What You Need to Know About 'Borderline Rage'


If you’ve been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), there is a good chance you have experienced more than your share of “borderline rage.” What exactly is borderline rage?

It is intense anger directed outward toward another thing or person. Sometimes it is directed inward and will manifest in self-injurious behavior. Most often borderline rage is directed at the person you care most about — the person you want most to love you. This sets up an almost endless tug of war between the person diagnosed with BPD and their loved one. In some cases, borderline rage can be directed at anyone in the room; any convenient target, that is. These bouts of intense anger are quite often sparked by the person’s desire to be close to their loved one but being afraid to trust them enough to allow them to be close enough to care, and thus reject them.

Where does it come from?

Borderline rage is rooted in abandonment issues, usually from pre-verbal times in a child’s life. Because the child has no language, the hurt is deep and often inaccessible except through therapy. Borderline rage will often come boiling to the surface in the most seemingly innocent exchanges. In my case, I could go from zero to nuclear in a matter of minutes when provoked. I, like most of the people who cared about me, was almost always taken by surprise because I simply did not know what caused it to bubble up and ignite into a frenzied explosion.

I learned in therapy that my rage was deeply seated in having been abandoned as a young baby (at only six months of age). It was further compounded by growing up with a father who had his own rage issues, but never learned how to properly express his anger so it was bottled up deep inside him and would come spilling out at inappropriate times.

I firmly believe that people with borderline personality disorder are made — they are not born that way. You learn what you live and in my case, my father was a role model extraordinaire. My father never told me he loved me until I was 28 years old and had made a serious suicide attempt. His behavior was further compounded after I married my husband, a man who refused to sever his emotional ties with his first wife and who made it very clear he wanted children — lots of them. I lived all the years of my marriage feeling like his concubine, as I raised his four children with little help from him. I began to simmer until the lid jumped right off the top of the pot. I never knew if and/or when he might abandon me to return to his earlier relationship with his ex-wife. It put me in a constant state of anxiety and turmoil. I learned that whenever I would try to become close to another person, they would betray me in some fashion, thus telling me I was utterly unlovable.

Who can possibly love me?

People with BPD may find it almost impossible to believe someone can love them for who they are because, after all, they often do not have any sense of who they are to begin with. When they find someone who says they love them, they may test them over and over again in order to get them to prove their love. In essence, they bite the hand that feeds them. In this fashion, they set the stage for the other person to abandon them and repeat the old pattern all over again in an almost never-ending cycle.

When the person with BPD begins to learn, understand and believe through therapy that their own cognitive distortions about the nature of their relationships is what keeps them stuck in this endless cycle, they can begin to approach their relationships differently. They can learn to stop being angry and full of rage at the entire world at large and renegotiate their closest relationships so they can enjoy them.

It can be very tricky to learn to be a different person. It starts with introspection. Introspection (which is done through therapy, leads to insight and insight enables change. The person with BPD can learn to recognize their triggers and figure out new ways to respond to them — respond as opposed to react. I used to say I “had cancer in my soul,” but after years and years of therapy that cancer is now in remission. Some days I think it has been cured entirely, but I know that is not the case. I have learned my manage and regulate my emotions, but must be ever-vigilant so as not to slip back into old behavior patterns.

Borderline rage is driven by fear and anxiety.

When you actually sit down and think about it, borderline rage is driven by fear and anxiety. Fear and anxiety about being abandoned by those we love. Fear and anxiety about being hurt again. Fear and anxiety about not being able to control one’s own environment and the relationships in which we are engaged.

Learning how to recognize the triggers and set up new coping patterns is key. Dialectical behavioral therapy is the best way to learn to do this.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via PongMoji


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