Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness often misunderstood by society. The associations made with BPD symptoms are scary and usually include self-injurious behavior, suicidal behavior, and extreme difficulty maintaining an interpersonal relationship. While these are included in the many BPD symptoms, what most people don’t understand is that these behaviors are caused by deep pains and fears. As you move forward in identifying whether or not you might have borderline personality disorder, be gentle with yourself and know that there is help. Even if the disorder affects you, it will never define you.
WHAT IS BPD?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as a disorder in which the person affected has unstable relationships, moods, and behavior. PsychCentral reports that somewhere between 1.6 and 5.9 percent of Americans, both men and women, likely suffer from BPD. Through evidence-based treatment such as dialectical behavior therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy, those suffering with BPD symptoms can improve their relationships and their lives.
If you believe you’re among the many people with borderline personality disorder, diagnosis is the first step to healing. Read through this list of symptoms to learn more. While you could experience each of these symptoms at some point in your life, there may also be some that you never struggle with. And please remember that while lists like these are informative, you should always seek the insight of a psychologist or a mental health professional.
WHAT ARE BPD SYMPTOMS?
- You feel an intense fear of rejection and abandonment
- Unstable moods and intense emotions
- 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
You feel an intense fear of abandonment and rejection
The hallmark of borderline personality disorder is the fear of rejection and abandonment. It is common for a person with BPD to have post-traumatic stress disorder related to abandonment, such as adoption, though this is not always the case.
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.
Unstable moods swings between intense emotions
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. As an example, imagine that your roommate left the house because you were yelling at him and said he was a terrible friend. While he’s gone, the anger subsides. When he returns an hour later, he might feel irritated that you expect things to be back to normal so soon after the fight. On the other hand, you don’t understand why he’s holding on to the past. Left unchecked, these intense emotions that come and go so quickly can have serious impacts on your family and friends.
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.
Difficulty separating for school, work, or other activities
Although you may know logically that daily activities such as school and work are necessary, the fear of abandonment can be so strong that you resist separation from a person you care about. This fear can be so intense that you might resent a loved one for prioritizing school and work over spending time with you. This is a common experience for people suffering from borderline personality disorder.
Hard time calming down
Do people often tell you to “calm down” or “get over it”? When others don’t understand your feelings, they might think you’re overreacting and expect you to move on quickly. It can be hard for others to understand that your emotions are so amplified and it takes you longer than others to feel calm again.
Splitting: extreme 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 time, 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 have 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 a 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.
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. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 75 percent of those suffering from BPD will attempt to hurt themselves at some point.
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.
RECOVERY IS POSSIBLE WITH HELP
The symptoms of borderline personality disorder are incredibly painful for the person living with it, as well as for their loved ones. One of the most frightening myths of this mental health disorder is that people with BPD will never overcome this personality disorder. This myth is based on outdated information and is completely false. With appropriate help from a mental health professional and support from loved ones, people with BPD symptoms are able to overcome their painful feelings and self-destructive behavior. Once you know how to seek support and communicate what’s going on for you, building and maintaining a healthy interpersonal relationship becomes possible and even natural.
LET OPI HELP YOU OVERCOME BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER
Optimum Performance Institute (OPI) helps young adults work through difficult transitional periods in their lives. Our OPI Intensive program specializes in helping people with BPD. We offer the necessary guidance to help you on your path to manage this difficult mental illness. You will have a mental health professional and many caring staff who are well-trained in treating BPD and it’s co-occurring disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, suicidal behavior, and other disorders commonly seen with BPD.
Your treatment at OPI will be tailored to your individual needs. We use evidence-based treatment, including dialectical behavior therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Since our clients are in early adulthood, we believe that treating you in a “real world” setting is more beneficial than sheltering you from the world and later reintroducing you to it. That’s why you’ll be able to have your phone and computer from your first day at OPI, and you’ll be encouraged to attend school, work, or volunteer. With our support, you’ll be able to overcome mental health challenges while still enjoying the vibrant life that everyone should experience in early adulthood.
There is help for borderline personality disorder, and there is hope for you. Contact us today for a confidential consultation about our program. Let OPI be the place you overcome your struggle with BPD symptoms.