Borderline Personality Disorder

Insight: The Hypersensitive Attachment System in BPD

The attachment system in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is “hypersensitive” (triggered too readily).

Poor Attachment Leads to Misunderstanding One Another.
Poor Attachment Leads to Misunderstanding One Another.

Indications of attachment hyperactivity in core symptoms of BPD

  • Frantic efforts to avoid abandonment
  • Pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships
  • Rapidly escalating tempo moving from acquaintance to great intimacy

(If your partner has BPD): Was your relationship a whirlwind romance? Is he or she clingy or suspicious?

The explanation could lie in a hyperactive attachment system in a person with Borderline Personality Disorder. Anthony Bateman, a co-creator of Mentalization-Based Therapy (MBT), describes this condition in his MBT training presentation. DBT is a form of cognitive behavior therapy and does not use the psychodynamic concept of attachment. Yet, it is at the core of MBT.

How can two therapies be different yet still work for BPD?

DBT work first on behavior and works backwards toward your thinking. MBT starts with your thinking (and understanding others’ thinking) and changes the motivation for behavior. Since thinking and behavior are intimately linked, either way seems to work. What doesn’t work is “therapy as usual”.

What can you do about this attachment style in my loved one?

The most important thing you can do is learn to mentalize. Become interested in the motivations, feelings, thoughts, desires and intentions of the other person. Be open about your own motivations, feelings, thoughts, desires and intentions.

In my book, When Hope is Not Enough, I have a concept called “it’s all about his/her feelings” (IAAHF). The intention of this concept is not to make the relationship about the borderline’s feelings. It’s to understand the motivation of a person with BPD. When things go off the rails, the biggest contributing factor to that occurrence is the emotions, possibly triggered by this hyperactive attachment system.

What can I do about the emotions?

  • Be interested.
  • Keep in mind that the emotions are the problem, not you
  • Validate with curiosity
  • Be a detective, not a judge

More information is available in When Hope is Not Enough.


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