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A New Angle on Emotional Instability in BPD

By January 13, 2011

A new study published this month in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology may shed some light on the very intense "all or nothing" emotions that are experienced by individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Michael Suvak, Ph.D. and colleagues studied the emotion regulation problems of women with BPD from an emotional granularity perspective. Emotional granularity refers to an individual's ability to use information about valence (i.e., pleasantness versus unpleasantness) and arousal (i.e., high arousal versus low arousal) in distinguishing between emotional states. People who are high in emotional granularity can make clear distinctions between even closely related emotional states; for example, they can distinguish anger from irritation. Those in low emotional granularity have difficulty incorporating available valence and arousal information into their representation of emotion. So, they may label emotions like anger, sadness, and fear as "feeling bad" with no distinction between the emotions.

Dr. Suvak and his colleagues posited that individuals with BPD have low emotional granularity. Using a laboratory paradigm, they examined emotional granularity in 46 women meeting BPD criteria versus 51 controls (women without Axis I or II psychopathology).

The researchers found that women with BPD were indeed lower in emotional granularity than controls. Specifically, the women with BPD tended to use more valence information and less arousal information when representing emotions. In other words, these findings suggest that when someone with BPD encounters an emotion that is unpleasant at a low intensity, they represent that in the same way that they would represent an emotion that is unpleasant at a high intensity. So, their reaction to having a friend tell them they have to get off the phone could be represented in the same way as their reaction to having a friend tell them the friendship is over.

This is a very interesting and novel research finding, and is the first step in a program of research that may ultimately shed a lot of light on the emotional life of people with BPD.

January 17, 2011 at 2:20 pm
(1) Rob Akscyn says:

These results are very consistent with my experience with several individuals (women) — both of whom were extremely devalued as children. Moreover their misinterpretations of emotions always involved something personal (that they were being slighted as individuals). If this were where the story ended, then others might be able to adjust, and help the individual remedy their interpretation. The problem, however, is that they will harbor these intense reactions, and then use them as rationale to ‘tell tales’ to others (totally incorrect facts) in order to justify their emotional over-reaction. This gives rise to a ‘big lie’ effect, wherein others simply cannot believe the tale could be false (it’s too big!). My sister-in-law, who was prone to BPD rages, eventually sent her husband to jail for allegedly sexually assaulting their two sons. He was in jail for years, until the sons, after becoming adults, said the whole thing had been a lie. What I think is the next step in the trajectory of research of the sort mentioned in the above article, is to investigate how it is possible for what otherwise seems like high-functioning adults, to become completely amoral when it comes to the truth, willing to twist it to any degree in order to support their wildly-out-of-whack emotional reactions. In other words, how is it that their morality seemingly gets totally switched off at such times.

January 19, 2011 at 1:47 pm
(2) Non BPD wanting to understand says:

I do see that this is highly true and worthy of noting. I questioned it myself in regards to BPD/NPD individuals I encountered. I can see that my rational message to let go, back up, take time out and calm down was taking as a permanent message to let go of the realtionship. That was not intended, but arguments that insue over irrational things are not healthy in the long run for maintaining healthy relationships. It’s a tough call to get it right for a therapist or anyone. Feelings run high and seem to be unindenifiable by the individuals who suffered with this (?).

The main theme that persists in being one like thisdisorder or (?) is whether one is held in esteem. However, the question I pose is that is the Non BPD held in enough esteem by the other (?) to be treated in a reasonable fashion? It appears not, yet I truly feel empathy for anyone thinking they are not worthy of being loved. Such is the dilemma that is questioned evey day with all people for the BPDs I have known and do know.

Fights insue due to the thought of not being respected, not being of value… It’s like shooting yourself in the foot over and over again and proving to yourself you are not worthy.

All emotions are at a high intensity without a gage to measure what is this or that…

January 20, 2011 at 12:40 am
(3) helper bee says:

check this out for being a great doer


If you love being a better person, learn it here too.

January 27, 2011 at 1:34 pm
(4) Annie says:

This study doesn’t seem to be offering any new information, to me.

It is already well known that those with bpd think in “black and white” terms: all or nothing. A person is “all good” one moment and “all bad” the next.

It is obvious that the person with bpd has no “emotional rheostat” and lacks ability to perceive or interpret emotional information in “shades of gray”; their emotional response is affected by this as well. No gray; black or white only, so slightly good is FANTASTIC! and slightly bad is HORRIBLE!
We know this already!

“Granulation” is just another, and less apt term for “gradation”.
(The author thinks emotions are crunchy?)

Seems to me somebody paid these guys to reinvent the wheel and call it a “moving circle”.

February 1, 2011 at 11:33 pm
(5) kevin blumer says:

hmm ok this is the way i see emotions with bpd they are not fair not fair atall there is no menaning in them everything people tell me hurt me little things that normal people it would do nothing to them would send me off on one my girlfirend cheted on me and left me every time she came back to me it hurt just the same as when she left me it didnt hurt no more and it didnt hurt no less how did it feel where really good at this with bdp i am anyway probably the equvalent of your mam or dad dieing i tihnk that would be near it hurts really badly and that feeling just dosnt go away becuase it is mixed with other feelings like aniety wnating to do bad things to yourself im allways intrested in new findings about bpd id love to be a test subject for things like that i might have bpd but form being a kid i allways reinvent things and question things so any new research i tihnk is another step foward to maybee bringing in a better recovery for people with BPD

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