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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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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