traits of bpd-projection

Did Your Ex-Girlfriend Have Traits of BPD-The Defense Mechanism of Projection

In this blog post we will be addressing one of the more complex behavior patterns associated with BPD, or borderline personality disorder. The behavior pattern we will be looking at is commonly known as projection. Although you may not have recognized this defense mechanism in your relationship with a woman with traits of BPD, there is a good chance you did notice something quite strange.

At some point it probably would have occurred to you that all of the unfounded accusations your partner was making about you were actually a description of the behaviors that she herself had engaged in. She may have continually labeled you as selfish while behaving very selfishly herself. Or she may have accused you of being attracted to other women when it was actually her who engaged in flirting with others.

Perhaps she told you that you betrayed her trust in ways that in retrospect you could see were clearly describing her behavior patterns and not yours. And the chances are very likely that she accused you of not caring about her when clearly she was the one neglecting your needs.

Most men who become involved with women with traits of BPD find that the accusations they receive are actually clear examples of their partner’s behavior patterns. And in many cases the accusations are the direct opposite of anything they would ever do.

The combination of being accused of things one would never do and a partner who herself engages in these behaviors can throw an individual trying to recover from a breakup into a state of confusion that can last months or even years.

Many men, unable to make sense of the defense mechanism that causes their partner to project their negative tendencies onto others, find themselves struggling to appropriately assign the blame for these behaviors. And not being able to get out from under the layers of guilt projected on them can leave them without the ability to gain the closure necessary to move on from one of these relationships.

Although the defense mechanism of accusing others of something one is guilty of may seem very confusing from the outside, just like any other behavior pattern that women with traits of BPD engage in there is a clear and comprehensible explanation for it. We find that most of these patterns are nothing more than an extreme version of common defense mechanisms that all human beings engage in from time to time.

But before we begin to identify the universal behavioral traits that all humans share which when taken to the extreme can produce defense mechanisms like projection, we must first define what we mean by that term.

Defining BPD Projection

The behavior pattern of projection that so many women with traits of BPD engage in is a common pattern for all people. It can generally be defined as the transferring of one’s own perceptions onto another. We might imagine it as the act of placing an invisible movie screen in front of the person we are interacting with that allows us to project our own feelings, thoughts or beliefs onto them.

There are many reasons a person might jump to the conclusion that another person thinks and feels the same way they do. Many people project their way of thinking about things onto others quite innocently. After all, it’s very easy to assume that others see the world in the same way we do.

People may also use projection with a slightly less innocent intent. When we suspect that another person’s thoughts or beliefs are at odds with our own, we may choose to ignore what they say and instead assure ourselves that their thinking is just like ours to avoid having to closely inspect our views.

Many of our belief systems are formed without our awareness, usually from an event in the past or from traditional ways of thinking that were taught to us when we were very young. When our brains sense that a fragile or unexamined belief system has been challenged, the defense mechanism of projection may be triggered to alleviate the feeling of uneasiness that accompanies the exposure of this hidden vulnerability.

When we use this somewhat mild form of projecting our beliefs onto others it can be irritating and annoying to those around us. After all, when we dismiss or ignore their beliefs, they are bound to feel unheard and unseen. But there are also much less benign ways in which people use projection.

Individuals may use projection in order to cope with uncomfortable shame-based emotions. Although we may not be aware of the exact mechanics, we can easily observe that when human beings experience uncomfortable feelings of shame, they seem to be able to obtain relief by offloading those feelings onto others. Because women with traits of BPD have natural heightened insecurities that can make them feel bad about themselves, they frequently use this defense mechanism.

Although you may now have a general sense of how this defense mechanism works, before we enter the complex world of projection, we will need to take a brief moment to define a few more terms we will be using to try to simplify this very complex subject matter.

What Are Traits of BPD

BPD is often recognized by behavior patterns that stem from a certain combination of personality traits that cause extra emotional sensitivity. These personality traits may or may not lead to the development of the disorder, depending on how strong the personality traits are and what kind of environment the individual was raised in.

With some exceptions, the personality traits that make people susceptible to BPD are actually a very common cluster of traits associated with female behavior. Although not many women who possess this common cluster of traits would qualify for a diagnosis of BPD, those with more pronounced traits may be susceptible to using the very same defense mechanisms women with the disorder use in their romantic relationships.

