Extreme and often unwarranted anger is a feature of borderline personality disorder. This is commonly known as borderline rage, which stems from an inability to control intense bouts of anger, resulting in adverse psychological and social consequences. Fortunately, there are ways to manage this volatile response and cope with frustrating situations that may elicit BPD rage.
What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious psychiatric condition marked by a persistent inability to manage moods and emotions. People usually experience signs and symptoms of borderline personality disorder like drastic mood swings, unstable emotions, poor impulse control, and a distorted sense of self. These challenges tend to manifest in tumultuous relationships, self-harming/suicidal behaviors, and strong emotional reactions to stressors.1
What Is Borderline Rage?
Uncontrollable anger is prevalent for people with BPD. While not everyone with BPD will encounter this symptom, those who do (and the people around them), struggle greatly. Often referred to as BPD rage, this is an explosive reaction related to extreme anger and a failure to control this intense negative emotion. BPD rage usually has an immediate onset and can vanish just as quickly or last for hours, even days.2
Poor emotional regulation is a key factor related to BPD rage. Individuals with BPD tend to be more emotionally prone to anger, remain angry for longer periods, and display aggressive and uncontrollable reactions once triggered.3, 4, 5
People with BPD struggle with how to deal with rejection and may have abandonment issues, which can trigger ongoing episodes of highs and lows usually occurring within the context of relationships. These are referred to as BPD cycles, where one moment the BPD person can be exceedingly caring and loving, and then suddenly push their partner away, which can impact relationships.2
What Causes BPD Rage?
Many individuals with BPD have low tolerance toward stressful and annoying situations. Trivial things can drive them over the edge and easily turn into an uncontrollable episode of ire. Looking at possible causes that can induce this volatile response can shed some light into BPD rage.
Common BPD rage triggers include:
Emotional Dysregulation & Poor Impulse Control
Individuals living with BPD tend to experience a great deal of emotional instability. They typically endure frequent intense negative emotions and are unable to manage these strong feelings. This emotional rollercoaster can distort how they interpret the world around them. As such, someone with BPD can be easily angered and act viciously when confronted with something they view as “threatening”.
It is believed that BPD individuals have a predisposition to emotional dysregulation, impulsive behaviors, and reacting aggressively to perceived upsetting situations without any foresight of potential negative implications. They also struggle with an inability to control their overactive urges.2, 3, 4, 5
Fear of Abandonment
Individuals with BPD experience a severe fear of abandonment and chronically agonize over the thought of being alone. People with this disorder will typically go to any lengths to prevent anyone important in their life from walking away. However, if the BPD person senses anything that can be misconstrued as rejection, they’ll endure severe distress. This can cause the BPD person to panic and ignite intense feelings of anger.2, 6
BPD splitting refers to an extreme way of thinking or responding, where a person with BPD sees things as all “good” or all “bad” with no middle ground. Thus, someone with BPD can go from totally loving something/somebody (idealization) to totally hating or disliking it (devaluation).
For example, an individual with BPD is taken aback by a person they just met or is excited about an amazing job opportunity. But when something goes “wrong” (in the BPD person’s mind) it sparks feelings of disappointment, frustration, and even disgust towards the person or circumstance. This is when the BPD individual can become uncontrollably angry and “split.”2, 7, 8
Angry thoughts produce more anger. Several scientific studies are lending evidence to a link between anger rumination and aggressiveness in personality disorders including BPD.3, 9 Meaning that anger is fueled by the person’s fixation on an anger-producing experience.
This can develop into long-standing and heightened levels of ire, eliciting an aggressive behavioral response (often a temporary release of pent-up anger), which in turn, further continues the BPD rage cycle. Bottom line anger ruminations can result in the BPD individual experiencing more anger, more frequently, more intensively, and for longer periods.3, 9
8 Tips to Help Manage BPD Anger
Coping with BPD rage can be extremely challenging. Nevertheless, there are healthy skills and methods you can use to support yourself and manage your BPD rage. This strategy includes identifying anger signals/ triggers, finding distractions, walking away to activate your relaxation response, learning assertiveness skills, entering therapy, addressing stress levels and putting a plan in motion.
Here are eight healthy tips to help manage borderline rage:
1. Identify Your Warning Signs
Anger can influence your behaviors and actions, even when you’re not aware of it. Detecting personal cues that occur in response to anger-inducing situations can alert you when something is off. Look for any physical, emotional, behavioral and cognitive warning signs.
For example, what happens when you get angry? What happens physically – Do you feel hot, sweaty, muscle tension etc.? Recognizing your personal warning signs can give you an overall idea about how you feel and help you take preventive measures before your ire escalates and turns into BPD rage.10
2. Recognize Your Triggers
When a person with BPD gets angry, it is often because their interpretation of a particular thing/event/person has incited the ire. Explore your BPD rage and try to identify these things. Looking into your triggers can help you anticipate potential upsetting situations and develop a plan to prevent your anger from escalating.
