The Temper Tantrums Of Borderline Personality Disorder

temper tantrums of borderline personality disorder

People suffering from borderline personality disorder are sometimes more prone to temper tantrums, and the reason for this can be traced back to their childhood and upbringing.

Key Points:

The borderline personality is desperate for connection and support when alone, often idealizing potential partners or friends.

Once the yearned-for relationship begins, the cycle of disappointment, rage, and avoidance repeats.

The borderline patient is help-resistant because the therapist’s interventions spark temper tantrums.

James Masterson has written extensively about borderline pathology. He believes that the mothers of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) patients were deeply attached to their babies and responsive to them in infancy but discouraged the individuation that happens between 18 months and 3 years.

The outcome of such parenting is that closeness is comforting briefly but soon feels like engulfment and control. The borderline personality is desperate for connection and support when alone, often idealizing potential partners or friends. But once the yearned-for relationship begins, the cycle of disappointment, rage, and avoidance repeats.

People with BPD come to therapy for specific complaints such as panic attacks or depression. When they are not in a regressed state, they can present themselves as high functioning and elicit the therapist’s empathy. However, when the therapist makes an interpretation, the borderline is likely to experience it as an attack.

Related: 7 Surprising Positive Aspects Of BPD

The therapist may try to create an alliance with the patient’s observing ego, but the borderline patient does not have one when triggered. The borderline patient is help-resistant because the therapist’s interventions spark temper tantrums.

Explosive periods of anger and frustration make therapy as well as daily functioning difficult. Borderlines fall in and out of love because idealization briskly turns to contempt; relationships are turbulent. It is difficult for them to stick with romantic partners but also career choices and friends. It is also difficult for their partners and friends, living with a person who sees you one way one day and another way the next day can be painful.

These extreme fluctuations in ego states make successful therapy with borderline patients complicated and challenging.

My patient, Danielle, is a 26-year-old lawyer. Danielle’s history fits Masterson’s description. When she was very young her mother tried to keep her in a bubble to protect her from frustration and disappointment, preventing the development of tools to calm and soothe herself.

Later, when she was older, Danielle developed an avoidance strategy when she was frustrated or disappointed. Retreating to her room during mealtimes and family occasions, Danielle became increasingly isolated from her family and her parents did not intervene.

Danielle sought treatment because she suffered from long-term depression. It took years of psychoanalysis to make it clear that her depression was the result of decades of temper tantrums. She doesn’t hit her head against the wall or throw things, but she either retreats or gets into a rage.

Danielle has a temper tantrum every time she is frustrated or disappointed, but it takes different forms depending on her closeness to the person. When she is dealing with strangers Danielle’s tantrums are sometimes acted out with physical confrontation and yelling. For example, if another car cuts her off, she will shout at the other driver or make obscene gestures. Later when she recovers from the disturbing intensity of feeling, she is horrified at her loss of control and risky behavior.

When the person is a friend or co-worker, Danielle does not act out her rage but denies it and retreats. She tells herself: “I don’t care, it doesn’t matter.” That is the adult version of kicking down a sandcastle. When Danielle is disappointed by a colleague at her law office, she pushes the hurt aside. She thinks: “I don’t care, I don’t want to be a lawyer anyway.”

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Roberta Satow Ph.D.

Roberta Satow is a New York-based psychoanalyst, speaker, and author of Doing the Right Thing: Taking Care of Your Elderly Parents Even if They Didn’t Take Care of You, Gender and Social Life, and the novel: Two Sisters of Coyoacán. She is a professor emerita of the department of sociology at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York. Dr. Satow speaks and writes about issues of aging, gender, and mental health. She has been quoted in The New York Times, O, The Oprah Magazine, on ABC News and other national media platforms. She gave the keynote addresses at the EAP Symposium on Diversity and Well-being for the National Defence Department of Canada, Ottawa, and the New York City Dept. of Aging White House Conference on Aging. She has also appeared on The Diane Rehm Show, AARP, Prime Time Radio, and several other NPR programs.View Author posts