Because romantic rejection is known to produce heightened feelings of rejection even in otherwise insensitive human beings, it is no surprise that romantic relationships can easily set off defense mechanisms that result in the same kind of negative behavior patterns seen in those who do qualify for the diagnosis.

Let’s take a quick look at the cluster of behavioral traits that can cause negative behaviors in women anywhere on the spectrum of BPD whether they qualify for the diagnosis of the disorder or not.

Although behavioral traits cannot be classified in a literal sense in the way a physical trait can, we can roughly categorize this cluster into three separate traits that when combined cause behavior patterns associated with the disorder.

The first trait often attributed to BPD might be described as a strong urge to bond romantically. The second trait could be described as a strong sensitivity to social rejection. The third trait associated with BPD-related behavior in relationship is a high setting of emotionality.

These personality traits in a mild form can be helpful in promoting bonding in romantic relationships. In fact, it is this cluster of traits that so often creates the emotional glue that bonds couples so strongly together. But if these personality traits are too pronounced they may trigger the set of defense mechanisms associated with BPD even in women who are otherwise healthy and stable.

Too much of the urge to bond can foster a tendency to idealize the relationship. Early idealization often leads to later devaluation as the idealized partner must eventually fall from their pedestal. Just a little fear of rejection can keep a partner in line. But too much fear will cause a partner to shy away from true intimacy and can trigger protective defense mechanisms that push away a partner who gets too close.

We know that high emotionality can cause even the most rational person to lose touch with reality. Those who are consistently launched into a highly emotional state will struggle to maintain the necessary adherence to reason and rationality necessary to create the foundation for a healthy relationship.

Now that you have a basic understanding of how traits associated with BPD can cause emotional sensitivity in romantic relationships that trigger defense mechanisms, let’s take a look at how projection as a defense mechanism works.

How Defensive Projection Works

Projection is actually a form of blame-shifting, which is a very common defense mechanism. It is such a common occurrence in human beings that it can be seen even in very young children. We are all aware of the proverbial question of who stole the cookie from the cookie jar where the guilty child when asked who stole the cookie will point to the nearest person.

Blame-shifting is a natural defense that allows us to avoid having to feel shame, an emotion that is very difficult for all human beings to tolerate. Projection is basically a more complex version of blame-shifting. The child who blames another for stealing the cookies knows they stole them. But a person who projects is not aware that they are lying.

A woman whose traits of BPD are very pronounced or who had a particularly negative upbringing can use projection in a way that on the outside may make her appear truly psychotic. If she has very pronounced traits she can literally accuse her partner of actions he has just seen her take while simultaneously denying her own involvement.

Because it is difficult to track this defense mechanism we won’t start with an extreme example of projection. Instead we will be addressing some of the less complex forms of the defense mechanism of projection seen in any individual as well as in women with traits of BPD.

The first kind of projection we will be looking at is what we might call historical projection. This is a form of defense mechanism that almost everyone engages in from time to time. Historical projection consists of projecting emotions from our past onto a person who is evoking those memories in the present.

Historical Projection

Historical projection can happen to us any time an experience in the present reminds of an experience in the past. It can be as simple as talking to a person who has a facial feature that reminds us of someone else with the same feature.

If we had strong feelings about that person in the past, we may very well superimpose those feelings onto the person in the present. Some people use historical projection in a broader sense. They may have had bad childhood experiences which they project onto all of the people they meet in the future.

Historical projection is very common in romantic relationships of all kinds. It usually takes the form of projecting one’s parents’ negative qualities onto our present-day partner when their behavior reminds us of a painful aspect of our childhood.

Although historical projection often jams up the works when it comes to clear communication, our brain’s ability to instantaneously project harmful qualities in a person from the past onto those who are exhibiting similar behaviors in the present can be understood as a primitive but effective way to ensure we take immediate action to protect ourselves from getting hurt.

The way women with traits of BPD use historical projection is the same way the average person uses it, but they may take it to a much further extreme because of their natural sensitivities to personal rejection. Let’s take a look at an example of a woman with traits of BPD using historical projection to cope with leftover feelings from a negative aspect of her childhood.