Increasing your anger awareness can assist you to control your BPD rage the next time you are confronted with something similar. Moreover, it can allow you to challenge some assumptions and help you see things from a different angle- one that can decrease your angry mood.10
3. Distract Yourself
When anger-producing thoughts start to emerge, take a deep breath, and distract yourself; not to avoid your emotions, but to prevent stewing in your anger. This can give you the space you need to reach a mental state where you can calmly and rationally process and address the event that elicited your anger.
Make a list of activities that require thought so you can temporarily distance yourself from what’s upsetting you. Consider reading, meditating, dancing, or even daily tasks like household chores. The point is to choose an activity that can take your mind off of what’s triggering your anger.11
4. Step Away & Chill
People with BPD experience intense emotions when most distressed, making it tough to self-soothe. So, if you struggle with BPD rage, take some time out when you start to feel the anger brewing. This basic act can give you the necessary space to think before you react.
While taking time out it can be useful to add something else that can instantly reduce your anger and activate your relaxation response like deep breathing, exercising, and/or practicing progressive muscle relaxation. Time out and relaxation techniques can have a calming effect and be good to use in the heat of the moment.10
5. Assert Yourself
Most often uncontrollable bouts of fury arise from bottling in your angry emotions and dismissing your own opinions and beliefs while prioritizing those of others. In the long run, this passive stance only builds resentment, causes tension, makes you feel angrier and consequently pushes you towards acts of aggression or BPD rage.
That’s why it’s crucial for you to honor and address your feelings including the negative ones like anger. Fortunately, assertiveness is a skill that can be learned. You will find that you can express yourself in a constructive and respectful way and still validate your feelings as well as those of others.10
Here are tips to assert yourself:
- Determine where your angry feelings may be stemming from
- Accept your thoughts and feelings and express them in a clear and calm manner
- Plan what you are going to say- be specific and respectful in your deliverance
- Actively listen to others without interruption while maintaining self-control
- Validate others’ ideas and feelings- try to see things from their point of view, even if you disagree
- Be willing to compromise
Assertiveness is a skill that takes time to develop, but with practice and determination you can build this ability and avoid a BPD rage that you might later regret.
6. Seek Professional Help
Psychotherapy is the standard treatment of choice for BPD and can also address anger issues. Can borderline personality disorder be cured? No. However, there are a variety of evidence-based borderline personality disorder treatments such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT), mentalization-based therapy (MBT), and more.
While each uses different methods, they mostly concentrate on assisting you to healthily regulate your emotions, decreasing impulsive behaviors and developing better coping responses which in turn can diminish bouts of rage. Lastly, medication has shown to be beneficial for targeting specific symptoms of BPD and thought to be most effective when combined with psychotherapy.7, 8
7. Address Your Stress Levels
Unmanaged or high levels of stress are not only detrimental to your overall health but could also exacerbate your symptoms of BPD.12 Thus, addressing your stress levels is paramount. Start by recognizing when you are feeling highly stressed and why. Then find healthy ways to manage your stress levels such as taking time to unwind, eating nutritiously, exercising regularly, having restful sleep, reaching out to friends and family, etc.
8. Remember to Make a Plan
After considering all these tips and identifying your warning signs and triggers, develop a realistic plan to tackle your BPD rage. Then, stay consistent in utilizing the tools that you find are the most effective (for you) in decreasing your angry urges and preventing your bouts of BPD rage.
Have patience with yourself as this will take time. In addition, find a supportive network of people that you can reach out to when you start to feel frustrated, unmotivated or like giving up. Lastly, always remind yourself of the negative impact BPD rage had in your life and your relationships (as this will keep you grounded) and how the benefits you are reaping now are far more fulfilling.
How BPD Loved Ones Can Cope
Being on the receiving end of BPD rage can be very draining. Nonetheless there are ways that you can cope and/or help someone with BPD rage.
Below are things that can help:2, 7, 8
- Understand the nature of BPD rage
- View these outbursts as symptoms of a psychological condition (is not an excuse but it can help you see things more objectively)
- When faced with BPD rage – which stems from the BPD person’s interpretation of an event – it is important that you react in a calm and validating manner
- Take care of your own emotional and mental health and seek therapy for yourself
- Encourage and support treatment (when the BPD person is ready)
- Acknowledge the BPD person’s progress and reinforce positive behaviors
- Work on communication
- Set healthy boundaries
Final Thoughts On BPD Rage
Borderline rage can be difficult to overcome especially if this has been a habitual response. If you or someone you know is struggling with and /or is being affected by BPD rage, there is help. Reaching out to a mental health professional can assist you to work through the angry emotions and find healthy ways to manage them.