People with Borderline personality disorder (BPD) frequently struggle to maintain healthy relationships due to their fear of abandonment. This fear can cause a constant need for reassurance, paranoid ideation, and a drive to avoid real or imagined abandonment at all costs. These behaviors frequently backfire and cause the exact abandonment that the BPD sufferer is trying to avoid.
We can almost with certainty say that everyone diagnosed with BPD has strong reactions to the threat of abandonment by people they are attached to or attracted by. However, you can have a fear of abandonment without having Borderline Personality Disorder.
Fear of abandonment
Fear of abandonment is a type of anxiety that people can experience when faced with the idea of losing someone they care about. It is a core issue of someone with BPD and often causes them to form unhealthy relationships by abruptly cutting people off, sabotaging the relationship, needing constant reassurance, and making frantic attempts to hold onto relationships. These overly intense or erratic behaviors often push loved ones away, which then reinforces the fear of abandonment even more.
Why do people with BPD fear abandonment?
The simple and short answer is that we've been abandoned by an important other, most often a parent or sibling, at a crucial point in our lives, which is usually during our childhood.
In this context, the phrase being abandoned can mean a variety of things. It could mean literal abandonment, such as losing a parent or sibling, but it could also mean being physically, mentally, or emotionally abused or simply not having our needs met. The point is that while we were too young and mentally immature, someone we loved deeply led us to suffer severe harm. And at that time, we couldn't think about other people's needs, responsibilities, or actions when they hurt us, and therefore, we were unable to say or think, "You shouldn't be treating me like this."
''For people with BPD, it's not if they get abandonment, it's more so when.''
During childhood, it's all about developing and learning from past experiences. These extremely strong feelings associated with abandonment were ingrained at a point in our life when we were shaping our worldviews, learning how to relate to others, and deciding where to place those people in terms of who we can rely on. The early abandonment, unfortunately, developed into unhealthy coping methods and defense mechanisms. And now, when we feel abandoned or when our hypervigilance tells us that abandonment is likely, we relive the strong emotional states connected to abandonment.
What does projecting fear of abandonment look like?
People with BPD may project their fear onto the target of their affection. This implies that the person with BPD unintentionally assigns negative emotions from themselves to someone else. The projection causes them to suspect their loved one of planning to abandon them. As a result, the person with BPD may obsessively look for signs that they will soon be abandoned.
When you fear abandonment, you are hyper-alert to any signs that others don’t care about you or are distancing themselves from you. The fear can be triggered by something minor, like a loved one arriving home late from work, not responding to a text immediately, or going out with friends. They feel driven to make desperate attempts to hold onto the other person, such as pleading, arguing, clinging, or physically preventing them. They want to see their loved ones fight for them, and therefore, they frequently start discussions to seek reassurance. They may either manipulate their loved one into giving them more attention or lash out in rage at the anticipated rejection. The loved one usually feels attacked and becomes defensive as a consequence, which in the cruelest irony, only contributes to pushing people away, which ultimately reinforces the fear.
Read more on Mate Guarding Behavior In Someone With BPD
Even in seemingly healthy relationships, people with BPD can overthink or imagine themselves in insecurity and a spiral of self-doubt. This relationship dynamic often creates a repeated cycle of unstable relationships, and because their fear gets realized, the end of a relationship can feel particularly devastating for people with BPD.
What does fear of abandonment feel like?
When you have BPD, you're never sure where you stand with others. There is always uncertainty about if the person you care about still cares about you. This uncertainty is often imagined due to having low self-esteem and, of course, reinforced by the fear of abandonment. Additionally, it’s difficult for people with BPD to see other people's mistakes or behaviors as unintentional. For example, when someone forgets to reply to your text, you may take this as intentional behavior, and the individual now seems to be a threat because they have demonstrated that they don't care about you.
Being abandoned when you have BPD hurts to such an extreme that it’s too overwhelming to keep functioning in everyday life. Not to forget the associated physical pain, which is felt in the head and chest since, according to the maps of subjective feelings, this is where fear is felt in the body. Fun fact: The strongest emotion we can physically experience in our body is, among others, fear.
If someone who makes us feel less alone decides to abandon us, it will feel as if we are going to be alone forever. Because before that person came into our lives, we also always felt alone. It is because people with BPD often deal with chronic loneliness, and when someone enters their life to fill that void, they begin to find it impossible to live without them. Although most of the time, it is false or irrational, it is how the thought process often goes.
Getting love, attention, and commitment from those someone with BPD cares about keeps them centered and stable. It's not only a matter of pleasure and reward; they are desperately fighting for their survival.
How to overcome the fear of abandonment?
The good news is that there are actions you can take to overcome the fear of abandonment.
Therapy A therapist can assist you in identifying and overcoming your fear of abandonment by giving you the tools to:
Find out more about your attachment style and how it influences the relationships in your life.
Discover how to create healthy connections with people.
The ability to control and regulate your emotions.
Evaluate your fear to see whether a personality or anxiety disorder is to blame.
Overcome traumatic events that led to your fear of abandonment.
In order to determine the cause of your fear of abandonment and how to cope with it, several forms of therapy may be beneficial:
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): DBT teaches tools for self-soothing and emotion management. It's a typical therapy for someone with BPD.
Emotionally focused therapy (EFT): EFT concentrates on supporting you in discovering your attachment style and how you relate to other people.
Psychodynamic therapy: Some personality disorders, such as BPD, may be easier to control when you understand the root of your suffering. With psychodynamic therapy, you can learn to identify behavior patterns associated with your fear of abandonment by self-reflection.
Support groups The ability to connect with others and form communities can be key for trauma recovery. A support group could be beneficial for you if:
You once went through a horrible abandonment and want to share experiences with other people who are dealing with the same type of trauma.
You notice patterns in your relationships that you'd like to discuss and change.