The Causes of Borderline Disorder of Self.

Causes borderline personality disorderWhat are the causes of Borderline disorder? Otto Kernberg shows that the causes of BPD are genetic factors or constitutional factors. James Masterson shows that the causes of Borderline Personality Disorder are to with the parent-infant dyad.

Those who suffer a borderline disorder of self; are known for instability in interpersonal relationships, alternating between clinging and distancing behaviours as attempts to defend against perceived abandonment. They lack a coherent sense of self, since they defensively attempt to avoid feelings of self-loathing and abandonment by investing in others to feel good about themselves, rather than investing in themselves and taking control of their own lives.

Those with a borderline personality disorder  present in therapy when their defensive structure breaks down. Attempts to self activate or express themselves stirs up what James Masterson calls Abandonment Depression with suicidal ideation, panic, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, abandonment and depression. The defensive behaviour of the borderline covers up these underlying abandonment feelings, through clinging, distancing, projection, splitting, regression, dissociating and acting out.

Developmental arrest in the self as the cause of Borderline Personality Disorder

According to James Masterson, it is the lack of development in the emerging sense of ‘self’ that is the cause for borderline personality. The parent feared abandonment from the child, and withdrew maternal support for the child’s growing self to develop. The child therefore became focused on the needs of the caregiver in order to avoid abandonment and gave up exploring their self. The cause for BPD was abandonment for efforts towards self-activation or separation.

In counselling, the developmental arrest in the emerging ‘self’ is depicted with the person with BPD as a lack the ability to function fully for themselves. They find it difficult to function adequately on their own, often appearing regressed, dependent and helpless in taking care of themselves, unable to set appropriate boundaries and so forth. .However, they can be capable, but they prefer to undermine themselves, rather than express themselves and trust themselves. They can often overlook their own thoughts, by complying or trusting others to think for them, giving up their self. Therapy allows the real self to emerge, so they can have a stronger conviction within themselves and rebuild their sense of self.

So, lets explore more closely the causes for borderline personality disorder?

Avoiding abandonment marks the origins the borderline Personality disorder

Those who suffer from the borderline disorder experienced abandonment at attempts to separate or individuate, causing a developmental arrest in their self.

Rejecting Unit – others are seen bad and they feel bad

James Masterson highlights how the borderline disorder originated in childhood. In the rejecting unit, the individual with a borderline disorder internalised a parent who was experienced as either unavailable, mean or uncaring during attempts to separate or express themselves. Attempts to activate their self was felt with abandonment, since the parent often felt abandoned and withdrew support when the child needed it for the self to develop.

The parent often misread the child as abandoning them, and was unable to be maternally available for refueling the child’s developmental self that was needed. The child gives up their emerging self, to avoid feeling unwanted, unloved and abandoned, by focusing on meeting the parents needs.

When faced with abandonment, the individual with a borderline disorder internalised a bad ‘self representation’, with an ‘other representation’ (parent) as being bad and rejecting. These internalised representations of seeing themselves and others, get pushed down into their psyche structure and are repressed, until they are then projected onto loved ones in later life. When they project that others are rejecting them, they feel bad or unwanted.

Attachment unit – others are seen as good and they feel good

The person who has a borderline disorder activated their attachment system by complying to the parents needs, clinging or pleasing them in order to get the libidinal supplies or love, by giving up their self or avoiding self activation, in order to avoid the abandonment of the parent. To avoid feeling abandoned and feeling bad, the individual clings to relationships to feel good.

When in the attachment unit, the person who is borderline internalised a parent who was loving and supportive whenever they complied and avoided expressing themselves or self activating. They felt good when they were needy, clingy, dependent and regressed. So they feel good when focused on others, not themselves. As a result, the borderline feels uncomfortable with self-expression or self-advancing, because it brings up feelings of abandonment and feeling worthless, so they avoid enhancing themselves and stay focused on pleasing others instead.

Those who suffer from a borderline disorder splits between seeing themselves and others as either ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’, projecting either of these internalised positions onto others. When they feel loved by their partner they feel good about themselves, not seeing the bad aspects of the person and avoiding bad feelings within themselves by clinging to the person. Whereas, when they feel bad about themselves, they perceive others as abandoning them or mistreating them, not seeing the good aspects about the person and denying when they feel good. They either feel good or bad, see others as good or bad, no in-between.

