As one who has been there and made it back, A.J. Mahari, examines the struggle for identity, to find the lost authentic self, to know who one really is that those with Borderline Personality Disorder face. What does it entail? What has caused it? Can it be addressed and changed?

The third trait listed as one of the 9 defining traits of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in the DSM-IV is:

3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable
self-image or sense of self; or sense of long-term goals;
or career choices, types of friends desired or values
preferred.

It is not possible to maintain any consistent, let alone stable, sense of self-image or sense of self when one has lost his or herself to the core wound of abandonment that is so central in BPD.

Melanie Klein, who was a psychoanalyst, and a leading innovator in theorizing object relations theory, after whom one of the major schools within psychoanalysis is named – Kleinian psychoanalysis, said of the abandonment trauma of those who experience ruptured or insecure attachment that it is the experience of "the psychological death of the burgeoning authentic self"

The Legacy of Abandonment in Borderline Personality is such that with this death of the authentic self that Klein describes those who are diagnosed with BPD do not have a known sense of self. What the DSM-IV trait describes as, a "persistently unstable sense of self", is an understatement. For those with BPD the sense of a self comes from the projection onto and projective identification and enmeshment with "object other". Object other, in object relations theory, represents mother. Mother is, in infancy, for each and every one of us, initially, our sense of self, our "self" and extension of self and a mirror that gives self its meaning and experience of being an entity of its own.

However, in the here and now, a borderline will experience the search for his or her own identity and self – the longing for, as Bradshaw puts it, "the original face", for mother, also described as "one's first true love in life" – with whom insecure attachment takes place at best or outright relational rupture at worst – in and through others. One becomes an "object other" to a person with BPD when that borderline somewhat feels, to one degree or another, close, connected, or partially attached which is often an experience of enmeshment. Borderlines live through others in efforts to escape the pain and anxiety of not having a self, a container for their emotions, from which to emotionally and psychologically experience life.

The Lost Self that robs those with BPD of an identity is an on-going impact of the core wound of abandonment. It is at the heart of the shame of abandonment. It keeps borderline rage – the rage of the false self in between the borderline and the insight and awareness that he or she needs to get in touch with in order to prepare for and get on the road to recovery. A recovery that can and will mean authentic self reclamation and the finding of and establishing of a stable sense of identity.

How is a person with BPD supposed to know how to successfully relate in healthy ways with and to others when he or she does not know who he or she is? When the borderline is not able to relate to self because he or she does not have a self – a known self to relate to or from?


If you have  Borderline Personality Disorder and would like to explore and learn more about the lost self and the lack of identity and its consequences and meaning in your life now please visit A.J. Mahari's BPD Message Forum where there is a new topic area BPD and Identity


The borderline struggle for identity is the journey From False Self to Authentic Self. It is a journey that does not even begin until those who have BPD are able to acknowledge the need for professional help and are able to see that they are personally responsible for what the state of their lives really are. Borderlines need to be able to recognize in conscious and aware ways just what the dynamic of their suffering really is. It is a schema of suffering born out of The Abandoned Pain of BPD. Pain that was experienced (most often initially) before the age of two. Pain that is re-lived over and over unless and until it is resolved.

The identity of those who have Borderline Personality Disorder, those in the active throes of BPD, as I call it, has been lost to abandonment trauma (Masterson) from the loss of self that gives rise to the borderline false self which is really just a fragmented part of the damaged and wounded psyche of the lost authentic self. It is a primitive and protective fragment of self that is steeped in the rage of a loss dissociated from and denied and the narcissism of the arrest in emotional development at the heart of so much of what Borderline Personality Disorder really is.

Without really being consciously aware of it most with BPD are living in and from this false self. A pseudo self that exists only to express in what are known as repetition compulsions a loss that sits outside of the borderline's conscious awareness and a loss that has left them without the self that they were meant to be and know and live from.