We’ll use an imaginary scenario with a husband and wife who we’ll call Ellen and George. Ellen and George are planning a vacation. A few days before they leave Ellen mentions that she is uncomfortable going on the trip because she believes George is going to get drunk and ruin their good time. George is completely taken aback by this accusation because he is a very light drinker and has never gotten drunk on vacation before. In fact, it is actually his wife who has a real problem with alcohol and has ruined many vacations with her drunken behavior.

In this scenario, Ellen’s father was an alcoholic, and when she was a child he would regularly ruin the family’s good times by getting drunk and acting out. With an alcoholic as a parent it is no surprise that Ellen would herself end up with a drinking problem as an adult. But even though she is following her father’s footsteps, she cannot help but relive that fear that her father would ruin the vacation.

Projecting her father’s behavior from her childhood onto her husband allows her to protect herself from the event ever recurring. Sadly, as is the case with most defense mechanisms, although the person using the defense may feel temporary relief from hidden fears, because the person being accused is innocent, the projection only adds another layer of conflict to the relationship.

Now we are going to look at another form of projection that is common for all people but very frequently used by women with traits of BPD.

One of the more interesting aspects of human neurology is the understanding that the human brain will act instinctively to protect itself from feelings of guilt. Or to put it simply, our brains seem to prefer to interpret our motivations behind our actions as more virtuous than they really are.

A helpful way to explain our natural aversion to guilt is by closely examining certain aspects of the brain’s defense system. We know that each of us has a primitive part of our brain which reflexively responds to any physical attack we may encounter. But you may not know that our brains have similar mechanisms in place to protect us from any psychological threat we may encounter as well.

Now let’s take a look at how our defensive brain might perceive a guilty thought. Feelings of guilt could be described as the belief that we did something that we should feel bad about. Our intellectual processing center is capable of differentiating between emotional pain we should feel in order to learn from and pain that we should protect ourselves from. But our more primitive defensive control center has only one mission, and that is to protect us from emotional pain.

We may never be able to track in a literal sense the way our brain copes with the paradoxical concept of guilt, but we can observe that when faced with guilt, our defensive control center often employs the tactic of searching for something or someone else to transfer that guilt to.

For the sake of simplicity we will be calling the defense mechanism that gets us to transfer the need to inflict pain on ourselves for wrongdoing onto others guilt projection. Let’s now take a closer look at how guilt projection works.

Guilt Projection

When a person engages in this form of projection, the process often begins with a pang of guilt. For example, we may be driving to an important meeting. Although we should have given ourselves plenty of time, we got distracted somewhere along the way to the front door, and now we are clearly going to be late.

There is no one but ourselves to blame, but when the cars in front of us start to slow down, our defensive center may recognize a potential opportunity to offload the uncomfortable feelings of guilt which it perceives as an attack against itself. At this point it might feed in a thought to us that suggests that it is these bad drivers that are making us late and if only they would stop lollygagging we would all get where we need to be on time.

Seconds after feeling our first pang of guilt, we may feel a rush of anger as we project the attack that was going to be directed at ourselves onto an innocent driver. These pangs of guilt followed by relief-promoting rushes of anger can be directed at anyone even remotely connected to our guilty behavior.

We may just as easily blame our spouse for not getting out of the bathroom sooner knowing we had this important meeting. Or we may blame our child for not being able to find their socks soon enough while getting ready for school. We may even blame our boss for scheduling an unreasonably early meeting.

Most of us use guilt projection occasionally, but we usually keep our misplaced blame to ourselves and forget about it once we have achieved the temporary relief we were looking for. But women with traits of BPD have a tendency to express their anger at the person who they are projecting onto. Although guilt projection is not one of the most destructive forms of projection, when it becomes chronic, partners can suffer greatly.

The next form of projection we will look at occurs frequently with insecure individuals of all kinds. And since insecurity is the driving force behind most of the negative behaviors associated with BPD, this form of projection is very likely to be present in one of these relationships. The type of projection we are going to be discussing next we will label insecurity projection. It is a type of projection where one person projects their insecurities onto another.


Insecurity Projection

People who are insecure, in order to avoid feelings of weakness caused by their oversensitivity to personal rejection, may use the defense mechanism of projection. In order to get relief from their weakness, they try to make others experience the same feelings they are trying to avoid. This common behavior pattern is often referred to as bullying.

