Fragile and Dangerous – Men with Borderline Personality Disorder

"She'll be sorry."

“She’ll be sorry.”

The Predator

Most people are familiar with the characteristics of violent men, either by first-hand experience or through news and true crime books and TV shows. We all know what they look like: fearless, callous, thrill- and pleasure seeking guys who take what they want and who get easily frustrated if someone gets in their way. It’s the familiar antisocial person ranging from the neighbourhood thug who gets into fights when he is drunk, to the full-fledged psychopath that entirely lacks empathy and uses other people for money, sex or other benefits.

And the Prey?

People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are a completely different breed. Their core features are their desperate need for love and lack of interpersonal skills. They fall head over heels in love with people they don’t know the first thing about and then become disillusioned and deeply resentful when the other person fails to match their fantasies. They are emotionally unstable and vulnerable and they feel very hurt and betrayed when people, as they see it, let them down. They fear being abandoned and often threaten to kill themselves. Another typical behavior is self-harm, cutting or burning themselves.

Borderlines can often come across as poor and misunderstood – perhaps because they genuinely feel that way – and being vulnerable they hardly evoke any fear in others. Their melodramatic gestures are sometimes pathetic or tragic, but again, nothing that will scare anyone. But it should.


Despite of the soap opera-type behavior found in psychiatric literature, between 25-50 percent of people with borderline are boys and men, and males who are angry, jealous and hateful tend to be dangerous. Women may think these guys, with their frailness and tragic personas are intriguing and good projects for improvement. A typical example of what they may look like comes from the musical genre called Emo. As the name suggests it deals with emotionally intense feeling of romantic nature, often tragic and bitter themes. And like borderlines they are often interested in self-harm and suicide.

But bitterness and hate isn’t just expressed by self-destructive gestures. In the emo lyrics you can often find passages that would suggest violence towards partners as well. Here are some excerpts from one of the more popular emo bands Fall Out Boy’s song Chicago Is So Two Years Ago,

My heart is on my sleeve
Wear it like a bruise or black eye
My badge, my witness
Means that I believed
Every single lie you said

You want apologies
Girl, you might hold your breath
Until your breathing stops forever, forever
the only thing you’ll get
Is this curse on your lips:
I hope they taste of me forever

With every breath I wish your body will be broken again, again
With every breath I wish your body will be broken again, again
With every breath I wish your body will be broken again, again
With every breath I wish your body will be broken again

Lashing Out

While the emo isn’t the only borderline male it seems like a pretty good example. And like the lyrics above suggest, borderline violence isn’t just directed at the self. A study on correlates of personality disorders conducted by clinical psychologist Joshua Miller and colleagues confirms this violent aspect of BPD. They had students fill in self-measures of personality disorders as well as other measure of for instance crime and violence. As expected, they found that crime was most strongly associated with psychopathy (which is a dimensional trait that to some extent can be found in the normal population). Also as expected, borderline was linked to self-harm. But perhaps more surprisingly, borderline was also strongly correlated with intimate partner violence, even more so than for psychopathy and narcissism.

Self-measures may of course be exaggerated, especially when we are talking about people with a taste for drama. But other research confirms that this is for real. One study from 2007 by psychiatrist Donald Black found that around 30 percent of new inmates in Iowa met the criteria for borderline and another study from this year by psychiatrist Marc Schroeder and colleagues, again looking at actual offenders, found a similar pattern with borderline being the second most common personality disorder after antisocial personality disorder. Of offenders who had committed both sexual and non-sexual violent crime half were antisocials and a third were borderlines as compared to third most common category of narcissistic disorder at a mere 3 percent. Given that borderline is rare in the general population, around 1-2 percent, it’s clear that these individuals are very violent.

The Hidden Threat

So it seems the borderline personality is a large and rather hidden threat to women (and probably some men too although women are usually less violent). No one seems to talk about these men. They rarely feature in the media or public debate. Maybe it’s just because they are so fragile and look more like victims than perpetrators. Pointing the finger at these guys may feel like kicking on someone who is already lying down. But they are not victims of anything but their own shaky grip on reality, and excusing them or looking the other way will only make for more violence.


For a more personal and in-depth look at these guys, check out Shanon’s excellent post,

118 Responses to Fragile and Dangerous – Men with Borderline Personality Disorder

  1. Edward says:

    I can understand the legitimate point you are trying to make with this article, but feel I must point out that you are doing it in a sensationalist and potentially damaging way.

    Regarding the sensationalist slant, I won’t go further other than to draw attention to the image you’ve chosen to use at the top, and the connection you draw between harmful male BPD behaviour and Emo subculture (for the record, I am not an ‘Emo’, and also think that the lyrics you quote are completely awful in every conceivable sense). Also, you do use very emotive (no pun intended) words like ‘pathetic’ and ‘tragic’ to describe BPD behaviour.

    I completely understand, applaud and empathize with your declared intention to draw attention to the issue of intimate partner violence and other forms of harmful male BPD behaviour (I do have some indirect experience of this myself), since doing so may serve to assist others in avoiding being hurt. However, your article goes beyond this remit.

    You seem to be an intelligent person, so I won’t presume to insult your intelligence by telling you that there are always several ways to make the same point (or ‘it ain’t what you say, it’s the way that you say it’ as my old English lit teacher was fond of telling us). It looks like you’ve opted for the sensationalist/potentially damaging way of making your point, which is unfortunate.

    • Staffan says:

      Thanks for your comment,

      I see your point; this post does offend some by being direct and hard-hitting, maybe even sensational. My rationale for this is that it’s an effective way to break the taboo and the habit of tip toing around this issue.

