Borderline Personality Disorder,  Shame

Rejection Sensitivity and BPD

Rejection Sensitivity is the tendency to “anxiously expect, readily perceive and overreact to social rejection.” [Downey & Feldman, 1996, quoted from Baldwin, Mark, “Interpersonal Cognition”, 2005, page 83] 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. They are 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. They might rely on others from whom the signals of possible rejection are less strong. In other words, they might ask you to do things for them (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 that the person with BPD is important to them, rage and even violence can occur. The person with BPD who perceives that he or she has been rejected by a significant person (one from which they are less likely to expect rejection), the person with BPD “becomes hostile not in general but specifically in reaction to potential rejection from a significant or important person.” [Miscal, 1996, quoted from Hamel, John & Nichols, Tonia, “Family Interventions in Domestic Violence”, page 126]

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


  • Natasha v

    Beautiful. I have BPD and this describes my intrapsychic conflicts succinctly. Love this blog, keep up the good work.

  • Kayly


    As someone with BPD, I’m deeply horrified that your only reference is from a guide on domestic violence.

    My BPD does not make me inherently violent. This article makes me feel much worse, and does not advise on how to combat rejection sensitivity. Thanks for perpetuating the stereotype that borderlines are violent people who cannot control themselves.

  • Mike

    The reason there are so many articles negative to BPD is because the general consensus among the population is that people with BPD should be seen not as victims of a terrible illness (which they acquired through no fault of their own, mind you) but as unlikeable people who choose their maladaptive behavior through some sort of desire to be socially destructive. As if anyone would choose to live this way.

    BPD sufferers are seen more as annoying than anything. They can complain about having all the symptoms and screaming for a proper diagnosis so they can be placed in effective therapy, but the people around them will continue to see them as nothing more than a healthy person with a bad attitude. “Emoting too strongly” is a confusing medical condition for ordinary people to wrap their heads around.

    People are rarely comforting to someone suffering with BPD, like they may be to a loved one diagnosed with cancer. With BPD the tone is more “get your fking shit together, and leave me alone until you do.”

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