What is borderline personality disorder?
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 a pattern of unstable intense relationships, distorted self-image, extreme emotions and impulsiveness.
With borderline personality disorder, you have an intense fear of abandonment or instability, and you may have difficulty tolerating being alone. Yet inappropriate anger, impulsiveness and frequent mood swings may push others away, even though you want to have loving and lasting relationships.
Borderline personality disorder usually begins by early adulthood. The condition seems to be worse in young adulthood and may gradually get better with age.
If you have borderline personality disorder, don’t get discouraged. Many people with this disorder get better over time with treatment and can learn to live satisfying lives.
How common is borderline personality disorder?
There are more than four million people with BPD in the U.S. Although many people have never heard of BPD, it is actually more common than many well-known disorders, such as schizophrenia. Women are much more likely to be diagnosed with BPD. However, it is not known whether women are actually more prone to develop BPD or whether this is due to gender biases in the diagnosis of BPD. For example, it may be that men with the symptoms of BPD are just more likely to be misdiagnosed with other conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder or major depressive disorder. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of borderline personality disorder?
The common symptoms of borderline personality disorder are:
- An intense fear of abandonment, even going to extreme measures to avoid real or imagined separation or rejection
- A pattern of unstable intense relationships, such as idealizing someone one moment and then suddenly believing the person doesn’t care enough or is cruel
- Rapid changes in self-identity and self-image that include shifting goals and values, and seeing yourself as bad or as if you don’t exist at all
- Periods of stress-related paranoia and loss of contact with reality, lasting from a few minutes to a few hours
- Impulsive and risky behavior, such as gambling, reckless driving, unsafe sex, spending sprees, binge eating or drug abuse, or sabotaging success by suddenly quitting a good job or ending a positive relationship
- Suicidal threats or behavior or self-injury, often in response to fear of separation or rejection
- Wide mood swings lasting from a few hours to a few days, which can include intense happiness, irritability, shame or anxiety
- Ongoing feelings of emptiness
- Inappropriate, intense anger, such as frequently losing your temper, being sarcastic or bitter, or having physical fights
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes borderline personality disorder?
As with other mental disorders, the causes of borderline personality disorder aren’t fully understood. In addition to environmental factors — such as a history of child abuse or neglect — borderline personality disorder may be linked to:
- Some studies of twins and families suggest that personality disorders may be inherited or strongly associated with other mental disorders among family members.
- Brain abnormalities. Some research has shown changes in certain areas of the brain involved in emotion regulation, impulsivity and aggression. In addition, certain brain chemicals that help regulate mood, such as serotonin, may not function properly.
What increases my risk for borderline personality disorder?
There are many risk factors for borderline personality disorder, such as:
- 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.
- Personality traits that include impulsiveness and aggression may play a role in the development of borderline personality disorder.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is borderline personality disorder diagnosed?
Personality disorders, including borderline personality disorder, are diagnosed based on a:
- Detailed interview with your doctor or mental health provider
- Psychological evaluation that may include completing questionnaires
- Medical history and exam
- Review of your signs and symptoms
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, is often used by mental health providers to diagnose mental health conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.
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.
How is borderline personality disorder treated?
Borderline personality disorder is mainly treated using psychotherapy, but medication may be added. Your doctor also may recommend hospitalization if your safety is at risk.
Treatment can help you learn skills to manage and cope with your condition. With treatment, you can feel better about yourself and live a more stable, rewarding life.
Psychotherapy — also called talk therapy — is a fundamental treatment approach for borderline personality disorder. Your therapist may adapt the type of therapy to best meet your needs. The goals of psychotherapy are to help you:
- Focus on you current ability to function
- Learn to manage emotions that feel uncomfortable
- Reduce your impulsiveness by helping you observe feelings rather than acting on them
- Work on improving relationships by being aware of your feelings and those of others
- Learn about borderline personality disorder
Types of psychotherapy that have been found to be effective include:
- Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). DBT can include group or individual therapy designed specifically to treat borderline personality disorder. DBT uses a skills-based approach to teach you how to manage your emotions, tolerate distress and improve relationships.
- Schema-focused therapy. Schema-focused therapy can be done individually or in a group. It can help you identify unmet needs that have led to negative life patterns, which at some time may have been helpful for survival, but as an adult are hurtful in many areas of your life. Therapy focuses on helping you get your needs met in a healthy manner to promote positive life patterns.
- Mentalization-based therapy (MBT). MBT is a type of talk therapy that helps you identify your own thoughts and feelings at any given moment and create an alternate perspective on the situation. MBT emphasizes thinking before reacting.
- Systems training for emotional predictability and problem-solving (STEPPS). STEPPS is a 20-week treatment which involves working in groups that incorporate your family members, caregivers, friends or significant others into treatment. STEPPS is used in addition to other types of psychotherapy.
- Transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP). Also called psychodynamic psychotherapy, TFP aims to help you understand your emotions and interpersonal difficulties through the developing relationship between you and your therapist. You then apply these insights to ongoing situations.
- General psychiatric management. This treatment approach relies on case management and focuses on making sense of emotionally difficult moments by considering the interpersonal context for feelings. It may integrate medications, groups, family education and individual therapy.
Although no drugs have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration specifically for the treatment of borderline personality disorder, certain medications may help with symptoms or co-occurring problems such as depression, impulsiveness, aggression or anxiety. Medications may include antidepressants, antipsychotics or mood-stabilizing drugs.
Talk to your doctor about the benefits and side effects of medications.
At times, you may need more-intense treatment in a psychiatric hospital or clinic. Hospitalization may also keep you safe from self-injury or address suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
Recovery takes time
Learning to manage your emotions, thoughts and behaviors takes time. You may need many months or years of treatment, and you may always struggle with some symptoms of borderline personality disorder. You may experience times when your symptoms are better or worse. But treatment can improve your ability to function and help you feel better about yourself.
Because treatment can be intense and long term, you have the best chance for success when you consult mental health providers who have experience treating borderline personality disorder.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage borderline personality disorder?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with borderline personality disorder:
- Learn about the disorder so that you understand its causes and treatments
- Learn to recognize what may trigger angry outbursts or impulsive behavior
- Seek professional help and stick to your treatment plan — attend all therapy sessions and take medications as directed
- Work with your mental health provider to develop a plan for what to do the next time a crisis occurs
- Get treatment for related problems, such as substance misuse
- Consider involving people close to you in your treatment to help them understand and support you
- Manage intense emotions by practicing coping skills, such as the use of breathing techniques and mindfulness meditation
- Set limits and boundaries for yourself and others by learning how to appropriately express emotions in a manner that doesn’t push others away or trigger abandonment or instability
- Don’t make assumptions about what people are feeling or thinking about you
- Reach out to others with the disorder to share insights and experiences
- Build a support system of people who can understand and respect you
- Keep up a healthy lifestyle, such as eating a healthy diet, being physically active and engaging in social activities
- Don’t blame yourself for the disorder, but recognize your responsibility to get it treated
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: July 24, 2017 | Last Modified: July 24, 2017
Borderline personality disorder. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/borderline-personality-disorder/basics/definition/con-20023204. Accessed July 24, 2017.
How Common Is Borderline Personality Disorder? https://www.verywell.com/how-common-is-bpd-425184. Accessed July 24, 2017.