What fear and anger does to a person’s avoidance of conflict

It is not a stretch to say that most people who have BPD have great problems with both fear and anger. We tend to be very fearful in general as well as being angry at most things. I think the fearfulness comes from deep-seated events in childhood, usually having to do with being neglected or abandoned by the primary caregiver. The anger is the way the fear gets channeled because there is no other way to express it. It comes out as anxiety and as anger. People who have BPD don’t know how to express their anger appropriately and they are almost pathologically afraid of being on the receiving end of someone else’s anger. So they will go to almost pathological attempts to avoid having people get angry at them. In essence they can become a real people pleaser, except when they’re not -- when they are in a rage.

Many psychiatrists believe that these kinds of behaviors around anger develop because when the person with BPD was a child they were not “allowed” to express anger. Often they get told that it is “bad” to feel angry. So, they repress the feeling to please the person who has delivered the message. They will go to great lengths to avoid feeling it and even greater lengths to avoid expressing it. For them, anger becomes just one more “bad” feeling they feel in a whole list of other bad feelings. So, feeling anger makes them feel even worse about themselves which, in turn makes them feel even angrier.

To avoid feeling this way, they learn to run away from the feeling. To put distance between themselves and it. Most of the time we will be successful at this but when we are not, the feelings become overwhelming and erupt into a torrent of rage. Many times we can not even identify the feeling we just know that we are raging and we don’t know why. We don’t know where it is coming from -- all we know is that we have to stop it no matter what it takes. So some of us turn to self-injurious behavior while others will act out with a suicide attempt.

We don’t always act out in anger though. Sometimes it just simmers on the back burner in the form of irritation and annoyance which we will then attempt to “push off” onto other people. This is part of the reason why most of us come across as being completely pissed off at the world at large most of the time -- it is because we just don’t know how to either process our feelings or discharge them in a healthy way.

Sometimes it gets channeled into extreme anxiety whereas some people will express it somatically which means they will develop something like irritable bowel syndrome or extreme migraines which seem to come out of nowhere.

The bottom line here is that nearly everybody is afraid of anger on some level or another because as children we are not taught to accept it as a normal experience or how to express it in a healthy manner. We are not taught that anger is neither good nor bad just that the way we respond to it can be construed as being good or bad by society. Once you are able to learn this, your anger will not have such power over you. One of the best ways to learn how to deal with anger is through assertiveness training. Assertiveness training gives you a voice so that you don’t have to lash out at other people when you are feeling angry. You learn to express it in a non-aggressive way that enables you to get your feelings across without stomping all over the the person you are angry at.

Many people will tell you that depression is anger turned inward. I don’t necessarily agree with that statement. I believe that depression stems from years or not feeling heard or feeling invalidated by others or, in the case of someone with BPD, being scapegoated by the family of origin and blamed for the families dysfunction. These can lead to a person feeling angry but that anger is reactive in nature.

The other way to learn how to deal with anger is through learning conflict resolution skills. When you learn these skills you will learn how to look at an argument from both sides. This is important because there are always two sides to every argument.

Some people fear anger because they worry that if they express anger the person they are angry with will abandon them and the relationship. Because as young children we are taught to “be nice” and play nicely with other people, it can be very intimidating to try to learn how to express anger in a healthy way. But conflict can be approached in a way that makes it transformative and changing in a positive way for a relationship. It can be productive rather than destructive.