Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness characterized by unstable moods, extreme emotional reactions, impulsive behavior and a history of unstable relationships. Those with BPD often suffer from very low self-esteem, feelings of victimization and an intense fear of criticism, rejection or abandonment. Many engage in self-harm or substance abuse. Approximately 1.6 percent of adults in the U.S. suffer from BPD in a given year.

Sufferers of BPD tend to feel emotions, both positive and negative, more intensely than the average person, and it may take longer for them to recover from a severe emotional experience. They can become easily overwhelmed with negative emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety or shame.

Researchers have found a strong link between the development of BPD and a history of childhood abuse. Those with BPD are more likely to have experienced a traumatic childhood event or chronic maltreatment, including emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

BPD is sometimes mistaken for or misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder (BD), as the two disorders share many of the same symptoms, such as unstable moods and impulsive actions. A few differences, however, are that BPD moods tend to cycle much more quickly, often several times a day. Also, the moods of those with BPD tend to be more directly linked to outside events or situations, while bipolar moods are more inherent and often appear with no warning or environmental trigger.

Psychotherapy, rather than medication, is considered the first line of treatment for people with BPD. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was designed specifically for patients with BPD and is considered the most effective type of therapy. DBT focuses on the act of mindfulness, or paying close attention to the present emotion. During DBT, the patient learns to analyze and control their extreme emotions and reduce destructive behaviors.

Example: Joe started seeing a therapist twice a week after receiving a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. He is now more conscious of his thoughts and emotions and has far fewer angry outbursts.