It takes having a self, and then a connection to that self, to be able to form an identity that can be authentic. Borderline Personality Disorder exists in the space of that evacuated authentic self. – where it would have otherwise been. It rises up from the ashes of the core wound of abandonment and it is the very definition, in so many ways, of a brokenness that is this loss of self and along with one's identity.

Without a sense of self and of one's identity that is understood within a framework of object constancy a person, a borderline, cannot be expected to know what they want, what they need, who they are, what their goals are, what kind of job or career they'd like, who they want as friends, or who they would like to love because his or her sense of being is only known through the "object other" of the day, so to speak. It is that fragile. It is extremely painful.

The reality of love in BPD is often enmeshed, toxic, and/or abusive and that is a very painful reality for both those with BPD and those in relationships with them or closest to them.

The struggle for identity for those diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder is an on-going one. It is one that sees those with BPD continually alienate the very others that come to delineate their own sense of "self" – their own sense of existing. This is why those with BPD need so intensely and then when those needs cannot be met by others, it is also why borderlines rage, punish and seek revenge. (Watch for my ebook on this subject coming soon to Phoenix Rising Publications in the Ebooks Borderline Category)

Borderlines often feel both dependent and hostile which in most cases
makes for tumultuous interpersonal relationships. They can be very
dependent on those to whom they are close and they can express enormous
anger at those close to them in times of frustration especially when they are triggered into Emotional Dysregulation. Borderlines
have a very low frustration tolerance level which is usually lowered by the stress of just trying to relate to others.

Everything borderline, all borderline manifested behaviour, rage, abuse, neediness, learned helplessness, punishment, revenge, and manipulation, (to name a few) is the evidence of a person struggling to stave off the re-occurring re-living of the  core wound of abandonment that as Klein put it, "psychologically killed the burgeoning authentic self". It is evidence of a person with Borderline Personality Disorder trying to feel real, to exist, in the absence of a known self by (unconsciously) trying to live through others.

Those diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder face a struggle to find the lost authentic self. It is a struggle that plays itself out in relationship to "other" (others) in ways that are often enmeshed and toxic. Without the successful reclamation of the lost authentic self a person with BPD cannot have an identity. Not a stable identity. They cannot know who they really are.

As I have come to understand, years after my own recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder, sadly, and rather ironically, to say the least, in many ways, it is often the borderline who is the last person to realize and recognize that he or she doesn't have a self, doesn't know who he or she is and that he or she is in this struggle to find a way to survive this loss of self and to search, in therapy, for the identity that is split off from their consciousness in the fragmented pieces of the lost authentic self.

It is the borderline and his or her lost identity that is the world of hurt from which he or she and all who relate to the borderline get so hurt. The struggle for identity in Borderline Personality Disorder is complicated because this struggle or quest rests solely upon the ability of the borderline to gain insight and awareness into the reality of this loss of self and what it means.

The borderline needs to come to take personal responsibility for what he or she still needs to know and change and find. The borderline needs to be able to see through his or her own projections, splitting, and projective identifications with others. The borderline needs to learn, in therapy, how to peel back the layers of maladaptive defense mechanism – the defense mechanisms of the borderline false self   – so that he or she can actually let the help that he/she needs – in.

Finding one's identity from Borderline Personality Disorder is the gateway to recovery. It is difficult and often painful work. It is worth it though. It will, in time and over time, bring with it such relief from suffering and lead to the reclamation of the lost authentic self.

It is the finding of this lost authentic self that will enable the borderline to come to know and have his/her own identity. A place to feel, think, and exist from that is all his or her own. A place to be inside that doesn't require the living through someone else. An emotional reconnection to one's dissociated from inner child is also at the heart of this reclamation of authentic self – the authentic self that holds within him or her, if you have BPD, your identity.

I will be writing more about the lost self and talking about it in up-coming episodes of my BPD Inside Out Audio Podcast so please keep checking back.

© A.J. Mahari, January 4, 2009 – All rights reserved.

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The Struggle for Identity in Borderline Personality Disorder