Fear of abandonment in people with Borderline Personality Disorder

If you know someone with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), you might experience their frantic way of avoiding being abandoned by their significant others.  For instance, a client of mine worried a lot about her boyfriend abandoning her whenever he failed to answer her phone calls or reply her text messages.  Since she was living alone and frequently had the feeling of emptiness after work, she kept texting or calling her boyfriend or others.  Sometimes, when she was very stressed after being criticized by her boss during daytime, she felt extremely sad and lonely.  She needed to keep talking to someone through phone calls or text her friends via social apps.  One day when she was unable to reach her boyfriend through phone calls and text messages, she felt very anxious and ruminated about him having a date with another girl.  She called him more than 20 times and kept texting him.  She felt very frustrated as he did not reply her anything for more than one hour.  She cannot focus herself to cook and did not do anything other than sitting there and wait for her boyfriend to reach her.  After an hour, her boyfriend called her and asked if there was anything urgent on her side.  She scolded her boyfriend for not being in touch with her and asked if he was dating someone else.  His boyfriend was very disappointed and told her that he was in an urgent meeting with his big boss and cannot get in touch with her.  He was surprised that she cannot contain her worries and control her behavior even for an hour as they had been together for more than one year.

People with BPD had difficulty in regulating their emotions when being alone.  They frequently need the reassurance and comfort from their significant others to regulate their emotions.  One of the possible reasons for them with this difficulty is that they did not have a caretaker, usually the mother or father, who could provide emotional support to regulate their emotions in their childhood.  In fact, the parents of these people are usually also unable to regulate their own emotions.  As a result, people with BPD did not learn how to regulate their own emotions when they become an adult.  With this difficulty in emotional regulation, people with BPD need the support from their significant others all the time.  When they are being alone, they try very hard to be in touch with their significant others.  Since their parents might be absent in their childhood, they also had an intense fear that their significant others in their adulthood might abandon them.  In the above example, my client felt extermely worried that her boyfriend might abandon her when she could not be in touch with him after work for an hour.  As she frequently felt stressed at work and was having anxiety and low mood after work at home alone, she needed the emotional support from her significant others by keep calling or texting them.  If she could not be in touch with them, she had difficulty to regulate her own emotions when being alone.

To help people with BPD to learn to cope with their sense of loneliness when being alone.  It is important to teach them to regulate their emotions.  These emotional regulation strategies might include regular mindfulness exercises, such as body scan or sitting meditation.  It is also useful for them to learn to think in others’ perspectives after being able to regulate their own emotions.  For example, if my client above learned to regulate her emotions by doing some yoga at home alone when she could not reach her boyfriend for an hour.  She might be able to calm herself down and take her boyfriend’s perspective.  She realised that her boyfriend told her that he was engaged in an important project at work recently.  She could make another hypothesis such as he was busy in a meeting other than dating another girl.  When she could contain her emotions and think out of ther habitual framework, she might be able to keep calm and wait for her boyfriend to reach her back.

When we understand the possible underlying reasons for people with BPD’s fear of abandonment, we might be able to help them in a more effective way.  We might also cultivate more compassion when relating with them.

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