Many family members, relationship partners (ex-partners) – non borderlines – of those with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) think of borderline self-injury or self-harm as being limited to the physical generally and to cutting primarily. Is borderline self-harm limited to "self" destructive acts of a physical nature only? The answer is no – not at all.

At the core of self-injury/self-harm in Borderline Personality Disorder there is an often very confusing paradox. Those with BPD self-harm in what is essentially self-defeating behaviour in the absence of a known self. In a way this self harm can be likened to trying to rip a pillow apart with a knife while stabbing the knife aimlessly in the air out of reach of the actual pillow.

The borderline, in re-enacting unresolved abandonment trauma from what I call the core wound of abandonment has no sense of self to actually comprehend the "self" destructive nature of his or her self injurious behaviour from. In the active throes of BPD there isn’t the same connection to self and to the thoughts, feelings, and actions of an authentic self that non-personality disordered relatively healthy people have. Often when those with BPD "act out" the relational pathology of BPD on others it is a way of attempting to connect to this lost self of their own. When those with BPD who "act in" the relational pathology of BPD act it in on themselves it is often projected out on to others due to this lack of connection to any known self other than the borderline false self.

Borderline self-injury/self-harm is not limited to its many physical manifestations. There is a very broad scope of self-injury that is within the emotional realm in what is described as self-defeating behaviour. Borderline self-defeating behaviour has its roots in dysregulated emotions coupled with an inability to tolerate the distress that those emotions cause the borderline.

For the non borderline close to any emotionally self-harming borderline there is collateral damage. There is the push-pull of the borderline cry of rescue me if you dare – you can’t you know – and I’ll punish you for even trying, but, don’t you dare just leave me alone with this – after all it’s all your fault dance that more often than not does arouse core issues within the non borderline that result in him or her re-engaging the rollercoaster of his or her loved one’s emotional chaotic "acting-in" or "acting-out"self-harming behaviour.



The borderline lives through the non borderline. Therefore when the borderline engages in the emotional self-harm of self-destructive "acting-in" or "acting-out" behaviour it is often manifested in ways that profoundly effect the non borderline.

For example, if your borderline’s way of "acting out" his or her dysregulated emotions in self-destructive ways involves an addiction to alcohol you will be affected on many levels if you engage this borderline emotional self-injurious behaviour. The borderline will drink, blame you for his or her actions, problems, feelings – the reason why they couldn’t cope and why they needed to drink – manipulate you with his or her learned helplessness.

Next thing you know this emotionally self-harming and self-destructive behaviour of the borderline in your life has created a (likely) repetitive situation where you are hooked into the drama in way that enmeshes you with the borderline’s pain in a way that you feel compelled to try to rescue him or her. Often the non borderline feels this need to rescue the borderline because he or she feels guilty. Guilty, as if he or she has somehow caused the borderline to want to drink, keeping with this example. When the truth is that the borderline addicted to alcohol, using alcohol as an "emotion regulation" tool is personally responsible for his or her own choices.

Many with BPD abdicate their own personal responsibility in the agony that is their own played out abandonment trauma. But, it is crucial to your mental health, as a non borderline, that you know that the abandoned pain of the borderline is his or her responsibility to face and resolve – not yours.

Borderlines engage in many forms of self-injurious/self-harming behaviour, in the absence of a known self – through the borderline false self in narcissistic ways that hook non borderlines into the dance of "get-away-closer" the anthem of which is "no good deed goes unpunished."

The psychological and emotional ways that borderline self-harm are some of the most poignant and compelling hooks that form the emotional chaos of the "walking on egg-shells" (Kreger and Mason) so common to family members and relationship partners of those with Borderline Personality Disorder. You may have come to think or fear that what you said or what you did or what you "failed to say" or "failed to do" (in the perception of the borderline) leads to or causes borderline self-harm. The truth about this that you need to be clear about is that it is the borderline, and the borderline alone, who is responsible for any and all self-harm be it physical or emotional.

The self-destructive cycle of borderline emotional self-harm is shame-based and has its roots and origin in the core wound of abandonment. An abandonment wound so profound – an abandonment wound whose unresolved trauma perpetuates itself in and through the the shame of abandonment central to BPD.

Both the quiet borderline – "acting in" borderline and the raging borderline "acting out" borderline exhibit their own individual styles of what is chosen self-harming behaviour of an emotional nature. For the person with BPD the impetus for "acting in" or "acting out" any and all self-harming self-injurious behaviour feels like an uncontrollable impulse – a compelling need that originates from outside of "self".

All self-harming or self-injurious behaviour, whether it manifests in a physical or emotional way, is at core first and foremostly psychological in origin.

Non borderlines will benefit greatly from coming to understand as much as they can about this emotional self-injurious behaviour in both the "acting in" or the "acting out" borderline. Find out more about what is actually going on inside the borderline mind so that you can come to terms with what will be the most effective ways for you to cope in your own individual situation/relationship.

© A.J. Mahari, July 16, 2008 – All rights reserved.


A.J. Mahari is a Life Coach who, among other things, specializes in working with family members, relationship or ex-relationship partners of those with BPD. A.J. has 5 years experience as a life coach and has worked with hundreds of clients from all over the world.


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Family Members Understanding Self Harm in Borderline Personality Disorder – Is it always physical?