the outer manifestations of wounding personalities. That tale concentrated its focus on the depiction of the Narcissistic personality, as depicted in the story as “The Wizard”.
In terms of the Borderline personality we look beyond “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” for inspiration and guidance. We must go back in time to the Victorian era where a troubled but logical author wrote a key archetypal fairy tale that touches on the underlying weirdness, volatility, chaos and strangeness of the Borderline parent and the challenges facing the innocent child in coming to terms with this alien mental and emotional landscape. Welcome to Lewis Carroll and the story we know as “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, and its related later counterpart “Through The Looking Glass”.
Unlike Frank Baum who authored “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”, Lewis Carroll was not a spiritual or psychological seeker of truths. He apparently had quite some trouble in his childhood, including significant neglect. Neglect is one theme in the childhood of Borderline personalities.
His books appear to be a more unconscious revelation of his own reality and childhood, and show the magical reality of a child trying to cope with a family life of instability and confusion. In the book we find only a brief experience of childhood play, before the quick descent from the normal childhood of Alice into the surreal and distorted world of Wonderland in his tale.
Frank Baum was quite conscious to what he wrote in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz as he conveyed the psychological parable of what a person undergoes in their search for healing, and the traps and dynamics that one may need to face and surmount. Lewis Carroll was writing children’s stories at face value but in doing so he revealed much of his own reality and ideas that are convincingly symbols of his own issues and experiences. I refer you to my related article Alice In Wonderland – A Borderline Personality Tale, to understand and explore some of these themes.
According Stephen Porges (2009), the way our emerging Social Engagement part of our brain works, is to basically follow a 4 stage process of self survival and stabilisation as we negotiate the potential for social engagement. These four stages need to be negotiated and satisfied for the final or fourth stage of bonding to be secure. The Borderline personality will be found to have been compromised across all 4 stages, and so is essentially a traumatised personality.
THE FIRST STAGE IS SAFETY
It is a basic primal state of security for humans to feel resourced and safe before they can activate other actions and motivations. Our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and our Vagal system both play primary roles in evaluating our environments for safety, and reacting to perceived unsafe stimulus within us and outside us.
In every moment we are checking via various mechanisms of sensory awareness and discrimination whether a perceived threat is emerging. Unfortunately for the Borderline personality they were often made unsafe, and possibly in a number of ways which could include abuse, neglect, abandonment, and frights such as angry looks, yelling, screaming, psychotic or addicted-affected behaviours of parents or guardians. They may have had a combination of physical, mental, sexual, spiritual or emotional abuse.
As a consequence the adult now has a traumatised system which constantly threatens to rupture into trauma based on any number of perceived triggers which remind them of their original abuse. They are in a compromised nervous system state which “borderlines” trauma much of the time and makes them sensitive, twitchy, nervous and jumpy.
The consequence is that they often fail to navigate beyond stage one, which is establishing safety needs. When they do get past stage one, they may find themself undermine whilst in the following stages, and they regress back to feeling unsafe, and so trying to find safety in the moment, and ward of the survival actions like fight, flight, immobilised, and collapse that may want to activate from that safety/survival place.
This is why the Borderline may not “trust” themself in public, and so may choose to withdraw much of the time, and be in quiet environments where they are not triggered or aroused. In this way they struggle to have proper social-engagement with others as their own system undermines them more often than not.
The Borderline personality, like other trauma sufferers faces a constant day-to-day struggle to contain their overall personality as a stable representation of Self. They tend to feel themself vibrating or arousing which signals a threat of disintegration of their held together self.
A common way such a personality then reacts to this threat which compromises their safety is to find stable “anchors” in life by which they can anchor a stable sense of self to. They seek out and find safety and stability in solid, stable black and white constructs and objects of safety.
A common outcome of this is the development of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) like behaviours around objects such as time, reading, mathematics, mechanical devices, their bodies, the internet. They also may enact OCD rituals which serve to confirm safety as well as distract themself from stimulus or their feelings via such practices like having control over the exact placement of all objects within their house, cleaning, and checking all locks on windows and doors many times.
Another common outcome is to anchor themselves in work as an obsession. In this way we often find a traumatised or Borderline personality quite successful in their work life or career but their personal life is a mess of chaos.
Unfortunately their underlying problems mean that they tend to be poor people managers in work environments and so their success exposes them to senior roles in organisations where they cannot lead and manage staff interactions well. They tend to become autocratic and rigid, imposing black and white constructs, processes, rules, and systems from which to hide behind, and to manage others from.
If they are not managing they tend to gravitate to black and white process driven job roles that provide them stability and safety from which they can stabilise their work life around. They tend to be viewed as cold and aloof, or “hard to connect with”, echoing their basic problem of being unable to climb out of stage 1 (Safety), to move on to consistent contact/communication (Stage 3), and bonding (stage 4) with others.
The other key aspect of their anchoring dilemma is that they seek out a “protector” mate to whom they can anchor themselves and find safety. Traumatised personalities are constantly seeking to satisfy Stage 1 safety needs and so a “protector” mate is a potentially great resource to do this with, and also be the basis for them to then enact instinctual drives to move through stages 2 and 3 and create a safe bond (Stage 4).
Unfortunately trauma means that they often have blindspots around being able to discriminate safety and so tend to recreate their trauma by being attracted to unsafe partners, who may also enact their abandonment trauma by being emotionally unavailable, inconsistent, unstable or unsafe.
This is the genesis of how the borderline woman may often end up being attracted to the Narcissistic man. Narcissistic men by their nature often create a false and grandiose self that promotes a hero countenance, and strong protector and warrior/leader image to the world. They will seduce a woman with an alluring story of how strong, powerful, rich, successful and wholesome they are.
The traumatised woman will often fall for “the story” and their traumatised self will often not see beyond the pretence and superficiality of their budding “protector”. They will often feel they have found their “soulmate” only to realise later they ended up with an “asshole mate”!! who is not what they thought they were bonding with.
Such people often enter therapy with a “safety” issue which they recognise as their partner. In therapy they are keen to understand their partner and view themselves as victims which they are. When therapy gets to a point where the focus becomes what is their contribution to the dysfunctional dynamics this person suddenly quits therapy with no explanation.
What happens is that they feel “unsafe” exploring their own issues. They spend their relationship time and effort in trying to “fix” and control their partner so they themselves can be safe again. They tend to project their own safety issues onto the partner who may or may not be the perceived “unsafe” party.
