What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

By: Ellie Turner (@potteroaks)

Having borderline personality disorder (BPD) is not synonymous to "acting crazy." BPD is a serious mental illness that doesn't allow healthy emotion regulation. The term "borderline" can often be misleading, as it refers to the old belief that BPD suffers are on the border of psychosis and neurosis. BPD is understood to be a personality disorder, which is a dysfunctional way of thinking due to a difference in how suffers think, perceive, feel or relate to others. Sometimes BPD is referred to as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder or Emotional Instability Disorder.

BPD is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, which can include genetic predisposition and childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, loss or bullying.

The symptoms of BPD are:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment, which include physically clinging to someone or constantly calling them. (This does not include self-harm or suicidal behaviors.)
  • A pattern of unstable or intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation. This can be seen as loving someone one day and hating them the next.
  • An unstable sense of self. Not knowing who you really are, frequent change of jobs or even changing gender or sexuality.
  • Impulsivity in 2 areas that are self-damaging: spending money you don't have, unprotected sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating. (This does not include self-harm or suicidal behaviors.)
  • Recurrent suicidal behaviors and gestures, threats or engaging in self-mutilating behavior.
  • Instability to due to intense emotional mood swings that usually last minutes, hours or a maximum of a few days.
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness.
  • Inappropriate or intense anger or difficulty controlling anger.
  • Transient, stress-related paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms.

You must have at least 5 of the 9 symptoms over a significant amount of time in order to be diagnosed with BPD. There are 256 combinations of symptoms that result in a diagnosis of BPD, making it a very diverse disorder. BPD is often diagnosed co-morbid with other conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or another personality disorder. BPD is often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder due to overlapping symptoms. It is important that if you think you're suffering from BPD to get checked on by mental health professional.

There is a detrimental belief that BPD is untreatable or difficult to treat, which happens to be incorrect. This may stop people from seeking help, when in reality, BPD suffers see a major decrease in symptoms when they are engaged in treatment. Therapies such as Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy give people with BPD new coping skills to regulate their emotions so they can lead a highly functioning life. There is no specific medication to treat BPD, but it can be used to treat BPD or other co-morbid conditions.

There are a lot of negative misconceptions about BPD such as being manipulative and attention seeking. This is mainly due to frantic behavior and high rates of self-harm and suicide amongst people with BPD. About 60-70% of people with BPD will attempt suicide at some point in their lives, so you should never ignore self-harm or suicide threats from someone with BPD. If you believe they are in danger, do not leave them alone. Instead, you should encourage them to talk to you or someone that they trust.

Although it can be difficult to be close to someone with BPD, people with BPD experience intense positive emotions as well and are often loving, caring and extremely grateful. The sad nature of the BPD pushes people away, but if you stick by someone with BPD, you could have a very loyal person in your life. Some people with BPD who stick with treatment no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for BPD. If you believe that you have BPD, please don't hesitate to seek professional help. Things can get better.

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