Destructive Pride in Borderline Personality Disorder

September 30, 2019
In many cases, the destructive pride characteristic of borderline personality disorder is nothing but a mask that hides an extreme fear of criticism. In this article, we're going to tell you all about it.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental condition characterized by many symptoms such as impulsiveness, emotional instability, low self-esteem, and feelings of emptiness. But others, such as destructive pride, aren’t considered clinical symptoms even though they’re very common.

People with borderline personality disorder tend to be highly sensitive. Where most people would feel annoyed at some minor negative experience, people with BPD may go through intense and devastating emotional pain.

In some cases, people with this condition will disguise themselves in a cloak of “false self-esteem” to protect themselves. But while they’re in that costume, they start to believe that they have access to some absolute truth and everyone else is wrong.

But what’s really hiding under that cloak is an intense fear of someone hurting them with a different opinion or a disagreement. This leads them to try to convince people they’re wrong. They’ll also get frustrated when they can’t change someone’s perspective.

In other words, they simply can’t handle opposing opinions because they’re unable to be flexible.

Because of that, the people around them will start to believe that they consider themselves better than everyone else, as they try to impose their view of the world on others. This refusal to let people have their own opinions can easily push family and friends away.

A woman crying after her destructive pride has pushed other people away.

Where does this destructive pride come from?

These kinds of masks tend to hide wounds from the past, especially childhood wounds. People with BPD often had tragic childhoods. For example, they may have felt that their parents didn’t care about them, were frequently left alone, or were frequently criticized. 

Thus, they try to improve their sense of self-worth by looking down on others because this happened to them during their childhood.

A child can assimilate a critical environment in many ways. What we know for sure is that some children try to overcompensate for their humiliation by adopting the mask of destructive pride. This is a way to wordlessly project the idea that they’ll never allow anyone to hurt them again.

It’s important for someone with BPD to understand that the proud, hostile adult they’ve become is nothing more than a wounded, lonely child. They need to recognize that their anger won’t help them heal with their scars.

What can you do about it in the present?

Understanding where the destructive pride in BPD comes from is just the first step. To move past it, you have to work hard. Luckily, there are some good strategies to help you deal with destructive pride. 

One common tactic is for the BPD patient to ask for letters, emails, or text messages from people they know. Not just any letters, though. They need to ask these people to tell them the positive and negative traits they think they have.

A constant need for self-affirmation is always accompanied by an inability to actively listen to other people’s opinions. Thus, what this strategy does is invite the person with BPD to ask themselves some questions.

For example, they may think things such as: “Isn’t it odd that five different people think the same thing about me?”, “Why can’t I handle it when someone has a different perspective?”, or “What positive lesson can I take from this?”

The idea is for the BPD patient to question their absolute, rigid frameworks. From there, they can start to recognize that other people’s opinions are valid.

A therapist talking with a patient.

Making changes

The unexpected situations that arise in daily life are another good place to work through destructive pride. The goal is for you to become aware of the way your mind and body react (tension, brooding, or increased heart rate, for example) when someone criticizes you. Your next goal is to learn to wait a couple of minutes before responding.

Once you’ve achieved that, you need to remember not to start a conversation with aggressive or tense body language. You need to keep your face relaxed, with a soft smile, and maintain eye contact without being intimidating. It’s also best not to move your arms or legs too much or speak too quickly.

You can try starting your sentences with phrases such as “I think/in my opinion…” You can also try to find common ground by saying things such as “I agree with you…” What you need to avoid are rigid tones and cutting people off. You should never write people off entirely, even if you don’t agree with them.

If you have BPD and really make an effort, you’ll start to see how much your interactions with other people change.

  • Golier, J. A., Yehuda, R., Bierer, L. M., Mitropoulou, V., New, A. S. y Schmeidler, J. (2003). The relationship of borderline disorder to posttraumatic stress disorder and traumatic events. American Journal Psychiatry, 160, 2018-2024.
  • Millon, T. y Davis, R. D. (1998). Trastornos de la personalidad. Más allá del DSM-IV. Barcelona: Masson, S.A.