Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious personality disorder whose main symptoms include unstable relationships and moods, significant issues with a person’s own self-image, and behavior that reflects this instability and self-image issues. Many psychologists believe this is primarily a disorder of emotional regulation.
These issues impact nearly every aspect of a person’s life, disrupting their family and social relationships, school or work, and the ability to plan for their future. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “borderline” was coined as a term for this disorder as the person was originally thought to be at the “borderline” of psychosis.
Borderline personality disorder is fairly common as personality disorders go, perhaps affecting up to 2 percent of adults, mostly young women, according to the American Psychiatric Association. There is a high rate of self-injury — usually without suicidal intent. There is, however, also a significant rate of suicide attempts, and even completed suicide in more severe cases. People with BPD often need extensive mental health services. Yet, with help, many improve over time and are eventually able to lead productive lives.
Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder
While a person with depression or bipolar disorder typically endures the same mood for weeks, a person with BPD may experience intense bouts of anger, depression, and anxiety that may last only hours, or at most a day. These may be associated with episodes of impulsive aggression, self-injury, and drug or alcohol abuse.
Distortions in thinking and a person’s sense of self can lead to frequent changes in long-term goals, career plans, jobs, friendships, gender identity, and values. Sometimes people with BPD view themselves as fundamentally bad, or unworthy. They may feel unfairly misunderstood or mistreated, bored, and often empty. Such symptoms are most acute when people with BPD feel isolated and lacking in social support, and may result in frantic efforts to avoid being alone.
People with BPD often have highly unstable patterns of social relationships. While they can develop intense but stormy attachments, their attitudes towards family, friends, and loved ones may suddenly shift from idealization (great admiration and love) to devaluation (intense anger and dislike). Thus, they may form an immediate attachment and idealize the other person, but when a slight separation or conflict occurs, they switch unexpectedly to the other extreme and angrily accuse the other person of not caring for them at all.
Even with family members, individuals with this condition are sometimes highly sensitive to rejection, reacting with anger and distress to such mild separations as a vacation, a business trip, or a sudden change in plans. These fears of abandonment seem to be related to difficulties feeling emotionally connected to important persons when they are physically absent, leaving the individual with BPD feeling lost and perhaps worthless. Suicide threats and attempts may occur along with anger at perceived abandonment and disappointments.
People with BPD exhibit other impulsive behaviors, such as excessive spending, binge eating and risky sex. BPD often occurs together with other psychiatric problems, particularly bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and other personality disorders.