Borderline personality disorder (BPD) typically involves symptoms such as risky behavior, intense fear of abandonment, periods of paranoia, extreme mood swings, and a pattern of unstable relationships. Risk factors for BPD may include family history, the structure and function of the brain, and various environmental, cultural, and social factors.
What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder that can affect the way a person thinks or feels about themselves and others. People with borderline personality disorder generally experience symptoms beginning in adolescence or early adulthood. This disorder is typically characterized by a long-term pattern of strong emotional responses, unstable relationships, a distorted self-image, and impulsive behaviors that may affect how individuals with BPD feel about themselves and how they relate with others.
Symptoms Of Borderline Personality Disorder
Symptoms of borderline personality disorder can vary among individuals, and it tends to manifest mostly in adults, as it is a personality disorder. Some people may experience several symptoms, but others may only experience limited signs of the disorder. The severity and duration of symptoms can also vary among individuals.
The symptoms of borderline personality disorder may be incited by what some consider simple events. For example, an individual with borderline personality disorder may become distressed when separated from people with whom they feel close, such as when traveling to work or school.
Some common symptoms of borderline personality disorder can include:
Risky Or Impulsive Behaviors
People with BPD may be likely to engage in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex, reckless driving, alcohol or substance use, and binge eating. They may also exhibit impulsive behaviors, such as gambling, going on spending sprees, or suddenly ending positive relationships for no apparent reason.
Intense Fear Of Abandonment
A fear of abandonment is another common symptom experienced by people with borderline personality disorder. This fear can be so severe that a person may engage in extreme measures, such as faking illness, to avoid perceived separation or rejection from others.
Periods Of Paranoia
Stress-related paranoia or loss of contact with reality can be common for those with BPD. Episodes of paranoia may be as brief as a few minutes but can last for much longer periods in some cases.
Extreme Mood Swings
Individuals living with borderline personality disorder may also experience intense, inappropriate anger. Such anger may present as suddenly losing their temper or acting bitter or sarcastic, and some people may engage in physical fights.
A Pattern Of Intense, Unstable Relationships
People living with BPD often experience relationships involving extreme emotional shifts. There may be emotional patterns ranging from extreme idealization (being madly in love) and closeness to anger and intense dislike.
BPD Vs. Bipolar Disorder
The symptoms of borderline personality disorder can be similar to those of bipolar disorder. The primary difference may be that people living with bipolar disorder typically experience longer periods of mood stability. A mental health professional can be helpful in determining the proper diagnosis.
Potential Substance Use
People who live with borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder may resort to substance use to cope with the symptoms they’re experiencing. The combination of a mental health disorder and substance use can greatly disrupt a person’s life and well-being. As a result, such an individual may need concurrent treatment for substance use and their mental health disorder.
What Causes Borderline Personality Disorder?
The exact cause of borderline personality disorder is currently unknown, and researchers and clinicians often vary in their hypotheses. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, three risk factors may primarily contribute to BPD: family history; the structure and function of the brain; and environmental, cultural, and social factors.
Some research suggests that the structure and function of the brains of people with borderline personality disorder may differ from those without the disorder, particularly in the areas that affect the control of emotions and impulses, primarily the prefrontal cortex. Additionally, genetics and social, cultural, and environmental factors are believed to increase a person’s risk of developing BPD.
People who have experienced neglect or abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or an unstable environment, especially during the developmental stages of early childhood, may also be at increased risk of developing borderline personality disorder. Having a first-degree relative, such as a sibling or parent, with BPD has also been associated with the occurrence of BPD, as well as living with certain mental health conditions, such as eating disorders.
Another hypothesis regarding the cause of BPD involves brain chemistry. A hormone compound in blood called serotonin, which is usually responsible for mood control, typically transmits signals from one area of the brain to another. Abnormalities in serotonin production and absorption may make some people more susceptible to developing borderline personality disorder and other mental health conditions.
Getting An Accurate Diagnosis
Borderline personality disorder is generally believed to have first been diagnosed in the early 20th century. Because BPD may not be as commonly known as other personality disorders, misdiagnoses can be common. More people with the disorder may receive accurate diagnoses and treatment as more research is completed and mental health professionals are better equipped with the knowledge needed to treat personality disorders effectively.