When a therapist challenges their fixed view of reality which too is like a black and white anchoring construct in their life, they feel overwhelmed, go into denial, quit therapy, and try to go it alone with their controlling strategies again on their own. This dilemma means they tend to try and evoke a new round of idolisation about their partner and their relationship and convince themselves that this time it will be better and everything will work.
In reality we tend to see the looping reality of an abused person living in an abusive relationship they feel unable to leave. They ignore safety needs and instead create proximity, contact and bonding with an unsafe or abusive person. Their friends often point out the unsafe and abusive nature of that partner yet they minimise that and instead keep going beyond what any healthy adult would involve themself in.
THE SECOND STAGE IS PROXIMITY
Once a person creates safety and is resourced up within themself they will then instinctually gravitate towards others. This is because of the concept known as the “social brain” which means that we as humans are essentially wired to be social and seek social-engagement with others.
There are good survival reasons for this. The “herd instinct” which many animals share means that further resources and safety is afforded to those who group together as a herd. Typically a predator will not directly attack a herd but will seek to either isolate a herd member first, or attack a solitary member not connected to the herd.
Beyond that additional safety measure we also get additional needs met such as grooming, nurturance, contact, communication, and find the basis for mating and social activities. Our mental, emotional and physical health is directly related to the ability of each of us to socially engage with others, and our brains have been found to be socially adaptive, and of social engagement designs.
The problem with traumatised people in general, and the Borderline person in particular, is that proximity to others can emotionally arouse them and trigger them into trauma symptoms. The process of interaction provides a rich tapestry of social engagement cues, gestures, facial muscle changes, and speech, all of which may have been the objects of persecution, incongruence, and terror for the child who was traumatised by a parent or guardian.
If a person exists with a more or less hyper-aroused nervous system then additional environmental stimulus such as noise, light, sound, touch and internal triggers such as reminders of the past by hearing old songs, can overwhelm the nervous system. Such people tend to withdraw as they learn to “keep things under control” by minimising exposure to additional stimulus.
A traumatised personality will often shy from proximity with others for this reason. The Borderline personality often becomes unsafe in this second stage, and then retreats back into the first stage of trying to re-establish safety again. Safety means not becoming over stimulated or losing control of oneself.
For this reason they may avoid too much social interaction or even such social herd environments such as busy shopping centres which are rich in noise, sound, visual cues, and herds of unknown people. A problem can develop from this strategy whereby a person who withdraws then starts to become reclusive and shuts down.
Our Autonomic Nervous System(ANS) needs a certain amount of stimulus to maintain normal function. If a person goes into a shutdown state and does not get enough stimulus they become hypo-aroused which is itself a potential problem, and also one reaction to trauma.
If one thinks of sensory deprivation torture techniques then one can see how a lack of stimulus can lead to psychological issues. A child abandoned in an orphanage without contact, care and nurturance will eventually shutdown and die from a lack of stimulus. This was seen in Eastern European orphanages that were raided and investigated in the demise of the communist dictator era of the early 1990’s.
Given we have social brains then a lack of social engagement can lead to problems such as depression and the stilling effect of shutting down. This process can create its own health issues and so proximity and social engagement is a heath enhancing process for human beings.
Traumatised people are often seen attempting to bypassing proximity but instead make contact via virtual means on the internet. A recent trend is to see a person with few face-to-face friends but who instead consoles themself by having many Facebook or social media “friends” with whom they can “make contact”.
This can become quite obsessive for traumatised people who may fixate and anchor themselves onto this outlet for contact/communication that appears safe. Unfortunately the internet camouflages many unsafe types who may adopt false virtual realities and seduce an unsuspecting person into a dynamic that can lead to traumatic or unsafe outcomes.
Internet predators are a real issue not just for children in the cyber-playground but also for adults who choose to “socialise” via this communication medium. The instances of identity theft, cyber-bullying, cyber-shaming, privacy disclosure breaches, and fraud all make this medium a place to assume up-front is unsafe and just like Alice in Wonderland, all not that it appears at first glance.
THE THIRD STAGE IS CONTACT / COMMUNICATION
Once in proximity a person will instinctually have impulses to make contact and communicate. This is a primary drive in humans and is predicated on the same herd instinct reasons mentioned in stage two.
In addition we find meaning, purpose, and value from communicating and dealing with other people, whilst also learning and evolving. This critical growth impulse occurs across a spectrum of unconscious and conscious pathways in ourselves, and establishes the basis for communion and connection, which in turn reinforces safety, and increases resources one can call upon when in distress.
The process of contact, communication and engagement is a complicated one that involves a large part of our brain, nervous system, motoric functions, and feeling and sensory attunement states. A traumatised person will often be found to suffer a subset of compromised systems that promote this form of social engagement and so may come across as clunky, halting, incongruent, socially inept, or inappropriate.
The social herd part of our being is that in each one of us we find that we seek congruence and alignment with another when we meet. We may not notice it but just like babies with our mothers, we start to mirror their gestures, voice intonation, bodily postures, feeling states, and this results in a form of attunement and sympathetic vibration that creates connection.
When the other person fails to pick up on our cues and does not entrain with us in the mirroring process, we start to disconnect from that person and may start to view them as a threat. Likewise at a group level if one member of the herd starts to act out of attunement with the herd, or becomes disruptive or disengaged, then the herd may collectively start to place its attention on that one person.
If that person is traumatised then the disconnection and inability to find attunement and make contact/connection at the individual and group level, may cause them to re-traumatise, withdraw, feel unsafe. Likewise the other person may withdraw, judge, attack or mock that person, and the group may protectively isolate that one person from the herd as a threat.
This is exactly the problem that many traumatised persons, and in particular the Borderline personality, feel in social engagement situations. Their trauma means they are not well equipped to socially engage with others in single or “herd” settings and so they may have learnt to avoid the humiliation, confusion and re-traumatisation that such encounters represent.
This can activate the withdrawal survival response and see that person avoid face to face contact where possible and instead rely on either little contact, or social media, internet or phones to provide safety by which they feel able to again make contact and communicate.
A recent 2011 British survey found just how far virtual communication is intruding into peoples’ lives, and the resulting anxiety it is spawning in people who are increasingly relying on it to satisfy their need for contact and communication.
Alarmingly it has been found by this study that one in four adults now spend more time online than asleep with this group exceeding more than 6 hours per day on such mediums. The study found 51% of respondents suffered anxiety if they were unable to check their emails, Twitter or Facebook presences. One in three were found to check their personal emails more than six times outside work hours, one in twenty checked more than 20 times a day whilst one in seven people checked their social media sites more than six times per day.
