The Link Between Borderline Personality and Violence

couple meets with therapist

NoSystem Images / Getty Images

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a complex mental illness that affects both men and women. Along with strong emotions and feelings, people with BPD can also experience intense anger, known as borderline rage. If you have a family member or loved one who has BPD, it's important to understand how violence relates to BPD and how it can be handled.

Violence in People With BPD

There is research demonstrating that both men and women who have committed violent acts have elevated rates of borderline personality disorder compared to the general population. However, this does not necessarily mean that a diagnosis is associated with an increased risk of violence.

Impulsive behavior, which includes physical aggression, is one of the diagnostic criteria for BPD, even though someone can meet criteria for the disorder without demonstrating this symptom.

A large 2016 study in the U.K. found that BPD alone did not suggest a tendency for violence, but did show that those with BPD are more likely to have "comorbidities," associated conditions such as anxiety, antisocial personality disorder, and substance abuse which do raise the risk of violence.

A systematic search of studies that year confirmed the same finding, with a lack of evidence that BPD alone increases violent behavior.

Strong Emotions and BPD

There are several reasons why people with BPD are more likely to be violent in their relationships. First, people with BPD are often victims of violence themselves, such as through child abuse. While it's not true for all people, many people with BPD may have learned to use aggression to deal with strong emotions because adults modeled that behavior for them when they were young.

In addition, people with BPD often experience an unstable sense of self and difficulty trusting others in interpersonal relationships. They may experience very strong emotions if they believe they are being rejected or abandoned; this is known as rejection sensitivity or abandonment sensitivity. These intense feelings of rejection can sometimes lead to aggressive behaviors.

Finally, people with BPD often have difficulties with impulsive behaviors. When they are experiencing strong emotions that are typical of the disorder, they may do things without thinking about the consequences. If they engage in violence, it is usually not planned. It is an impulsive act done in the heat of the moment.

Risk of Becoming Violent

The information above only provides general information about the link between borderline personality disorder and violence; it is not possible to predict whether one particular individual with BPD will be violent. If your loved one has not shown any violent tendencies or aggression, it is quite possible that they won't be violent. Many individuals with BPD never commit any aggressive acts during their lives.

If you are feeling threatened, even if no violence has occurred in your relationship, you should take that seriously. If you already feel unsafe, it is possible the situation could escalate to the point of violence.

You should consider getting yourself to a safe place away from that loved one, whether that means getting a hotel or staying with friends. It's important that you are safe before trying to help your friend or family member get help.

Once you are secure, your best bet is for both of you to seek professional help through therapy with a therapist specializing in BPD. This may help you figure out whether the relationship can be improved and may prevent violence from happening in the future.

Therapy can also help you decide whether this is a relationship worth saving. The therapist can also recommend a course of treatment to help your loved one get on the path to recovery.

Safety Plans

Having a diagnosis of BPD not only may increase the risk of violence against others but against self. Self-harm is a common issue for many individuals living with BPD.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Some therapists recommend that people fill out a safety plan for borderline personality disorder. This safety plan can be helpful not only in preparing for possible violent or suicidal thoughts but can help you identify triggers in your daily life.

5 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. Berenson KR, Downey G, Rafaeli E, Coifman KG, Paquin NL. The rejection-rage contingency in borderline personality disorder. J Abnorm Psychol. 2011;120(3):681-90. doi:10.1037/a0023335

  2. González RA, Igoumenou A, Kallis C, Coid JW. Borderline personality disorder and violence in the UK population: categorical and dimensional trait assessment. BMC Psychiatry. 2016;16:180. doi:10.1186/s12888-016-0885-7

  3. Cattane N, Rossi R, Lanfredi M, Cattaneo A. Borderline personality disorder and childhood trauma: exploring the affected biological systems and mechanisms. BMC Psychiatry. 2017;17(1):221. doi:10.1186/s12888-017-1383-2

  4. Sato M, Fonagy P, Luyten P. Rejection Sensitivity and Borderline Personality Disorder Features: The Mediating Roles of Attachment Anxiety, Need to Belong, and Self-Criticism. J Pers Disord. 2019:1-16. doi:10.1521/pedi_2019_33_397

  5. Goodman M, Tomas IA, Temes CM, Fitzmaurice GM, Aguirre BA, Zanarini MC. Suicide attempts and self-injurious behaviours in adolescent and adult patients with borderline personality disorder. Personal Ment Health. 2017;11(3):157-163. doi:10.1002/pmh.1375

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.