traits of borderline personality disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder In Plain Language

Understanding The Traits of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is a very complicated condition and can be very difficult for the average person to understand. However, there are simple explanations for many of these puzzling behaviors. To start with, it can be helpful to think of borderline personality disorder as a specific cluster of personality traits that make a person more vulnerable than most to emotional injury.

In order to understand how these traits of borderline personality disorder combine to cause the problems we see in those with BPD, it is helpful to first get to know these character traits individually. The first set of traits that tends to be present in individuals with BPD result in what we might call a high level of sensitivity to the negative judgment of others.

This set of traits is similar to the traits that cause shyness, social fear, and self-consciousness in individuals. It is, however, a little bit different in that it presents as a very specific fear. People with traits of borderline personality disorder have a fear of social rejection from their peers. They are afraid of others’ disapproval.

The person with BPD usually possesses a naturally heightened awareness of social connection between people. This means they can easily read the dynamics between individuals and can sense social rejection and social acceptance simply from reading the nuances of body language, intonation and choice of words.

What Makes BPD Different

Unlike someone who may have traits of either self-consciousness or social awkwardness, social sensitivity presents as a deep caring about connection to others, and because these individuals care so much, they suffer tremendously when they are rejected.

Unfortunately, social rejection is a natural part of life. We move in and out of social circles constantly, begin and end relationships, and we also have our own fears and issues that can make us at times prickly even towards those we care about the most. As hard as we may try, we usually find we are unable to move in and out of states of closeness with others in a way that always make those around us feel good.

The individual with traits of borderline personality disorder is unable to handle these ever-changing states of closeness and distance. They cannot shrug off minor differences or temporary slights from others the way most people do. They instead feel very threatened by any interaction that could even remotely be interpreted as a social rejection or disapproval.

From Thick-Skinned to No Skin

We often use the expression “thick-skinned” to describe someone who doesn’t let negative interactions with others get to them. A person with traits of borderline personality disorder could be called someone without any emotional skin. They are too sensitive to handle anything other than positive treatment from others. They fear disapproval so much they read it into situations where it does not exist.

They also spend a great deal of time scaring themselves by playing out negative future scenarios of rejection even by those they feel closest to. They seem to need continual assurance from family, friends and romantic partners or they are overcome by their doubts about others’ ability to be loyal to them.

Because their sensitivity is so extreme compared to the average person, they rarely get the assurance they need. They live in emotional pain caused by caring too much what others think of them. Social humiliation is a daily occurrence as they imagine that something they said or did might earn them disapproval. To put it simply, they cannot withstand the normal wear and tear of social interaction. They are too sensitive to handle the normal ups and downs associated with the average social life. But this set of traits alone doesn’t usually cause a condition as serious as BPD.

How Emotionality Factors In

There is a second set of personality traits usually present in a person diagnosed with BPD that could be called a heightened emotionality. People with a naturally high emotionality setting have roller coaster ups and downs throughout their day. Because their emotions color so much of their perception, they are not able to hold on to a stable sense of themselves. Their perspective can change from one minute to the next. Something they love one day they may hate the day after, depending on their emotional state.

Because high emotions put people into a state where they believe their emotions are real, the person with both heightened social sensitivity and high emotionality will believe the pain they are feeling which is caused by social sensitivity is actually caused by others hurting them. If they feel humiliated over an imagined slight, they will be convinced that the person actually treated them in a humiliating way. Their emotionality makes them lose sight of the fact that they are socially insecure and leads them to instead believe that others are constantly victimizing them.

The BPD Childhood: Why Invalidation Is Inevitable

It is almost impossible for people with this combination of traits to survive childhood without emotional trauma and psychological injury, even if they have grown up in an emotionally healthy and caring environment. Without intervention from caregivers to give them training on how to regulate their emotional ups and downs and how to protect themselves from rough social interactions, they will end up with the same kind of emotional injury as a person who actually had negative experiences from childhood.

The person with both of these sets of traits may enter adulthood with deep wounds inflicted solely from what most of us would consider the normal process of growing up. An experience that might cause the average person stress can cause the person with traits of borderline personality disorder to experience trauma, causing wounds that influence the way they interact with others as adults.

These individuals often develop defenses that they try to use to cope with their high levels of pain they encounter during normal social interaction. They may lash out at others who don’t deserve it. They may shift blame onto others to avoid having their weakness exposed. They also may have a very hard time trusting others. They may accuse other people of being mean to them in an attempt to get others to walk on eggshells so their insecurities do not get triggered. They may wage a campaign to make others feel less worthy around them so others feel so bad about themselves that it doesn’t occur to them to reject the person with traits of BPD.

traits of borderline personality disorder

When Abuse and Invalidation Enter The Picture

Individuals who possess the traits of borderline personality who also have had an abusive or traumatic background or who were raised in an invalidating environment may have pain so extreme that they become suicidal or use self-destructive behaviors to try to manage their excessive levels of emotional pain. They may also become very abusive to those who are close to them in order to avoid their very high levels of humiliation triggered by experiences from their past.

All of these coping mechanisms can turn abusive, particularly when they are used chronically. However, the form of abuse used by those with traits of BPD will often differ slightly from abusers who do not have the traits associated with BPD.

Similarities And Differences Of The BPD Abuser

An average abuser may be afraid of closeness in the same way the person with traits of BPD is and have the same amount of social insecurity as the person with traits of BPD. However, although they would never admit it, the average abuser is usually fully conscious that they are using tactics in order to get more power or control in the relationship. Although the average abuser usually pretends to be a nice person, most of them cannot hide their real intentions and give telltale signs or red flags that can be recognized early in the relationship.

Those with traits of BPD often do not show red flags of abuse. Because of their strong focus on connection to others, they often long so much for closeness that they will idealize others in the initial stages of a friendship or relationship. They will usually attempt to skip the process of earning trust and try to establish a very intimate connection right away. Convincing themselves initially that another person is completely trustworthy is the only way they can tolerate the closeness.

Although they may want a close and loving relationship, eventually the idealization of the other person will become too difficult to maintain, and the person with traits of BPD will find themselves unable to handle their fears caused by their over-sensitivity to disapproval. Because they are hyper-vigilant over signs of betrayal, that they will eventually come up with some kind of real or imagined relationship infraction and declare it a relationship-breaker.

BPD And Betrayal

For the person with traits of BPD, betrayal is inevitable, and when they feel betrayed, they tend to try to protect themselves from the humiliation of social rejection. Although they frequently cut off completely from those they perceive have betrayed them, those who stay will often try to instill as much pain into the person they once cared about as they experienced from the imagined betrayal. Those individuals who stay in these relationships will often use just enough abuse in order to maintain the distance they need to feel like they can’t get hurt without actually losing the relationship.

Like the average abuser, the person with traits of BPD does sometimes want control and power over others, but their approach will be slightly different. They may not be outright manipulators. Instead they will actually be completely convinced that the person who they are abusing has truly hurt them and deserves to be punished. It doesn’t occur to them that what they are doing would be considered abuse. They feel righteous and justified and would be truly surprised to find out that the person did not actually try to harm them.

There are many people who live with this combination of personality traits who eventually learn how to cope with their sensitivities without resorting to destructive defense mechanisms. These individuals can live normal and productive lives. It is only when a person with this combination of traits shows a pattern of behavior that is so extreme or pervasive that it keeps them from having a functional life that they may be diagnosed as having borderline personality disorder.

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