Why Attachment Theory Is Important When Thinking About BPD

For those who care about them, people with BPD often seem unpredictable and intense. Their responses can at times look to be out of proportion - and over the top.

For someone with BPD, it can be very hard to understand what is going on inside them - and how their behaviour might affect others.

Life can be a bit of a roller coaster — for all parties.

Looking at attachment theory can help us understand a bit more about what is going on underneath these sometimes puzzling behaviours.

According to psychoanalyst John Bowlby, we are all hard-wired for attachment and our early environment, including caregiver relationships will influence the way we think about relationships into adulthood. Current research has supported the idea that people with insecure and/or disorganised attachment are at risk of developing BPD and that the diagnosis is associated with one of these two attachment styles.

Attachment theory explains that people with an insecure attachment style will feel less secure in relationships, unable to withstand the ups and downs of being involved with someone over time. They often need reassurance and will likely be very sensitive to any sign that their boyfriend or girlfriend (or friend) is losing interest.

Lack of contact is often interpreted by people with BPD as possible rejection and they just don’t have the emotional security to give people the “benefit of the doubt,” often jumping to the worst conclusion or interpreting benign or slightly insensitive behaviour as a sign of rejection.

People with BPD have a very narrow window of tolerance for the behaviour of others towards them.

They don’t have much resilience when it comes to relationships because they are incredibly sensitive to emotional nuances and terrified of abandonment.

BPD makes people “hypervigilant” which means that they will always be on the lookout for signs of rejection and are extremely sensitive or “sensitised” to other's emotions, constantly checking the social environment for feedback. They are easily tipped over the edge into feeling insecure and are terribly fearful of abandonment. If they feel that they may be abandoned, they will start to panic, as abandonment will bring on the terrible feelings of annihilation and lack of structure at the heart of their trauma.

It is horrible to live with this everyday and, yes it is also hard for others to understand. But being aware of the emotional basis for people’s behaviour can help us to understand and be more accepting — and perhaps through this, to make a difference in their lives.

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