Pathological personality traits in negative affectivity – separation insecurity: fears of rejection by – and/or separation from – significant others (DSM5)
We have already looked at fear of abandonment as a pathological impairment. In other words, the fear of being abandoned impairs our ability to function normally in society and/or may lead to disorders such as clinical depression or generalized anxiety. When we look at this as a trait, we are still functioning but we have a tendency to consider abandonment or rejection in most of our decision making; that is, we have a negative neurological pathway or negative mind state or belief connected to negative emotions and negative energy, that we automatically pass through as part of our decision making. So let’s take a closer look at this as a trait and see if we can turn the negative energy to positive.
Zanarini (2009) obtained data from 77 female subjects with acute BPD, 15 with remitted BPD, and 75 healthy controls. They were assessed using the Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire, the short version of the Borderline Symptom List, the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, and the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale. Zanarina discovered that all the BPD patients, including those in recession, had higher scores on rejection sensitivity, which correlated with lower self-esteem. Childhood maltreatment did not appear to be a factor. She concluded that rejection sensitivity is an important component in BPD, even for remitted BPD patients, and that the level of self-esteem appears to be a relevant factor in the relationship between rejection sensitivity and BPD symptom severity.
So what does this mean in plain English? First, we must realize that this study equates “real or imagined abandonment” with “rejection sensitivity”. In other words, we are hypersensitive to any indication of possible rejection. Secondly, we can conclude that these fears are related to our low self-esteem. Thirdly, stepping outside the boundaries of this study, we can conjecture that these negative thinking patterns are possibly connected to some genetic predisposition coupled with early childhood social-emotional experiences, rather than physical maltreatment. We can further conjecture, based on past studies of the human brain (Michl and others, 2014) , that these feelings are possibly related to mechanisms of shame located in the anterior cingulate cortex and the parahippocampal gyrus both found in the temporal lobes. Again, with further conjecture, we see that the temporal lobes are responsible for the processing of language and the emotions attached to the delivery of words.
Sorry, that was not plain English, was it? Let’s try again. In other words we are wired to be sensitive to signs of rejection. We particularly look for body language and verbal tones to see how things are going. If our partners show any sign of disapproval we immediately experience levels of anxiety. It is important to us that significant others continuously demonstrate approval. We aim to please. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It all depends on the levels of latent shame and anxiety. At this point, it is still a trait but if we do not deal with this trait it can become an impairment and lead to a warped relationship. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. We create a situation where our worst fears become a reality. We may be abandoned.
Next week we will look at what we can do about it.
Michl, Petra; Meindl, Thomas; Meister, Franziska; Born, Christine; Engel, Rolf, R; Reiser, Maximilian; and Henning-Fast, Kristine. Neurobiological underpinnings of shame and guilt: a pilot fMRI study. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2014,
Zanarini, Mary C. Reasons for Change in Borderline Personality Disorder (and Other Axis II Disorders). HHS Author Manuscripts. Psychiatry Clinic North Am. 2008