Borderlines and Emotional Abusers
When Borderlines Are Abusive
in Their Intimate Relationships

Dr. King


by Dr. Jeanne King, Ph.D.


Sometimes individuals with a borderline personality disorder present like emotional abusers, and this has important clinical implications for treatment. A close look at the DSM-IV criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder sheds light on this relationship.

The Borderline’s Abuse Characteristics

What is it about the borderline personality disorder that can also fulfill the criteria for intimate partner abuse?

1) Frantic attempts to prevent abandonment, whether this is real or imagined

This diagnostic criterion for borderline personality can manifest as clingy, intrusive and possessive behavior. Their attachment to that which they so desperately don’t want to lose can often take the form of controlling behaviors that violate the rights and boundaries of their intimate partners.

2) Unstable relationships that alternate between idealization and devaluation

When borderlines with this criterion for borderline personality disorder are in the devaluation phase with regard to their significant other, battering behavior can be evidenced. Their disregard for the devalued partner becomes their justification for partner assault—verbally, emotionally, psychologically and even physically.

3) Identity disturbance (severely unstable self-image or sense of self)

Abusers, like borderlines with this characteristic, see their intimate partners as extensions of themselves. The behavioral expression of this is their tendency toward being excessively demanding and having significant problems with interpersonal boundaries.

4) Potentially self-damaging impulsiveness in at least two areas, such as binge eating, reckless driving, sex, spending, substance use

The borderline, like the partner abuser, can have serious problems with impulse control. It’s as if their impulsive behavior serves as the release mechanism for re-establishing harmony when lost.

5) Self-mutilation or suicide thoughts, threats, or other behavior

When the level of despair is significant, both abusers and borderlines may resort to self-harm to the highest degree...including harboring suicidal thoughts.

6) Severe reactivity of mood leading to marked instability

Intermittent explosive abusers and borderlines are emotionally labile. They can have unpredictable mood swings of intense anxiety, depression or irritability lasting hours to days.

7) Chronic feelings of emptiness

Both borderlines and abusers lack authentic inner wealth. Instead, they chronically seek to fulfill themselves with their current attachments. They can even overwhelm themselves with self-imposed structure in their desperate effort to counter their feelings of emptiness.

8) Anger that is out of control or inappropriate and intense

This is the abuser characteristic popularized in the media. Most people think of batterers as individuals with anger management problems. Both borderlines and domestic abusers suffer from issues with anger modulation. They have temper tantrums, get into physical fights and harbor chronic anger.

9) Brief paranoid ideas or severe dissociative symptoms related to stress

Borderlines lapsing into paranoid ideation can image their partners are having affairs with other intimate partners—a belief that intimate partner abusers commonly hold.

If you are interfacing with personality disorders and domestic violence in your personal life or in your professional work, then be mindful of this relationship between the criteria of borderline personality disorder and the classic characteristics of intimate partner abusers.

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Dr. Jeanne King is a licensed psychologist and domestic abuse consultant. Feel free to contact us if you need help with physical and/or emotional pain, stress-related illnesses, or relationship abuse issues at home or in court. Contact Us to reach Dr. King.