BPD, The Love-Hate Relationship And Neuroscience
We have seen from several other articles that I have published on this site that one of the hallmarks of borderline personality disorder is the tendency of sufferers of this devastating psychiatric condition to flip suddenly from idealizing/feeling love towards individuals and demonizing/feeling hate towards them (which, of course, is a major reason why BPD sufferers also tend to have severe difficulties with their interpersonal relationships). This tendency is sometimes referred to as ‘SPLITTING.’
Intriguingly, a study (Zeki et al.) carried out at University College, London, may help to elucidate this tendency to suddenly ‘switch’ between loving and hating the same person from a neurological perspective (i.e. in terms of brain’s physical organization and biological functioning).
THE STUDY :
The study involved 17 individuals who had their brain scanned under two conditions :
CONDITION 1: Brain scans were taken whilst the individuals were looking at photos of people they loved.
CONDITION 2: Brain scans were taken of the same individuals in Condition 1 whilst they were looking at photos of people the claimed to hate.
NERVOUS CIRCUITS IN THE BRAIN :
Researchers found that some of the brain’s nervous/neural circuits involved in generating feelings of hate are ALSO INVOLVED IN GENERATING FEELINGS OF LOVE.
More specifically :
The region of the brain known as the putamen seems to be activated both when an individual is experiencing feelings of love and when s/he is experiencing feelings of hate including disgust, contempt and aggression.
The region of the brain known as the insula also seems to be activated both when an individual is experiencing feelings of love and when s/he is experiencing feelings of hate.
THE CEREBRAL CORTEX :
Furthermore, research findings suggest that regions of the cerebral cortex are deactivated both when an individual is experiencing feelings of love (the regions deactivated when we are experiencing feelings of love are involved in reasoning and judgment) and also when s/he is experiencing feelings of hate.
However, it should also be noted that fewer regions in this part of the brain are deactivated when the person is experiencing feelings of hate.
This finding may help to explain the neurological underpinnings of the origin of the expression that ‘love is blind’ (i.e. when feeling intense love, all reasoning and judgment tends to go out of the window and we are, to put it colloquially, liable to be led irrationally by the heart rather than rationally by the mind).
Furthermore, the fact that fewer regions of this brain region seem to be deactivated when people experience feeling of hate may be a kind of safety mechanism to prevent them from, for example, resorting to excessive, unnecessary and perhaps, ultimately, self-defeating violence in response to these feelings.
Indeed, the author of the study suggests that the cerebral cortex is less deactivated when people feel hate than it is when people feel love because when they feel hate they need to be able to reason effectively so that they can be sufficiently calculating when it comes to exacting revenge! Such calculation, more relevant to our ancient ancestors, may involve judging if a physical fight could potentially be won and what it would be necessary to do in any such fight to win it – alternatively, it might be necessary to judge whether a violent attack on an opponent will backfire as said opponent is of vastly superior physical strength.
One can, perhaps, tentatively infer from this that evolutionary processes have determined that we are less rational in response to feelings of love than we are in response to feelings of hate.
In any event, it seems the fine line between love and hate, and the propensity, especially in the case of BPD sufferers, to flip suddenly between the two has a neurological basis.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).