5 Characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder

Mental health practitioners currently agree that the term “borderline personality disorder” (BPD) can be misleading because it makes some people think the person is “on the borderline” of having a mental disorder. BPD is a serious mental disorder characterized by instability in behavior, mood, self-image and ability to function in daily life. People with the disorder can experience episodes of depression, rage and anxiety that can last for short periods of time or even days and weeks. Here are five characteristics of the disorder, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Co-Occurring Disorders

Many people who have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are also diagnosed with other mental health conditions, including depression, substance abuse, anxiety and eating disorders. They are also at risk of self-harm, up to and including suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Behavioral Symptoms

While some of the behaviors exhibited by people with BPD can be seen in many different people, a repetitive pattern over time helps clinicians to identify the disorder. People with BPD can engage in impulsive, risky behaviors like unsafe sex, shopping sprees, and substance abuse. Relationships are intense but unstable, and sometimes can change from intense love to extreme hate. Not all people who practice self-harm like cutting have BPD, but people with BPD can cut themselves and show recurring suicidal behaviors.

Cognitive and Emotional Symptoms

The interests and values of people with BPD can change rapidly, sometimes in the course of a day. One of the hallmarks of BPD is an ever-changing, distorted or unstable sense of self. Those with the disorder report chronic feelings of emptiness, and can even report feeling cut off from their body, a condition known as dissociation. People with BPD suffer extreme stress, and may undertake desperate or extreme actions due to perceived fears, which range from paranoia to fears of abandonment by loved ones or friends.

Risk Factors

Current research is focusing on determining the causes of this personality disorder, including genetics, social and environmental causes, and brain structure and function. Researchers have learned that the disorder is about five times more likely to occur if a close family member has also been diagnosed. Childhood trauma, stress, and family hostility is strongly associated with BPD, although experts note that some people with the disorder have suffered no traumatic life events. Changes in brain function and chemistry also seem to be associated with a lack of impulse control and emotional reactions.

Family Stress

While BPD is very traumatic for those diagnosed with the disorder, family members and friends also experience trauma and stress. Family therapy can be recommended and beneficial, not only to relieve stress, but also to learn behaviors which could cause the BPD to worsen, or which might prove helpful.

BPD has been a mystery to many clinical psychologists in the past, and it remains a difficult to diagnose mental condition. There is no specific medication which has been found to benefit people with Borderline Personality Disorder, although clinicians will prescribe medications to treat symptoms, such as anxiety, depression and insomnia. Because there is such a high rate of suicide risk with BPD, medications that could lead to a fatal overdose are seldom prescribed. If you have a family member or friend with BPD, the condition can be overwhelming, and it may seem that you can’t help. Psychologists say that friends can offer emotional support and encourage positive behaviors and treatment. People with BPD can make positive changes and get better over time.

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