Separate studies have found how the brain responds to such repetitious habit by creating an addictability to such practices. The tension or anticipatory pleasure at the thought of checking such a site creates addictive impulses, whilst the actual checking process either creates pleasure or frustration, both of which fuel addictive or obsessive tendencies.
The social engagement process is a dynamic process in humans which biologically is designed to occur in the flesh and not over a computer or phone. We actually need to make contact and engage with others socially for maintenance of our mental, emotional and physical health. When a traumatised or socially phobic person retreats away from physical face to face social contact they create the basis for further deterioration of their state of overall health over time.
Our brain is constantly learning and attuning to others via this social engagement process. When we cease or lessen to practice it in our lives we lose some of our future ability to do so with polish and ease. This can lead to anxiety states at the future thought of connecting, and a clunkiness and hesitancy when doing so in the future.
The neuroplasticity of the brain means that we “get back” those skills by using them again over time, but this is problematic when safety concerns keep overriding one’s motivation or ability to do so.
THE FOURTH STAGE IS BONDING
Bonding is an innate instinctual drive in humans as it directly relates to reproduction and survival of the species. Human beings bond at different levels with each other as well as other creatures. Bonding provides the basis for connection, meaning, expression and the mirroring back of empathic feelings, love, and nurturing states of being.
Bonding can occur from a place of healthy attachment as well as from a place of trauma. Consider the 4 stage process just described. Trauma can cause this 4 stage process to become corrupted and lead to a partial process where one or more steps are not activated or satisfied. For instance in the classical model of the abusive relationship one finds the abused party enacts steps 2 (proximity), 3 (contact/communication) and 4 (bonding) but completely misses stage 1, that being safety.
Here we find a person bonded to the abusive partner where by definition there is no safety, yet still there is proximity (stage 2), contact/communication (stage 3), and bonding (stage 4). Only safety (stage 1) is skipped or unable to be activated. The abused party is traumatised and their trauma means they live out an unsafe, abusive relationship they feel addicted to, and unable to leave.
This type of outcome is a common one for abused women. I have several female clients stuck in this dynamic at any one time. They feel “addicted” to the relationship and even know it is not healthy to continue it, yet they do. They even leave the relationship but would go back to the relationship tomorrow if summoned by their abusive partner.
Yet others quit therapy as they cannot face leaving their partner even though they come to understand in therapy how abusive the relationship may be for them and their children. They quit therapy and tell themselves “they can make it work” or “I want to see how it goes”, or “maybe the partner has changed”. Normally they are in a form of denial about themself, the partner and their relationship.
All this is the power of bonding which as an instinctual drive can override normal sensibilities and leave people acting our dysfunctional relationships and bonds they seem powerless to end. This is not accidental for human beings produce powerful opiate like substances called Oxytocin during the bonding process, and this is a biological expression of love.
Women produce more oxytocins than men and this is often why we read and hear of women going back into violent and dysfunctional relationships with partners who prey on their vulnerability, and then abuse them mentally, emotionally, physically and sexually.
The recent case of Saori Jones is a tragic reminder of this situation. This shy, small bodied Japanese woman came to Perth alone as a foreign student without the resources of friends and family around her. Her misfortune was to meet and bond with a violent man, Bradley Wayne Jones, described by Colleen Egan (2011) as “a drug taking drunk who sometimes flew into uncontrolled rages”.
Saori bonded with this man who had beaten her on a number of occasions to the point where she was a regular attendee at a women’s refuge with her two small children. Saori was severely beaten around the head o one occasion and the partner served with a community based order by the court system, yet still she returned.
The violent cycle persisted and she actually finally left him. There was no final safe outcome however as on an access visit to collect her children from him, court testimony reveals he was drunk and hit her “a full on punch that knocked her off her feet and caused her a huge bruise on the side of her face”. The offender then let her lay where she fell, and got her 10 month son to breastfeed from her dying body as their 4 year old daughter looked on.
It is hard to imagine how to imagine how a person would continue to expose themselves to such violence and danger, and at the same time expose their children to the same. We as human beings can enact bonding from harsh, vulnerable, and traumatised dynamics and backgrounds that outsiders can see is harmful for all concerned.
As a counsellor and therapist I see a range of men and women who are living unsafe or dysfunctional relationships which they ideally should leave. Some may be bound by economic and financial circumstances yet many more are bound by false notions of “safety” and “love”.
They typically remark they would be unsafe alone or cannot live without love. They are in denial that neither proper safety or love already exist in their present relationship and that both are only possible from disengaging from what they have bonded themselves to. They would normally quit therapy before they would quit their destructive relationship.
We as humans actually cannot survive and reproduce alone. We need others but trauma can make this a problematic bonding outcome. When we cannot socially bond to another person due to trauma then we may bond to a substitute such as food, drugs, alcohol, the internet, or some external substance, object or experience.
The Borderline personality will often be found to suffer trauma in all 4 stages of this social engagement process. Our mammalian nervous system is designed to work in a social environment and we need social behaviours to assist in down regulating the nervous system back within its range of safe tolerance and stability.
The Borderline suffers a compromised social engagement system and so they can be socially phobic, clunky, withdrawn, and also then have lost a way to down regulate their aroused or hyper-vigilant nervous system states. Alternatively they may act cool, composed like an “ice queen”, or as the detached and aloof “quiet man” who is trying to keep themselves from revealing any fragmentation or becoming aroused.
The fate of the Borderline personality was often that its social nervous system was compromised as early as starting at birth. The development of the social nervous system and how it supports the social engagement process in humans is foundationally driven by the early mother to child attachment bonding process.
This process commences at birth from the moment of mother child contact outside the womb. For that reason the creation of the Borderline personality will normally be traced to this early life set of dynamics with the mother and so is often considered a “mother wounding”. However other abuses at the hands of others can also create or deepen such trauma as one sees in the Borderline personality.
There may have been attachment and connection problems due to illness or disruption of contact and routine. Either the mother or the baby may have been periodically unwell. Another baby may have followed quickly after this one and the mother in pregnancy and post birth may not have been able to give the older child any more attention once the next child came along.
The child or its mother may have experienced event trauma. This means the child or mother may have encountered an experience or dynamic that traumatised them. This could be a car accident, robbery, war, assault, or anything that created a survival response for one or both of them and which compromised their feelings of being safe in the world.
