7 Tips for Managing Borderline Rage in Addiction Recovery
A staggering 78% of adults with borderline personality disorder will grapple with substance use at some point in their lifetime. Borderline personality disorder is incredibly common for those who struggle with addiction, making recovery efforts all the more difficult. One of the more destructive symptoms of borderline personality disorder is borderline rage.
Although this symptom doesn’t affect everyone who struggles with the personality disorder, it causes significant harm for those who do experience it. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to get a hold of your borderline rage so it doesn’t get a hold of you.
What are the criteria for borderline personality disorder?
Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is a mental health condition characterised by a chronic inability to manage emotions. It also creates instability in relationships, functioning, and affect, or mood.
BPD is one of ten personality disorders as listed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, or DSM-5.
BPD falls into “Cluster B” or personality disorders, meaning it’s marked by dramatic, unpredictable, or “overly emotional” thinking.
According to the DSM-5, the criteria for borderline personality disorder are as follows:
- Impairments in personality functioning, whether that has to do with identity or self-direction (ie. goals, values, career plans, etc.). This also includes impairments in functioning with others. This can look like an inability to recognise the feelings and needs of others, as well as hypersensitivity regarding others’ comments (ie, feeling easily insulted or offended). This can also present as intense or unstable relationships, anxiousness in relationships, fear of abandonment, or feelings of mistrust.
- Negative affectivity, marked by unstable emotional experiences and frequent mood changes. This can also be characterized by intense anxiousness, fears or rejection, and feelings of depression.
- Disinhibition, which is characterised by impulsivity and risk-taking behaviours.
- Anatogisims, which is characterised by persistent hostility or irritability in response to even minor slights or insults.
- Impairments in personality functioning are stable across time and situations. They aren’t better understood as normal for that person’s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment. Additionally, they aren’t brought on by a medical condition (such as head trauma) and aren’t the effects of substances, either prescribed or illicit.
What is borderline rage?
If you’ve been diagnosed with BPD, you may experience extreme bouts of anger that appear to come over you seemingly out of nowhere. Although not everyone with BPD deals with this explosiveness, those who do, often suffer greatly from borderline rage.
Borderline rage is essentially extreme anger and an inability to regulate that emotion. Borderline rage can come over you in an instant and can disappear just as swiftly. It can also come over you and last for days at a time.
One of the contributing factors to borderline rage is a lack of emotional regulation. To be clear, emotional regulation does not mean that you don’t experience “negative” emotions. Rather, it means you may become easily triggered by outward circumstances. It means you may have trouble accepting your emotions as normal and valid. Additionally, it means you may have difficulty processing, understanding, and moving through your emotions in a healthy, supportive way.
Rest assured, BPD is incredibly common for those struggling with addiction. If you experience borderline rage, know that you’re not alone and your struggle is not abnormal. Before we jump into how to manage borderline rage, let’s take a look at what may cause borderline rage to begin with.
What causes borderline rage?
The research suggests that borderline personality disorder itself appears to be caused by a combination of genetic predisposition as well as your early environment. Diving deeper in, there are a few different factors that can contribute to the experience of borderline rage specifically.
If you have BPD and struggle with anger, your trouble with emotional regulation may be leading you to get angry easily. It could also be prompting you to remain angrier for long periods of time. Additionally, it causes you to feel out of control once something triggers your anger.
Studies have shown that ruminating on anger can make the anger even worse. This essentially means that something triggers you to feel angry, and then you continue to think about the experience and how angry you are. This then causes you to feel even angrier.
Poor impulse control also contributes to the experience of borderline rage. If you have BPD, you may struggle with impulsivity. This can cause you to see red when you get angry and act in a volatile manner without thinking of what you’re doing, or thinking about the potential consequences that may follow your actions. This may leave you with feelings of guilt and shame after coming down from a bout of rage.
Additionally, many people with BPD also have a deep fear of abandonment. If you struggle with this, it will drive you to go to any length to keep people you care about in your life, in an effort not to lose them. If you sense the person is pulling back or is at risk of leaving you, this can prompt you to panic. The lack of emotional regulation can cause you to experience a bout of rage, sometimes before you even realise what’s happening.
Why it’s so important to manage borderline rage in recovery
Borderline rage can have devastating effects on your life and especially in your recovery journey if you don’t manage your symptoms.
According to research, if you have a personality disorder, you may have a tougher time in recovery. Studies show that those in recovery who have a personality disorder differ from their counterparts in recovery without a personality disorder.
Some of the differences are that those with BPD have:
- An increased mental health burden
- Increased suicidal ideation
- Higher dropout rates in treatment
- More trouble forming relationships with others
- Increased rates of relapse
- Shorter periods of abstinence
Specifically, if you have BPD, you may have difficulty remaining in individual therapy or counselling. Your rage may drive you to have trouble forming an open and vulnerable relationship with your therapist. Your impulsivity may prompt you to drop out of treatment early if you get triggered, without thinking about what that means for your sobriety.
In group therapy sessions or meetings, it may be difficult for you to form connections with others. You may engage in spontaneous actions or verbal outbursts that continue to validate your experience of unstable relationships.