As a result, splitting between the rejecting and attachment positions, the borderline person has difficulty seeing themselves and others clearly, often interpreting others or situations in the wrong way. They may give up their job when they perceive their boss does not like them or is plotting to get rid of them, instead of taking on constructive criticism on board. They may end a relationship when they perceive abandonment, when the partner is trying to have space or is trying set boundaries in the relationship. They may feel loved and feel good but ignore the signs of abuse in a relationship, when splitting.

Clinging borderline – project the good object and feel good (loved)

Those with a clinging borderline disorder emerged from spending most their time in the attachment unit, to ward off feelings of abandonment. So the parent was rewarding, loving and caring when they were focused on the parent, not themselves. Other times the parent focused on the child, giving them what ever they needed, so child was able to need the parent and felt abandoned when the parent separated, set boundaries or did not give into them.

Holding on to the rewarding caregiver, the child often clinged to the parent to avoid separation anxiety. When others do not respond to their needs, or separate by forming healthy boundaries, they can feel bad or abandoned (cut off) and often cling further to avoid separation.

They can often project the good self onto others and idealise them, hoping they’ll take care of them. The more they need others as rewarding them, they can end up feeling helpless or worthless on their own, which further propels them to cling to relationships to feel good and avoid abandonment.

Distancing Borderline- project the bad object and feel bad (abandoned)

The distancing borderline disorder emerged from attempting to preserve the good feeling in themselves and positive image of the parent, by projecting the bad outside of them. They experienced more of the aggressive treatment or abandonment, than the clinging borderline. The bad feelings are so intolerable that they have to be projected out onto others. Therefore, bad feelings towards themselves and parent are projected out on others, who are seen as mean, rejecting and uncaring. When triggered, they avoid interacting by distancing, so they do not feel bad about themselves and avoid the feeling of abandonment that comes from that.

To feel good about themselves, they project the rejecting unit on to others, and avoid them to fend off abandonment fears. So, the other is projected to be the rejecting object who causes them to feel bad. They distance to avoid feeling bad and avoid abandonment. Yet these projections do not reflect the real situation. However, often it causes them to feel abandoned, from distancing. They will often push loved ones away to avoid feeing unworthy or abandoned.

They more they disavow their anger, they act out their anger or project out their anger, by seeing others as angry or hostile. It is therefore important to find effective anger management counselling Melbourne, to modify the underlying anger towards past loved ones, that gets displaced

Self-activation or taking care of themselves stirs up abandonment depression, so they feel worse at attempts to improve themselves. They fear that going for what they want  or expressing themselves will cause them to be abandoned or be berated. Instead, they defensively give up their self and please others, at the price of their own self. So, they often sabotage themselves and stay stuck, unable to move forward with their life, to escape these abandonment feelings.

The person with BPD fills the void of the impaired self with instant pleasures or quick fixes, like addictions, procrastination, shopping, sexual acting out. Yet these distractions assist to avoid facing life, where they can ignore the problems and regress further.

Often, avoiding abandonment causes them to choose destructive relationships, not take care of themselves and end up losing themselves further, until they diminish and regress entirely.

Treatment of borderlines self

What treatment should the person with a borderline disorder embark on in order to continue the development of the real self?

Treatment for the individual who is borderline requires working through these abandonment depression affects, so that they no longer employ self-destructive defences by avoiding  the abandonment they feel. Real change comes from working through the abandonment feelings, so that the real emerging self can emerge.

The individual with borderline personality disorder projects the ‘rejecting unit’ or ‘attachment unit’ onto others and interprets situations according to these split internal positions, rather than see situations clearly, as they struggle to make decisions based on reality. They either project others to be bad when they feel bad about themselves (abandoned, unworthy). Otherwise, they project others as good when they feel good (loved). These positions alternate, dependent on whether they’re being triggered.

The Masterson psychoanalytic approach assists to integrate these split units, so the borderline can see themselves and others more clearly, while assist to develop the impaired sense of self, so the individual can develop capacities within the self and improve functioning. By working through the abandonment depression, the borderline gives up the defensive armour that causes them to act in self destructive ways.

Nancy Carbone is specialised in the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder from the Psychoanalytic International Masterson Institute. If want help for BPD or managing a relationship with a person with a borderline disorder you can contact Nancy on the enquiry form or call 0449 861147.  You can sign up on her newsletter for more tips and advice on relationships at Counselling Service Melbourne. 

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All content is copyright Nancy Carbone 2017

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