Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that severely impacts a person’s ability to regulate their emotions. This loss of emotional control can negatively impact their relationships with others. Follow this article to find out what it is like living with a borderline personality disorder.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is one of a set of ten discrete personality disorders – disorders affecting the characteristic and habitual ways the individual reacts to emotional stimuli, interpersonal situations, and impulses. At one time, the personality disorders were conceptualized as arising primarily from early life experience, whereas the acute, recurring, or chronic psychiatric syndromes, such as schizophrenia, depression, or bipolar disorder, were seen as having strong biological determinants.
A body of work examining personality development and temperament, inheritance of personality traits, and the neurochemistry and regional brain activity in personality disorder patients has led to recognition of the role of neurobiological factors in personality disorders. To find out more about borderline personality disorder and what it’s like living with a borderline personality disorder, follow this article.
Table of Contents
What is borderline personality disorder?
Borderline personality disorder is a mental health disorder that impacts the way you think and feel about yourself and others, causing problems functioning in everyday life. It includes self-image issues, difficulty managing emotions and behavior, and a pattern of unstable relationships.
With borderline personality disorder, you have an intense fear of abandonment or instability, and you may have difficulty tolerating being alone. Yet inappropriate anger, impulsiveness and frequent mood swings may push others away, even though you want to have loving and lasting relationships.
Borderline personality disorder usually begins by early adulthood. The condition seems to be worse in young adulthood and may gradually get better with age. If you have borderline personality disorder, don’t get discouraged. Many people with this disorder get better over time with treatment and can learn to live satisfying lives.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a condition characterized by difficulties regulating emotion. This means that people who experience BPD feel emotions intensely and for extended periods of time, and it is harder for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally triggering event.
This difficulty can lead to impulsivity, poor self-image, stormy relationships and intense emotional responses to stressors. Struggling with self-regulation can also result in dangerous behaviors such as self-harm (e.g. cutting).
What are the symptoms of borderline personality disorder?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mood disorder. It affects how you interact with others. It is the most common personality disorder. BPD can cause a wide range of symptoms, such as:
- Intense fear of rejection and abandonment
- Unstable moods
- Unstable self image
- Chronic feeling of emptiness
- Hard time experiencing pleasant activities
- Difficulty separating for school, work, or other activities
- Hard time calming down
- Black and white thinking
- High expectations of others and yourself
- Episodes of extreme sadness
- Sensitive to criticism
- Easily frustrated
- Bouts of anger and aggression
- Poor impulse control
- Impaired reasoning and thinking
- Feeling misunderstood
- Self-harming behavior
- Push/Pull behaviors
Intense fear of rejection and abandonment:
This intense fear is generally what drives all other borderline behaviors. These fears might be triggered by your boyfriend going out for drinks with his friends after work, or a friend asking to move your dinner plans to the following evening because she’s not feeling well. Others likely see these as reasonable, benign events and have a hard time understanding why they have hurt you.
This can cause rifts in your relationship and leave you feeling more alone and misunderstood. The fear that you’re feeling could come out looking like anger, clinginess, or attempts to thwart your loved ones plans. With help, you can learn to understand and express these fears in appropriate ways that will strengthen your relationship instead of damaging it.
Having borderline personality disorder does not mean that you experience different emotions than everyone else; it simply means that you sometimes experience stronger, or more intense, emotions than many other people. They may be so intense that you attempt to numb them or control them using self-mutilating behavior or other destructive behaviors.
Your moods may shift at any given moment, triggered by an event so inconspicuous that you might not even be aware of what the trigger was. You just know that you’re now feeling angry, or sad, or overjoyed. While these emotions might last up to a couple days, they will probably leave as quickly as they came. This can cause confusion to those around you.
Unstable self image:
Searching for our identity is one of the main tasks of being a teen or young adult. By the time we reach our late 20s or 30s, most people have a fairly good idea of who they are. People with BPD, however, may never feel that they know who they are. The need to please others often outweighs self-discovery, and how you perceive yourself may change depending on who you’re with or what you’re doing at the time.
You might view yourself as extremely competent and invincible around some people, and then believe you are hopelessly stupid around others. Your distorted self-image leaves you feeling confused, alone, and empty inside.
Chronic feeling of emptiness:
While many of the intense emotions experienced by people with BPD come and go, one feeling tends to stay: the feeling of emptiness. This is likely another symptom of an unstable or distorted self-image. When you’re around others, you become who you think they want you to be. Yet when they leave, nothing remains. You have no genuine sense of self to fall back on. This can leave you feeling empty inside and increase your fear of being alone.
Hard time experiencing pleasant activities:
The mood swings experienced with this mental illness can leave you on an emotional high, low, or completely numb. If you are in a state of numbness, you’ll have a hard time experiencing anything, including pleasurable experiences. Additionally, having borderline personality disorder is a constant stressor.
