We now move on to Symptom eight on the DSM IV, namely, “Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger.” On the DSM 5, it is listed under pathological personality traits in antagonism and includes “persistent or frequent angry feelings”, and “anger or irritability in response to minor slights and insults.” Some articles describe this out of proportion anger as “BPD rage”. There is a relatively small sample of research on the topic, but I have located two well designed projects that should shed some light on the topic.
Cackowski et al, in a small sample of twenty-nine female BPD patients, 28 ADHD patients and 30 healthy controls, found that BPD patients reported higher trait aggression and hostility, a stronger tendency to express anger when provoked, and a tendency to direct anger inwardly. They concluded that there may be a significant impact of stress on anger in BPD patients; however, it appears to be directed towards the self rather than to others.
Krauch et al used functional MRI to observe brain scans when twenty BPD and twenty HC adolescent participants were exposed to scripted imagery. They found that adolescents with BPD showed increased activity in the left posterior insula, the left dorsal striatum, and the left inferior frontal cortex. The insula is connected to our old friends the amygdala and the thalamus and is part of the limbic system involved in processing emotions. It is also believed to be involved in the processing of physical and emotional pain in an attempt to create homeostasis or balance during interpersonal relationships. The striatum is part of the forebrain that is believed to be involved in the reward system, inhibitory control, and impulsivity. The inferior frontal cortex is, of course, our administration center that employs mind states to solve problems.
So what does this mean in layman’s terms? Quite simply, it shows that we unfortunate souls with BPD have overactive brains in the areas involving negative emotions and subsequent behavior. When our emotions are activated by minor conflicts, we have a difficult time processing the information and calming our overactive brain. We tend to react with frustration and anger, but since we are so dependent on our relationships with other for our sense of self-worth, we direct this overcharged anger against ourselves. This often shows up in self-harm activities and suicidal behavior.
So what does all of this mean? First of all, let’s deal with the data from these studies. Even though Cackowski et al’s study was carried out with women, I think we can safely employ these results to men. We have a tendency to experience the same emotions but deal with them in different ways. We tend to suppress causing an increased buildup of negative energy. When we reach our boiling point, we explode more violently than women. Therefore, even though women have more suicidal attempts than men, we tend to be more successful at killing ourselves, because we use more violent means like jumping off tall building or using a gun to blow our brains out (interesting-one way to stop the over active and pain-filled brain). Women on the other hand use peaceful means such as overdosing which, by the way, leaves a possible back door to escape.
When we look at the brain scans, they are just that. It is not definitive. It just shows what parts of the brain are active. The old orbital frontal cortex is just searching vainly for solutions from past experiences. If we believe this part of the brain is “us”, then we have a problem. However, if we believe that we are something beyond the electrochemical impulses, neural pathways, and mind states, than there is hope. If we defer to the Higher-Self, we can begin to see solutions beyond the mind states and schemas of the OFC, stop all the turmoil and impose a homeostasis or balance on the insula, and nudge the dorsal striatum to let go and complete the happy pleasure route by choosing to smile at our absurd reaction to a minor conflict. We use our higher self to pat ourselves on the back and say “there, there” and we begin to see solutions where there did not appear to be any. We can then experience an amazing surge of positive power and energy to forge a new path, not only to create balance, but to carry on with the expansion and growth of our being.
Here are my five suggestion for people with BPD and anger and impulse control problems:
- We recognize that we have anger issues. And we thank the universe (and yes I mean thank) that we still have the ability to have an emotional response to the feeling of rejection and interpersonal disagreements. If we ever lose that, it means we have quit trying to interact and may now be vulnerable to the second and more dangerous cause of suicidal behavior – hopelessness and helplessness. We always look for something to be thankful for. It gets us in touch with our higher self.
- We let the people who are important in our lives know that we have a “rage” problem. We alert them that we may have to tell them from time to time that we are experiencing a rage episode and may have to excuse ourselves from a situation with a promise to come back and resolve the issue once we have ourselves back under control.
- When confronted with a conflict, we take a deep breath and smile (if appropriate – does not work with partners during an argument) rather than responding to our brain’s emotional reaction.
- Whenever we feel the conflict beginning to turn into the rage, we remove ourselves (if we can) from the situation before it blows up to unmanageable proportions and additional shame inducing behavior that will complicate our ability to resolve the conflict. If we can’t leave the scene, we may have to eat crow (amazing birds) and shut up and take it. It helps to say “yes madam” to the boss and “yes dear” to our partners.
- We refuse to turn the anger against ourselves. We keep it objective. We find a quiet spot and employ deep breathing and self-talk. We analyse the situation and our over-heated response. We make a plan to resolve the conflict. If we have followed steps 1 to 4, we pat ourselves on the back and say, “Well done”.
- If we lose it and blow up again, we are kind to ourselves and recognize that this is part of a bigger problem. We analyze the situation to see what we can do better in the future. We apologize and restore the relationship. This should be easy to do if we have done step 2.
Cackowski, Sylvia; Krause-Utz, Annegret; Van Eijk; Klohr, Julia; Daffner, Stephanie; Sobanski, Ester; and Ende, Gabriele. Anger and aggression in borderline personality disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – does stress matter? Borderline Personality Disorder Emolt Dysregul, 2017. 17.
Krauch, Marlene; Ueltzhoffer, Kai; Brunner, Romuald; Kaess, Michael; Hensel, Saskia; Herpertz, Sabinen C; and Bertsch, Katja. Heightened Salience of Anger and Aggression in Female Adolescents With Borderline Personality Disorder—A Script-Based fMRI Study. Front. Behav. Neurosci., 26 March 2018 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fnbeh.2018.00057