How To Recognize Borderline Personality Disorder

By Sarah Fader

Updated December 07, 2018

Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Many people find borderline personality disorder hard to understand. A common question is 'On the borderline of what?' The meaning of the name isn't as obvious as with some personality disorders, like antisocial or avoidant. The best way to understand borderline personality is to examine the DSM-5, the current diagnostic manual for mental disorders.ders.


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What Is the Borderline in BPD?

The term 'borderline' in BPD is an early name given to the disorder as it was understood when it was first described in 1938. People with borderline personalities were thought to be on the borderline of a treatable neurosis and the psychotic disorder schizophrenia.

However, since the 1970s, further investigation into the disorder has revealed that this old name is inadequate to describe it. The name still stands, but the debate continues in the psychiatric community. The most important thing to remember about borderline is that it is an old, outdated term that simply hasn't yet found its replacement.

What Is a Personality Disorder?

The first part of the borderline personality disorder definition you need to remember is that it is a personality disorder. All the traits and behaviors that accompany BPD are rooted in the personality.

About 30% of people who need mental health care have one or more personality disorders. Someone with a personality disorder has problems with their self-concept and trouble relating to other people in healthy ways. Anyone might have thoughts or behaviors that typify a personality disorder. If these behaviors only happen once or rarely, they are not a part of a disorder, but might instead be a reaction to a situation. That's because the personality is fixed even when circumstances change. Successful treatment of personality disorders is possible. It doesn't cure the disorder but can dramatically reduce its symptoms.

What About Borderline Personality?

Borderline personality disorder is one of 9 types of personality disorders. To fully define borderline personality disorder, you need to include the specific thoughts and behaviors that go along with this personality disorder. The two basic types of problems associated with BPD are an unstable sense of self and dysfunctional interpersonal relationships. Both components of the disorder show up in thoughts and behaviors.

Unstable Sense of Self

Poor Self-Image - People with BPD don't see themselves as others do. Their self-concept may be extremely distorted and is usually negative. They usually have periods of high self-confidence followed by periods of low self-esteem

Trouble Directing Yourself - If you have borderline personality disorder, you probably have trouble making concrete plans and following through with them. Your career path may be a jumble of false starts and lengthy detours. You may tend to let others or circumstances determine your course in life, because you don't stick with one goal to its completion.

Impulsive and Self-Damaging Behaviors - Dangerous behaviors are common with BPD. The person with this disorder might drive recklessly, go on wild spending sprees, have unprotected sex, abuse drugs and/or alcohol, binge eat, or impulsively take part in any other dangerous behavior. They may also threaten, attempt suicide, or engage in self-harm.


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Intense and Quickly-Changing Moods - Unlike familiar mood disorders such as bipolar or schizoaffective, borderline personality disorder features intense moods that nearly always change in a few days or even hours. Many people with BPD also suffer from anxiety, depression, or both.

Feeling Empty or Angry - A pervasive feeling of emptiness often goes along with BPD. Anger can also boil up quickly, and the person with borderline personality disorder usually has a tough time controlling it. The thing the person becomes angry about may be quite trivial to anyone else, but to him or her it's enough reason to become angry and hostile.

Paranoid Thoughts When Stressed - Paranoia can be a problem. It typically comes up only when stressed. However, because of poor self-esteem and interpersonal problems, stress may occur more often.

Dissociating When Stressed - One of the most extreme manifestations of BPD is the dissociative state that can happen when the person is under stress. They can lose touch with reality and even see themselves as if from the outside.

Interpersonal Difficulties

Abandonment Issues - People with borderline personality typically fear abandonment to such a degree that they are desperate and even panicky in their efforts to avoid it. Efforts to avoid abandonment can often lead to the very relationship loss they hope to avoid.

Unstable Relationships - For someone with BPD, relationships are both intense and unstable. This is partly due to experiencing the relationship in extreme terms, as the person vacillates between idealizing it and criticizing it. Another problem with relationships is that fear of abandonment leads to clinginess or pushing others way to avoid eventual rejection.

Anger Management Problems - Since extreme, sudden, and frequent anger is often a part of borderline personality, those who haven't learned how to control their anger can get into trouble. They may get into physical fights to the extent that their actions constitute assault. Criminality related to anger isn't uncommon.

Of course, the excessive anger isn't conducive to healthy interpersonal relationships such as marriage or parenthood. Those with BPD may get over anger quickly, but in some cases, this is after damage is already done to relationships.

Misinterpreting Facial Expressions - Borderline personality disorder features a tendency to see negative emotions where others don't. The person they are interacting with may not be expressing any emotion at all, but people BPD tend to see sadness, disgust, anger or fear when they look at another's face. This almost invariably leads to further interpersonal problems, because they base their behaviors on faulty interpretations.


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What to Do When You Recognize Borderline Personality Disorder Traits in Yourself

Borderline personality disorder may not be 'curable' but it can be improved. Both therapies and medications are used to help people cope with unhealthy personality traits.

Your life can change for the better after you take that first step to talk to a counselor about your suspicion that you have BPD. This personality disorder takes time to treat, but you gradually become healthier and happier throughout the course of the treatment.

Types of Therapy for Borderline Disorder

Many therapies have been tried for people with BPD, but the two that have proven most effective are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectic behavior therapy (DBT). Cognitive behavioral therapy examines your unhealthy thoughts and helps you replace faulty perceptions with reality-based thoughts. DBT uses a mindfulness practice to experience life in the moment, giving full attention to the information that you perceive through your five senses. Dialectic behavior therapy also teaches techniques for reducing the intensity of your emotions so that you can have better interpersonal relationships and improved self-esteem.

One option for treatment is to choose online counseling. This allows you to work on your personality disorder in whatever environment you find most comfortable. The counselor may use one or more techniques that have proven effective, such as cognitive therapy and dialectic behavior therapy. You can talk to a counselor online at BetterHelp.com for licensed professional help to begin the treatment process

What to Do When You Recognize BPD Symptoms in a Loved One

The best thing you can do when someone you care about seems to show signs of borderline personality disorder traits is to support them in seeking professional help. Before treatment can begin, they need to talk to someone who can make a clinical diagnosis.

Since a diagnosis is a complex decision based on an objective evaluation, you really can't do it yourself. To get a diagnosis, they would need to meet borderline personality disorder criteria. These criteria are outlined in detail in the DSM-5. A licensed mental health professional may use tests and observational evaluation in making a diagnosis.


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If you find out that your loved one does have BPD, you can help them tremendously by offering them healthy support. Talking to a therapist yourself can help you understand what words and behaviors will help your loved one reduce the impact of their borderline personality traits. You can learn how to interact with them so that their relationships become healthy and more satisfying.

You can also benefit from counseling, because your relationship with someone who has borderline personality disorder may be painful for you. Talking to a counselor gives you a chance to address your own feelings about the relationship

If you believe yourself or your loved one exhibit indicators that fit the BPD description, it's important to seek help as soon as possible. The right counselor can help with support and interventions that will improve the quality of life for you or your loved one. Help is just a click away when you choose online counseling available at BetterHelp.com. There's no better time than now to help yourself or your loved one live a better life.


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