As you attempt to avoid rejection and abandonment, you try desperately to fit in and feel “good enough”. Activities that could have been enjoyable are instead filled with stress. You’re unable to be fully in the moment because you’re worried about making a good impression and being accepted by the people you’re with.
Black and white thinking:
One of the common BPD symptoms is to view others as either all good or all bad. You may idolize a person you care about one day and despise this person the next day. While everyone has both good and bad qualities at all times, you have a hard time seeing more than one side of a person.
If you are happy with someone you care about, you can’t find any fault with her. Yet if you are angry at this person, you forget her positive traits that you often admire and only see the negative. You likely feel the same way about yourself—you feel invincible one day and worthless the next.
High expectations of others and yourself:
People with BPD tend to have high, sometimes unrealistic, expectations of others and themselves. When these expectations aren’t met, you might view yourself or the person who did not meet your expectations as “all bad” for a time. When you don’t meet your own impossibly high standards, you might punish yourself by engaging in self-destructive behavior.
If someone else has not met your expectations, you might temporarily push away the relationship you have with that person. What others perceive as a simple mistake to be brushed off, people with BPD might perceive as a serious wrongdoing. You might hold onto a grudge for days, or until the person has apologized sufficiently.
Episodes of extreme sadness:
Borderline personality disorder is sometimes confused with bipolar disorder. While the two disorders are distinct from one another, BPD symptoms such as unstable moods and extreme sadness can be confused for bipolar disorder. One important difference between the two is that an episode of extreme sadness for a person with bipolar disorder tends to last longer (at least a few days) and come out of nowhere. Contrarily, extreme sadness for a person with BPD may fluctuate quickly and the trigger of it can usually be traced back to a conflict in a relationship.
Sensitive to criticism:
Underneath the BPD symptoms and behaviors is a deep pain and feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and never being enough for others. It’s no wonder, then, that criticism is particularly painful to hear for a person with borderline. If you are borderline, someone’s simple critiques to help you improve might feel more like an attack to your worth as a person.
If you struggle with borderline personality disorder, you might be easily frustrated with those around you, particularly the people you care about the most. You might feel frustration when things don’t go as planned in your relationship. Your feelings of frustration are probably expressed as anger.
Bouts of anger and aggression:
At times, you might experience episodes of intense anger and even become physically violent. But your mood swing probably won’t last long. As the anger subsides, you feel a deep shame for what you said or did. As shame turns to self-hatred, you might turn to self-mutilating behavior to punish yourself.
Poor impulse control:
A person with BPD may exhibit impulsive behavior in a variety of areas, including overspending, substance abuse, or reckless driving. A person with BPD who struggles with impulsive behavior will be impulsive in multiple areas. For example, you might binge eat, talk excessively, and engage in self-injurious behavior.
Impaired reasoning and thinking:
When the intense emotions of a person with BPD take control, the ability to think logically is often lost. If you find that you’re unable to relate to another person’s reasoning during arguments, this might be a sign that you have BPD.
The fear of abandonment, unstable self-image, intense anger, and other feelings can cause people with BPD to act in ways that are foreign to others. What others perceive as manipulation is actually a deep, desperate pain in you that sometimes comes out in ineffective ways. This disconnect between what drives behaviors and how they are interpreted by others can cause years of feeling misunderstood by those around you.
Self harming behavior:
As the intense emotions of BPD turn inward, many people turn their pain inward. Self-harming behaviors are a maladaptive way to accomplish one of many things. You might self-harm to dull emotional pain, to feel in control of your pain, to physically show others how you’re feeling, to punish yourself, or to punish someone else. These are just a few of many reasons behind the urge to self-harm. Self-harming often provides a temporary relief that is followed by more shame and self-hatred.
Pulling someone into a close relationship and then pushing that person away repeatedly is one of the most well-known symptoms of BPD. It causes the person in question to be confused about where they stand in the relationship. A common theory about why you might use this behavior if you have BPD is because you desperately crave closeness in your relationships but, fearing abandonment, you choose to reject this person before they can reject you.
The tragedy of this pattern is that the person you care about might become so confused, frustrated, and emotionally exhausted by these behaviors that they do eventually decide to end the unstable relationship. This fulfills the false negative beliefs you have, such as that you are worthless, undeserving of relationships, and that everyone will eventually leave you. So the painful cycle continues.
What are the causes of borderline personality disorder?
There’s no single cause of borderline personality disorder (BPD) and it’s likely to be caused by a combination of factors. Following are some of the main causes of BPD:
- Problem with brain chemical
- Problem with brain development
- Environmental factors
Genes you inherit from your parents may make you more vulnerable to developing BPD. A study found that if 1 identical twin had BPD, there was a 2-in-3 chance that the other identical twin would also have BPD. However, these results have to be treated with caution, and there’s no evidence of a gene for BPD.
