If the cumulative issues related to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can be seen to comprise a “recipe” for the disorder, then we should think of abandonment issues as a primary ingredient. While those suffering from BPD only need to present five of the nine criteria in the DSM-IV to be diagnosed with the disorder, it is all but assured that one of those will be a deep-seated fear of being abandoned by those closest to them.
Some people with Borderline Personality Disorder may not even be aware of their abandonment issues, but their behavior will speak for them in most instances. You can learn to recognize many BPD behaviors as being related to abandonment issues:
- Rage: It may be difficult to imagine that a person unleashing rage on someone they love could indicate they have a fear of abandonment. Although it may seem completely counterintuitive to rage at a person you fear losing, we must understand that when a person with Borderline Personality Disorder feels helpless or vulnerable, they may lash out and go on offense in order to restore their sense of control.
- Staying in a bad relationship: Often out of an intense fear of being alone, people with BPD stay in highly dysfunctional relationships long after another person would have thrown in the towel. In fact, people with abandonment issues often find themselves drawn to one another, so prolonging a high-conflict relationship may be something both partners are contributing to.
- Harassment: People who have a close relationship with a person suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder may often feel they are being harassed by excessive phone calls, emails, or text messages. Since a person with BPD cannot tolerate solitude for long (or, in some cases, even brief) periods of time, they may find themselves relentlessly trying to maintain contact with the person in order to assuage their feelings of abandonment.
- Depression: There is an oft-repeated explanation that depression is anger turned inwards. While there are certainly many other contributing factors in depression, the idea that directing rage inward can be a cause of depression holds true for those with BPD.
Imagine the aforementioned behaviors explained the following way by someone with BPD:
“I constantly feel frightened that people I love will leave me. I cannot tolerate the extreme vulnerability these feelings cause me. Out of desperation, I rage at people I love because I know they will leave me and I feel panicked. My anger gives me a temporary sense of control. I know I’m not in a healthy relationship but I cannot stand to be alone, so I stay. When my partner is away for even short periods, I sometimes panic that they will not return, so I call them a lot because the anxiety I feel can only be lessened when I hear their voice. Behaving this way makes me hate myself and I get depressed because I don’t know what to do with the anger I feel toward myself for acting this way.”
When we look at it from the point of view of a person with Borderline Personality Disorder, we begin to see how their fear of abandonment can trigger a pattern of unhealthy behavior.
Causes of Abandonment Issues
What causes people with Borderline Personality Disorder to develop a fear of abandonment is different in each person. In early childhood, we experience and internalize things that we may not remember later. People with BPD may have experienced one or more forms of child abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional). They may also have been adopted, been the child of divorce, or had someone close to them die.
While there are any number of experiences that causes someone with Borderline Personality Disorder to develop issues with abandonment, sympathy, reassurance, and good communication on your part may help your loved one with BPD cope better with their fears.