One of the determining factors in the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder until recently was the the fear of abandonment. That is all set to change in the DSM-5. But while abandonment issues have been officially removed from the diagnostic criteria involved in BPD, they remain a very large issue for many people who suffer from BPD.

For many people with BPD their abandonment issues date back to early childhood days. They may have suffered the loss of a parent or caregiver either via divorce or because of death. But some people have abandonment issues because they did not receive enough care whether that be physical or emotional, from their parents. Because they grow up never knowing when or if they will be taken care of, they develop an almost pathological fear of being abandoned by any significant other in their adult life. They are often extremely angry about the way they were treated (or not treated, as the case may be) as a child but have not developed the adult language with which to express that anger in an acceptable manner.

People with BPD are so afraid of abandonment

Everyone has some partial fear of being abandoned by the people they care about, but the person with BPD has allowed that fear to take over and influence their behavior in such a manner as to be extremely unproductive and even destructive. This fear is often acted out through intense clinginess and/or threats or attempts of suicide if the significant other pulls away or attempts to leave the relationship thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Though this kind of behavior is viewed as being highly manipulative behavior by others because they essentially hold the other person hostage on an emotional level, until the person with BPD develops some insight into their issues they really can not help it. This kind of behavior leads the person with BPD into an almost never-ending cycle of impairment and precludes them from developing any real healthy relationships. Why? Because their primary relationship — that being with themselves — is so unhealthy. You can not have a healthy relationship with another person unless you have a healthy relationship with yourself and love yourself.

The mechanisms related to abandonment

For a child to develop a healthy self-image and healthy self-esteem, they require more than just perfunctory care. Their spirit needs nurturing. Without this, their brains will register their existence as a traumatic event(s). So a child brought up in an environment where one or both parents are either alcoholics or drug users will not be able to learn emotional self-care because there are not role models in its life to teach by example. The parents are too busy serving their own needs. This trauma is even further compounded in cases where there is any kind of sexual abuse from either of the parents, boyfriends or girlfriends or grandparents.

Parents who neglect their children are perpetrating a form of abandonment upon them. Parents who squelch their child’s ability to express themselves emotionally or who impose extremely high standards upon their children are committing a form of emotional abandonment because they are refusing to allow their children to be in touch with themselves. The same goes for parents who withhold love and affection from their children when they misbehave. In addition, parents who force their children into parental roles can, in the long run, cause fear of abandonment in their adult children.

The psychological impact caused by abandonment

People who have experienced abandonment in childhood often have a number of long-term psychological issues. They are often extremely slow to trust others and may suffer from intractable mood swings. They will often experience intense anger problems which seem uncontrollable and as if they come out of the blue. These things, over a long period of time, will disrupt their interpersonal relationships and cause people they care about to move away from them. Thus forcing yet another abandonment.

There is hope for anyone with these kinds of issues. The first step is to look for a good therapist. Dialectical behavioral therapy is seen as an almost Holy Grail when it comes to offering hope for people with BPD. Of course, nothing is perfect. Keep in mind the old joke, “How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Just one. But the lightbulb has to really want to change.

And just even though you may have a lot of DBT it does not necessarily mean that your BPD will “go away”. This means that if you are not a nice person to begin with you will simply become a not so nice person who has had a lot of DBT. It will not qualify you to teach it. You must learn how to transfer the things you learn in DBT into your daily life which means you must walk the walk, not just talk the talk.