Understanding Abandonment Issues and BPD

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder characterized by many symptoms, including chronic challenges with maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships, feelings of low self-worth, impulsivity, and volatile moods. As a pattern of strained personal relationships is a hallmark of the disorder, it is no wonder that fear of abandonment looms large in the lives of those impacted by BPD.

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Overview

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the prevalence of BPD in the general population of adults aged 18 and over is around 1.4%. Sex and race have not been shown to impact the prevalence of the disorder and people with BPD are often diagnosed with other mental health conditions as well.

Specific causes of the BPD are unclear but multiple factors, including heredity, environmental, social, and cultural issues, and brain structure, are thought to contribute to the development of the disorder.

Relationships and Fear of Abandonment

The struggle to maintain healthy relationships is very common for people with borderline personality disorder. A common symptom of BPD is an extreme fear of abandonment. This fear can lead to the need for frequent reassurance that abandonment is not imminent, the drive to go to great lengths to try to avoid abandonment, and feelings of devastation when someone ends a relationship.

As a result, the fear of being abandoned often causes people with BPD to form unhealthy attachments, cut off loved ones, and make frantic attempts to hold onto relationships. These overly intense or erratic behaviors, in turn, often push loved ones away.

This unhealthy relationship dynamic tends to exacerbate underlying abandonment fears, often creating a repeated cycle of unstable relationships. These behaviors often backfire and trigger the very abandonment that the person with BPD is seeking to prevent. As such, the end of a relationship can feel particularly devastating for people with BPD.

The Cyclical Nature of the Fear of Abandonment

People with BPD may simultaneously fear abandonment and have symptoms that create conflicts with others, such as volatile moods, distress intolerance, extremes of anger and withdrawal, and impulsivity. People with BPD often engage in self-sabotaging behavior such as oversharing, misplaced anger, impulsivity, lashing out at loved ones, and poor self-image, which leads to greater relationship disfunction.

These behaviors within personal relationships often lead to relationship instability and even abandonment, which then reinforces the fear.

Stopping the Cycle With Treatment

The good news is that there are things you can do to try to stop the unhealthy cycle of interpersonal conflict and abandonment. Borderline personality disorder is often treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Talk therapy can be especially effective in identifying triggers and managing symptoms that most often lead to relationship conflicts and fear of abandonment.

For example, dialectical behavior therapy can teach people a set of skills called “interpersonal effectiveness” skills. These skills can help people with BPD learn to be more effective in relationships, which can make those relationships stronger and more likely to last.

Schema-focused therapy also may be helpful in identifying and actively changing problematic ways of thinking that are causing issues. It can help people with BPD pinpoint unmet needs that they've been trying to get others to meet in an unhealthy way and find healthy ways to get those needs met instead.

In addition, schema-focused therapy can help to explore the roots of the abandonment issues with your therapist. Some people with BPD have had experiences in early childhood that would understandably leave them afraid of people leaving them. Talking about how those early experiences influence their current ways of viewing and interacting with the world may be helpful.

Support for Partners

Psychotherapy is a primary treatment for people with BPD, but caregivers and partners may also benefit from therapy to help them cope with the challenges of maintaining a healthy relationship with a loved one with BPD.

Often partners may unintentionally enable or exacerbate their loved one's BPD symptoms. Therapy can help stop this cycle by teaching partners skills to better support their loved one, strengthen communication, cope with their own stress, and help increase understanding between all parties.

Being there to provide support to someone coping with borderline personality disorder can be challenging but is also a key successful treatment. Awarenesses of a loved one's fear of abandonment, understanding how that fear contributes to interpersonal relationship conflict, and learning how to provide your loved one emotional validation is a good place to start.

Loved ones of people with BPD can help by encouraging improved communication, problem-solving skills, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, mindfulness, and other coping methods.

A Word From Verywell

If you or someone you love is coping with BPD, know that treatment can be effective and may help to reduce relationship conflict. Also, know that having BPD does not make someone a bad person or mean that they are destined to be abandoned. With treatment, hard work, and time, it is possible to have more stable relationships and learn to view both yourself and others in a healthier, more realistic, and more compassionate manner.

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Article Sources
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  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Borderline Personality Disorder. Revised December 2017.

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Personality Disorders. Updated November 2017.

  3. Luna Greenstein. Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder. National Alliance on Mental Health. Published June 5, 2017.

  4. Luna Greenstein. Supporting Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder. National Alliance on Mental Health. Published June 23, 2017.