Intense, inappropriate anger is a frequent symptom of borderline personality disorder (BPD), and some researchers have suggested that quick shifts in anger are a hallmark feature of the disorder. Many experts have observed that people with BPD tend to have their most intense anger in response to experiences of rejection, criticism, or perceived abandonment by loved ones, but few studies have looked at the relationship between rejection and rage directly. A new study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology this month may elucidate this "rejection-rage contingency."
Researcher Kathy Berenson and colleagues at Columbia University examined the relationship between perceived rejection and rage in men and women with BPD compared with healthy controls. They first looked at this connection in a laboratory experiment, and later in an experience sampling study (i.e., they tracked the experiences of their research participants over the course of their daily experiences for 21 full days).
In the laboratory experiment, the researchers found a relationship between rejection and rage that involved even split second and potentially subconscious attentional processing. In this part of the study, people with BPD and healthy controls were asked to read words aloud from a computer while either neutral, negative, anger, or rejection-related words (i.e., "betray," "mistrust," "hurt") flashed near the corners of the screen. People with BPD named rage words significantly faster when they were preceded by rejection-related words compared to controls, suggesting that seeing rejection-related words for even a split second heightened their access to anger and rage-related concepts.
The relationship between rejection and rage was also supported by the experience samples; not only did people with BPD report far more rage than healthy controls in general, experiences of rejection predicted greater increases in rage for people with BPD than for healthy controls.
Source: Berenson KR, Downey G, Rafaeli E, Coifman KG, Leventhal Paquin N. The rejection-rage contingency in borderline personality disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2011.