      The response this post has gotten is an indication that I’m right. Women (and some men) are being discouraged and made to feel guilty for just talking about it. And I believe that attitude needs to be confronted with a certain amount of bluntness.

      • Edward says:

        It’s being direct and hard-hitting in a misguided way though, and as such there would be more effective ways of breaking the taboos and raising awareness of the issue, if that was your primary concern.

        The main problem I have with this is the explicit connection you draw between harmful male BPD behaviour and emo subculture. For example you state that ‘While the emo isn’t the only borderline male it seems like a pretty good example’. You then go on to state that ‘borderline is rare in the general population, around 1-2%’, and cite a study of inmates in Iowa which found that 30% met the criteria for BPD, so therefore ‘it’s clear that these individuals are very violent’.

        Now, if it were the case that ‘the Emo’ is ‘a pretty good example’ of the borderline male, then would it not follow that a significant proportion of the convicted 30% in the studies you mention would be Emos? I can’t say for certain, but I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that they aren’t. I’m perfectly willing to be proved wrong on this point if you have any stats about this.

        In short, it looks like you’re demonising Emos, which does detract from the credibility of the piece and isn’t necessary. As far as I (and many others) generally understand it, Emos and certain other subcultures are far more likely to be the victims of violence rather than the perpetrators of it (not sure if you’re aware of the story behind the SOPHIE campaign, but if not it would be worth a look. Sophie Lancaster and her partner weren’t Emos but would probably be identified as such by some).

        You’re talking about people noted for extremely hurtful, problematic and damaging behaviour, and say that Emos provide a ‘typical example of what they may look like’. This is demonising, sensationalist and misguided and will probably be recognised as such by anyone with even the slightest amount of perspicacity. I doubt it will help break any taboos or further any kind of altruistic ends; if it does anything it will most likely just make people hate Emos (and I’d say loads do already).

      • Staffan says:

        The thing is, I’m not trying to sort people in good or bad, but point out that some BPDs are dangerous. I used Emos to illustrate how their thinking, similar to BPDs, could translate to violence. That’s not to say that I know that Emos are more violent than others; there is no research on that as far as I know. The murder of Sophie Lancaster is tragic but it doesn’t contradict anything I’ve said.

        There are certainly many BPDs who are victims in many ways. But at the end of the day this is a group that is highly overrepresented in prisons for partner violence, and their victims must count too. It’s awfully quiet about that so I said something, maybe too sensational for your taste, but at least I said something.

        You say this approach will not help break any taboos, but look at the reaction this post had, a whole lot positive, from people with personal experience. It may not promote altruism, but then again victims of this violence or threat of violence are entitled to personal security. Where is the altruism or empathy for them? I’ve described the problems of BPD in the post and I’m not in any way opposed to them getting help.

  2. See says:

    Wow. This article is filled with fear mongering, and flat out rudeness.
    “They have bpd. Run as far as you can! ”

    The main point of this article is to see signs then run or hide. Your *adding* mental health stigma to an already stigmatized group of peoples.

    Your right; some people are dangerous, Some people are unsaveable, but god knows if there’s no one in that bpd person’s life then how are they going to find new values and ideas with which to clash with their own, hopefully leading to care and recovery down the road even if it is just for that person’s self.

    I guess the TL;DR is that bpd sufferers are just like the larger population of ‘normal’people that they live within. There’s a few dangerous ones but I think it’s false to assume all bpd sufferers are dangerous.

    • Staffan says:


      Fear mongering it’s not. We are talking about men who make up around 1 percent of the population and 30 percent of the prison population. And it’s largely due to sexual and violent crime. They are almost on level with psychopaths – that’s not “a few dangerous ones.” And sexual and violent crime scars people for life, something that many could have avoided if they had been exposed to a little more of what you call fear mongering.

      BPDs do get help, there is a diagnosis, there is treatment and research to improve their lives. But how much effort is put into helping their victims? I think we should help both BPDs and their victims. But any real help is based on knowledge, research and openly about it – not sweeping it under the rug out of misplaced concerns about stigmatization.

      Btw, if you’re interested in this topic you should check out the comments below. There are plenty of interesting reflections and observations there.

      • Maybe this can help says:

        How can one put this politely. As ridiculous as this sounds it may help.

        If I had a condition where I walked around spitting in peoples faces and then punching them in the stomach and if this condition made me feel ashamed yet I had very little control over it ALSO if most everyone I became intimate with was being spit on and punched in the stomach frequently by me …

        I’d imagine that even a borderline individual would suggest their “friend” or “loved one” avoid me at all costs.

        Point being the condition is reckless and destructive. Unfortunately borderlines must also be avoided much like someone who walks around spitting on people and punching them in the stomach.

        Yes I realize that in their minds they “don’t mean it” or they’re “very sorry” however those who suffer through them deserve understanding as well.

        Now let me take this one step further. This is the absolute truth from my point of view and very real personal experiences:

        Believe it or not I would rather be spit on and punched in the stomach than put through the literal Hell my borderlines have put me through in this lifetime.

        In fact being spit on and punched in the stomach sounds like a walk in the park!! as compared to what the borderlines in my life have put me through.

        So to wrap it up if you think someone who walks around spitting in peoples faces and punching them in the stomach is someone to be avoided? Guess what true blue Borderlines have someone like that beat in the destroying of other peoples lives department.

        So absolutely positively YES avoid borderlines until they have had plenty of therapy and their therapist can absolutely assure you they are now safe for intimate human interaction.

        Just my two cents … do with it what you will.

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