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3 Classic Ways 'Borderline Rage' Manifests in Relationships

What is “uncontrollable anger” in borderline personality disorder?

Sometimes called “borderline rage,” uncontrollable anger in borderline personality disorder (BPD) is when someone experiences a level of anger more extreme than is warranted by the situation that triggered it. BPD rage occurs most often in the context of relationships.

While many of us struggle to feel (and identify!) our emotions in general, there’s one emotion that often takes the cake for “least desirable feeling.” Anger, though difficult to deal with at times, is a healthy emotion. When handled appropriately, it can lead us to create positive change by addressing problem areas in our lives.

But for many people who live with borderline personality disorder (BPD), anger doesn’t always feel like “just another healthy emotion.” It can be a really painful, seemingly uncontrollable experience that does serious damage to relationships.

For those who don’t know, BPD is a mental illness marked by extreme difficulty regulating emotion and unstable interpersonal relationships. It is associated with nine classic criteria — one of which is inappropriate or uncontrollable anger. This anger is sometimes referred to as “borderline rage” because of its intensity.

To better understand “borderline rage,” we spoke to Sarah Kroesser, M.Ed. LICSW, who specializes in treating BPD.

“Typically, we would use that criteria for someone who gets angry very fast, like from zero to 100, with a kind of unknown or unclear [cause],” Krosesser told The Mighty.

She said this anger expression is often referred to as “inappropriate” because the scale of the anger seems disproportionate to the circumstance and how an average person might react in the same situation. For example:

“Maybe [someone with BPD] has an interaction with someone and typically, it might seem like it’s a little bit frustrating, but they get very, very angry to the point where they feel overwhelmed, like they can’t control it,” she said. “They might lash out at the person that caused the anger.”

So why do some people with BPD experience such intense anger?

Kroesser told The Mighty most of borderline anger is rooted in fear. She said many people with BPD struggle to see things from another person’s perspective, so they might experience anger when they fear they are being targeted by others or their pre-existing feelings of inadequacy are triggered in their relationships.

Because BPD is a mental illness that manifests in the context of relationships, it’s no surprise that borderline rage can affect (and often damage) important relationships in the lives of people with BPD. With Kroesser’s insight, we’ve listed a few common ways BPD anger manifests in relationships below. It’s important to remember every person with BPD is different and experiences anger differently. How does your experience of BPD rage manifest? Let us know in the comments.

Ways BPD Rage Manifests in Relationships

1. Abruptly Cutting Off Contact in Friendships

When someone with BPD experiences an interpersonal difficulty with a friend, it can sometimes trigger an anger response they don’t know how to deal with. In many cases, this will lead someone with BPD to abruptly cut that friend out of their life entirely.

For example, if Jane, a woman with BPD, is deeply insecure about her friendships, being teased by her neurotypical friend Steve about her tendency to stay home on a Friday night because she “has no friends” could trigger her feelings of relational inadequacy. Jane might feel angry and humiliated, especially if Steve teased her in front of a group of their friends. Jane might feel so slighted that she stops talking to Steve altogether because she doesn’t yet have the conflict resolution skills necessary to talk to him about why it hurt her feelings. If she doesn’t communicate her anger to him, Steve might not ever understand why she cut him out of her life.

2. The On-Again, Off-Again Romantic Relationship

Some people perpetually cut loved ones out of their lives, only to beg them to come back later. Kroesser said she sees this kind of relationship volatility a lot in the romantic relationships of people with BPD.

This is something Mighty contributor LiAnnah Jameson wrote about in her piece, “What It’s Like to Have Rage ‘Blackouts’ With Borderline Personality Disorder“:

When I am faced with abandonment (by men in a relationship sense), it can be the smallest thing that triggers a past event, I become enraged. I start pushing this person away before they can fully push me away. I know that I am cruel, abrasive, hateful, manipulative, aggressive and then do a 180 and beg for another chance only to then turn back into the monster. Only, I often don’t remember what I have said or done. I remember bits and pieces, but not whole conversations.

The push and pull of this kind of dynamic can make it difficult to stay in a romantic relationship with someone with BPD — though it’s important to say romantic relationships of people with BPD are not automatically “doomed”!

If you’re struggling in your relationship due to BPD, you’re not alone. We encourage you to give and get support from other BPD warriors by posting on The Mighty with the hashtag #BorderlinePersonalityDisorder.

3. Unprofessional Behavior at Work

Kroesser told The Mighty someone who experiences borderline rage in a work relationship might engage in unprofessional behavior as a result. Below we’ve given two examples of how this might play out.

If George, a man with BPD, receives a negative performance review in his job, he might lash out at his manager and quit on the spot. Though he later regrets his behavior, he may or may not realize the review triggered his deep-seated fear of not being “enough” that stemmed from his childhood.

When Hanna, a woman with BPD, receives a poor performance review, she might not act out in anger like George, but instead directs all that anger inward. She might direct her anger toward self-harm behaviors — another classic symptom of BPD. Hanna might feel so upset that she decides to stop showing up to work altogether. She doesn’t want or know how to deal with the criticism, so she checks out completely.

Treatment

If you live with BPD and struggle with borderline rage, you’re not alone and there is help available. Kroesser and other mental health professionals who specialize in BPD can offer support and skills to help you navigate the ups and downs that come with living with BPD.

“Borderline personality disorder is one of the most treatable psychiatric disorders, contrary to a lot of what you might read,” Kroesser told The Mighty. “Historically, borderline personality disorder was seen as this lifelong condition that could never be helped. But now, we have a lot of new research in the last 10 to 15 years that shows it’s actually curable.”

In terms of therapy, Kroesser recommends dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), mentalization-based treatment, transference focus psychotherapy, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). She told The Mighty these therapeutic approaches have been statistically proven to significantly decrease the number of symptoms people with BPD live with — often to the point they no longer meet the criteria for the diagnosis at all.

If you struggle with borderline rage or live with any of the other symptoms of BPD, you’re not alone. To read more from The Mighty’s BPD community, check out the following stories:

Unsplash photo via Alex Mihai C