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Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

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What Is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder that involves frequent, intense mood swings and difficulty creating stable relationships. BPD is one of many personality disorders that causes a person to experience high “highs” and low “lows.” However, with treatment from a therapist, the symptoms of BPD can be successfully managed.

Borderline Personality Disorder vs. Bipolar Disorder: What’s the Difference?

Borderline personality disorder is commonly confused with bipolar disorder. While the two mental health disorders have some similarities in symptoms, such as impulsiveness and shifts in mood, BPD is a personality disorder while bipolar disorder is a mood disorder. 

Bipolar disorder involves extreme shifts in mood, often resulting in long periods of depression and mania. An episode of depression might involve low energy, extreme sadness, worry, and loss of interest in once enjoyable activities. An episode of mania might look like high energy levels, impulsivity, risk-taking, and making unrealistic plans. Each episode of depression or mania can last for several months at a time.

Unlike bipolar disorder, the intense moods involved with BPD are shorter-lived, lasting from a few minutes to a few days, and can shift abruptly. BPD mood swings are often triggered by some form of internal or external conflict, often involving relationships and interactions with others.

4 Types of Borderline Personality Disorder

1. Discouraged BPD

When someone suffers from discouraged borderline personality disorder, the way they feel, think, and act is influenced by the dependent aspect of BPD. This can result in codependency issues that may look similar to those in dependent personality disorder. Those who suffer from discouraged BPD are often called “clingy” and are seen as followers. 

2. Impulsive BPD

Those who suffer from impulsive borderline personality disorder are charismatic, often doing dramatic things to gain the attention of others. Impulsive BPD can involve high energy, manipulation of others, and thrill-seeking behaviors.

3. Petulant BPD

Someone who suffers from petulant borderline personality disorder may experience intense paranoia in relationships, lacking trust that their friend or partner cares about them. They may test their relationships, giving ultimatums and attempting to gain control out of fear of abandonment.

4. Self-Destructive BPD

Those who have self-destructive borderline personality disorder experience self-hatred that causes them to engage in dangerous behaviors, suffer from depression, and hold beliefs that no one cares about them. Self-destructive BPD may cause the sufferer to seek validation from others and sabotage their own happiness.

Signs of Borderline Personality Disorder

The signs and symptoms of borderline personality disorder can vary depending on the severity of symptoms and the specific type of BPD.

Some common signs of borderline personality disorder include:

  • Worrying about being abandoned by loved ones
  • Being in relationships marked by instability
  • Engaging in risky behaviors
  • Experiencing paranoia when stressed
  • Dissociating
  • Experiencing extreme mood swings
  • Using anger, sarcasm, or aggression as coping strategies
  • Having a history of self-harm and/or suicidal ideation
  • Having a history of anxiety or depression
  • Feeling like your identity is unfixed or constantly changing

Borderline Personality Disorder Causes

While the exact cause of BPD is unknown, several risk factors can increase a person’s chance of developing the disorder.

Some BPD risk factors include:

  • Genetics: Having a family member who has a personality disorder or other mental health disorder
  • Brain chemistry: Improper functioning of mood-regulating chemicals or changes in areas of the brain involving emotion regulation, impulsivity, and aggression
  • Children trauma or stress: Having a childhood history of sexual or physical abuse, separation from a parent or caregiver, or a hostile household or unstable family relationships

BPD and Relationships

Those who have borderline personality disorder often experience unstable and rocky relationships. However, with the help of treatment, they can still maintain healthy, meaningful bonds.

How BPD Affects Relationships

The frequent mood changes that occur in someone with BPD can cause challenges in relationships. Those who have BPD may be loving and affectionate one moment but can become overwhelmed and distant very quickly if triggered. They often idealize the person they are with but can switch to feelings of devaluation when that person does not meet their expectations.

A person struggling with BPD has a difficult time managing their emotions. They may experience greater joy when something exciting happens, but will also feel more intense sadness when something negative happens. This can make it difficult for someone with BPD to bounce back when there is turmoil in a relationship. 

At the same time, those with BPD sometimes have an intense fear of abandonment. This can cause them to overthink their partner’s words or actions, become paranoid that they aren’t cared about enough, or become obsessive and “clingy.” 

Romantic partners, family members, and friends may find the ups and downs of their relationship with someone who has BPD chaotic. However, despite the difficulties that BPD presents in relationships, those who suffer from the disorder can still maintain long-lasting friendships and romantic partnerships. 

How to Support a Loved One with BPD

If you begin a relationship with someone who has BPD, there are some things you can do to better understand what they’re going through and how to support them.

First, it’s important to recognize that those who have BPD can be extremely caring, affectionate, and doting. Many people may find this devotion and eagerness to spend quality time with their partner or loved one to be a good thing.

While those who have BPD have many positive traits, it’s important to be prepared for their emotional needs, mood swings, and potential triggers. Those who have BPD might find it helpful to talk openly about the disorder with their partner, friend, or family member, addressing specific triggers and how they would like their loved one to respond during arguments and other challenges in the relationship. Someone who has BPD may also require more reassurance from their partner or loved one due to their fear of abandonment. 

While BPD can make a relationship more challenging, having a stable partner can have a positive impact on the person’s symptoms, eventually even leading to less sensitivity. With hard work, those who have BPD can still find themselves in long-term friendships, relationships, and successful marriages. 

Do I Have BPD?

If you suspect that you could have borderline personality disorder, it is important to seek the help of a therapist. The symptoms of BPD can overlap with those of other mental health disorders, so you should never self-diagnose. 

While there is no one test to determine if you have BPD, a therapist can ask you questions about your mental health history and current mental state to help form a proper diagnosis and begin a treatment plan. 

Treatment for BPD

There are many different options when it comes to treating borderline personality disorder, depending on the type and severity:

No matter how severe BPD may be, the right treatment plan can help you manage your BPD symptoms to begin living a happier, more fulfilling life. Find a therapist near you today.

About the author

The editorial team at works with the world’s leading clinical experts to bring you accessible, insightful information about mental health topics and trends.