Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a type of personality disorder, also known as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD). It is a mood disorder that affects the way a person thinks and feels about themselves and in relation to other people.
What is it?
Symptoms of BPD can be grouped into four areas. They can range from mild to severe and usually become evident in adolescence, persistent into adulthood:
- Emotional instability – you may experience intense negative emotions such as rage, shame, panic, fear, sorrow and feeling empty. You may have severe and unpredictable mood swings over a short space of time, for example you may feel suicidal and then quite positive a few hours later.
- Intense yet unstable relationships with others – you may feel that other people abandon you when you most need it and might make efforts to avoid being alone e.g. constantly calling/texting a person, making threats to harm or kill yourself if that person ever leaves you, calling them in the middle of the night etc. Alternatively, you might feel that others are smothering you and may emotionally withdraw from them or use verbal abuse towards them. These patterns may result in a “love-hate” relationship with others which can be confusing for people.
- Impulsive behaviour – you may find it extremely hard to control urges to self-harm or if you feel very depressed, you may attempt suicide. You may also find it very hard to control your urge to engage in reckless behaviour e.g. drug abuse, gambling or having unprotected sex with strangers.
- Disturbed patterns of thinking or perception – these include having upsetting thoughts (such as thinking you’re a bad person or that you don’t exist), having brief strange experiences (such as hearing voices for a few minutes) or experiencing prolonged episodes of abnormal experiences (such as experiencing both hallucinations and distressing beliefs).
There isn’t an established reason as to why people get BPD, but researchers have found that there are factors that can contribute to its development. These include:
- Trauma – early experiences of trauma and stress (e.g. sexual, physical or emotional abuse or neglect, loss, being exposed to chronic fear, family difficulties etc) may cause you to develop coping strategies or beliefs about yourself and others which become detrimental as time passes. However, this isn’t set in stone, it is possible to experience BPD without having a history of trauma.
- Genetics – you are more likely to be given a diagnosis of BPD if someone in your close family has it, but it’s hard to know whether it is inherited from your parents or if it is caused by other factors such as the environment you grow up in or the things you learn from the people you are around the most.
- Problems with brain development – in a study of the brains of people with BPD, it was found that three areas of the brain responsible for regulating emotions, behaviour and self control are smaller or have unusual levels of activity. The development of these areas are affected by your upbringing.
So who knows, maybe a combination of factors could be involved! Perhaps you are more susceptible to developing BPD because of your genes, but through stressful and/or traumatic life experiences, you become triggered and develop it.
How Can I Help Myself?
- Talk to someone – talking to someone you trust can help in itself, you might find that you just need to vent and be listened to
- Look after your physical health – get some more sleep, choose a healthier diet and do some exercise!
- Keep a mood diary – it might also help if you keep a diary of your experiences so you can look back at it, identify triggers and then be able to anticipate stressful situations. You can also use it to make a note of what is going well, it’s important to be kind to yourself and recognise the good steps you’ve taken.
Talking therapies are the most helpful treatment for BPD. The most helpful ones are:
- Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) – focuses on helping you accept that your emotions are valid, real and acceptable and teaches you to be open to ideas and opinions that contradict your own.
- Mentalisation-Based Therapy (MBT) – focuses on helping you understand your own and other people’s thoughts and mental states.