What exactly is Borderline Personality Disorder?

There are so many misconceptions about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It is often used in everyday conversation in reference to individuals who appear to have split personalities or intense mood swings. Sadly, it is typically used as a joke or in passing, but this casual jargon can be incredibly confusing for anyone questioning whether or not they actually have BPD. So let’s clear up some of the confusion and explore what a Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis actually is.

Is it really Borderline Personality Disorder?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) is used as a reference for professionals in diagnosing disorders. Even if you aren’t a mental health professional, understanding some of the features of BPD can be helpful to appreciate what you might be going through and that you are not alone. Please however understand that diagnosing Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) requires a qualified professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist and is more complex than simply meeting the below criteria.

In a nutshell, here is what the DSM-V says about a Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis:

A. Individuals struggle to function independently as a result of:

  • having an extremely low self image, chronic feelings of emptiness, excessive self criticism OR
  • having unstable goals and aspirations, or lack of future plans (i.e. school or career plans)

B. Individuals struggle to function within a relationship:

  • lack of ability to show empathy to others and assuming the worst OR
  • showing an intense mistrust in a relationship which leads to extreme intimacy or neediness which is quickly   followed by withdrawal.

C. Experiencing frequent mood changes, anxiousness, separation insecurities, or depression
D. Impulsive behavior whether that be through risk taking, risky behavior, or sudden hostility.

While not every symptom listed above is needed for a formal diagnosis, symptoms in each section A-D should be present. Also these personality traits should be impactful to daily life over a wide range of time and across a wide range of events. It may be an odd question but, is the inconsistencies within the individual consistent across time?

What causes Borderline Personality Disorder?

It is only human nature to want to pinpoint a cause of such an impactful disorder because then we may have something or someone to blame our frustrations on. Unfortunately the causes of BPD are as complex as the disorder itself. Oftentimes a neglectful childhood, abuse, or past traumatic experience maybe linked to BPD, but this is not always the case. There are also genetic factors involved that can lead to a development of BPD. Like many disorders, there are typically environmental factors and biological factors that lead to BPD.

What does BPD look like within relationships?

If you are still wondering if you or someone you love has BPD, sometimes the clearest way to see symptoms of BPD is through interaction with others.
Look for any of the following signs:

  • extreme reactions to minor stressors
  • frequent threats of suicide or self harm
  • actual self harm
  • trouble establishing trust with others
  • going back and forth between the appearance of extreme love and extreme hate within a relationship
  • attempts to manipulate emotions of others, which may or may not be intentional
  • not able to cope with intense emotions (may avoid conversations, retreat to alcohol or drugs, or infidelity as a way to avoid dealing with emotions)
  • a bad track record with past friendships or relationships (as individuals with BPD tend to ultimately push close relationships away)

Related reading:

Caring for Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder
Going from Good to Great in Your Relationship
Making the Most of Couples Counselling

What now?

If you think that you or someone you know may have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), your next step is to go see a professional. You may be able to read from a fancy diagnostic manual for educational purposes but let’s leave the actual diagnosing to the professionals. Because BPD impacts interpersonal relationships, it is hard for friendships or relationships to last when BPD is involved. Professionals will provide you with useful tools and guidance to navigate through the ups and downs of BPD using evidence based therapy. Most importantly they will provide the hope and support needed to manage living with BPD.

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