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The Role of Emotional Neglect in Borderline Personality

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An extreme stage of emotional neglect may contribute in 5 important ways.

Check out Borderline Personality Disorder

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) experience lifelong erratic, unpredictable and intense patterns of emotions and relationships, as well as being highly impulsive. If you have BPD, your self-esteem and well-being depend to a large extent on the people in your life.

Living with BPD is living with intense pain and turmoil every day. At various times, you have a love-hate relationship with just about everyone in your life. One moment you are happy and enthusiastic; the next you are upset, aggrieved or betrayed. You tend to idealize your relationships, but quickly devalue them.

There are several possible explanations for how BPD developed. Some of these factors include genetics, biochemistry in the brain, and environmental factors, such as traumatic parenting caused by abuse or unpredictable parenting. Research suggests that emotional neglect in childhood also plays an important role (Kors et al., 2020). However, this emotional neglect does need to be more extreme.

A look at childhood emotional neglect

As a psychologist specializing in children’s emotional neglect, I know it plays a role in weakening children’s ability to feel, trust, and regulate their emotions. It can play a role in the development of certain personality disorders.

Childhood emotional neglect occurs when your parents fail to respond adequately to your emotional needs. You don’t get the emotional knowledge and awareness, emotional responsiveness, and emotional validation that you sorely needed as a child.

Classic emotional neglect

When you grow up in an emotionally blind home, you find that your emotions are trivial and heavy. You’re basically isolating your feelings in response to circumstances in which you don’t have feelings. Then, as an adult, you are disconnected from your feelings. Since your feelings are your deepest and most personal expression, you also end up disconnected from what made you. You may struggle with low self-awareness and self-expression, difficulties with social and emotional skills, and feelings of emptiness, shame, and guilt.

You already know your feelings don’t matter, you don’t matter.

Extreme emotional neglect

In this version of emotional neglect, your parents actively deny your feelings. Maybe you were punished or scolded for having feelings. In this type of environment Miranda grew up in her emotions were ignored but also exploited. Being punished for how you felt as a child can be confusing and painful, especially since emotions are a normal part of being human. Miranda easily knows by feeling wrong that she is flawed, that she is doing something wrong. Extreme emotional neglect is a form of emotional abuse.

You learn: You feel bad. you suck.

Side Effects of extreme emotional neglect

You know your emotions are irrelevant and wrong, that you are unacceptable and unlovable.
Your feelings become so shameful and repressed that they become more intense and unruly.
You cannot learn basic emotional skills, such as how to recognize a feeling, how to express it in healthy ways, manage and tolerate feelings, and how to use your feelings for decision-making and guidance.

You feel empty, unimportant, and flawed. When you reject your emotions, you are rejecting the most personal and meaningful parts of you.

Your identity is unknown. When you reject your emotions, you become fragmented. Significant parts of yourself are isolated.
Miranda’s relationships are messed up because she has a turbulent relationship with her own emotions. She learned to push her feelings away and punish herself when they surfaced. She was never taught the tools to ease her emotional pain or accept and embrace her emotional world. All the effects of extreme emotional neglect.

Miranda

Miranda had a great day with her boyfriend Mark yesterday. They decided to make an impromptu trip to the zoo and spent the afternoon laughing and taking pictures of their favorite animals. They had good conversations about their relationship and even talked about moving together. Miranda is excited.

Things got worse today. Mark had to work late, and Miranda felt angry and betrayed. They had a dinner planned, and she wanted to talk more about their plans to move in together. She couldn’t believe that Mark’s boss would make him late again, Mark had agreed, and she had hoped for such a special night. She ended up yelling at Mark on the phone, asking him to get off work. Mark told herself that she was being unreasonable and hung up.

Miranda sobbed after another fight with Mark. She felt empty, abandoned and angry. “I hate him. How can he be so cruel to me? I need to let him know I can’t live if he leaves me.” She texted Mark repeatedly in desperation.

how to heal

Two of the most effective approaches to treating emotional neglect in children, “Identify and Name” and IAAA (Identify, Accept, Attribute, and Act) teach emotionally neglected people how to pay attention to their emotions and identify, understand, and exploit them feeling. The most effective treatment for BPD is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which involves mindfulness, interpersonal efficiency, pain tolerance, and emotion regulation. Both methods teach emotional awareness and regulation.

Whether you’re experiencing classic emotional neglect or the extreme type, it’s definitely possible to develop emotional awareness, learn how to understand and regulate emotions, and ultimately reduce the intensity of your feelings to better develop and maintain healthy relationships. Emotional neglect in childhood can be remedied. BPD can be managed and alleviated (Alba et al. 2022).

Miranda needs to rebuild and heal her relationship with emotions. This will help her understand the harmful information she learned about emotions as a child and realize that neither she nor her emotions are bad or ineffective. Once Miranda finds out that her relationship is about improving her life rather than ruining it, she’s on the road to recovery.

 

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