The 5 Most Common Symptoms Of Borderline Personality Disorder

Updated August 28, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Stephanie Deaver, LCSW

Borderline personality disorder is a serious mental illness that can be extremely uncomfortable to live with as the patient or as a loved one. The symptoms of this disorder tend to be very dramatic and often concerning or frightening, and loved ones are usually desperate to find help and treatment. Although people who have borderline personality disorder might not be entirely aware of their unusual behaviors, it’s nonetheless difficult to go through, and many patients who have recovered or who successfully manage the disorder realize their behaviors later on.

Although borderline personality disorder is serious, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be treated and managed. The first step is identifying the disorder; the next step is reaching out for help and support. This article will explore the most common symptoms of borderline personality disorder and give the reader a few preliminary resources to start treatment.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

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Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is an illness characterized by dramatic fluctuations in mood, self-image, and behavior. Individuals with borderline personality disorder generally also have a difficult time teasing apart their perceived reality with what’s actually real in regard to the behavior and moods of the people around them. Most often, individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder have very troubled relationships with loved ones and the disorder can sometimes lead to self-harm behaviors (such as cutting or eating disorders) if left untreated.

In regards to personality disorders, borderline personality disorder is comparatively rare in the United States. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only about 1.4% of adults in the US experience the symptoms of BPD; nearly 75% of this percentage are women. Borderline personality disorder is a serious disorder that requires immediate treatment if diagnosed to prevent harm from coming to the patient or the people around him or her.

The Most Common Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder is characterized by a few very specific symptoms. Even if you think that you or someone you know might have borderline personality disorder, it’s always important to get an expert opinion. Many personality disorders share similar symptoms, so getting an expert opinion is essential in obtaining reliable, effective treatment. Here are some of the most common symptoms of borderline personality disorder:

  1. Avoidance of Abandonment

People who have BPD often make valiant efforts to avoid being abandoned by the people they love. The sense of being abandoned may be real or imaginary, or even in some cases a combination of reality and imagination. Some of the behaviors that the individual with BPD might exhibit include either getting very close (physically or emotionally) very fast to the people that they care about or creating rapid and extreme distance between themselves and other people in anticipation of abandonment.

This avoidance of abandonment is clearer when framed out in terms of romantic type relationships. Depending on the person and the exact situation, the individual with BPD may either choose to become intimate with a new love interest very quickly, or completely cut off a long-term love relationship for no apparent reason. This same kind of oscillation between closeness and total avoidance can extend into other relationships with parents, siblings, and friends as well.

  1. Unstable Relationships
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Borderline individuals will commonly have unstable relationships with the people that they love. They see the people around them as being perfect one day, and monstrous the next. The difference between their perceptions of people they know varies greatly from one day to the next, which subsequently affects their behavior and the nature of the relationships. People with borderline personality disorder are more likely to have on-again, off-again relationships for this reason.

The technical terminology of this symptom is an alternation between “idealization” and “depersonalization”. In other words, a person with BPD might say about a person “I love them, they’re perfect” on one day, but the next day (or even a few moments later), they’ll change their perspective and say something like “I hate them, they’re the cause of all my problems”. Of course, there’s a lot of variation when it comes to the actual manifestation of these thoughts, but the pattern is more or less the same across the board.

  1. Impulsive Behaviors

BPD patients commonly demonstrate impulsive, dangerous behaviors. These behaviors vary from patient to patient and on the severity of the disorder’s manifestation, but these impulsive behaviors can include any of the following actions:

  • Self-harm (cutting, self-injury, etc.)
  • Suicide threats and/or attempts
  • Promiscuity and unsafe sex
  • Drug and substance abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Binge eating and/or starvation
  • Reckless driving

Impulsive behaviors can be very diverse. This is by far one of the most easily identifiable symptoms of borderline personality disorder, and it’s also one of the scariest and most stressful symptoms for the people who love the person with the disorder. If someone you love is engaging in dangerous behaviors that you believe could hurt them or someone else, contact a medical professional immediately for assistance.

  1. Severe Mood Swings

Dramatic alternations between severe anxiety and severe depression are characteristic, common symptoms of multiple personality disorders, and mood disorders, so this symptom alone can’t diagnose borderline personality disorder. However, it’s nonetheless an extremely common symptom of BPD. These mood swings may show themselves as a few hours or days of irritability, depression, or anxiety, followed by a rapid switch into another mood state.

Feelings of boredom or emptiness are also characteristic of borderline personality disorder. Intense emotional states in general are a common symptom of this disorder, but the primary characterizing factor that sets it apart from other similar disorders is the nature and frequency of the mood swings. One day a person with BPD may feel profoundly empty, but the next day they could seem to feel ecstatically fulfilled for no apparent reason, or they may in some cases owe the change in mood to something another person did.

  1. Dissociation 

Some people with borderline personality disorder may experience dissociative episodes. Feelings of dissociation involve feeling like you’re “out of your body”, a sense of lacking or losing one’s identity, or a feeling that the world around you isn’t real. The times when the person with BPD might experience dissociation are most often times of high stress; high stress can occasionally even cause psychotic episodes in people who are healthy, and the chance of an episode is dramatically increased for people with borderline personality disorder and other related personality disorders.

Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder is a serious mental illness that requires immediate treatment. While the causes of borderline disorder aren’t entirely clear yet (genetics, environmental factors, and impaired brain function are all suspects), there are still various treatment methods available to successfully manage the disorder. Some of the most popular methods for treating borderline personality disorder include:

  • Medication – Although most people would like to avoid medication whenever possible, medications such as antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotic medications are commonly prescribed with great success to treat BPD.
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  • Psychotherapy – Dialectical behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and psychodynamic psychotherapy are invaluable tools for someone with borderline personality disorder. Learning techniques for emotional management and awareness are essential to managing BPD. This is one of the most effective ways of improving the symptoms of borderline disorder over time.
  • Short-term hospitalization – Depending on the severity of the disorder, some individuals with borderline personality disorder may need to be hospitalized for a short period of time. This happens when the person becomes a threat to themselves or others, and 24-hour medical observation is necessary to protect them and the people around them.

There are therapists and psychiatrists who specialize in working with personality disorders and mood disorders, and contacting an expert is always the best way to go when it comes to successful treatment and recovery.

Other alternative treatment methods such as hypnotherapy, herbal mixtures, dietary changes, and specific supplements can reduce the symptoms of borderline personality disorder and make a big difference over time. Make sure to contact an alternative healthcare professional before utilizing any of these alternative methods.

Conclusion: 

Borderline personality disorder is thankfully not a very common personality disorder, but unfortunately for the people who do have it and who have loved ones with the disorder, it can be a difficult situation to overcome. Luckily, there are some very distinctive symptoms of the disorder that, if identified, can precipitate finding much-needed help from a medical professional. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel though, since there are a number of valid and effective methods for treating borderline personality disorder! There’s always hope for those who seek out support and assistance.

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If you believe that you or someone you know is suffering from borderline personality disorder, contact one of our licensed therapists at BetterHelp today. Reaching out for help is the first step toward a successful management of the symptoms and the potential for eventual recovery.


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