The Basics of Borderline Personality Disorder

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Technically, BPD is a mood disorder like bipolar or major depressive disorders. Borderline personality disorder, however, is marked by different struggles and symptoms. Someone with this disorder deals with moods that vary in pattern, leading to problems with behavior regulation, as well as self-image.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, someone with BPD can move between moods of anxiety, anger, and depression. These moods may be interspaced with periods of “normalcy,” and each mood can last hours or even days.

The symptoms of BPD can make normal life difficult if they aren’t managed properly. The Office of Women’s Health notes that BPD can cause problems at home and work, damaging professional, social, and familial relationships.

What Causes Borderline Personality Disorder?

As with many other mood disorders, the exact cause of borderline personality disorder is not known. However, research has indicated that certain factors can lead to an increased risk of being diagnosed with BPD.

  • Family history and genetics. Individuals who have an immediate relative diagnosed with BPD are more likely to be diagnosed with the same condition than individuals who have no family history of the disorder.
  • Trauma, especially in childhood. Persons diagnosed with BPD often experienced trauma in the past, particularly in early childhood or adolescence. Abandonment or abuse (including physical, emotional, or sexual) in childhood can increase the risk of being diagnosed with BPD in the future.
  • Changes in the brain. In some cases, a physical change in the way the brain is structured or functions can lead to BPD. This can occur due to medical conditions, physical trauma, or other factors, but research hasn’t yet clearly explained the relationship between brain structure and BPD.

Borderline Personality Disorder by the Numbers

The Office on Women’s Health estimates that two in 100 adults have BPD and notes that women are more likely to struggle with this disorder than men. The National Alliance on Mental Illness indicates that around three-quarters of the people diagnosed with BPD are female.

Unfortunately, not everyone who has BPD seeks or receives the proper treatment. The NIMH reveals that only around 42% of people with BPD reported that they received mental health treatment within the previous year.

However, treatment is important and can help individuals with BPD to manage their symptoms and live a healthier life. The National Alliance on Education for BPD notes that outcomes can be positive for people who actively engage in treatment, and many individuals report reduced impulsive behavior symptoms as they age into their 40s.

Signs and Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder can only be diagnosed by a trained health care professional, and the symptoms can present differently in each person. Some of the symptoms of BPD are also symptoms of other mental health disorders. Physical health issues can also cause some of these mental health symptoms, so it’s important to talk to a professional about your symptoms before you assume you have any type of diagnosis.

Symptoms of BPD can vary from mild to extremely severe. Some common symptoms include:

  • Taking excessive or frantic action to avoid being abandoned by loved ones, whether or not the potential abandonment is something that is real or in the person’s imagination
  • Impulsive, reckless, or dangerous behavior, including actions such as unsafe sex or spending inappropriately or excessively
  • A self-image that is distorted
  • Feeling empty or experiencing ennui on a consistent and chronic basis
  • Unstable relationships, especially romantic relationships that swing between idealizing someone and detesting them
  • Mood swings that last for a few hours or days that include depression or anxiety
  • Uncontrolled anger, especially when the person later feels guilt over their emotions or actions
  • Paranoid thoughts that are related to stress
  • Feeling disconnected from thoughts, emotions, and what is happening around oneself
  • Acts of self-injury

Treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder notes that medication often plays less of a role in the treatment of BPD than it does for some other mood disorders. However, that doesn’t mean medication is completely ineffective. If someone is experiencing certain symptoms, such as anxiety or depression, that can be treated with medication, medical professionals may prescribe medication, at least during the early part of someone’s treatment path.

However, therapy is typically the primary focus of treatment for borderline personality disorder. While the type of therapy used may depend on your specific symptoms and the severity of your BPD, as well as the provider’s best practices and preferences, dialectical behavioral therapy is a common approach in treating this disorder.

Dialectical behavioral therapy typically involves both individual therapy sessions, as well as group therapy and skills training. The therapy works to help someone develop better coping mechanisms while also learning to accept themselves and the world — as it is — around them. During therapy, individuals with BPD practice learning to value themselves so they are less likely to fear abandonment. They also work on developing skills for managing their own emotions and reactions.

As with any type of mental health therapy, the goals and path through treatment depend heavily on the unique issues faced by the person diagnosed. Treatment for BPD can take place in inpatient or outpatient settings, and which path is right for you depends on your current environment, your support system, and the severity of your symptoms.

How to Get Help & Additional Resources

This guide is provided for educational purposes only and is not meant to provide medical advice or recommendations about treatment. If you or someone you love is struggling with any of the symptoms described above or you think you may have BPD, contact a medical professional or local behavioral health clinic today for more information and help with navigating treatment options.