Many women with traits of BPD engage in insecurity projection because of their natural sensitivity to personal rejection. But the path that this bullying behavior takes inside the mind of the woman with traits of BPD is anything but straight. Let’s now take a look at the complex mechanics behind it.

There are usually one of two reasons why any individual might feel inferior in relation to another person. If we closely observe the interaction that makes one person feel inferior to another we will find that either the offending person did something to oppress or belittle them or that the offended person was already feeling inferior, and the other person’s actions merely triggered their pre-existing fears of being perceived that way.

In order to determine whether feelings of inferiority are caused by another person’s actions or by one’s own fears being triggered, it is necessary to take a step back and look at the situation objectively. But because one of the traits of BPD is a very high setting of emotionality, women with BPD usually find themselves unable to assess any emotionally-charged situation with objectivity. Instead, when a woman with traits of BPD is feeling insecure, a very interesting phenomenon occurs.

We have all heard of two extreme forms of psychological defense that our brains are capable of performing under extreme duress. One of them is referred to as splitting. When we are undergoing trauma, our brain seems to be capable of splitting itself into what we might call different entities. The other form of defense is a type of amnesia. After psychological trauma we know that the brain is capable of erecting amnesic walls around memories to limit or contain emotional pain associated with the incident.

Although both of these psychological mechanisms may seem quite extreme, there is a more subtle use of splitting and of amnesic barriers that takes place during times of everyday stress that are not linked to trauma which all of us use from time to time.

Our brain is capable of going through a more subtle process of splitting where it uses an amnesic barrier to hide behind so it can work behind the scenes to get us to take immediate action when it senses a potential attack from the outside.

Once our defense center has split itself off and surrounded itself with an amnesic barrier so we don’t know it’s there, it can manipulate us into taking action that our intellectual processing center might not think is necessary. The way it does this is by feeding in thoughts or images that influence our emotions in a way that will spur us to action to protect ourselves from things others may say or imply that would cause us pain.

We will also find that the defensive control center is capable of placing temporary amnesic barriers around thoughts, beliefs and even memories that it believes may cause us pain or discomfort. Most of us refer to this psychological phenomenon as denial.

Let’s take a look now at how the defensive control center in a woman with traits of BPD, on heightened alert to impending rejection due to insecurity, might begin to feed her thoughts that suggest that it is her partner who is insecure, not her.

Sensing her vulnerability to rejection, her defensive control center can split off and begin what we might label a smear campaign on her innocent partner. It will do whatever it can to convince her that he is the one that is weak and cowardly, not her.

In response to these thoughts being fed to her from her defense center, unaware that she is being manipulating into devaluing her partner, she will verbalize the demeaning accusations. Interestingly enough, the woman with traits of BPD is often as much in the dark as her partner as to the reasons for her inappropriate behavior.

Insecurity projection is very complex, but there is a variation of BPD projection that is even more difficult to track. Let’s now take a look at a form of projection that is used almost exclusively by those with traits of BPD. The form of projection we will be addressing will be labeled black and white projection.

Black and White Projection

Many people are aware of a tendency associated with BPD called black and white thinking where an individual with this disorder will either see their partner as perfect or as no good at all. Although this is certainly a very confusing behavior pattern, it can be most easily understood when seen through the lens of projection.

What we will discover when we look closely at this behavior pattern is that although it may seem that it is the partner of a woman with BPD who must be perfect in order to not be seen as worthless, the devaluation of her partner is actually a projection of how the woman with traits of BPD feels about herself.

With an extreme sensitivity to being judged negatively, the only way she can escape her fear that if she is not perfect she will be judged as worthless is to always see herself as perfect. And convincing herself and others that she is perfect is a defense mechanism in itself that many partners of women with traits of BPD have observed.

But most women with traits of BPD don’t stop there. Using black and white projection, they shift the focus from their fear of being rejected if they are not perfect onto their unsuspecting partner. By projecting the standards she sets for herself onto her partner, a woman with traits of BPD can obtain temporary relief from the fear that it could happen to her.

As we track the process by which black and white projection takes place we must remember that defense mechanisms cannot work unless the person being manipulated is unaware they are being manipulated. In order to get her to take the action that will transfer the fear of rejection onto her partner, the defensive control center must either feed her outright lies about her partner or a greatly exaggerated view of any faults her partner may have.

