Difficulty accepting criticism : how and why borderline anger can be triggered

Reading my current book on men who suffer from borderline personality disorder Hard To Love I am being reminded of how early attachment or abandonment wounds leave us with a thin skin covering over a sore raw spot that can often be triggered by perceived threat of abandonment.  At these times if we suffer from borderline wounds we may fly into a reactive rage rather than feel the soft,  vulnerable spot that is being triggered deep inside.

Acting out rage is a reaction to the hurt, pain and fear that lives inside.  We may not be fully conscious that we fear rejection because someone around us saw a part of us that may not be well formed or is a source of shame, youngness, pain, or fear for us.  Often such reactive anger or rage is a response to having early abandonment experiences triggered or feeling we are not being valued or validated.  When others only see the angry or raging response and don’t dig deeper to realise the wounds that led to it, true understanding, connection and repair is not possible.  When we have been triggered in this way it takes some age regression work to become aware of the wounds and earlier incidents of abandonment we carry and experience that are being triggered by such criticism in the present moment.

I am posting this today as a bit of a response to an earlier post on the negative side of the inner critic.  Criticism from others when it triggers our own inner critic can tend to make us defended or angry if we have these kind of wounds and most especially if we have a powerful inner critic inside and lots of earlier hurt.  If we want relationships to survive we need to find ways to express our vulnerability with others.  We need the capacity to take the little one inside us onto our knee and get at the root of what is going on.  For the abandonment actually happens when outer criticism triggers our feeling of not being good enough inside and as much as we needed someone in childhood to let us know we are good enough, as adults we really do not need this approval of our selves.   Later on we may then be able to have an honest conversation with the person in question and say  “when you did X I started to feel scared and abandoned and criticised.”   We may be able to communicate needs that we have that were never fully met growing up.

It is very painful to have these unresolved and often unrecognised needs inside of us.  In my post on the antidote to the inner critic yesterday I brought attention to the issue of childhood emotional neglect, and pointed out how suffering from such neglect which is not fully even conscious for many of us leads to certain deficiencies within and in the way we relate to our selves in terms of empathy and feeling a sense of inner value.  Educating ourselves about the areas of neglect is an important step forward, for how can we get needs met or change behaviours we don’t fully accept or even understand?

In my past relationship often my ex partner would feel triggered by a little criticism comments like :  “the griller door needs to be open when you grilling”.  He took that as some kind of slight on his intelligence.  And my abandonment wound could be similarly triggered at times when I started to feel left out or ignored.  It was then hard to find the words to express how I was really feeling because I lacked the necessary insight and language.   When I was finally able to speak up for my needs I was told that they did not matter has his needs came first, always.  At that stage self care would have seen me make a re-evaluation of the relationship if I had been in a healthier place.

That said not all criticism is valid and some people use put downs or other subtle or not so subtle means to put us down.  In this case we can stand up for ourselves against the criticism in a firm and loving way.

Borderline wounds are very real, they come from key experiences in the past of feeling alone and abandoned which are so often deeply hidden from view and even conscious memory.  They make us vulnerable in the present.  They put the locus of control and reaction outside of ourselves, at least before we begin to get a handle on them.  Understanding how and why we react as we do is important, just as important as others around us taking the time and caring enough to want to know why it is happening rather than blame or shame.

In my last relationship neither of us had sufficient insight to cope with the self soothing and other centred understanding that was needed for a healthier relationship to survive when we both carried our own version of abandonment wounding.   So many things can happen to us is childhood that we are powerless over and end up leaving deep scars.   There scars can mark our relationships but they are also signs, pointers or signals of a damage that when understood and worked with consciously can help us to move through to more committed, honest and understanding relationships with others.

One thought on “Difficulty accepting criticism : how and why borderline anger can be triggered

  1. Reblogged this on Emerging From The Dark Night and commented:

    Narcissistic injury from youth can leave deep wounds and sore spots in the psyche. In order to heal and understand (without over shaming ourselves for so called ‘overly’ sensitive reactions is a source of ongoing work for some of us.) And often we just cannot expect those without this level of trauma to understand, sadly.

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