In any case the child will utilise some basic defences in order to cope with any form of abusive treatment or unsafeness that it is exposed to in its early life with caregivers or from events. The concept of “splitting” is a deep psychological truth for both the Borderline and the Narcissistic personality. Psycho-analyst Melanie Klein is credited with the evolution of this concept as a primary truth in developing infants.
These splits will appear as polarities or extremes in the personalities and also between these two types of trauma personalities. For instance as a broad distinction between the Borderline and the Narcissistic personality we find two extremes. On one level the Borderline personality is extremely into self-control moment to moment. They have a shaky containing personality that is quite hyper-vigilant, either hyper or hypo-aroused, and quite into self-control. Clinical evidence over the years has revealed they are more commonly women who were wounded by their mothers.
The Borderline is paranoid and fearful of the outside world and so fixates on it, but primarily from a survival perspective. They are trying to be completely truthful with themselves and others, and their trauma leads to involuntary “acting out”, abusive or explosive emotional behaviours. They are in survival mode much of the time.
Compare this to the Narcissistic personality which is also basically from a trauma background. On one level the Narcissistic personality is extremely into self-control moment to moment. The difference is they have a strongly contained personality that is quite hyper-vigilant, hyper-aroused, and quite into self-control, but also complete control of their environments and others. They are more commonly men who were wounded by their mothers, and sometimes fathers.
The Narcissistic personality is also paranoid but aggressive towards the outside world from a place of mistrust, and so fixates on it, but primarily from a controlling and predatory perspective. They are not concerned with truth but with being “right” and so routinely lie to themselves and others.
The Narcissistic personality has well developed manipulation techniques leads to both voluntary and pre-meditated acts of aggression against others. Only when exposed or betrayed will one see a loss of complete control and the involuntary “acting out”, abusive or explosive emotional behaviours leak out. They are in predatory or self promotion mode much of the time.
EARLY LIFE DEVELOPMENTAL DEFENCES
Splitting starts young in humans. As a child’s sense of self emerges it is likely to come into contact with feelings of hatred. A child raised by unwell or unsafe parents such as a Borderline or Narcissistic parent is likely to have to face this reality on a regular basis. A lack of bonding due during adoption or fostering may also create issues. Regardless, a child at the age of two years is considered to naturally enter a developmental phase known as the narcissistic childhood phase of development.
In its two year old narcissistic phase of development the child is constrained to only think in absolutes. It will not yet have developed the complex psychological mechanisms that permit the acceptance of love and hate existing together towards the same object in the same moment. (Klein:1971).
Psychoanalyst Melanie Klein (1971) coined the term “splitting” to describe to describe this reality where the world around us is seen in either-or terms of the “all good” or “all bad”. The child develops this splitting in its infancy but it still operates in the narcissistic phase of the child’s reality.
The concept of “splitting” is where the child cannot see the mother both in terms of the “good mother” and the “bad mother” and so creates a magical reality of two separate mothers who each show up from time to time. This preserves the imperative of the “good mother” always being good and not being compromised by hurtful acts against the child. Instead the “bad mother” who is someone else is responsible for the hurtful acts against the child (Klein:1971).
In this way the child can vent its rage against the “bad mother” without threatening its own survival by killing off the “good mother” who supplies all its nurturance and survival needs (Klein:1971). A child will have developed a split sense of “good mother” and “bad mother” to cope with the reality of a raging Narcissistic or Borderline personality mother.
Carl Jung noted that almost all fairy tales employed the “splitting effect” of the “good fairy godmother” archetype versus the “bad witch” or “cruel mother or step mother” archetype (Jung:1990). He and psychoanalyst Bruno Bettelheim (1932) both agree that this is because it is a concept the young child already has a reality for and can relate to when reading such stories.
Lewis Carroll appears to have employed this splitting concept in his “Alice in Wonderland” story with the various Queens, and with Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum as a reality that reflects how he employed splitting to cope with his own childhood traumas. The use of chessboards in the story with their split into black and white squares also represents this concept.
The child must go through a form of object constancy where the child can hate its mother, and annihilate the mother, yet sees the mother is still existing and still there for the child afterwards (Johnson:1994). The child has the splitting defence to assist in this process. Unfortunately some parents respond to the child’s infantile rages of hatred, anger and defiance with punishment and their own adult versions of hate wrapped up as love.
When this occurs the adult in a sense is reacting from their own infantile thinking. An adult needs to be able to relate to the child in terms of the child being both good and bad at the same time for the parent to be able to contain a child’s emotional reactivity(Goldberg:1993).
When the adult is unable to move beyond seeing the child from a good-and-bad splitting mechanism then the child will be rejected and subject to adult parental hatred that the “bad child” now forms in the adult parents mind (Goldberg:1993). This is what goes on for the adult Borderline personality as they tend to see others and the world in very black and white terms through rigidly splitting people into such extremes.
We see in adult Borderline personalities that they may fall in love and see the “other” initially in terms of being all good, a saviour, perfect and a safe person. However their highly charged emotional self is also prone to project negative or paranoid “bad” qualities onto that same person. When this occurs they become for the Borderline personality a sudden shapeshifter, who has betrayed them, become an unsafe object, and become the object of their now cold, rageful, traumatized self as they act out of survival reactions.
What is actually happening is that the person represents a recreation of the mother or abuser for the Borderline personality. In truth the Narcissistic or Borderline mother may have gone from being loving to hurtful, from caring to cold, from accepting to abandoning, from stable to unstable, in seconds, and so the child got traumatized, and developed a splitting effect to cope with this unstable behavior.
As a later adult the now traumatized person is alert and hyper-aroused to anyone they “love” suddenly turning on them and changing into a demon. Partners of Borderline personalities report these extreme reactions occurring in their relationship, and which are triggered by small or innocent gestures, dynamics, words, associations or even smells or scents which trigger the Borderline into their “acting out” of rage and psychotic symptoms or episodes.
When this happens to a child who can have no concept of what the adult parent is exhibiting, they are themselves wounded in a way that sets them up potentially to become the next generation of traumatized and possibly Borderline personality. The child is engulfed and unwittingly drawn down the rabbit hole of the parent’s craziness into their adult world of distortion, madness, terror and rage. This is what happened to Alice in the fairy tale.
In a normal family a child is supposed to test its emerging narcissistic powers and feelings that unlock in the emerging sense of self against the parents it loves. It can test itself against those it feels safe with. When the parent turns against the child with an adult reaction that might be appropriate for adult to adult hate behaviours, the child is now in trouble.
