Borderline Personality Disorder and Anger: Where Do I Draw the Line?

October 18, 2011 Becky Oberg

One of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD), according to, is "inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)". Some anger is normal. But where should we draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable anger?

[caption id="attachment_715" align="aligncenter" width="400" caption="John Martin's painting, "The Great Day of His Wrath", depicts anger."]John Martin's painting, "The Great Day of His Wrath", depicts anger.[/caption]

What if I don't know what I'm angry about?

Anger can often be at multiple targets, which can make dealing with it even more confusing. Dr. Aphrodite Matsakis writes in I Can't Get Over It: A Handbook for Trauma Survivors "It is harder to feel anger at abusers if they are dead (or sick or elderly) than if they are alive, healthy, and still abusing. Similarly, how do you 'get back at' or express anger at an earthquake, a tornado, a hurricane, or a flood? Or, if you are a combat veteran who is angry at governments for supporting the institution of war, at whom or what can you vent your anger? It is more difficult to direct anger toward impersonal institutions--where to some degree everyone is to blame, yet no one is to blame--than at a specific person."

When I first started college, I realized I had a lot of anger. I was angry at my abusers. I was angry at outsiders who justified the abuse. But I had no clue how to deal with the anger I'd suppressed for so long. As a result, I began suffering from flashbacks and depression. One of my friends compared me to a shaken bottle of soda pop--every time there was an opening, I exploded. I barely kept my lid on.

You may fear getting in touch with your anger may cause you to explode. A qualified therapist can help you face this--and take on one anger at a time.

What if I'm having violent fantasies?

This is normal. Violent revenge is a theme in stories ranging from The Iliad to the Batman franchise. However, if you find yourself obtaining the means of revenge (such as buying a weapon) or making specific plans (such as setting a date for the murder), seek help immediately.

It is also normal for anger to be directed at yourself. However, if you have thoughts or plans of harming yourself, seek help immediately.

"The first step to taking control of your anger is to tell yourself, and keep telling yourself, I'm okay," writes Matsakis. "All that's happening to me is that I'm feeling angry. All I have to do with my anger today is feel it. I can figure out later what to do about it. All I have to do now is ride with it. If I can just feel the anger without hurting myself or someone else, I am a success."

Channel your rage

Channeling this rage into physical exercise can be helpful. For example, after witnessing an assault, I dove into studying martial arts: specifically Shotokan karate and yoseikan budo aikido. The emphasis on self-control helped me understand my problems with anger, and the exercise was a way to burn of the adrenaline. I also found a sense of empowerment in self-defense. Aikido probably kept me from losing my mind.

Matsakis tells the story of a group of New York City women who had been abused by their husbands and ignored by the police. Enraged, they filed a class action suit against the NYPD. They used their rage at injustice to overcome the obstacles thrown at them, eventually winning the case. The results are still benefiting abused women today.

"The rage born of injustice has ignited nations into massive political and social changes," Matsakis writes. "Some of that rage lies in you. You are entitled to be angry at whatever injustices you suffered, either at the hands of others or the hand of fate. And you wouldn't be human if you didn't want to strike back at whomever or whatever wounded you. Although it is never in your best interest to strike back violently, it is in your best interest to at least be aware of your vengeful feelings and thoughts. In fact, some of your nonviolent revenge fantasies might well be worth considering as a basis for positive action."

Knowing where to draw the line on anger--and acting accordingly--can be crucial in your recovery.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2011, October 18). Borderline Personality Disorder and Anger: Where Do I Draw the Line?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Becky Oberg

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January, 11 2015 at 11:54 am

The martial arts seems like a good place to blow some steam. But it worries me a bit, because a respectable masters is responsible for the safe practices and prevention of injuries caused to other students, especially during sparring. The overly aggressive student may cause injuries to other students. Typical injuries are torn tendons and ligaments and joints that may become permanently damaged rather than heal slowly.

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