Problem with brain chemicals:
It’s thought that many people with BPD have something wrong with the neurotransmitters in their brain, particularly serotonin. Neurotransmitters are “messenger chemicals” used by your brain to transmit signals between brain cells. Altered levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, aggression and difficulty controlling destructive urges.
Problem with brain development:
Researchers have used MRI to study the brains of people with BPD. MRI scans use strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce a detailed image of the inside of the body. The scans revealed that in many people with BPD, 3 parts of the brain were either smaller than expected or had unusual levels of activity. These parts were:
- the amygdala – which plays an important role in regulating emotions, especially the more “negative” emotions, such as fear, aggression and anxiety
- the hippocampus – which helps regulate behavior and self-control
- the orbitofrontal cortex – which is involved in planning and decision making
Problems with these parts of the brain may well contribute to symptoms of BPD. The development of these parts of the brain is affected by your early upbringing. These parts of your brain are also responsible for mood regulation, which may account for some of the problems people with BPD have in close relationships.
A number of environmental factors seem to be common and widespread among people with BPD. These include:
- Being a victim of emotional, physical or sexual abuse
- Being exposed to long-term fear or distress as a child
- Being neglected by 1 or both parents
- Growing up with another family member who had a serious mental health condition, such as bipolar disorder or a drink or drug misuse problem
What are some of the misconceptions about borderline personality disorder?
This disorder is misunderstood by many, including some mental health practitioners. This confusion can impact and influence the way that people are treated. Even worse, long-standing myths can discourage people from seeking help for the condition, especially if they feel their experience is being misunderstood. Some common myths and misconceptions are:
- It is not treatable
- People suffering from BPD are victims of child abuse
- It affects only women
It is not treatable:
Borderline personality disorder is very treatable. In the past, since BPD affects someone’s personality, many were quick to conclude that it was untreatable because someone’s personality cannot be changed. More recently, many therapies have been proven effective as treatments, including dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), mentalization-based treatment (MBT), and transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP).
Now, a growing number of less intensive, generalist approaches, like general psychiatric management (GPM), are also being practiced around the world. A BPD diagnosis doesn’t mean that someone will live with symptoms forever. With treatment, the symptoms ebb and flow. Many people with the condition can have high-functioning lives.
People suffering from BPD are victims of child abuse:
This is not always the case. While some cases of borderline personality disorder stem from childhood trauma, a diagnosis is more likely to be the result of a combination of environmental factors. These can include attachment, childhood trauma, biological factors, and social factors.
It affects only women:
It’s estimated that over 14 million Americans have BPD. Once more commonly diagnosed in women, the largest study done on psychiatric disorders shows that it occurs equally often in women and men. One explanation behind it appearing to affect more women is that women are more likely to seek mental health care than men.
Since research on BPD is often conducted in a psychiatric setting, it was previously less likely for men with borderline personality disorder to be included in these research efforts. Another explanation is that BPD is often misdiagnosed in men. Many men with the condition are often diagnosed with depression or PTSD.
What is the criteria for diagnosing someone with BPD?
BPD is a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and emotion, as well as marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- Chronic feelings of emptiness
- Emotional instability in reaction to day-to-day events (e.g., intense episodic sadness, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
- Identity disturbance with markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
- Impulsive behavior in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
- Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
- Pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by extremes between idealization and devaluation (also known as “splitting”)
- Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-harming behavior
- Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.
What is it like living with a borderline personality disorder?
Living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) poses some challenges. Intense emotional pain and feelings of emptiness, desperation, anger, hopelessness, and loneliness are common. These symptoms can affect every part of your life. Despite the challenges, many people with BPD learn how to cope with the symptoms so they can live fulfilling lives.
- Your relationships and BPD
- Your work and BPD
- Your physical health and BPD
- BPD and law
Your relationships and BPD:
BPD can have a major impact on your relationships. In fact, having difficulties in relationships is one of the primary symptoms of BPD. People with BPD can have many arguments and conflicts with loved ones or a lot of relationships that repeatedly break up. The way that you feel about your family, friends, or partner can change dramatically from day-to-day or hour-to-hour. These patterns can be very difficult both for the person with BPD and those who care about them.
Your work and BPD:
Work, school, or other productive pursuits can give us a sense of purpose in life. Unfortunately, BPD can interfere with your success at work or school. Since BPD has such an impact on relationships, people with BPD may find themselves in trouble with co-workers, bosses, teachers, or other authority figures. The intense emotional changes may also impact work or school; you may have to be absent more often due to emotional concerns or hospitalization.