This is how a Borderline personality parent may react to a child’s naughty or disobedient behavior. The child’s nervous system is not yet capable of containing adult rage in a way that does not compromise its felt sense of safety and survival. The child will traumatize as a result (Ogden:2006).
Children subjected to a parents rage will go into a form of trauma like shock (Ogden:2006). In the aftermath there can be an egocentric rationalization by the child that it is “bad” and so the child will start the process of identifying with its own hate in a way that creates self-hatred as a constant in its reality. The child may split itself into a “good child” and “bad child” based on parental mirroring and messages that tell it that it is bad. The child starts to become their Borderline or Narcissistic mother in the process.
A child who is shamed or punished when it expresses its own infantile rage and hatred soon learns to suppress the expression of such feelings (Goldberg:1993). The parent typically split the child into the idealized “good child” and force the child to disown its shadow feelings and behaviours as the “bad child” into their unconsciousness (Klein:1971).
A Narcissistic or Borderline parent may also literally split their children into “good children” and “bad children”, with others being more invisible. This splitting can be the genesis of what will create the next generation of Narcissist or Borderline person.
For instance the Narcissistic parent will often project all their own perfect, idealized, grandiose images onto the eldest child, or the eldest child of one of the sexes. By definition of the splitting effect they then will project all their own disowned shadow or negative qualities onto the second child, or the eldest child of the other sex who is not the favourite one.
The “golden child” is generally supported, empowered and made special by the patron narcissist, and so grows up with an inflated sense of self. Likewise the “scapegoated child” grows up with low self esteem, having been constantly criticized, rejected, punished or told they were nothing or bad along the way. They may become the angry “rebel” as a result, or collapse into the hopeless “addict” archetypal personality.
The Borderline personality also employs this splitting process onto their children, but with a different effect and outcome. For instance the Borderline parent will often project all their own perfect, idealized, grandiose images onto the eldest child, or the eldest child of one of the sexes. By definition of the splitting effect they then will project all their own disowned shadow or negative qualities onto the second child, or the eldest child of the other sex who is not the favourite one.
The “golden child” is generally not that well supported as happens to the Narcissist. This is because the Borderline may “turn” very suddenly on the person they “love”, and demonise or abuse them in the next moment. The result is confusing and crazy making for the child who feels both special but then flawed for constantly also getting it wrong.
As a result the resulting child may grow up to be a combination of the Narcissistic and Borderline outcomes. In general this is known as an ominous Narcissist who meets the definition of the more compensated Borderline inasmuch as they present a stable personality, but who are quite aggressive, controlling, self-serving and dangerous.
Likewise the “scapegoated child” grows up with intense trauma as they often are attacked and abused by the Borderline parent, whose psychotic episodes expose traumatizing behaviours that a Narcissist may never employ in typical family dynamics. Such children may end up with any number of trauma based mental and personality disorder issues, due to the intensity and recurrent attacks by the parent on themselves. They may not be physically safe with this parent.
The critical parent or the demanding parent who wants perfection and absolute obedience of the child “out of love” will tend to use damaging parental messages to the child. Such parents will be seen reminding the child what is wrong with it, how it “got it wrong”, how the child is stupid and needs to try harder, and how the child must be punished for its failures.
The child may receive messages its body or its impulses are bad, ugly, sinful, or some shaming construct. Here is the hatred that comes from love and here is the shadow side of love which if not dealt with in the parent will wound the child and create the basis for its self-hatred.
It is from such a dynamic that the child creates a false self of the “good child” to survive. Anytime the child is made wrong, made unsafe, and made unlovable it seeks to adjust and adapt to its environment.
It does so by rejecting and disowning into the unconscious all the hated parts of itself as told to it by its parents and caretakers, and noting what areas remain in itself as “lovable” and so build a false self around these parts where they exist, and become “lovable” for just parts of who their authentic self is.
All this occurs under the guise of “love” but is really the operating dynamics of the shadow side of love in action. We give up in our Narcissistic phase of childhood those parts of ourself that are rejected firstly by our parents, and then soon after by ourself, and create a defence and social mask based on what “love” tells us is our acceptable nature.
The problem for the child of the Borderline parent is that the wounding by them starts too early and continues for too long for the child to form stable defences and a stable social mask to present to the world. The adult Borderline personality is known for unconsciously creating splitting in various mundane and major aspects of their life and having rigid rules and black and white thinking. It is an attempt to force order upon disorder and provide stable anchors in a destabilised world.
For example the author of “Alice in Wonderland” shows these traits. Lewis Carroll had a few dual or split natures. His name was a pseudonym for his real name, Charles Lutwidge Dodson. He was known by his friends to have a “dual personality”. In this way he was described as someone who had on one hand a calm, quiet detached, logical mind and self, but yet upon him could descend “dark moods”. This Victorian era term is now thought to describe either a depressive effect or a raging effect, or both. It also shows another form of splitting in the psyche of the person.
This dual personality effect is a common trait of the Borderline personality. They may have a basic persona from which they seem to organise their core experiences, but this may quickly fragment and then another persona emerges which has a totally different look and feel to the observer. A common type of second persona is the “raging witch” which is demonic and destructive and may physically be unsafe to be around as it can engage in physical harm of others.
It may also be a childlike, waifish, dependent or needy persona which is collapsed and “young” in presentation. Both these “emotional parts of the personality” only tend to show up under duress and in the face of the person somehow becoming triggered or reactive to life and events in the moment. Later on I present a trauma model to explain this aspect of the Borderline personality.
The Borderline personality is also one which tries to exert control and to find safety in black and white concepts, systems, objects and dynamics. As such they are seeking stability and continuity in their world which may have been quite fluid, chaotic and subject to sudden rule or reality change.
Lewis Carroll developed an early obsession with mathematics which is a black and white construct that is stable, consistent and can be a form of escapism. As such it may have been an escapism from a troubled childhood reality where he retreated into books and his thinking mind. His authored books were full of elements of mathematics and logic, such as cards, chess, and the use of twisted logic or reality to arrive at sane or logical outcomes.
Another rigid concept around which the reality challenged child could anchor themself is time. Time at least was a constant in an insecure world where many stable things were rendered insecure, false or changed due to the psychotic reality, or distortions of the Borderline parent.
Children of Borderline parents have been found to sometimes possess a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Such obsessive behaviours are often anchored to objects or frameworks which provide the constancy or reliability unavailable in childhood, or which provide the safety that was not theirs in childhood. The OCD behaviours also assist in distracting them from chronic underlying states of anxiety.
