Most of us have experienced a fear of having someone taken away from us, but what if you worried about that constantly? What if you had to wrestle with that fear on a daily basis?
For those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the fear of abandonment is all too real.
Fear of abandonment is a symptom of BPD that affects around 1.4% of adults over 18. It sets the tone for the relationships that the BPD person engages in. But what is fear of abandonment, how does it affect relationships, and what triggers it?
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Basics
- What Is BPD Fear Of Abandonment?
- Understanding “Frantic Efforts To Avoid Abandonment” in BPD:
- BPD Abandonment Triggers
- Examples of BPD Abandonment Triggers:
- Tips For Identifying Your BPD Triggers
- How To Cope With Your BPD Abandonment Fears And Triggers
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Basics
To understand how a fear of abandonment fits in with BPD, it’s important to get a better sense of what BPD actually is.
BPD is a personality disorder characterized by a history of unstable relationships, low self-image and unstable self-esteem, and intense mood swings.
People with BPD act impulsively because they struggle to regulate their emotions. According to the DSM-5, some of the hallmarks of the disorder include:
Because of the severe self-worth issues, the person with BPD has a pervading fear of abandonment. And since they struggle with regulating their emotions, they can’t stop themselves from acting on these feelings.
One of the problems with an inability to manage emotions is that these emotions become disconnected from the person feeling them and attached to their partner. This then leaves the person with BPD feeling like their partner also sees their perceived lack of worth, doesn’t want to be with them, and will subsequently reject or abandon them.
What Is BPD Fear Of Abandonment?
BPD fear of abandonment can be summarized as an intense fear of being rejected or cast aside by a loved one or intimate partner – for the most part, it pertains to the romantic partner of the person with BPD, but it can also be a best friend or family member.
This person is known as the ‘favorite person’ in the BPD sufferer’s life.
This fear of abandonment is a symptom of BPD, and it’s the main reason those with BPD can’t maintain relationships.
Perhaps almost cruelly, this fear of abandonment tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy because, very often, the fear of abandonment or imminent rejection isn’t honest – it’s a product of the BPD person’s mental health issues.
However, this fear results in behavior that can trigger a separation, a pulling (or pushing) away between partners, or the end of the relationship.
The unhealthy dynamic caused by the behavior – and often extreme measures to which a BPD person goes to prevent abandonment – is exacerbated by their fear of rejection.
This sometimes backfires as they blow situations out of proportion, damaging the relationship. This only solidifies the BPD person’s fear that the people in their life will inevitably cast them aside.
It’s important to note that the fear of abandonment a person with BPD feels is often irrational or projected onto their significant other because of how they feel about themselves – not because the partner is seeking to abandon them.
What Does Fear of Abandonment Look Like For People With BPD?
The person with BPD’s intense fears manifests in different ways. Because they project this fear onto their loved ones, they constantly scrutinize their every move for clues that they are about to be rejected or abandoned.
Here are some examples of what it looks like for a person with BPD who fear abandonment:
What Does Fear of Abandonment Feel Like For People With BPD?
It may not make sense to all of us, but those with BPD struggle with this fear of abandonment without being able to control it, and for them, the experience is terrifying and painful.
Imagine constantly wrestling with the worry that you aren’t good enough and that the person you love will push you away – imagine pre-empting rejection and abandonment in almost every interaction.
Fear of abandonment has its roots in trauma that occurred in formative years. For many people with BPD, the fear of abandonment has been deeply ingrained in them because they experienced abandonment as children.
Whether a parent or guardian abandoned them, experienced intense losses, or suffered extreme neglect and abuse, this fear comes from a deep and painful place.
For those who constantly fear abandonment, the constant worry and lingering doubts can trigger anxiety. In fact, BPD is often accompanied by anxiety and depression because of these intense fears and pervading sense of worthlessness.
When something happens, it triggers a person with BPD to suspect their abandonment is imminent.
They will likely experience panic, despair, and anger in intense waves. Because they can’t manage these emotions, however, these will fluctuate wildly – they may come across as needy and desperate in one moment and raging and vengeful in the next.
Quiet BPD, an inwardly-focused variant of BPD, sees these emotions directed internally rather than manifesting this rage outward. Instead of bouts of physical aggression, those with quiet BPD will withdraw and cut their partner off.
During this time, both types of BPD see the person struggling with self-hatred, fear, or feelings of emptiness.
After such outbursts (or cycles of isolated and silently bottling up their feelings), people with BPD often feel ashamed, which just reinforces their belief in their worthlessness.
Understanding “Frantic Efforts To Avoid Abandonment” in BPD:
For those with BPD, the fear of abandonment can be so extreme that they pre-empt it by acting a certain way.
This reaction is often manipulative and attempts to draw their partner back in or lash out at them for the perceived slight of being rejected. In either scenario, this damages the relationship and increases the chances of abandonment – something the person with BPD doesn’t see.
‘Frantic efforts’ refers to the more extreme lengths that people with BPD fear of abandonment will go to to avoid rejection. These very intense reactions will generally seem out of proportion and inappropriate, and the other person may not understand it.
