In the support groups, rage is one of the most talked about aspects of BPD. Why? Because it is one of the most difficult for the Non-BPD to endure. Many people ask themselves, why is this person so angry (with me)? It seems to make no sense. A person with BPD will fly into a rage about seemingly nothing. The smallest thing that is out of place or not done the way that this person expects causes sometimes hours of anger and raging, yelling and screaming and sometimes physical violence. Again, many Nons ask: “what’s up with that?”
Anger and rage are usually secondary emotions to other primary ones. Sensitivity to judgment plays a major role in the triggering of rage. The symptoms and feelings associated with BPD interact and, at times, feed each other. In the case of rage, I believe that it is fed by two other symptoms: shame and sensitivity to judgment (which is also fed by shame).
When someone with BPD feels shameful and when you (as a “Non”) criticize or judge her behavior as “bad” or “negative,” the trigger for rage is pulled within the person with BPD. Why? Because your judgment reflects her shameful feelings and resonates deeply into her core beliefs about herself. She panics that you are “finding out” that she is a bad person. She has to (at all costs) defend her “goodness.” What I have found with my own borderline is that this is the point at which she will rage and introduce the “what about you?” argument. The “what about you?” argument is a way to rage at the Non and release anxiety about the Non finding out about her shameful “badness.” Some people in the support community like to call this “projection” or “denial.” I personally don’t believe it is actually projection or denial (although there are times in which projection is clearly there). It is a form of misdirection to try to take the focus off their inner shame and refocus the discussion on you and your faults.
Nobody is perfect, not even you. When a person with BPD rages against you, you often feel very imperfect – especially if she uses the “what about you?” attack. When someone with BPD uses the “what about you?” technique she is usually deflecting blame and judgment on you. However, you experience the rage as hurtful to your very self. You find that the rage “forces” you to defend yourself against her. That is what the “what about you?” attack/rage does best. That is its intention; it puts you on the defensive and shifts focus away from her and her behavior. As I said, it is form of redirection away from the person with BPD’s shame.
One interesting thing about raging is that once the anger and raging is done, it is usually over. Sometimes the person with BPD will be exhausted after the rage and will just collapse and go to sleep. The same is the case with tired children. Sometimes a tired child will have a temper tantrum (which is a form of rage) and then, once the emotions are released, she will either go to sleep or sit placidly in your arms. The inner agitation has been released and she is done.
Adapted from the FAQ from When Hope is Not Enough