The process of diagnosing borderline personality disorder is often multilayered. A medical exam, which can help rule out underlying medical conditions that may be the cause of symptoms, is usually the first step. Diagnosis can also involve completing a clinical interview, gathering a family history, and administering assessments or tests.
Because personality is believed to continue developing through adolescence, diagnosing children with borderline personality disorder is an issue of debate among some mental health professionals. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) sets standards for diagnosing behavioral, personality, and mood disorders as well as other mental illnesses, and it suggests caution when evaluating and diagnosing children with any personality disorder. This is because some personality disorders present symptoms that mirror typical adolescent behavior.
Overall, an official diagnosis of borderline personality disorder generally requires that at least five primary symptoms be present in an individual. Those primary symptoms of BPD may include:
- Intense or unstable interpersonal relationships
- Impulsive behavior
- Self-destructive behavior
- Fear of abandonment
- Poor self-image
- Emotional instability
- Difficulty controlling intense anger
- Feelings of emptiness or worthlessness
- Extreme suspiciousness or feelings of being “disconnected”
Treating Borderline Personality Disorder
The treatment approach for borderline personality disorder may include a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and hospitalization. Treatment plans are generally determined by the severity of a person’s symptoms and willingness to comply with a recommended care plan.
Although medication may not cure borderline personality disorder, some medications may be useful in relieving symptoms associated with the disorder. Each individual may respond to medication differently. Therefore, patients are encouraged to follow directions for medications, keep follow-up appointments, and report any changes in mood or behavior or any unpleasant side effects to their medical provider. Individuals with borderline personality disorder should also avoid starting or stopping medication without the guidance of a medical professional.
The most common treatment for borderline personality disorder is generally psychotherapy, often referred to as talk therapy. Psychotherapy may help individuals cope with mental health challenges and emotional difficulties. It usually focuses on managing or controlling psychological symptoms so that the affected person can function more effectively. Commonly used types of face-to-face or online BPD therapy include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is often the most effective treatment for BPD, as it was developed specifically as an offshoot of CBT to treat BPD. The founder of DBT, Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., was also diagnosed with BPD and used her experience with this condition to develop the treatment for mental health professionals and clients worldwide.
What Is CBT?
Cognitive-behavioral therapy typically helps identify and change unhealthy beliefs and inaccurate perceptions that an individual experiences regarding themselves or others. These changed perceptions and beliefs can then positively affect a person’s emotions and behaviors. CBT can teach a person healthy ways to react to feelings of anxiety, anger, and insecurity. In addition to BPD, CBT is also commonly used with eating disorders, depression, anxiety, or other disorders.
What Is DBT?
Dialectical behavior therapy is generally considered to be designed specifically for people with borderline personality disorder. Developed by Dr. Marsha Linehan, it can be thought of as a special type of cognitive-behavioral treatment for borderline personality disorder.
DBT generally takes participants through several stages and builds core skills like mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotional control, and distress tolerance.
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) usually involves focusing on individual psychotherapy and group skills training. DBT often teaches participants how to apply the skills learned in real-life situations by structuring their environment and continuing to work with a treatment team. Dialectical behavior therapy typically requires weekly appointments so that mental health professionals can monitor progress effectively.
Individual psychotherapy usually focuses on helping a person grasp an understanding of borderline personality disorder, what symptoms may occur, and how to manage symptoms when they arise.
Group skills training often includes the following four modules:
- Practicing mindfulness or awareness in the present moment
- Tolerating distress and pain in challenging situations
- Being more effective in interpersonal relationships by asking for what you want and saying no in appropriate ways
- Controlling emotions by increasing understanding of the function of emotions as well as the associated actions
While both medical and psychological treatment for borderline personality disorder can be effective independent of each other, many people find that a combination of medication and psychotherapy creates the best treatment results.
Online Therapy May Help You Manage BPD Symptoms
Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a common form of treatment for BPD, but it may not always be convenient to attend sessions in person. Online therapy may be a more accessible alternative for those with BPD who would prefer to get help from home (or anywhere they have a stable internet connection).
According to a study in the International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, online DBT proved to be as effective as traditional in-office therapy.
With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can speak with a therapist via audio or video chat at a time that works for you. Also, if you have questions or concerns in between sessions, you can contact your therapist via in-app messaging at any time of the day or night, and they’ll get back to you as soon as they can.
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