Borderline personality (BPD) is characterized by hostile behavior, negative affect, hypersensitivity to others, anger, worry, and fear of rejection or abandonment. These traits can make life difficult for people with BPD, causing them to react in ways that may be considered socially unacceptable. Additionally, the hypersensitivity that BPD causes can result in outbursts to perceived insults and can damage personal relationships and lead to rejection and isolation. This can then set the stage for further sadness, anger, and fears of abandonment, which perpetuate the cycle of rejection and hostility. Therefore, it is imperative to get a better understanding of what mechanisms lead to this pattern of behavior in people with BPD.
To do this, Gentiana Sadikaj of the Department of Psychology at McGill University in Quebec recently conducted an experiment involving 38 people with BPD and 31 non-BPD control individuals. All of the participants reported their levels of quarrelsome and hostile behavior, perceptions of their partner’s behavior, and their own affect over a three-week period. Specifically, Sadikaj wanted to evaluate the participants’ own behavior in response to their negative affect, their behavior resulting from their perceptions of others, and their attitude resulting from those perceptions.
Sadikaj found that the BPD participants did indeed have more intense reactions than the non-BPD participants. With respect to behavior response to their own affect, all the participants responded similarly. But the BPD participants perceived others as being cold and rejecting, thus causing them to react with increased hostility and anger. This increased their level of quarrelsome behavior and prompted those they interacted with to also become more difficult. The BPD participants also reported feeling more worried, isolated, and sad than the non-BPD participants as a result of these perceptions and resulting quarrels. Sadikaj said, “Such reactions from others may, in turn, reinforce fears of rejection and disconnection, and sensitivity to others’ behavior among individuals with BPD, thus maintaining the painful cycles of disturbed interpersonal relationships.” Sadikaj hopes these results guide interventions for people with BPD toward focusing on their perceptions of others’ and their behavior in response to those perceptions.
- Sadikaj, G., Moskowitz, D. S., Russell, J. J., Zuroff, D. C., and Paris, J. (2012). Quarrelsome behavior in borderline personality disorder: Influence of behavioral and affective reactivity to perceptions of others. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030871
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