The majority of my posts bring attention to child sexual abuse, its long-term effects, and prevention. Honestly, I hadn’t heard much about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and didn’t begin researching it (until about a year ago) when someone close to me was diagnosed with it, presumably caused by their childhood trauma.
How is BPD different from common irritability, anxiety or depression? If you or someone you know is extremely sensitive, has explosive anger and volatile/unstable relationships, this post is worth reading.
Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and a pattern of unstable relationships.
With BPD, you have an intense fear of abandonment or instability, and you may have difficulty tolerating being alone. Almost everything in your world is unstable. Yet inappropriate anger, impulsiveness and frequent mood swings may push others away, even though you want to have loving and lasting relationships.
People with BPD tend to be extremely sensitive. Some describe it as like having an exposed nerve ending. Small things can trigger intense reactions. And once upset, you have trouble calming down. It’s easy to understand how this emotional volatility and inability to self-soothe leads to relationship turmoil and impulsive—even reckless—behavior.
Borderline personality disorder usually begins by early adulthood. The condition seems to be worse in young adulthood and may gradually get better with age.
Some factors related to personality development can increase the risk of developing borderline personality disorder. These include:
- Hereditary predisposition. You may be at a higher risk if a close relative — your mother, father, brother or sister — has the same or a similar disorder.
- Stressful childhood. Many people with the disorder report being sexually or physically abused or neglected during childhood.
- Some people have lost or were separated from a parent or close caregiver when they were young or had parents or caregivers with substance misuse or other mental health issues. Others have been exposed to hostile conflict and unstable family relationships.
A diagnosis of borderline personality disorder is usually made in adults, not in children or teenagers. That’s because what appear to be signs and symptoms of borderline personality disorder may go away as children get older and become more mature.
Diagnosing Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) manifests in many different ways, but for the purposes of diagnosis, mental health professionals group the symptoms into nine major categories.
In order to be diagnosed with BPD, you must show signs of at least five of these symptoms. Furthermore, the symptoms must be long-standing (usually beginning in adolescence) and impact many areas of your life.
Bipolar disorder vs. Borderline Personality Disorder. Bipolar Disorder is a mental (or brain) disorder, while BPD is an emotional disorder. Both disorders are characterized by mood swings, but the length and intensity of these mood swings are different.
The Nine symptoms of BPD
1. Fear of abandonment. People with BPD are often terrified of being abandoned or left alone. Even something as innocuous as a loved one arriving home late from work or going away for the weekend may trigger intense fear. This can prompt frantic efforts to keep the other person close. You may beg, cling, start fights, track your loved one’s movements, or even physically block the person from leaving. Unfortunately, this behavior tends to have the opposite effect—driving others away.
2. Unstable relationships. People with BPD tend to have relationships that are intense and short-lived. You may fall in love quickly, believing that each new person is the one who will make you feel whole, only to be quickly disappointed. Your relationships either seem perfect or horrible, without any middle ground. Your lovers, friends, or family members may feel like they have emotional whiplash as a result of your rapid swings from idealization to devaluation, anger, and hate.
3. Unclear or shifting self-image. When you have BPD, your sense of self is typically unstable. Sometimes you may feel good about yourself, but other times you hate yourself, or even view yourself as evil. You probably don’t have a clear idea of who you are or what you want in life. As a result, you may frequently change jobs, friends, lovers, religion, values, goals, or even sexual identity.
4. Impulsive, self-destructive behaviors. If you have BPD, you may engage in harmful, sensation-seeking behaviors, especially when you’re upset. You may impulsively spend money you can’t afford, binge eat, drive recklessly, shoplift, engage in risky sex, or overdo it with drugs or alcohol. These risky behaviors may help you feel better in the moment, but they hurt you and those around you over the long-term.
5. Self harm. Suicidal behavior or deliberate self-harm is common in people with BPD. Suicidal behavior includes thinking about suicide, making suicidal gestures or threats, or actually carrying out a suicide attempt. Self-harm encompasses all other attempts to hurt yourself without suicidal intent. Common forms of self-harm include cutting and burning.
6. Extreme emotional swings. Unstable emotions and moods are common with BPD. One moment, you may feel happy, and the next, despondent. Little things that other people brush off can send you into an emotional tailspin. These mood swings are intense, but they tend to pass fairly quickly (unlike the emotional swings of depression or bipolar disorder), usually lasting just a few minutes or hours.
7. Chronic feelings of emptiness. People with BPD often talk about feeling empty, as if there’s a hole or a void inside them. At the extreme, you may feel as if you’re “nothing” or “nobody.” This feeling is uncomfortable, so you may try to fill the void with things like drugs, food, or sex. But nothing feels truly satisfying.
8. Explosive anger. If you have BPD, you may struggle with intense anger and a short temper. You may also have trouble controlling yourself once the fuse is lit—yelling, throwing things, or becoming completely consumed by rage. It’s important to note that this anger isn’t always directed outwards. You may spend a lot of time feeling angry at yourself.
9. Feeling suspicious or out of touch with reality. People with BPD often struggle with paranoia or suspicious thoughts about others’ motives. When under stress, you may even lose touch with reality—an experience known as dissociation. You may feel foggy, spaced out, or as if you’re outside your own body.
BPD is treatable. Healing is a matter of breaking the dysfunctional patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving that are causing you distress. It’s not easy to change lifelong habits.
In the past, many mental health professionals found it difficult to treat BPD, so they came to the conclusion that there was little to be done. But we now know that BPD is treatable. In fact, the long-term prognosis for BPD is better than those for depression and bipolar disorder. However, it requires a specialized approach.
The bottom line is that most people with BPD can and do get better—and they do so fairly rapidly with the right treatments and support.
Help is available right now!
Sources: 1. Mayo Clinic – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/borderline-personality-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20370242. 2. Helpguide.org- http://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-disorders/borderline-personality-disorder.html