Borderline Personality Disorder,  WHINE Book

Ask Bon: Why is this person so sensitive to rejection?

Rejection Sensitivity is the tendency to “anxiously expect, readily perceive and overreact to social rejection.” Someone with BPD will almost certainly have this feature.

Have you ever had your loved one ask you: “Are you mad at me?” Or has your loved one asked you: “Do you like me?” over and over again? Or have they said, “You could do so much better than me. Why are you even with me?”

These questions and others like them are indications that your loved one is suffering from rejection sensitivity. Someone with rejection sensitivity will also avoid tasks, meetings or other social interactions if there is any sense of rejection implied. She is unlikely to initiate social interaction or close personal contact. Often when forced to be in social situations, someone with BPD will constantly scan other people’s reactions for disapproval or rejection. She might rely on others from whom the signals of possible rejection are less strong. In other words, she might ask you to do things for her (like make phone calls or attend meetings at school), rather than risk social rejection themselves. This adaptation to rejection sensitivity is avoidance.

When actual rejection occurs or is perceived by someone with this feature, especially when the rejection originates with someone who the BP feels is important to her, rage and even violence can occur. The person with BPD who perceives that she has been rejected by a significant person (one from which she is less likely to expect rejection), she “becomes hostile not in general but specifically in reaction to potential rejection from a significant or important person.”

This feature is closely related to shame and to the fear of judgment. In both cases a person with BPD will judge herself harshly because of the shame (I am a bad person) and will reject themselves (I don’t deserve acceptance). Additionally (and perhaps ironically), she may lash out, rage at or abuse people who do offer her acceptance, because she feels that she deserves the rejection. This is based on her deep-seated feelings of shame. In this way, the feelings around acceptance versus rejection are a “no win” situation for you – if you reject the person with BPD, she gets angry, but if you accept her, she may judge you as “stupid for accepting someone as bad as me.”

She also anticipates negative emotions from future assumed rejections. Meaning, a person with BPD will think/say “I’m going to feel really bad when that person says ‘no’ to me.” She may also have a diminished capacity to say “no” in social situations, even when she wants to. She does not want to accept the further rejection that might come from saying “no.” Sometimes she might flip-flop between avoidance and accepting social situations that she feels are unpalatable. Both compunctions are generated by rejection sensitivity.

Adapted from When Hope is Not Enough by Bon Dobbs

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