BPD & the abandoned child schema

Updated: Jun 20

Many people with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) have been through difficult or traumatic experiences in childhood, including abuse, emotional deprivation or the chronic invalidation of emotions.

In short, many adults with this diagnosis didn't receive the emotional support and safety that they needed in their formative years.

[Image of white blossom and blue sky. The text reads 'Many people with BPD had difficult, often traumatic, experiences in childhood']

Borderline personality disorder and unmet childhood needs

Schema therapy offers an explanation as to why an adult with BPD might feel and behave like an abandoned child. Put simply, schemas are patterns of feelings, thoughts and behaviours, as well as ways of relating to oneself, others and the world. Schema therapy is built on the idea that a child whose emotional needs are met will develop healthy schemas.

By contrast, a child whose needs are consistently unmet may grow into an adult who has maladaptive schemas. These maladaptive, unhealthy schemas often represent a child’s way of coping with difficulty, but can cause pain and difficulty in adulthood.

Borderline personality disorder and the “abandoned child” schema

One such maladaptive schema that many people with BPD experience is the “abandoned child” schema, also known as “vulnerable child” or “abused child”. This schema often occurs as a consequence of unmet needs around connection, such as the loss of a physical or emotional bond between an infant and caregiver.

The “abandoned child” schema tends to be activated in adults by an event that resembles an unmet childhood need. When this happens, individuals with the “abandoned child” schema might feel frightened, believe that they are helpless and act as if they are unable to survive—just like an abandoned child.

BPD & the abandoned child schemaBPD & the abandoned child schema

[Image of a sleeping baby- credit Pexels]

 

What the “abandoned child” schema looks like for me

When my “abandoned child” schema is triggered, you will find me sobbing in a heap on

the floor or pacing around the house in a state of utter panic. During these times, I

believe that people I love don’t care about me anymore. I crave reassurance and feel

desperate for a connection that will help me feel safe once more.

Even though “abandoned child” mode represents me at my peak of vulnerability, I’ve

been exploited and emotionally abused numerous times when in this state of mind.

People with an “abandoned child” schema—many of whom have BPD—both need and

deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, gentleness and sensitivity. Just as every child must be.

I would like to thank my friend Kathryn for teaching me so much about schema. Thank you.