Anger and Borderline Personality Disorder – Why it Happens & How to Manage It

Anger and Borderline Personality Disorder - Why it Happens & How to Manage It

People who have BPD often have tremendous issues with anger — both expressing it and being the recipient of it. They will often go to extreme lengths to make people happy in order to avoid having people get angry at them. The flip side of that is that they themselves can go into a drop dead rage at the drop of a hat. I will examine why this happens.

Some psychiatrists believe that people have intense issues around anger because when they were children, they were not “allowed” to express it and, in some cases, told that even feeling it was somehow bad. As they grow up, they learn that anger is a “bad” thing and so learn to go to great lengths to avoid having it in their life.

If they have grown up in a setting where anger is not okay, it becomes just one more “bad feeling” they feel and they will either try to run away from it or will be so overwhelmed by it that it boils over because they do not know how to contain it. In many cases, though the person feels anger on a regular basis and engages in expressing it negatively they are unaware that they are even feeling this emotion and can not even identify it as a feeling. For them, it “just happens”. They feel victimized by it because they don’t know where it comes from or how to stop it from happening.

Sometimes anger can be felt more remotely in terms of low-lying irritation or annoyance which is then displaced onto other people. This is a partial explanation for why people with BPD are always “pissed off” at the world. Most people who have this kind of unaddressed anger channel it into extreme feelings of anxiety because they have to express it somehow. In some cases, it can be expressed somatically — that is as irritable bowel syndrome or extreme headaches caused by tension.

The crux of the matter here is that almost everyone is afraid of anger because we are not taught how to express it properly. Anger is simply one of many emotions. It is neither good nor bad. The way you choose to deal with it is what attributes a value to it. When you are able to understand and accept that anger is an emotion like so many others and that it has no power to hurt you, you will be on your way to setting yourself free. The only thing negative about anger are the consequences involved if you deal with your anger inappropriately by lashing out and yelling at people or breaking things or turn it in on yourself.

People like to say that depression is anger turned inwardly. I think depression in people with BPD is caused by years of neglect and not feeling heard, being scapegoated by the family of origin and feeling bullied. Yes, all those things can lead a person to feel angry but that anger is reactive in nature. The resulting “depression” is just the way the person with BPD chooses to express those angry feelings.

One of the ways to deal with anger issues is to learn and practice assertiveness. When you become an assertive person you learn how to stand up for yourself so you don’t get walked all over by people. Learning how to stand up for yourself assertively allows you to have a voice so you can express yourself in a rational manner and, hopefully, be heard by the people with whom you are interacting with.  It can alleviate some of the feelings of helplessness a person can feel in an intimate relationship.

The other way to learn to deal with anger is to learn conflict negotiation skills. This is not for the faint of heart because it requires you to look closely at both sides of an argument and figure out what you really want rather than hiding behind what you think you want.

Another reason that a person may be afraid of anger is because they fear retaliation from the other person. They worry that the other person will abandon them if they are “not nice enough”. We are taught from childhood that “nice girls don’t “do conflict” and told to suppress our angry feelings. But the bottom line is that conflict is found in every single relationship be it an interpersonal one or a work relationship. So, it is imperative that we learn how to approach conflict so that it can be productive and not confrontational.

A third way is to learn anxiety reduction techniques such a mindfulness meditation and box breathing. In my experience, my anger was always anxiety-fueled feelings that had completely run amok. Once I learned how to get better control over my anxiety, my anger levels began to diminish.

Being able to express anger in an assertive, productive manner will help your relationships a great deal. As with all things related to BPD, one of the first steps in recovery is learning to take responsibility for your feelings, words and actions. Without that component you will stay stuck.

[irp posts=”6667″ name=”Recovering from Borderline Personality Disorder Means Learning To Change The Way You Think (by Dee Chan)”]


About the Author: Dee Chan

Dee Chan was diagnosed with BPD more than 35 years ago back when the diagnosis was still fairly new and not very well understood. She has been living with it and coping with it ever since and finding ways to thrive despite it. She has been able to put it into complete remission and turned her life around completely through the practices of gratitude, forgiveness and accountability. Find out more about Dee’s work on her website bpdnomore.com.

3 Comments

Martha

I want to share this article via email with some friends.
I was diagnosed with childhood PTSD late in life; depression. Then introduced to BPD. Scary all the labels. Went to class for BPD. Hard work, lots of homework then in class felt very judged. That was 6-2014. I believe the materials have been improved since then. May face having to get in a BPD group again; not sure I’m willing. I did EMDR therapy for PTSD. Helpful but recently let myself out of my boundaries; am in a mess. Gonna get through it though. Now that I’ve seen I’m not willing to stay long.

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Carole

I think have this disorder,and how can I get it diagnosed please?as I want a better relationship with my only daughter as she does not want my behaviour being passed on to my grandsons (3yrs&2 months).

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Karen Young

Carole a good starting point would to speak with a doctor. He or she will be able to refer you to someone who can diagnose your symptoms and help manage them.

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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