One of the worst, most dangerous stigmatising myths about BPD is that we are dangerous due to our problems with ANGER. Now I’m not denying that anger management issues are a key factor in the diagnosis of BPD or saying that we don’t have anger problems, it is in fact a criteria for diagnosis –
“8. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)” (source – http://www.borderlinepersonalitytoday.com/main/dsmiv.htm)
Heck; as with the rest of the population we all get angry at times, and yes as with any other person who gets angry there is a chance that anger could be physically taken out against another person. Some BP’s are violent, but not any more so than the rest of the population; more likely the proportion of violent BP’s is probably lower than violent people who do NOT have BPD…
So why then does the criterion state anger in the terms it does? As this clearly paints a picture of someone who is likely to cause physical harm to others! This is a question I cannot answer, as I didn’t write the criteria, but I can tell you what I know to be facts about BP’s and anger, and use my own experiences to help you understand how this fits into the reality of living with anger as a BP…
The reality of anger and BPD is that it is closely linked to another of the criteria – self harm. The reason for this is that most BP’s are so scared of anger that they direct any anger they feel inwards, towards and against themselves rather than outwards, towards and against others. It is this inward direction of anger that distinguishes BPD from Anti Social Personality Disorder (ASPD) another personality disorder which is characterised by antisocial behaviour and anger directed at others; to the point of a greater risk of violence towards others. In summary –
Anger in BPD – internalized, leading to self-harm
Anger in ASPD – externalized, leading to risk of harming others.
Back to BPD… many (but not all) people with BPD will have witnessed of been victims of violent, abusive, expressions of anger themselves, either as children or on going into adulthood. Experiencing such things first hand, witnessing/feeling the damage and devastation of physically expressed anger, can have numerous effects on a person and for the majority of BP’s the effect is that they fear anger, to the point they cannot express it, avoiding letting their anger out at all costs. They fear the damage they would cause to others, they fear the harm they may suffer from others, they fear everything about anger, instead choosing to close the door on it, dissociate from it and refuse to outwardly express anger at all. But this anger has to go somewhere…
Let me give you a few examples from my own life…
As a youngster in primary school playground ‘fights’ were the norm, part and parcel of establishing the pecking order, not even really related to anger most f the time. I wasn’t a tough cookie, I had my fair share of fights, but I wasn’t a fair fighter as I was small, weak and had no fighting skills (no brothers/play fighting with dad) so I used the only thing I could. I was a biter. Several kids who picked a fight with me ended up needing a tetanus jab, it wasn’t until my headmaster pressed his own teeth against my arm and warned that if I bit another child he would bite me that I stopped this phase. Kicking led to standing in the hallway all day holding your shoes and the other children calling you ‘donkey’ as they walked past. My last ‘fight’ involved me dragging another girl round the playground by her hair. I never witnessed any violence at home; I was never hit and had NO experience of anger being expressed at all. You might think this is a good thing, but imagine having NO examples of how to deal with anger… how would you know what you were feeling when that ‘anger’ did appear? How would you know how to deal with it? This was my problem, the opposite of those who witness and suffer at the hands of people who express their anger the complete lack of expression of anger in my life meant I was unprepared to understand and deal with it when I felt it.
I can’t tell you the first time I really felt anger, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t in those young years of fighting, they were just reactions when under attack (as I wasn’t one to ‘start’ a fight). When I was older I must have started feeling anger, but I clearly didn’t know ‘what’ I was feeling (and I often struggle to understand ‘what’ I am feeling now – all I know is they are intense emotions, I don’t understand and I don’t like them!).
Later, one incident stands out in my memory. My husband stormed into the kitchen and was raging at me over something (not uncommon – he spent a lot of time shouting about something). I was cooking the dinner, his friend chatting to me in the kitchen as I cooked. Something in me snapped at the nasty things I was hearing and I calmly walked away from the cooker towards the door where my husband stood. Next to the door was the fridge, on top empty glass milk bottles, as I passed the fridge I instinctively grabbed one of the bottles and swung it at my husband viciously causing him to back out of the door, slamming it shut behind him. He slammed it with such force he broke the handle and could not open it from the other side. Inside the kitchen I had replaced the bottle and returned to my cooking – still no emotion at all, other than relief he was no longer in the room, I felt the ‘threat’ was gone. He was still raging, now for me to open the door. I just kept replying calmly ‘No, I’m cooking’ and his friend just sat silent not knowing what to do… My husband was often verbally aggressive, he only ever actually hit me once – and I called the police on him. Many a time I had thrown things at him or lunged at him myself only to be pinned down until I stopped trashing around – so I guess in this phase I did let my anger ‘out’ to a degree, but still the main aim was always to get him to go away so I could avoid the feelings rather than any intention to hurt/harm him – I just wanted him to leave me alone and stop being aggressive towards me, or our children…
I do know sometimes now that I am angry, or at least I have strong emotions that I call ‘anger’ – I may still have it wrong, I don’t know. I think that the lack of introduction to anger as a child made me fear it when I did ‘feel’ it because I did not understand what it was and then when my husband was prone out outwardly expressing his anger, mainly verbally, I was not used to this and responded with the childhood ‘reactions’ of the playground fights – not anger but a desire to make the ‘attack’ on me stop. Thus, the way I see it I have a ‘self-defence’ mode, but I don’t know much about anger. I have never really had the opportunity to learn what it is or how to express it – and yes I still fear it…
What about you? How do you deal with feelings of anger? How did you learn these ways of dealing with it? Or do you struggle t understand and cope with your feelings like I do?
Thank you for reading! If you have enjoyed reading this post please share it with others who may be interested and I always enjoy receiving feedback and comments
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