Your physical health and BPD:
Unfortunately, BPD can also have a major impact on your physical health. BPD is associated with a variety of conditions, including chronic pain disorders such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, obesity, diabetes, and other serious health problems. BPD is also associated with less-than-healthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol use, and lack of regular exercise.
BPD and law:
Some of the behaviors associated with BPD can lead to legal problems as well. The anger associated with it can lead to aggression (e.g., assaulting others, throwing objects, or acting out against others’ personal property). Impulsive behaviors, such as driving recklessly, misusing substances, shoplifting, or engaging in other illegal acts, can also lead to trouble.
Living with a borderline personality disorder can be one of the most challenging experiences of your life. Being constantly on edge, feeling unsafe and out of control, and unable to trust others are just some of the symptoms that make life with BPD so difficult.
As you might already know, BPD is a psychiatric illness characterized by an inability to maintain healthy relationships and emotional instability due to a pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships and impulsivity, beginning by early adulthood. It affects men and women equally, but women are more likely to seek help for their symptoms.
Living with a borderline personality disorder means having to deal with intense emotional highs and lows that can make it hard to keep up with day-to-day activities such as work or school. You may also have impulsive behavior that makes it difficult for you to make normal decisions regarding money or other important aspects of your life.
Living with a borderline personality disorder can be difficult and challenging, but it is not impossible. If you are living with a borderline personality disorder, here are some tips that may help.
It’s important to remember that you are not alone in your struggle with this disorder. There are many people who have overcome the symptoms of BPD and are now thriving. You can also find support from others through online communities like BPD Central, which provides resources for people who have borderline personality disorder or their loved ones.
If you feel like your life is spiraling out of control, talk to someone who understands what it’s like to live with this condition. Perhaps ask for advice about how to deal with the challenges you face each day, or ask them how they overcame some of their own difficulties by seeking help from professionals such as therapists or doctors (if necessary).
How can you cope with borderline personality disorder?
People with BPD do not have to resign themselves to a life of emotional pain. There are a number of things you can do to help you cope with the symptoms. Some of the coping mechanisms are:
- Get help
- Safety plan
- Get support
- Take care of yourself
- Learn more
BPD is a very serious disorder. The intense experiences associated with BPD are not something that anyone should face alone. Fortunately, there are a number of effective treatments for BPD. Finding a mental health professional you feel comfortable with and discussing your symptoms and treatment options is one of the most important steps you can take for your health.
BPD causes very painful emotions and, as a result, it is not uncommon for mental health emergencies (for example, active suicidality) to arise. For this reason, it is critical for you to have a safety plan in place before a crisis happens.
Having the support of your family, friends, or partner can be a big help. But, not everyone has someone to turn to when things get difficult. You may need to find ways to connect with others and to build a support network for yourself. BPD is not an uncommon disorder; it occurs in about 1.4% of the population. That means that there are roughly 4 million people with BPD in the U.S. alone. Many of those people are looking for support, just like you.
Take care of yourself:
It is important that people with BPD take good care of themselves. Healthy self-care can help reduce emotional pain, increase positive emotions, and reduce the emotional ups and downs you may experience. Some of the most basic things like eating nutritious and regular meals, practicing good sleep hygiene, and getting regular exercise will help tremendously. Also, try to take time for relaxation and stress-reduction and schedule enjoyable activities into your daily life.
When it comes to your mental health, knowledge is power. Educate yourself about the symptoms, causes, and treatments of BPD. Learn about ways to manage your symptoms. Share what you have learned with the people in your life who are affected by it.
How does it feel to live with borderline personality disorder? People living with BPD often have an intense fear of instability and abandonment. As a result, they have problems being alone. The condition is also known for anger, mood swings, and impulsiveness. These qualities can dissuade people from being around someone with BPD.
Borderline personality disorder is often misunderstood. It’s time to change that. Borderline personality disorder is sometimes known as emotionally unstable personality disorder. It is a personality disorder which affects how you think and feel about yourself and others. People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) often have a strong fear of abandonment, struggle to maintain healthy relationships, have very intense emotions, act impulsively, and may even experience paranoia and dissociation.
It can be a scary illness to live with, which is why it’s so important that people with BPD are surrounded by people who can understand and support them. But it’s also an incredibly stigmatized illness. Due to an abundance of misconceptions around it, many people with the disorder feel scared to speak out about living with it.
Relationships can feel like a whirlwind at times, because when someone with BPD — especially those grappling with chronic feelings of emptiness or loneliness — makes a real connection, the rush can be just as intense as any other emotion they experience.
This can make being in a relationship with someone with BPD difficult, but it also means that this is a person that has so much love to offer. They just want to know that their feelings are returned, and may need a little more reassurance to ensure that the relationship is still fulfilling for you both.