9 Potential Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder
People with borderline personality disorder are often described as having thin emotional skin. But that description fails to convey the complexity of this serious and often misunderstood mental health problem.
The National Association of Mental Illness describes the disorder as a mental illness that severely impacts a person’s ability to regulate their emotions. They often display inappropriate intense anger or have ongoing feelings of emptiness.
People who experience this instability and loss of emotional control typically have problems with personal relationships, exhibit a poor self-image and often act impulsively.
This struggle with emotional regulation can cause a person’s values to become erratic. Views of or feelings toward people and situations can change dramatically over a short period of time for people with this condition.
NAMI estimates that 1.4% of adults in the United States have borderline personality disorder. Nearly 75% of those diagnosed are women. It often begins in the late teens or early 20s.
While there is no absolute cure, with proper treatment people with the disorder can learn skills to manage and cope with the condition.
Symptoms of borderline personality disorder
Borderline disorder is characterized by four groups of symptoms:
- poorly regulated emotions
- impaired perceptions and thinking
- disturbed relationships.
To be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, you must experience and demonstrate a minimum of five of the nine symptoms listed below. These symptoms are separated into four groups (behavioral dimensions).
NAMI lists the following behavioral signs that could indicate borderline personality disorder:
- Efforts to avoid real or perceived abandonment, such as plunging headfirst into relationships — or ending them just as quickly.
- A pattern of intense and unstable relationships with family, friends and loved ones.
- A distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self.
- Impulsive and often dangerous behaviors, such as spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving and binge eating. Please note: If these behaviors happen mostly during times of elevated mood or energy, they may be symptoms of a mood disorder and not borderline personality disorder.
- Self-harming behavior, such as cutting, or recurring thoughts of suicidal behaviors or threats.
- Intense and highly variable moods, with episodes lasting from a few hours to a few days.
- Chronic feelings of emptiness.
- Inappropriate, intense anger or problems controlling anger.
- Feelings of dissociation, such as feeling cut off from oneself, observing oneself from outside one’s body, or feelings of unreality.
Most people with borderline personality disorder don’t have all of the symptoms in each of the four groups of disturbed behaviors, but most do have at least one symptom from each group.
Borderline personality disorder can often be confused with bipolar disorder because they both have symptoms of impulsiveness and mood swings. But they are different conditions and require different types of treatment.
The main difference between the two lies in the fact that bipolar disorder is a mood disorder while BPD is a personality disorder.
A psychiatrist, psychologist, or clinical social worker with experience in treating mental disorders can diagnose borderline personality disorder and distinguish it from other mental issues. A thorough interview and a discussion about symptoms is typically conducted before a diagnosis is made.
People often dismiss borderline personality disorder as mere moodiness, but it’s more than that. It’s mental condition that can be treated in a way that can make life better for those who are diagnosed with it.
Borderline personality disorder causes and treatment
As with other mental health disorders, researchers don’t know exactly what causes borderline personality disorder. However, studies suggest that genetic, social, and environmental factors.
Borderline disorder is the result of disturbances in specific neural pathways in the brain and is not the result of intentional or willful behavior. Research continues to give us a better understanding of their disturbances, which will result in new and more effective treatments of borderline disorder.
While historically challenging to treat, borderline personality disorder is often successfully addressed by mental health professionals with counseling and possibly medication.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, has proved to be an effective treatment and is usually the first choice. One form of this treatment is called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). It uses elements of mindfulness or awareness of one’s present situation and emotional state to teach skills that help people control intense emotions.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another form of talk therapy used to treat this disorder. It focuses on modifying dysfunctional emotions, behaviors, and thoughts by interrogating and uprooting negative or irrational beliefs.
Both DBT and CBT can be utilized with individual psychotherapy or in a group therapy context.
Medications won’t cure this disorder but can be prescribed to help treat other common co-occurring conditions that often accompany it, such as depression, impulsivity, and anxiety.
Good self-care, including regular exercise, good sleep habits, a nutritious diet, and stress management, can also help manage borderline personality disorder.
A recent addition to the spectrum of therapeutic opportunities for people with borderline disorder has been the introduction of family programs for patients and their families. This work can be for individual families or groups of families. These programs use psycho-educational and problem-solving approaches often incorporating dialectical behavior therapy for the family where coping skills for their own wellbeing, understanding the diagnosis, and allowing for support from others.
Here is a great resource with free materials for people with BPD or their family members.
“Borderline Personality Disorder Demystified: An essential guide for understanding and living with BPD,’’ by Robert O. Friedel, is an excellent book on the topic. It is available on Amazon.
Learn more about Shannon Lovell, LCSW.