Time could also be a trigger for some Borderline personalities who found reason to be fearful of many objects or events in their households as they took on some special meaning for them. The reason why time might become an anchor is that all the other constants such as rules and realities are fluid and not stable or constant.
A child growing up with an unstable, narcissistic or Borderline parent(s) may find rules are ever changing, only apply some times, to only a few, and in contradiction of other rules. This traumatises and undermines a child searching for meaning, purpose and stability.
The Borderline personality has only a tenuous grip on a stable reality and is known to suffer delusions and cognitive distortions when processing reality. They appear to genuinely believe their own distortions and as such are “telling the truth” to themselves at least. This is in contrast to the Narcissist who tends to know a truth but ignores it, lies, exaggerates, or denies it, but without necessarily believing their own distortion.
It has been shown that when a Borderline person re-traumatises and “acts out” such emotional states like rage, they can become amnesic of that acting out period of time. They may have no recollection of how that chair got thrown through that window. Everyone else saw them throw it but they are being honest in their protest that they have no recollection of such events. They are not crazy as they are just amnesic whilst in trauma activation.
A child or partner of the Borderline personality must face the crazy reality of that person and often starts to doubt their own reality in the process. A baby or young child has no effective discrimination to reject the often inconsistent reality presented to them, which creates object or reality inconstancy, and undermines their own stable reality.
One gets sucked down the rabbit hole and then must make the insane become sane or make the surreal somehow understandable, as was the challenge for Alice, and possibly Lewis Carroll. A traumatised person often spends much of their time doubting their reality as they struggle with life.
Lewis Carroll was also want of employing mirrors in his stories which reflect a truth back to the observer, and indeed it is “mirroring” that a baby uses to create their reality via attachment interaction with its mother. Alice encountered numerous mirror reversals in Wonderland which is symbolic of how the mirroring process was subject to changes or inconsistencies, which was a fate that befell a baby raised by a Borderline personality mother.
Another example of how the child searches for a stable reality from the inconsistent and distorted reality of the Borderline parent, is seen in his fictional books where Carroll’s characters consistently ignored the commonly understood reality in order to reach a more logical conclusion. This logical craziness is the often reported experience of adult children of Borderline parents.
They are forced to try to create logic out of their own internal inconsistencies, distortions, and fragmented parts of self. For example the mother may make the protesting child feel bad and so the child takes on the mother’s reality and feels bad and so must hate and punish themself for perceived wrongs projected onto them by the mother.
For many children raised with such a mother, the father was absent, weak, passive or abusive as well. This is a clue to many Borderline household dynamics where the mother chooses a passive and therefore “safe” husband who then later will be dominated and suppressed by the emotionally volatile wife.
When the Borderline wife attacks and rages such a husband may not protect the child as they too are in fear or supportive of their mate. The child notes the weakness in the father and this reinforces to them the dominance and power of the mother. They make later see men as weak.
The Borderline mother may walk the hallways at night unable to sleep. Their children may have trauma and so also suffer from a sleep disorder or bed wetting which affected them from childhood. They may fear sleep as nightmares haunt them which may be possibly their unconscious playing out nightmarish scenes and traumas unresolved from their childhood.
Lewis Carroll apparently read books late into the night or worked on mathematical problems to ward off sleep. Borderline personalities are often plagued with sleep problems and nightmares in adulthood.
Quite a number of children raised by Borderline mothers will go on to become a Borderline personality adult themselves. The unresolved dilemma of the adult Borderline personality not having a stable sense of self, or truly knowing who they are, is underlined by the fact that when the child leaves home the damage is done.
The craziness and challenge to their reality remains unresolved and is an internalised factor in their adult reality. The Borderline remains unresolved within themselves as to their true reality. Long term therapy is a key to their recovery of a stable self and an understanding of what happened to them.
THERAPY AND A TRAUMA MODEL FOR THE BORDERLINE PERSONALITY
The adult Borderline personality will often come into therapy for some of their depressive or anxiety based symptoms of the wider personality disorder. Therapists often struggle to understand the Borderline personality and may either misdiagnose or end up in a place of self doubt and confusion in regards to their client. Kuno Bachbauer, M.D. (2009), describes it as the experience of ‘It sounds sane but feels crazy’ became an increasingly reliable diagnostic tool for me”.
Kuno Bachbauer (2009) continues, “The challenge for me was discrimination. These clients appeared to me initially quite normal; At first glance integrated, professional, usually highly intelligent and able to talk and act quite sophisticated. Little did I know about the chaos and rupture they constantly experience!. On the other hand there was always this crazy feeling that what was said or felt was not quite right, even though it sounded initially normal and sane”.
This is the challenged mind of a highly trained and respected doctor and psychotherapist. Imagine how it is for a baby and then child living and relating to their primary caregivers who may suffer this condition. They are not resourced like that of a trained clinician. The baby and then child has no chance of coping normally in the face of this reality. The child will be forced to enact some form of defence and compensations to make sense, adjust and survive this dynamic with the parent.
In terms of bodymind psychotherapy a therapist is often able to see and delineate the bodily characterological defences and outcomes that pertain to woundings in key childhood developmental stages. The bodily structure and the muscular tone, chronic postural holdings and effects of trauma as seen in the eye often may inform one of a certain type of childhood dynamic.
The Borderline patient is not so easily read in this way. The Borderline personality was typically wounded from birth and so will show aspects of all the early archetypal pre-oedipal woundings (The Unwanted Child, The Needy Child, The Endurer, The Controller, The Perfectionist). These may or may not show up in the body but are often more easily revealed in cognition of the mind. Some degree of both neurotic and psychotic symptoms come and go.
In this sense the Borderline personality is far better understood not so much from a characterlogical model but more from a trauma model of being and coping. In the Sensorimotor school of Personality adjustments and trauma we find the concept of the “Apparently Normal Part of the Personality” or ANP (Van Der Hart et al:2006). In this schema we find the idea that the traumatised person operates from a stable persona whilst their Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) is functioning within its “Window of Tolerance” or (WOT).
The WOT of an average person is able to contain a degree of emotional arousal as well as internal and external environmental triggers without that person’s functional reality degrading to some activated defence. We each have a WOT of varying bandwidth or size of containment.
When we are activated by some stimulus or trigger we either trend upward towards the upper limit of our WOT in a hyper-aroused state, or we trend downward towards the lower limit of the WOT, and collapse into a hypo-aroused state. When we breach the WOT in either direction we are heading into our trauma reaction and trauma states.
