How Borderline Personality Disorder Can Inhibit Bereavement

crying woman with hand covering her face
Johner Images / Getty Images

Grief is defined as the process of reacting to a significant loss while bereavement is the period of sadness that follows. While in most cases, bereavement usually refers to the loss of a loved one, it may also refer to the loss of employment, a physical ability, possessions, or other events.

Bereavement is a complex period of time that is considered normal and may be accompanied by a variety of emotional reactions, behavioral responses, and thoughts. For example, as you grieve in the course of bereavement, you may experience sadness, anger, and/or relief. You may also feel the urge to withdraw from other people or to seek out social support.

Bereavement that's prolonged, overwhelming, or that seriously impairs your daily life is considered "complicated grief," a condition that may require therapy with a healthcare professional.

Bereavement and Borderline Personality Disorder

While there is very little research in this area, people with borderline personality disorder (BPD), which is characterized by an intense fear of abandonment, may theoretically be at greater risk for complicated grief due to their intense emotional reactions to separation from loved ones.

If you have BPD, grief can be much more intense when you lose a friend or loved one than it is for other people. You may express your grief through impulsive or destructive behaviors, like drinking or violence. These actions usually only worsen your grief and continue a cycle of pain and distress.

BPD can also limit your expression of grief. It can cause a heightened sense of unwarranted anger, guilt, and shame. Frustration and rage are particularly common.

Your anger can be spurred by feelings of helplessness and loneliness. In the case of the death of a loved one, it's possible you may feel responsible for what happened, even when that's not the case whatsoever.

You may already continually struggle with feelings of abandonment and rejection sensitivity, which can be heightened with the death of a loved one. This can keep you from handling bereavement in a healthy way because you feel so alone and isolated.

Or you may be so used to hiding your emotions that you cannot go through the natural grieving process. By suppressing your feelings and your sense of loss, you extend the bereavement process and make it much more complicated, inhibiting your ability to function.

Bereavement in Therapy

Unfortunately, loss and grief is part of life and learning to handle bereavement is essential for your mental and physical well-being. If you have BPD and are struggling with managing your emotions and grief after a loss, seek out a therapist specializing in personality disorders.

A good therapist can help you through the normal bereavement stages and help you handle those feelings of anger, helplessness, and frustration. They will walk you through the natural process so you can handle it healthily without resorting to dangerous behaviors or self-harm.

You may also learn some coping techniques to help you manage your intense emotions, from mindfulness meditation to keeping a journal.

While the bereavement process can be painful and upsetting, it's essential in order for you to heal and move forward. By seeking treatment, you can begin learning how to handle losses appropriately.

9 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. PDQ Supportive and Palliative Care Editorial Board. Grief, Bereavement, and Coping With Loss (PDQ®): Patient Version. PDQ Cancer Information Summaries. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2013.

  2. Shear KM, Ghesquiere A, Glickman K. Bereavement and Complicated Grief. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2014. doi:10.1007/s11920-013-0406-z

  3. Giourou E, Skokou M, Andrew SP, Alexopoulou K, Gourzis P, Jelastopulu E. Complex posttraumatic stress disorder: The need to consolidate a distinct clinical syndrome or to reevaluate features of psychiatric disorders following interpersonal trauma?. World J Psychiatry. 2018;8(1):12-19. doi:10.5498/wjp.v8.i1.12 

  4. Bryant RA, Kenny L, Joscelyne A, et al. Predictors of treatment response for cognitive behaviour therapy for prolonged grief disorder. Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2017;8(6):1556551. doi:10.1080/20008198.2018.1556551

  5. Mushtaq R, Shoib S, Shah T, Mushtaq S. Relationship between loneliness, psychiatric disorders and physical health? A review on the psychological aspects of loneliness. J Clin Diagn Res. 2014;8(9):WE01-4. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2014/10077.4828

  6. Brüne M. Borderline Personality Disorder: Why 'fast and furious'?. Evol Med Public Health. 2016;2016(1):52-66. doi:10.1093/emph/eow002

  7. Baker AW, Keshaviah A, Horenstein A, et al. The role of avoidance in complicated grief: A detailed examination of the Grief-Related Avoidance Questionnaire (GRAQ) in a large sample of individuals with complicated grief. J Loss Trauma. 2016;21(6):533-547. doi:10.1080/15325024.2016.1157412

  8. Matusiewicz AK, Hopwood CJ, Banducci AN, Lejuez CW. The effectiveness of cognitive behavioral therapy for personality disorders. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2010;33(3):657-85. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2010.04.007

  9. Huang FY, Hsu AL, Hsu LM, et al. Mindfulness Improves Emotion Regulation and Executive Control on Bereaved Individuals: An fMRI Study. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018;12:541. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00541

Additional Reading

By Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD
 Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, is a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Eastern Connecticut State University.