Examples of Frantic Efforts To Avoid Abandonment
Some of the more intense behaviors that those with BPD undertake to avoid abandonment occur before the perceived rejection. Still, some are a response to an ‘event’ or ‘situation’ they think will inevitably lead to it. Here are some examples of frantic efforts to avoid abandonment:
BPD Abandonment Triggers
While we can see that BPD fear of abandonment is generally a pervading fear that is always in the back of the BPD person’s mind, specific triggers exacerbate it.
BPD abandonment triggers can be defined as an event or situation that brings on an increase in BPD symptoms. This can happen outside of the self or as an internal occurrence.
These triggers cause the fear of abandonment to seem all the more accurate, and the person with BPD will generally feel more anxious, afraid, and angry as they anticipate being rejected. It’s important to know that these triggers are not always rational and vary wildly depending on the history of the BPD person.
Technically, a trigger event or circumstance reminds the BPD person of their formative experiences with abandonment, which makes them feel like they will be rejected now as they were then.
These triggers will lead to the abovementioned behaviors and efforts to prevent abandonment.
Examples of BPD Abandonment Triggers:
So, what do abandonment triggers look like in real life? What are the situations or events that can make a BPD person feel like they are going to be rejected or abandoned?
#1 Losing Someone
The death of a loved one to a BPD person is very traumatic – it makes sense how a trigger such as death can make a BPD person feel like everyone around them will abandon them.
But some losses aren’t to death. Having someone move away to a different country or state can be just as triggering. A friend or significant other moving to a new school will have the same effect.
Any negative feedback received immediately makes a BPD person feel like they are being attacked, and their low self-esteem suddenly seems warranted. People with BPD cannot deal with critique, and they take it very personally. It is often at such a point that splitting can occur – when a BPD person suddenly sees someone as “bad” where they once saw them as “good.”
Naturally, any significant change that involves being asked to leave, terminating a work contract, or ending any relationship will be perceived as rejection. Job losses, in particular, affect the person with BPD’s self-worth, and they will internalize this as them not being good enough.
Similarly, going for interviews and not landing a job offer, trying out for a sports team and not succeeding, or entering a competition and not winning can all have the same effect.
While conflict is inevitable, and most can navigate it and arrive at a positive outcome, those with BPD can’t.
Any conflict is seen as a personal attack or a criticism against them, and they immediately feel like they are being targeted for rejection or abandonment. Whether this is conflict at work, in a circle of friends, or between romantic partners, it will undoubtedly spur abandonment fears.
Being apart from their significant other is very distressing for someone with BPD. Because they struggle with emotional permanence, BPD people feel that the minute their partner is away, their emotions change, and they no longer value them.
So, most separations – whether it’s a business trip, a family event, a bachelor/bachelorette party without them, or just needing some time apart – will trigger thoughts of impending abandonment.
Sometimes the person with BPD can be triggered by a memory about the trauma they experienced before that caused the intense fear of abandonment.
It may look like driving past their old house, visiting a neighborhood where something terrible happened, or seeing a memory pop up on social media, but this can make them feel very vulnerable.
#7 Lack of Attention
To the person with BPD, attention from their partner allays their fears that they will be abandoned. If their partner can’t give them attention at any given time, they will interpret this as the partner no longer caring for them, not valuing them, or not wanting them in their lives.
This can look like a meltdown or outburst if they haven’t received a call or message in a few hours, are a little late, or forgot an anniversary. Simple things like not noticing a new clothing item or hairstyle can have the same effect and be translated as “My partner doesn’t love me anymore!”.
Tips For Identifying Your BPD Triggers
It can be beneficial to identify what triggers BPD meltdowns or outbursts; the fear of abandonment inevitably leads to reactionary behavior, which strains relationships. Those with BPD will experience some or all of these symptoms when triggered:
If you can identify periods where you are experiencing these symptoms, you can pinpoint what made you feel this way.
Keeping a journal will be essential to establishing a pattern: did you argue with someone? Did a work colleague perhaps say something critical? Did your partner forget an important date?
How To Cope With Your BPD Abandonment Fears And Triggers
If you have managed to track down your triggers, you can make some headway in coping with your fears and reactionary behaviors.
Of course, it’s essential that you have a diagnosis by a mental health professional who can best advise on a treatment plan, but research shows that many therapeutic interventions successfully alleviate BPD symptoms.
As with other personality disorders, psychotherapies, like cognitive behavior therapy, are very effective in helping to reroute problematic thinking, provide tools to deal with fears and anxiety, and rebuild self-esteem. This is the most effective strategy for coping with BPD.
A professional can also recommend some medications that will help treat depression, mood swings, and anxiety, helping those with BPD focus on other treatments without the crushing weight of self-hatred, constant fear, and fluctuating moods.
In addition to professional help, here are some other tips to help you cope with an intense fear of abandonment and triggers:
Tips For Coping With Your Loved One’s BPD Abandonment Fears And Triggers
If you are on the other end of a BPD person’s struggle with abandonment fears, you will likely be confused and even exhausted by dealing with these extreme reactions to what seem to be nonsensical fears. Here are some tips to help make it easier for you:
Fear of abandonment is a genuine and intense concern for those with BPD, even if others may not understand why they are constantly walking on eggshells believing they will be rejected. Many events or situations can trigger a BPD person, but with therapy and good communication, it is possible to move past this fear and have a good relationship.