Many non-borderlines are verbally or emotionally abused by the person who
has BPD. Many (but not all) people who have BPD were also verbally abused at some
time in their lives. Emotional abuse is insidious. It can be worse than physical
Although borderlines may act emotionally (and even physically)
abusive, it's crucial to understand that they are not usually trying to harm
you. Rather, they are acting out of intense pain, fear, and shame using primitive
defenses they may have learned long ago. Moreover, borderlines feel as though
they cannot control these reactions.
However -- and here's an important
point -- for the non-borderline, the reactions to the abuse are the same. If,
after reading this, you feel trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship, please
get help. If a child in your home is experiencing this kind of abuse, please do
all you can to protect them from its harmful effects.
Emotional abuse is any behavior that is designed to control another person through the use of
fear, humiliation, and verbal or physical assaults. It can include verbal abuse
and constant criticism to more subtle tactics like intimidation, manipulation,
and refusal to ever be pleased.
Emotional abuse is like brainwashing
in that it systematically wears away at the victim's self-confidence, sense of
self-worth, trust in her perceptions, and self-concept. Whether it be by constant
berating and belittling, by intimidation, or under the guise of "guidance"
or teaching, the results are similar. Eventually, the recipient loses all sense
of self and all remnants of personal value.
Emotional abuse cuts to the
very core of a person, creating scars that may be longer-lasting than physical
ones. With emotional abuse, the insults, insinuations, criticism and accusations
slowly eat away at the victim's self-esteem until she is incapable of judging
the situation realistically. She has become so beaten down emotionally that she
blames herself for the abuse. Her self-esteem is so low that she clings to the
Emotional abuse victims can become so convinced that they
are worthless that they believe that no one else could want them. They stay
in abusive situations because they believe they have nowhere else to go. Their
ultimate fear is being all alone.
Following are types of emotional abuse:
Domination: Someone wants to control your every action. They have
to have their own way, and will resort to threats to get it. When you allow someone
else to dominate you, you can lose respect for yourself.
berating, belittling, criticizing, name calling, screaming, threatening, excessive
blaming, and using sarcasm and humiliation. Blowing your flaws out of proportion
and making fun of you in front of others. Over time, this type of abuse erodes
your sense of self confidence and self-worth.
The other person places unreasonable demands on you and wants you to put everything
else aside to tend to their needs. It could be a demand for constant attention,
frequent sex, or a requirement that you spend all your free time with the person.
But no matter how much you give, it's never enough. You are subjected to constant
criticism, and you are constantly berated because you don't fulfill all this person's
Emotional Blackmail: The other person plays on your fear, guilt,
compassion, values, or other "hot buttons" to get what they want. This
could include threats to end the relationship, the "cold shoulder,"
or use other fear tactics to control you.
Drastic mood changes or sudden emotional outbursts (This is part of the definition
of BPD). Whenever someone in your life reacts very differently at different times
to the same behavior from you, tells you one thing one day and the opposite the
next, or likes something you do one day and hates it the next, you are being abused
with unpredictable responses. This behavior is damaging because it puts you always
on edge. You're always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and you can never know
what's expected of you. You must remain hypervigilant, waiting for the other person's
next outburst or change of mood.
An alcoholic or drug abuser is likely to
act this way. Living with someone like this is tremendously demanding and anxiety
provoking, causing the abused person to feel constantly frightened, unsettled
and off balance.
Gaslighting: The other person may deny that certain
events occurred or that certain things were said. You know differently. The other
person may deny your perceptions, memory and very sanity. (If a borderline has
been disassociating, they may indeed remember reality differently than you do.)
Dissociation is the state in which, on some level or another, one becomes somewhat
removed from "reality," whether this be daydreaming, performing actions
without being fully connected to their performance ("running on automatic"),
or other, more disconnected actions. It is the opposite of "association"
and involves the lack of association, usually of one's identity, with the rest
of the world.
Constant Chaos: The other person may deliberately start
arguments and be in constant conflict with others. The person may be "addicted
to drama" since it creates excitement. (Many non-BPs also are addicted to
- Hoff, Bert, Borderline Personality Disorder and Abusive Relationships,
Mason Press: Newark, 1999.
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information
about borderline personality disorder and emotional/verbal abuse. Write three
case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
What is like brainwashing in that it systematically wears away at
the victim's self-confidence, sense of self-worth, trust in her perceptions, and
self-concept? Record the letter of the correct answer the .