Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Do People with Borderline Personality Disorder Act Out When Love is Withheld?

The easy answer to this is often ‘yes’. If you use your love and affection as a weapon or a form of punishment, someone with Borderline Personality Disorder is going to feel threatened because this feels like a sign of abandonment and rejection.

However, it depends on the kind of person your Borderline loved one is. If they’re more an Acting Out type, they could get angry and express their rage. This was very much how I was when I was younger. I would lash out, bait and pick fights, act impulsively, shoplift, drink at parties…

If they’re more the Acting In type though, they might become more withdrawn, be more prone to take it out on themselves through self-harm, excessive drinking, racing, ruminating thoughts that act like a non-stop mental beatings, self-abuse…

Sometimes they might turn elsewhere, to someone else to find love and affection.   Not all people with BPD are prone to cheating, or if you are not in an established relationship at all it’s a moot point, but for someone that is terrified of abandonment and rejection, the first thing they may feel the need to do, is validate that they are still wanted. If you’re not willing to do it, then someone else might. If you’re withholding love, they may go where love is not being withheld. 

The interesting thing is, the thought process isn’t typically a conscious one. It’s not, “Well if you won’t love me, someone else will so I’ll go find that.” It’s more subtle and insidious. It’s typically – I hurt. I’m in pain. I feel alone and abandoned. I don’t know if my partner still wants me. I’m bad. What if I’m never good enough again. I need to stop feeling this way. Anything to stop feeling this way …. That’s often when things like self-harm, drinking, anything to dull the overwhelming feelings of anxiety, depression, or anger start to kick in. Things can escalate from there. The Acting In, Acting Out, whatever, they tend to be an escape, a way to manage the pain and fear, the overwhelming feelings, not a conscious end game.  That’s how it was for me at least. I didn’t really know it at the time. All I knew was that I was reacting to how I was feeling, not really thinking it through. That’s what acting impulsively is though.

Withholding love, in any relationship is dysfunctional. When problems arise it’s okay to take a step back to regroup, let tensions calm down for a few minutes so that you can address the problem calmly, but then you should try to re-establish a productive communication as soon as possible. Especially when your partner has a Borderline Personality Disorder you need to work on keeping communication open and reassuring so they are aware that you are not actually abandoning them.  It doesn’t matter who started it either. When you care about someone and you’re trying to work through difficult issues, it’s important not to focus on blame so that no one feels attacked. You can certainly discuss how things make you feel and what the issue is, but it’s important to try to do so in a non-blaming, non-confrontational way. Always try to remain mindful of the other persons feelings and perspective. It’s okay to disagree; it’s okay to not understand. It’s never okay to invalidate another person’s feelings though. Validation isn’t about agreeing, it’s about understanding that another person feels the way they do and it’s okay that they do. This goes for both partner. It’s also important to be reassuring from the start, that things can be worked out, they will be, and that you are willing to listen and hear what is going on.  Investing time to work on effective communication builds trust and will work to lessen the times of Acting In and Acting Out. 


  1. Haven,
    I've been reading your site for a while now (almost a year) trying to figure out why my partner acts the way she does. Anyway, a lot of your posts fit and are insightful. Thank you for sharing this info.

    Now, to the point. With regards to withholding love and affection, acting out and acting in. She has been withholding love and affection for most of this past year, while I've been trying to show both. A one sided relationship is not healthy and I recently stopped showing affection. She lashed out in an email to me recently.

    What if, in this case, I think she's experiencing dissociation that has been gradually getting worse and any shown affection is not reciprocated?

  2. I struggle with this, primarily because borderline can lead (often) to a perception of withholding where there is, in fact, none. Often bcs of the fear of abandonment, etc., anything that changes or shifts intimacy is a trigger and misunderstood by the borderline as rejection or abandonment.

  3. Wow. I must really thank you for writing this article because it really spoke volumes to me in regards to my personal situation and helping me understand the past. It helps me (as a non, In a relationship with a Borderline) to more thoroughly understand the reason behind the decomposition of the relationship.

    It really hit home the part I had to play. Yeah I withdraw into myself when I feel hurt and vulnerable and like I need someone else way more than they need me (my own attachment issues). But I felt so damaged (and I felt she was definitely the one to blame), that the way I REACTED was to not communicate very much. I was hurt, justifiably so. But regardless, I now see that caused my Borderline other half to have intense abandonment fears, feeling like I didn't love her and so that fuelled her to cheat, look for emotional comfort somewhere else.

    I didn't consciously withhold love as revenge or to hurt her, although I felt in a way she deserved it (I was very hurt). But after all in my mind she wouldn't be hurt because she didn't need me. I may have been wrong. My insecurities caused me to make assumptions.

    But no, I withdrew inwardly because I was hurt and needed to protect myself. But who would have known my usual ammo of stopping communication would have been so disastrous. I was with a borderline but I didn't really know that at the time or understand the implications.

  4. i had been involved with a guy whom i believed is a it really possible that right after we get laid..he become so distant?.though the arrangement as he claimed is just friends with benefit.but that is not how he makes me feel.. before we get laid we are just so intimate... but after which i could feel the splitting....the silence....the insults and as if each move i made is being watch then after i leave his place he will never contact me until after 4 weeks or more as if nothings happen no apologies..this has been a cycle for almost 2 years now...i have been walking on eggshells i dont know where i just really a friends with benefit thing or sometimes i wonder if he really has feelings for me coz i really like him or perhaps i do love him..


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