In the zone outside the WOT lies our trauma schemas or sub-personalities. They are typically unconscious and inactive or dormant most of the time as we live contained within our WOT. When we degrade and drop out the bottom or shoot through the top of the WOT we are prone to enact one of our trauma schemas that lie in this state. The trauma schemas are an unintegrated piece of consciousness or defence activation that lie frozen in this realm.
These are known as Emotional Parts of the Personality (EP) (van der Hart etal:2006). These aspects of self were created in a traumatic dynamic and are possibly from our childhood when we were more vulnerable to trauma when our psychological resources and defences were less. At a young age our nervous system and its WOT is far more sensitive and has smaller bandwidth to life shocks.
Under this model we have a pre-traumatic personality that is intact and undivided. As a result of a single event or recurrent trauma we can then find a split emerging between the Apparently Normal Part Of The Personality (ANP) and the Emotional Part of the Personality (EP).
According to Van Der Hart et al (2006),The ANP “carries on” with normal life and adaptation to life during and after the trauma. The EP that has formed carries as a part of the Self the body and emotional memories of what happened and critically the survival responses needed to survive it.
Depending on the type of trauma, its intensity, repetition or duration, any number of key EP develop and compartmentalise within the overall Self. They reflect the different survival strategies needed in an unsafe world for that person. They live in the unconscious and are normally activated when the WOT is breached somehow and the “seems like, feels like” part of perception evokes the EP closest to this new threatening stimulus or trigger.
As with all trauma the EP will be trying to get the person to use a fight, flight, freeze, submit or attachment response that was originally evoked in the initial traumatic event. All trauma replays or re-enactments want to use the original survival response again and hopefully this time it will not be blocked or prevented from completing. The problem is with trauma is that just as the survival response to the original trauma event did not work, neither will it work this time in its replay.
The Borderline personality is better described from this model as a traumatised person who lives more or less constantly near the top or bottom edge of their WOT. They feel within themself their ongoing struggle to hold it all together as they vibrate and sense disintegration emerging as they run along the “borderline” of their upper or lower “WOT” boundaries and the trauma activation of an EP that awaits if they do so.
The Borderline personality typically is seen to have numerous EP’s constellated in their unconscious Self. They may range across all the typical survival responses of fight, flight, freeze/immobilize, submission, and attachment (crying). These can show up once the person is aroused and triggered.
Based on their personal history this may mean any number of external sense awareness stimulus (taste, touch, smell, and sound), may activate an EP and its survival trauma response. Likewise any internal stimulus (thought, emotion, feeling) may also trigger the same process. As we have seen a child who grows up in an unsafe and/or chaotic environment, such as that with a Borderline or Narcissistic parent, will be likely to have developed any number of EP’s over time.
In this way it is hard to define any one type of Borderline personality type using this model as a guide. However there are some general guidelines that various authors recognise when dealing with the Borderline personality. Not all of the following qualities need to be present but the more that are present show some form of trauma in the personality. This may create a Borderline personality when a clear majority are found to be present. Some of these key qualities and issues with the Borderline personality as noted by various authors include:
- Unstable Personal Relationships – they have a fear of abandonment, real or imaginary, and from this fear they make the relationship unstable.
- Black and White Relationships – partners are subject to idolization (God) or hatred (monster) as a form of splitting. The partner oscillates between being seen as very good or very bad.
- Frequent Anger and emotional eruption.
- A disposition of paranoid thinking.
- Unstable sense of Self. They can go into tail spin or collapse easily.
- Defective sense of Self. Convinced they are defective.
- Impulsive self-destructive behaviour.
- Addictive personality traits and attraction to such pursuits as gambling.
- Poor judgement (e.g. reckless driving).
- Irresponsible sex.
- Spending money impulsively and recklessly.
- Self-mutilation or burning oneself. They often use this in order to feel and they find solace in this.
- Thoughts, threats, plans or committing suicide
- Attachment issues with children. Lack of bonding or emotional connection.
- More likely to be a women. Statistics show 80% of Borderline personalities are women.
- Likely to have been traumatised by early unsafe environments and/or parents. May have been sexually abused in childhood. There was no consistent nurturing and they were often rejected or criticised.
- They have traits of neurotic/psychotic behaviour.
- They look normal. They do not hallucinate – live in a world of unforgiving extremes.
- They are extremely needy but in fact operate from a blend or split between dependence and hostility.
- They often have fear of being left alone, and the night time and darkness may frighten them.
- The partner in relationship feels like they are always defending themself. They put the partner on a pedestal and then tear them down. The partner walks on eggshells around them.
- They may make unreasonable or impossible demands of others.
- They struggle to feel and so express their needs , wants and feelings.
- They struggle to love and yet they are healed by love.
- They may have been adopted out at birth.
- They may have been fostered out or in an orphanage where love was absent and no bond formed with the guardians.
- There may have been childhood physical or sexual abuse by parent, relative, adult or sibling.
- Has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) rituals and practices, possibly around time, mathematics, or other black and white, or mechanistic constructs. Possibly has safety rituals like checking door and window locks many times.
- Often may start but not finish projects or tasks.
- Attracted to Narcissistic partners.
- May be amnesic during emotional trauma based outbursts and later claim they never happened. They may not relate to their behaviours as theirs.
- May live contact/communication needs through the internet such as Facebook and not have many face to face relationships they trust.
- May start and lose friendships quickly where they blame other for being unsafe or betrayer.
- Lives in extreme environment of either mess or pristine, rigid exactness, or flip flops. This is an example of a split that Borderlines may live out in their lives.
Some people with a range of these symptoms may have trauma rather than a personality disorder. Some of these characteristics and qualities also relate to other conditions.
Always consult a Mental Health professional for advice with respect to any concerns you may have about your own issues. Never self diagnose based on this or any article, and do not label another person in this way.
THE BORDERLINE AND NARCISSISTIC COUPLE IN RELATIONSHIP
In general, the Borderline personality is often found to end up in relationship with the Narcissistic personality. As a general rule it is said that a traumatised person will unconsciously recreate the original dynamics that wounded them. If one considers the dynamics of the Borderline personality and the Narcissistic personality then it is easy to see how they can be attracted together, and then have an often volatile and traumatising relationship as a result.