After experiencing borderline rage, you may feel overwhelmed by feelings of shame and guilt. This often comes with remorse for things you said or actions you took when you were angry. This place of beating yourself up can cause you to feel even worse about yourself. This puts you in an even more delicate place to be vulnerable to triggers, not only for your anger but for substance use.
Not managing your symptoms could very rapidly lead you down the path toward relapse. When you were engaging in substance use in active addiction, you may have been using in an effort to numb or escape difficult emotions or memories. When you struggle with BPD, your day-to-day life is marked by difficulty in managing your moods and emotions.
As you can gather, the symptoms of BPD and the underlying causes of your previous substance use are so heavily intertwined. This is why it’s so important to manage your BPD symptoms with the right help – so that you can fully thrive in recovery and in life.
7 tips for managing borderline rage in addiction recovery
Fortunately, there are things that you can do to manage borderline rage so it doesn’t negatively impact your recovery efforts, your relationships, and your life.
1. Notice your anger before it surges
One thing you can begin working on is noticing your anger before it erupts. You may be wondering how you can do this, as sometimes anger might seem to come over you in an instant. However, there are usually signs that show up within your body. How does it feel in your body when you experience that very first hit of anger? Do you feel a tightness in your chest? Do your muscles get tense? Does your body get warmer? Noticing these signs can help you realise what’s happening, and can give you a moment to check in with yourself and take a minute before things escalate into rage.
2. Know what triggers you
If you experience borderline rage, it’s likely because of how you’ve interpreted a situation or something someone said. Looking back on the situations that have triggered your rage can help you identify a pattern of triggers. There’s often a root insecurity, fear, or cause of pain that’s prompting the rage to occur. Understanding what’s triggering you at your core will help you develop a plan for how to manage your emotions when these triggers continue to appear in your life. Additionally, you can work on understanding and processing the root of the triggers, so they don’t hold so much weight over you.
3. Breathe deeply
It may sound cliche, but there’s a reason so many people and professionals suggest deep breathing for managing anger. When you’re angry and on the verge of rage, you may find yourself engaging in short, shallow breaths. This can perpetuate your body to become even more stressed and tense. However, if you take long, slow, deep breaths, this can prompt your body to slow down. It can help you get back into your body, as when you’re angry, you often feel out-of-body. Taking deep breaths can help you ground yourself, and look at what’s happening rather than act on emotion and impulse.
4. Give yourself breathing room
Aside from taking deep breaths, it’s helpful to give yourself breathing room. If you’re in a situation and you feel the anger rising up in your body, or you sense your breathing is becoming more shallow, take a moment for yourself. Remaining in that situation, or engaging with the person you’re engaging with, could cause things to escalate quickly. Excuse yourself and step into another room or outside, even if just for 10 minutes. Take some deep breaths and ground yourself. You can also take this time to look at what’s happening within you, and what part of you is becoming triggered. Often, the anger has less to do with the actual situation that’s happening, and has more to do with something that’s getting triggered deep within you.
5. Find a distraction
If you find yourself becoming angry, one thing you could do is find a distraction for yourself. Even though this doesn’t necessarily help you work on understanding your underlying triggers, it can be a great way to deescalate yourself in the moment. Let’s say you receive a text message that says something that triggers your anger. Instead of engaging in a dialogue or allowing your thoughts to ruminate, making your anger build and grow, find something else to shift your focus to. It’s important that whatever you decide to distract yourself with actually engages your full attention, such as reading a book or playing a video game. Also, be sure to distract yourself with something healthy, rather than engaging in destructive behaviours. This can be a helpful way to manage your anger in the moment before it escalates into rage.
6. Practise meditation
Practising meditation is a great way to learn how to observe your thoughts, your feelings, and how your body feels. Because of this, it is so helpful when it comes to managing and reducing anger. Engaging in a mindfulness meditation practise will help you learn how to identify what anger feels like in your body. It will help you know when you’re feeling triggered. It’ll help you learn how to separate unhelpful thoughts from yourself. Meditation is a priceless asset for managing borderline rage.
7. Engage in therapy or counselling
If you’re in recovery from addiction, it’s important to know that the treatment you’re getting for your addiction does not inherently treat your borderline rage. Struggling with untreated borderline rage will only make your recovery efforts that much harder. This is why it’s so important and helpful to seek treatment specifically for borderline personality disorder. Some of the most helpful forms of therapy for BPD are cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, dialectical behavioural therapy, or DBT, and dynamic deconstructive psychotherapy, or DDP. Dual-focused schema therapy, or DFST, is also helpful in treating BPD.
A final word on managing borderline rage in recovery
At Recoverlution, we want you to know you’re not alone. Borderline rage is incredibly difficult to live with, but there are so many people who know exactly what you’re going through and can offer support, guidance, and even more tips for coping.
Feel free to join our community at Recoverlution for support, where you can engage in recovery meetings. Create or join a Circle, or forum, just for those managing borderline rage. Additionally, explore our Wellness hub for evidenced-based practises for increasing your mental well-being and learning how to calm and regulate your emotions. Our Wellness hub offers information and videos on breath work, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, and exercise.
As always, give yourself grace and be patient with yourself as you move through this journey of healing and deep growth. As long as you’re committed to yourself and are vulnerable with yourself, you can manage your symptoms of borderline rage in a truly healthy way. You can find the mental and emotional freedom you deserve.
Author - Thurga