Therapists describe the signs of borderline personality disorder
EVERYONE FEELS INTENSE emotions from time to time, especially in stressful situations. But, some people have trouble regulating their emotions, so much so that their vibe can change in a split second and can act impulsively. And, because of this, they often relationship problems.
If these behaviors sound familiar, you or someone you love may have borderline personality disorder (BPD).
BPD is a mental health condition where self-regulation of emotions is difficult. People “feel emotions intensely and for long periods of time, and it is more difficult for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotional trigger event,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
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“The disorder causes dysfunction in individuals’ daily lives, as it impacts how they think and feel about themselves, others, and the world,” says Anna Claire Seanor, M.Ed., APC, NCCclinician at The Berman Centera mental health and addiction treatment center in Atlanta.
People with this disorder find it difficult to respond to situations in emotionally appropriate and acceptable ways, Seanor says. This can lead to impulsiveness, poor self-image, unstable relationships, and sometimes self-harm.
Overall, the condition is rare, affecting approximately 1.4% of American adults, and most of those diagnosed have always been women. However, according to the NAMI, men are likely also affected, but their borderline personality disorder may be misdiagnosed.
However, borderline personality disorder can have harmful consequences on people with the disease and their loved ones. “If left untreated, people who are unable to regulate their emotions will experience dysfunction in areas of life such as work, school, relationships and social interactions, which negatively impact well-being. being holistic and quality of life,” says Seanor.
What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
BPD can be an ‘enigma’, says Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-Ca license Discussion area therapist. “It is often marked by an extreme fear of abandonment, intense anger and pronounced difficulty in relationships.”
Relationships are chaotic and unstable because people with BPD often suddenly and drastically change their view of others, according to Cleveland Clinic. They might idealize someone one day and despise them the next.
In addition, people with borderline personality disorder exhibit mood swings and impulsive behaviors, and regularly threaten to harm themselves.
Individuals also tend to have an unstable, distorted, or unclear self-image. They regularly feel shame and often perceive themselves as “bad,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. Thus, they could suddenly change their goals, careers or friends and sabotage their own success, for example by getting fired from their job or ruining their relationships.
The causes of borderline personality disorder aren’t fully understood, but most experts agree it’s likely a mix of factors, including genetics, brain function, and traumatic events such as abuse. physical or sexual experiences in childhood and neglect, separation or poor boundaries with parents.
Who is most likely to have borderline personality disorder?
Women have historically been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder more frequently, but Keohan believes this is a “diagnostic bias”. To research suggests that all genders likely experience borderline personality disorder in the same way.
However, the condition sometimes presents differently in men and women. Seanor says men with borderline personality disorder may display a history of substance abuse, explosive tempers and antisocial behavior. Women may present with eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.
“This distinction is important to recognize when considering gender gaps in the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder,” she says.
Women may also be more likely to seek psychotherapy and be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Men might more frequently use rehab and substance abuse treatments and might be misdiagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression.
“It is also important to note that due to their explosive and antisocial tendencies, men are more likely to be incarcerated and not have access to mental health treatment, which makes them more underrepresented,” says Seanor.
Signs of Borderline Personality Disorder
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), signs of borderline personality disorder include:
- Unstable or changing relationship patterns – which alternate between idealizing and devaluing someone
- fear of abandonment
- Unstable self-image
- Struggles with identity or sense of self
- Impulsive or self-destructive behaviors, such as overspending, substance abuse, reckless driving, or unprotected sex
- Self-harm, including suicide threats or attempts
- Mood swings – periods of intense anxiety, depressed mood, or irritability that last for hours or days
- Constant feelings of worthlessness or sadness
- Inappropriate, intense, or uncontrollable anger, sometimes followed by shame or feelings of guilt
- Paranoia or loss of understanding of reality, caused by stress
- Persistent feelings of boredom, emptiness, or dissatisfaction
- Dissociative feelings, where someone disconnects from their thoughts or sense of identity
How Loving Someone With BPD Affects You
Relationships are difficult for people with BPD. This is because they have a serious fear of abandonment, have trouble regulating their emotions, and act impulsively and recklessly, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They are also prone to outbursts of anger and rapid mood swings.
“These symptoms can alienate loved ones, making people with BPD more unstable with increased sadness, worthlessness, and fear,” says Seanor. “This cycle is difficult for anyone close to people with BPD.”
Intense emotions and a strong sense of abandonment lead people with BPD to believe that their partners or loved ones will leave them, so they often want constant validation of their commitment, Keohan says.
Still, “Loving someone with BPD is not an impossible task,” she says. Learning about the condition is an essential step in navigating the relationship and dealing with challenges.
“We never want to see our loved ones suffer, and that can be the challenge here,” Keohan says. “Although at the end of the day, we can never maintain a healthy relationship if we don’t take time for ourselves.”
Is BPD treatable?
People with borderline personality disorder may not always know they have the condition or realize that there are healthier ways to manage their emotions and relate to others.
According to the NAMI, psychotherapy and medication are common treatments for borderline personality disorder. Another is dialectical behavior therapy, which educates people on life skills and emotional regulation, Keohan says.
However, seeking treatment can be difficult for people with borderline personality disorder, she explains. “Therapy can also be a type of relationship, and still in modern times feel and be perceived as stigmatic. Talking can be a challenge in terms of relationship building and trust.
Trying to push a loved one into seeking treatment could drive them deeper into their illness, Seanor says. “It’s important that loved ones report the signs in a caring, supportive and non-judgmental way, while listening to their own needs.”
What to do when a partner or loved one has borderline personality disorder
Relationships aren’t just difficult for people with BPD. The condition affects everyone around them.
Seanor says to research shows that validating a person with the feelings and emotions of BPD—not agreeing with them—can help defuse, ground, and calm them. “This can be difficult, as the emotional reaction often doesn’t make sense to those unaffected by the disorder,” she adds.
Setting limits can also help. Seanor says boundaries create structure and accountability. “Holding individuals accountable for their emotional reactions helps prevent loved ones from experiencing unacceptable and potentially dangerous behaviors,” she says, and it creates room for growth and healing for everyone in the relationship.
Seek out a mental health professional if it all gets too much. Keohan says it will help you learn how to manage your relationship and move forward for the best.
“BPD is treatable, and if your partner has been diagnosed with it, it doesn’t necessarily change who they are or why they love you,” she says. “Leaving prematurely can be damaging for both of you, but it can certainly impact any future trust issues.”
But if the relationship is harmful to you — mentally, emotionally, or physically — Seanor says it’s usually best to end things.
Erica Sweeney is a writer who primarily covers health, wellness, and careers. She has written for The New York Times, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, Parade, Money, Business Insider and many more.