Often the female Borderline personality is attracted to a powerful and safe father figure who will protect her from her demons and the world out there that keeps her fragile and unsafe. She will idolise and make this person a God or a King, and initially worship him as a saviour. She will work hard to make the relationship work and prove herself as worthy even though she feels defective and unworthy. She feels grateful to be chosen by her King.
This is all honey for the Narcissistic male who needs to feel like a God, a King, the best, and be worshipped and looked after in all the mundane ways of a relationship and family. They need the narcissistic ego supplies of being idolised by a fragile queen who will not challenge their control, entitlement and authority in the relationship. They enjoy being the centre of attention and serviced by the insecure partner who works hard to please her man so as to shore up her place in his world.
The Narcissistic male is the hero of modern culture. He embodies the qualities of the protector, the hunter/gatherer, the lover, the friend, and the perfect all-rounder. Their intelligent but predatory nature means that many a woman can be ensnared in their web of image and illusory projection. The caretaker/enabler or co-dependent woman is most commonly portrayed as the ideal choice for the Narcissistic male.
This is because in their low self esteem they will compulsively give and give to the Narcissist and prop them up via attending to all the mundane needs that the Narcissist feels is beneath him to get their hands dirty with. They are submissive and compliant to the Narcissist and his needs, and gives at the expense of feeling and then expressing their own needs and wants. This total submission is what attracts the Narcissist who can feel in total control and not feel threatened or challenged by their mate.
However a Narcissistic male will often to also be found in relationship with the more dynamic and alluring Borderline woman who has a more charged and powerful presence in appearance than the typical caretaking personality. The Borderline woman can be adorable and seductive in order to manipulate people into giving them what they want or need. They are able to hook-up with the Narcissistic male as each can often be found to have incurred similar types of wounds to their developing sense of Self.
Humans are drawn to someone with whom we have things in common. In this mirroring process both the Narcissist and the Borderline often report that it is a lot like that, and that they thought they had found their ‘soul mate’ or someone who intimately understood them. There’s a similar vibration/frequency between two people who share similar traumas due to childhood abandonment issues.
While the nature of those early difficulties were alike, they’ve played out in different ways for each party. It is the different ways of coping that will later become the battlefield that will play out in the relationship. Both have intimacy/closeness issues. The Narcissist fears being engulfed whilst the Borderline personality has its own emotional proximity issues that mean they avoid being emotionally available. In this way they are in a way colluding to avoid emotional intimacy in relationship.
If they haven’t resolved their respective childhood traumas then each can create emotional arousal and triggering in the other, leading to conflict and emotional traumas being replayed, and trigger highly explosive episodes while remaining hopelessly enmeshed.
According to Shari Schreiber, M.A. (2009), ” In truth, the Narcissist is no match for the Borderline. It doesn’t matter how smart or powerful he is, she’ll turn his world upside-down to where he could lose his entire fortune, acquire a serious disease, and become a shadow of his former self. The Narcissist’s grandiosity works against him in this type of coupling, because he has an unquenchable need to win, due to self-worth issues”.
Schreiber (2009) notes as well that “He won’t let himself be one-upped by anyone, but the Borderline is always better at this game than he is. As he cannot tolerate this loss of control, he’ll literally fight to the death to maintain it – never realizing what he’s losing/giving up, while highly focused on surmounting this challenge”.
A Narcissist cannot afford to lose and so must win as a key priority in their world. There can never be an admission that they are less than perfect, and starts to feel flawed and a deep shame whenever exposed as wrong. They fight against such feelings and so fight against being seen as wrong.
From this perspective Schreiber (2009) then aptly sums up the resulting dynamic that often plays out between such a couple. A Narcissistic perfectionist believes; “If I feel bad in a relationship, it must be my fault.” The Borderline believes; “If I feel bad in a relationship, it has to be your fault.” This sets up an endless cycle, within which the Borderline rages or retreats–and the Narcissist attempts to fix it by cajoling, pursuing, rescuing, etc., to flee his (childhood) shame of feeling unlovable/neglected.
Both parties can end up damaged and re-traumatised as a result, and therapy is the best place from which to heal and reconnect in a healthier way. Each has lived with core insecurity, confusion and self-loathing for most of their life, due to unresolved infancy and childhood wounds to their sense of Self.
In summary, it can be seen that the Borderline person cannot easily be tied down into a easily definable character or archetypal personality. It is in the nature of the Borderline personality to be volatile and changeable and so a trauma model better describes their reality.
The classic children’s story, “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll is perhaps an apt description of the reality and dynamics of the Borderline personality, and their childhood. The Borderline personality will be best served by being understood as a survivor of trauma and who may exhibit Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) outcomes.
The Borderline personality is one who can go through life largely misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, and who can be on appearance sane, rational and rigid, often achieving success in their field. However on closer inspection one finds under this often cold but logical personality a hidden world of instability and emotional eruptions that may erupt and drag them down their own rabbit hole into a surreal world of trauma.
For more information on Borderline Personality, read my article on Alice in Wonderland – A Borderline Personality Tale
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Article and Book References
- You May Be a Narcissist If…How to Identify Narcissism In Ourselves and Others, Paul Meier, 2009, HarperCollins Books
- Narcissism: Denial of the Self, Lowen Alexander,1986, Bioenergetic Press.
- Identifying and Understanding the Narcissistic Personality, Ronningstam Elsa;2008,John Wiley & Sons.
- Freeing Yourself From The Narcissist in Your Life, Matinez-Lewi,2008,John Wiley & Sons.
- People of The Lie, Peck Scott, 1983, Simon & Schuster.
- Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Version IV) (DSMIV), American Psychiatric Association, 2006.
- Disarming the Narcissist – Surviving and Thriving With The Self Absorbed, Behary Wendy T., 2008, New Harbinger Publications.
- The Art and Practice of Family Constellations – Leading Family Constellations as Developed by Bert Hellinger, Verlag Carl-Auer-Systeme, 2003, Private Publication.
- Understanding the Borderline Mother – Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship, Lawson, Christine Ann, 2000, A Jason Aronson Book, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc, Lanham.
- Lewis Carroll – His Life, Bloom, Harold, 1987, ed. New York: Chelsea Hose Publishers.
- Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Carroll, Lewis, 1998, New York: Grosset and Dunlap, Publishers.
- The Polyvagal Theory – Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, Self-Regulation, Porges W. Stephen, 2011, W.W. Norton & Co New York.
- Haven’t We Met Before? – The Borderline/Narcissist Couple, Shari Schreiber, M.A., 2009, www.GettinBetter.com