Relationships in borderline personality disorders from a disorganized attachment perspective

Borderline personality disorder is a pervasive disorder with severe emotional and relationship deficits. Some of the basic characteristics of BPD are: a pattern of turbulent and unstable relationships, frequent emotional outbursts expressed through verbal abuse and anger, a difficulty in controlling overwhelming emotions and a decrease in emotional regulation, extreme fear upon abandonment, a characteristic cognitive impairment called “splitting” (or black and white thinking) that can manifest itself in their closest relationships. The division makes them see others as completely good or completely bad depending on the intrinsic circumstances, making it impossible to integrate the positive and negative traits as a whole and attribute both to others. Lastly, self-destructive behaviors are central to BPD, as an attempt to cope with a continuous and irreversible feeling of emptiness.

There is growing evidence that borderline personality disorder can be conceptualized as lasting damage to the individual’s attachment system, which is deeply ingrained in the earliest and most intimate relationships of any individual form: the one he has with his primary caregiver, his father or mother. (s). The attachment styles most related to BPD are disorganized attachment (fear-avoidance in adults) and ambivalent attachment. The main focus of this article will be disorganized attachment.

At this point, it would be worth briefly referring to the different attachment styles, according to Attachment Theory. There are two main categories: secure and insecure attachment, according to the degree of security and protection that are present in the most intimate relationships, originally established in the relationship of the individual with their primary caregivers. Secure attachment is characterized by feelings of security and capacity for emotional intimacy in the relationship. On the contrary, within insecure attachment in adults, the attachment styles that can be discerned are anxious-preoccupied or ambivalent attachment (which corresponds to anxious-resistant attachment in children), disdainful-avoidant attachment (which corresponds to anxious-avoidant attachment in children). children), and fearful-avoidant attachment, which corresponds to disorganized attachment in children. (1)

What does each of these terms really mean? Securely attached adults tend to have higher self-esteem, as well as more positive views of their partners and their relationships. They are comfortable with emotional intimacy, while also being independent in their relationships, maintaining a good balance between the two. Anxious-worried adults require high levels of intimacy, approval, and receptivity from their partners, often described as overly dependent or “needy” in their relationships. They may have confidence issues and less positive opinions about themselves and their partners. They also tend to display high levels of emotional expressiveness, concern, and impulsiveness in their relationships. Contempt-avoidant adults are characterized by high levels of independence, as if they avoid close relationships altogether. They consider themselves self-sufficient and do not need anyone else close to them. This pattern reflects a defense mechanism, where these adults distance themselves from intimacy to protect themselves from rejection and pain. Adults who avoid fear have mixed feelings about close relationships and, at the same time, desire intimacy. Y feel uncomfortable with him. Like adults who avoid rejection, adults who avoid fear have difficulty with emotional expression and closeness.

It is theorized that people with borderline personality disorder were unable to form a secure bond with their primary caregiver, as they have often been victims of emotional and other abuse and neglect during childhood. When caregivers reject, are cold, inconsistent, or emotionally unavailable in response to their children’s needs, children do not perceive their caregivers as “safe.” Thus, children learn to be motivated to be cautious, fearful, or avoidant with their parents, as the latter do not meet the emotional needs of their children. At the same time, they desperately need the support and protection of the very people they want to avoid, those who even inadvertently cause them harm. This pattern tends to follow an individual into adult life, making it difficult, if not impossible, to feel secure in their closest and most intimate relationships – those they have with their romantic partners. Viewed from an insecure attachment perspective, it similarly lays the foundation for the stormy intimate relationship pattern that characterizes BPD: splitting, love-hate swaps with some trigger, moving from extreme idealization to extreme devaluation towards your partner, whenever your excessive fear of abandonment is activated, that can happen in some moment, without any logical or explainable foundation, and their pattern of pushing and shoving towards their loved one, which is perfectly summed up by the “I hate you, don’t leave me” attitude they exhibit. All of the above are actually forms that reflect the insecure attachment of these individuals. (two)

Not surprisingly, BPD is largely associated with disorganized attachment. Disorganized attachment can best be conceptualized in the context of the approach-avoidance dilemma for infants whose trauma and trauma caregivers are both the primary source of threat and a secure base. The need for closeness and intimacy persists for the injured child, and perhaps even increases as a result of the distress caused by the abuse the child endures. In this way, emotional closeness becomes excruciatingly painful, as it is both necessary and avoided. Paradoxically, the closer the child gets to his caregiver, the more painful experiences he goes through. From an early age, the BPD individual has learned to use various types of control strategies to maintain a base of security and stability with his Father. This is the exact same pattern used later in their closest relationships, which is why their partners experience it as intensely manipulative, who in turn become confused and frustrated about each other. as to form an atmosphere of safety in the relationship, when nothing seems to be enough for the BPD couple to feel safe. The individual with BPD desperately longs for love and intimacy, but eventually becomes frightened and walks away as intimacy increases, because then his childhood approach-avoidance schemes toward his abusive parents are activated. Consequently, it can now be more clearly understood why aggressive outbursts and “blackouts” often follow periods of increased affection within the relationships of individuals with BPD: the closer they get, the more painful it becomes. Consequently, people with BPD may even completely abandon an intimate relationship, the closer they get to their traumatic memories. That is why close relationships are so turbulent and difficult to maintain.

Consequently, the fundamental question that arises is whether an individual BPD can forever feeling secure or forming a secure attachment style within an intimate relationship. Unfortunately, the answer is not very favorable; unless the individual puts in a conscious effort and solves these deep-seated problems in therapy. There is a belief that people with BPD can never really feel safe, exactly because of the way they were raised. The emotional abuse they often went through in childhood makes them feel unloved even by their own parents, internalizing this as its own inability to be loved by anyone. This gradually turns into feelings of self-loathing and a subsequent inability to fill your emotional voids. Despite their urgent need to be loved and their efforts to be seductive and kind, they often feel so insecure and fearful of being hurt if they get too close, that their own fear causes them to abuse their partner, disabling them to feel. the love they desperately need. The fact that they are often perceived as unlovable and their painful awareness of it further increases their insecurity and fears, thus fueling a vicious cycle in which they feel trapped. Therefore, the biggest challenge for a person with BPD is really breaking their self-created downward spiral and allowing themselves to enjoy the pleasure of intimacy; to finally enjoy the love they may never have experienced as children.


(1) Holmes, J. (2004). Disorganized attachment and borderline personality disorder: a clinical perspective. Attachment and Human Development, 6 (2), 181-190.

(2) Fonagy, P. (2000). Attachment and borderline personality disorder. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 48 (4), 1129-1146.

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