Perception Fuels the Cycle of Rejection and Hostility in Borderline Personality

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.


  1. 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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  • Kyle

    February 1st, 2013 at 3:50 AM

    For many of us life is always about what we perceive things to be and not what they necessarily are in reality. I see that for someone with a bpd it can be even mnore difficult for them to discern what is real and what is perceived. You want to be able to have a great deal of patience with someone like this, but it must be hard knowing that in many cases no matter what you do or say will be taken then wrong way when you are interacting with someone who suffers with this disorder.

  • lila straw

    February 1st, 2013 at 10:46 AM

    perhaps this illness would cause someone to project what they are feeling onto others?

  • dwayne

    February 1st, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    if those with borderline personality disorder have different perceptions on others’ behavior it’s not their fault.they do not do that on purpose!

    I think if the people closest to the, can put in extra effort to be nice to them and convince them so they can be helped.not only that but if they learn to do this with those closest to the, they may follow the same behavior with others too,thereby offsetting any excessive reactions when their perception is wrong!

  • AndY

    February 1st, 2013 at 4:23 PM

    It’s not possible to keep a loved one with the disorder isolated from the rest of the world. But maybe you can help! Be innovative. Do a few exercises at home to teach and train your loved one about how he or she can ignore or write down their thoughts when they think they have been treated badly, rather than venting out.

    That can help in social interaction and in the long term will help them control their wrong perceptions. Not a hard thing to do. If you have the will to help you can find a way to do it.

  • Steve

    February 21st, 2013 at 8:04 AM

    Kyle, I agree with your assessment. It is very difficult for someone with BPD to determine the difference between actual rejection and what they perceive as rejection. For example, when interacting with a partner if the BPD member has an expectation of a kiss before departing and the other member only gives a hug, the BPD member will have all sorts of intense negative emotions. The other member expected that they acted appropriately and will think nothing is wrong, while the BPD member swirls and churns and believes they have been completely rejected. I have personally experienced this with my BPD partner.

    Yes lila, I have found BPD causes someone to project feelings onto others. What I notice most is that their internal judgements get projected onto others. In other words, if they are feeling worthless or believe they are a bad person, they will assume that all other people believe the same.

    Hey dwayne, people act in the way they choose. It’s their choice. I have had two BPD partners in my life. The first steadfastly refused to be helped and was spinning wildly out of control. This person also place blame on everyone else for their problems. This person would simply not receive any input from anyone, including family and other loved ones. Therefore this person wasn’t getting any help, nor would it have made a difference even if help was provided. The second was willing to receive input, though still resistant to change. The difference in attitude as a precursor to successful change is enormous. My second partner made huge changes and is on the path to becoming mindful of the turmoil inside.

    Andy, I completely 110% agree with you. There has to be a person in their lives they can trust completely. Too often people with BPD will push away everyone, as it says in the article. I have been reading extensively on DBT and using those methods have already made a significant difference in my loved ones BPD.

    I would highly recommend researching dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) to determine if it’s right for you or a loved one with BPD.

  • Margaret A Poole

    July 18th, 2013 at 6:48 AM

    My 44-year old son (the pastor of a congregation in Colorado Springs) has been diagnosed with BPD and has a problem with unresolved anger, which he recently spewed onto my husband and I – blaming us for all of his problems. He, his wife and two teen-age children left our home in Michigan after a hostile rage in which he “gave it to us with both barrels” saying he will never return and wants us out of his life. There has been no contact between us for nearly a month. I fear for his safety (suicidal) and the safety of his wife and children. My heart is breaking on his behalf; I love him dearly and have forgiven him. I want to tell him I love him, but honestly don’t know what to say and don’t want to be the brunt of his anger again. Please advise. Thank you.

  • admin2

    July 18th, 2013 at 9:00 AM

    Hi Margaret,
    Thank you for your comment! You can look for a therapist for your son here: or, if you believe he is in crisis, you can look for further resources here:
    Best of luck and warm regards,
    The Team

  • Refuge

    June 24th, 2014 at 5:16 PM

    I suffer from BPD. I have done a fair amount of self-educating on the condition. Dr. John Gunderson is one of the leading experts on the condition. He states that individuals who suffer from this condition are often highly misunderstood. Individuals who suffer from BPD tend to be highly intuitive and highly perceptive. It that isn’t their perceptions are inaccurate. It is the reactivity to the perceptions that causes problems. Also, the strong tendency to think in black and white terms, to see things as all good or all bad, for example. The thinking is very rigid, not flexible, so we get caught and react. Marsha Linehan says we get caught in “emotion mind”. We need to be vigilent about balancing our emotions with rational thought. This will enable us to stay calm, to not react, and to problem solve.

  • Donna L.

    February 26th, 2015 at 6:38 AM

    Wow! I am a 55 year old single female with BPD and I just read this article for the 1st time and following comments and replies. It scares me but at the same time I now know in a sense what is going on with me and need to try to stop this insanity.

  • Derrick L

    June 20th, 2016 at 3:18 PM

    Hello, I’ve read upon the cycle on bdp. Wow! Very enlightening, I’ve finally realized what’s going on with my wife of 17 yrs. Not good! Rollercoaster! Yep not a good feeling!!!😡 How long do you ride?

  • Donna L

    June 21st, 2016 at 3:04 PM

    It depends on the person/s or situation/s but in reality it’s all in my mind, I am learning to be Mindful of other people and also try to think before acting or reacting, a ride as you call it can last 5 mins up to 2 days but it’s different for each person

  • Aimee

    June 25th, 2016 at 3:20 PM

    For the past 9 months I (50+) have been dating an older man (60+) I met online. This is my first exposure to the details and definitions of BPD. I was actually in the process of writing my 2nd two page “Dear John” letter on my way OUT of the relationship…. Until I stumbled across this and a couple of other sites that “Made the heavens open up and speak directly to me!” I was absolutely floored by the pinpoint accuracy of the description of my boyfriend. Windows 10 allows highlights and text boxes on websites… and mine is covered! This information is so very fascinating and I will continue to bookmark and learn all I can on how to make my relationship stronger and better.
    You see, he walked out on me over a week ago, but I never sent him the ‘goodbye’ letters I wrote. Instead, after reading about BPD and better understanding his suffering… I sent him a text to invite him over for dinner tomorrow. He needs my empathy, not my rejection.

  • Ela A

    October 25th, 2016 at 2:53 PM

    You’re a most generous-spirited, kind soul.

  • Rick

    February 15th, 2017 at 11:26 AM

    Aimee….Kudos to you…Borderline is almost always from severe childhood trauma esp sex abuse and attachment issues.

    DBT, neuro-feedback and your kindness will help him a lot!

    Borderline is not caused by him…it was forced on him as a child!

    Help him…….it will be tough but it will be worth it too!

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