She will not be aware that the thoughts and images that are fueling her dislike of her partner are being fed to her for the purpose of getting her to unload her anxiety. All she will experience is an overwhelming urge to express her contempt along with the relief that follows.

Now that you have a clearer understanding of some very complex forms of projection, we are ready to address the most extreme and difficult to track of all the variations on this defense mechanism. This form of projection can be utterly devastating in relationships with women with extreme traits of BPD, and it is often what brings these relationships to an end. We will call this form of projection direct projection.

Direct Projection

Although most irrational behaviors that women with traits of BPD engage in have surprisingly rational explanations, direct projection is a behavior pattern that is blatantly irrational. Direct projection basically consists of a woman with traits of BPD relieving herself of the obligation to be rational.

Although few of us are aware of it, human beings have a very specific unspoken social code of behavior that is just as important in our everyday life as our codified system of laws. And behaving in a rational way with each other is a cornerstone of this unspoken code.

A commitment to rational behavior is the foundation for all interpersonal communication. Without rationality, we become completely socially dysfunctional. However, there is an interesting exception to this golden rule.

If people share an irrational belief or belief system either through their culture, their religion or even through a shared family belief, rationality can be suspended in that area and functional communication can take place among those who share the irrational belief system. But aside from this exception, a hold on rationality is a social necessity.

Women with traits of BPD have a slightly different neurological setup than the rest of the population. Their naturally high emotionality can send them into what is called emotional dysregulation fairly easily. Emotional dysregulation is another word for a neurological state that all humans get into from time to time. It is the state of heightened emotions which can cause even the most reasonable among us to become temporarily irrational.

Although most of us return to our senses fairly soon after we become dysregulated, a woman with traits of BPD may remain in a state of dysregulated irrationality for days or weeks at a time. If she has been in a heightened emotional state towards her partner for an extended period she may let go of the need to hold on to reality.

Because we do not talk about the unspoken code of social conduct that demands we be rational in our dealings with others, it is very easy for women with more extreme traits of BPD to simply dismiss the need to be rational. When a women with extreme traits of BPD releases herself from the necessity to act rationally she may project directly.

In other words, whatever inappropriate thing she is doing or wishing to do, she will feel free to outright accuse her partner of doing if it gives her relief. Because these accusations are utterly irrational, as both partners know she is the guilty person, they may seem at the time like psychotic behavior.

Let’s take a few examples of direct projection. When women with traits of BPD find themselves drawn to other people, they often project their own temptation onto their partners. The angrier and more accusatory they get at their innocent partner, the less shame they feel over their own wish to cheat. This is why we often find that outrageous accusations of an innocent partner by a woman with extreme traits of BPD can be a sign that she herself is engaging in infidelity.

When a woman with traits of BPD is feeling guilty or ashamed of her bad parenting, she may let go of the obligation to be rational and go directly to the behavior that gives her relief. This will often consist of accusing her partner of the negative behavior towards the child that she is herself displaying. Without the constraints of rationality, she can assign even the most unlikely aspect of her behavior to her partner.

Direct projection where a woman with traits of BPD abdicates herself from the responsibility of rationality to get relief from shameful feelings will lead to profound dysfunction in her relationship. A complete lack of commitment to rational behavior is a level of freedom from boundaries that no relationship can withstand.

When women with traits of BPD allow themselves to act outside of the bounds of rationality, they leave their partners feeling terrified and desperate. Although these women may not be labeled psychotic because their break from reality is a more of a self-motivated declaration of freedom from social constraints rather than an unconscious episode, the results can be similarly disastrous.

Related Posts:

BPD and the Nice Guy Personality Type

Did Your Ex-Girlfriend Have Traits Of Borderline Personality Disorder?

Breakups With Women With Traits of BPD – Five Misconceptions That Keep Men From Letting Go and Moving On

Identifying Traits of BPD In Women Before Relationship Commitment

Romantic Idealization And Devaluation In Women With Traits of BPD

Women With Traits of BPD – Why Men Stay

Did Your Ex-Girlfriend Have Traits of BPD: How to Let Go of the Good Times

Note To Readers: I’d like to take a moment to thank all of you who have taken the time to post in my comments section. Your questions, opinions and personal stories form an invaluable contribution to this important discussion.

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