As we have seen from numerous other articles that I have published on this site, those who suffered significant and chronic childhood trauma are at much-increased risk of developing borderline personality disorder (BPD) in their adult lives compared to those who were fortunate enough to grow up in relatively stable, non-threatening, loving and nurturing families.
And, as we have also seen, one of the most common and predominant features of BPD is intense feelings of rage and anger which are difficult to control, particularly in stressful situations (even situations which others may perceive as non-stressful or only very mildly stressful).
Theories Relating To Anger :
There are various theories which seek to cast light upon the origins of such feelings of aggression; four main such theories are as follows :
- psychoanalytic theory
- behavioural theory
- cognitive theory
- neurobiological theory
Let’s briefly look at each of these in turn :
- PSYCHOANALYTIC THEORY :
FRUSTRATED NEEDS :
Early psychoanalytic theorists attributed the source of anger in the child to deep feelings of frustration caused by not having their fundamental needs met (including unsatisfactory breastfeeding).
‘AN EXCESSIVE NATURE OF PRIMARY AGGRESSION’ :
The psychoanalyst, Otto Kernberg (b. 1929), who carried out important early research into the borderline personality, was one of the first to suggest that temperament (individual differences in personality traits that are biologically / genetically based and relatively independent of the influence of learning) may play a significant role in the development of the adult BPD sufferer’s propensity to be easily moved to feelings and expressions of intense anger. Kernberg referred to those with such temperaments as possessing ‘an excessive nature of primary aggression.’
- BEHAVIOURAL THEORY :
EMOTIONALLY WITHHOLDING ENVIRONMENT :
Linehan, an expert in borderline personality disorder (BPD) who devised the therapy for the condition known as dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT), proposes the idea that aggression in BPD sufferers has its roots in the individual growing up in an ‘emotionally withholding environment‘ thus thwarting the child’s need to have his/her fundamental emotional needs met.
- COGNITIVE THEORY :
ANGER AS A DEFENSE AGAINST REAL / IMAGINED / ANTICIPATED EXPLOITATION :
According to cognitive theory, one of the main functions of anger is to operate as a defence (a defence which has been unconsciously learned in early life to protect one in a threatening environment) against real or imagined exploitation (e.g. because a parent has used,, taken advantage of and manipulated the individual as a child).
- NEUROBIOLOGICAL THEORY :
ABNORMALITIES IN THE BRAIN’S LIMBIC SYSTEM :
PET (positron emission tomography) scans have revealed that those individuals who have significant problems in connection with their feelings of anger and have histories of aggressive behaviour can show abnormalities in the brain region known as the LIMBIC SYSTEM, or, more specifically, in the amygdala and hypothalamus (these are both sub-components of the limbic system) as well as abnormalities in the brain’s prefrontal cortex).
Various research studies have also revealed that impulsive aggressiveness in individuals with BPD is associated with abnormally low levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter) in the brain.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).