What Is BPD Abandonment?

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BPD abandonment refers to a fear of abandonment that is commonly experienced by people with borderline personality disorder.

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. Since this disorder is hallmarked by a pattern of instability in personal relationships, it's no wonder that fear of abandonment looms large in the lives of those impacted by BPD.

Overview of BPD

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 personality disorders. People with BPD are often diagnosed with other mental health conditions as well.

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

What Is BPD Abandonment?

An extreme fear of abandonment is a common symptom of BPD. This can fear cause people with BPD to struggle to maintain healthy relationships.

The fear of abandonment can lead to the need for frequent reassurance that abandonment is not imminent. It also creates a drive to go to great lengths to try to avoid real or imagined abandonment and the feelings associated with it.

What Does BPD Abandonment Feel Like?

Someone with BPD abandonment may experience fear at the thought of being alone, also feeling angry if their partner does anything that could be a sign of abandonment—such as not answering the phone when they are called.

Cyclical Nature of BPD Abandonment

The fear of being abandoned often causes people with BPD to form unhealthy attachments. Sometimes, they may abruptly cut off these relationships, effectively abandoning their partners. Other times, they 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 can 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.

Impact of BPD Abandonment Fears

People with BPD may simultaneously fear abandonment and have symptoms that create conflicts with others. For instance, they might display volatile moods, distress intolerance, extremes of anger and withdrawal, and impulsivity.

People with BPD often engage in self-sabotaging behavior. This can include:

  • Oversharing
  • Misplaced anger
  • Impulsivity
  • Lashing out at loved ones
  • Devaluing their partner

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

Stopping the BPD Abandonment Cycle

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 psychotherapy. Medications may be used, particularly if there are co-occurring conditions.

Different types of talk therapy can be especially effective in identifying triggers, interpersonal expectations, and managing symptoms that most often lead to relationship conflicts and fear of abandonment. Two of these approaches include:

  • 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 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.

If Your Partner Has BPD Abandonment Fears

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 ones, 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 to successful treatment. Awareness 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 are all good places 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.

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. National Institute of Mental Health. Borderline Personality Disorder.

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Personality Disorders.

  3. Palihawadana V, Broadbear JH, Rao S. Reviewing the clinical significance of 'fear of abandonment' in borderline personality disorder. Australasian Psychiatry. 2019;27(1):60-63. doi:10.1177/1039856218810154

  4. National Alliance on Mental Health. Understanding borderline personality disorder.

  5. National Alliance on Mental Health. Supporting Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder.

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