One of the main hallmarks of suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) is the experiencing of overwhelmingly extreme and intense emotions which are prone to change very rapidly and which the individual has great difficulty controlling. Psychologists call this serious problem emotional dysregulation. Examples include becoming engulfed by powerful feelings of rage in response to events which do not seem to warrant such a strong reaction or becoming excessively anxious over what others are likely to regard as fairly trivial.
Other emotions which people with BPD frequently experience disproportionately intensely include fear, depression and jealousy.
WHY DO PEOPLE WITH BPD EXPERIENCE SUCH INTENSE EMOTIONS?
There are two main theories that seek to explain why those who suffer from BPD experience such intense emotions; these are :
1) They have a much stronger physical reaction to certain events than average
2) They suffer from distorted thinking in relation to certain events which causes them to misinterpret these events.
Both of these problems are likely to have their foundations in childhood (eg read my article on how childhood trauma can affect the development of the brain).
Let’s look at each of these in turn :
1) The Physical Reaction Interpretation :
It is thought that those who suffer from BPD have far stronger physical responses (eg increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating etc) to any stimuli which induce fear, such as abandonment or threat to safety. This in turn leads to an emotional over-reaction.
Indeed, research has been conducted that shows people who suffer from BPD have a much greater startle response than those who do not suffer from the condition.
2) The Distorted Thinking Interpretation :
There is also research evidence demonstrating that BPD sufferers are much more likely to view events as negative than non-BPD sufferers. According to cognitive-behavioural therapy CBT), how we think about things has a strong impact upon how we feel – therefore, according to this school of thought, it is the BPD sufferer’s overly negative thinking style that leads to his/her emotional turmoil.
Of course, it is likely that both of the above two theories play their part, as probably do some of the theories below.
OTHER THEORIES ABOUT WHY PEOPLE WITH BPD EXPERIENCE SUCH INTENSE EMOTIONS :
I list these theories below :
a) they have a genetic pre-disposition to emotionally over-react
b) studies have shown that people with BPD are much better than those who do not suffer from it at accurately discerning negative expressions on the faces of others. However, they are also more likely to interpret a neutral expression as being negative – this can perhaps evoke feelings of paranoia
c) people with BPD tend to suffer from what may be termed meta-negative emotions. This means having negative emotions about having negative emotions, or, put more simply, feeling bad about feeling bad. This can lead to a vicious circle which is difficult to brealk free of without the intervention of therapy. Therapies for BPD include cognitive behavioural therapy and dialectical behavioural therapy – both of these therapies are evidence-based.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).