We have all heard of borderline personality disorder, it features in our daily news, the programmes we watch, and in the fiction we read.

But what actually is a borderline personality disorder?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterised as a disorder of a person’s mood and how this mood affects their interactions with others around them. It is basically an inability to manage a person’s emotions and typically begins in adolescence or early adulthood.

Whilst BPD might be one of the most commonly recognised personality disorders, not everyone will suffer from the same symptoms. Some might experience quite mild symptoms whilst others could have severe reactions.

The disorder is known as ‘borderline’ because many people who suffer from this condition tend to ‘border’ on having future mental health diagnoses in their lifetime.

BPD symptoms vary from person to person, but it is widely known that women are more likely to suffer from BPD than men. It affects around 5.9% of adults in the US, which equates to 14 million Americans.

Here are common symptoms of borderline personality disorder:

  • Having dysfunctional sense of self
  • Feeling isolated, empty and hopeless
  • Constant feelings of anxiety, stress and depression
  • Finds it hard to feel empathetic
  • Has past relationships that veered from intense love to pure hatred
  • Constantly worries about being abandoned or rejected
  • Suffers from extreme mood swings
  • Undertakes risky and reckless behaviours that could cause harm
  • Hostile to others
  • Unsure of long-term goals or has unrealistic goals

These BPD symptoms can be further categorised in four main groups:

  1. Emotional Instability
  2. Disturbed Cognition
  3. Impulsive Behaviour
  4. Unsound Relationships

What causes borderline personality disorder?

It is not clear what the causes of BPD are, however, studies would seem to suggest that it could be a combination of factors, including environmental and genetic. Many people who suffer from BPD have had problematic childhoods in which they have experienced some kind of traumatic event. This could have manifested itself in the form of parental neglect or sexual, physical or emotional abuse.

Those who suffer from borderline personality disorder will frequently have violent mood swings, act on impulse and react in an extreme manner to the most normal of situations. This means that they can find it extremely difficult to succeed through school or college, find gainful employment or sustain a meaningful relationship.

How to treat those with borderline personality disorder

As with many other mental health disorders, borderline personality disorder responds well to therapy which can include psychotherapy or ‘talking therapy’ as it is now commonly known. Those who suffer might be asked to join a therapy group, or talk to a counsellor on a mental health team. They will be afforded a care programme specifically tailored to their problems and with time, studies have shown that BPD sufferers can improve.

Another way to treat BPD is known as Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).

The main premise of DBT is that borderline personality disorder is combined of two important factors:

  1. A sufferer is sensitive to stress and extremely vulnerable when it comes to emotions.
  2. The sufferer was raised where their emotions were not validated by those around them.

It is thought that these two factors contribute to a Catch-22 situation, whereby the person is particularly vulnerable to emotions, and yet they are not allowed to show them. Many sufferers believe they are bad people because they cannot experience their true emotions. This just leads to further problems and upsetting feelings.

What DBT attempts to do is to break this vicious cycle by proposing two new ideas to the sufferer:

  • Validation of emotions, acceptance that they are real and necessary.
  • Dialectics, using debate and discussion to establish the truth about the disorder.

With a combination of treatment, anyone suffering from borderline personality disorder can get better and go on to lead a full and active life. With tailored treatment, it is possible to reduce the major symptoms and improve daily living.

And there is further good news for those suffering from BPD, as research suggests symptoms start to naturally tail off once a person reaches 40.


  1. http://www.nhs.uk/
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25935068
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2819124/

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Joyce

    As someone in recovery from BPD, I think that this is a pretty good article. However, you stated that women are more affected than men. It’s true that women get diagnosed more than men, but they are both affected equally. Men are misdiagnosed with other mental illnesses. They used to think that it was on the “border” between psychosis and neurosis. We now know that’s not true but the name has stuck. DBT helped me recover. I have been in recovery since 2006. Without DBT, my life was just getting worse and worse. I was about 35 when I was diagnosed. I am so grateful for the DBT program I completed. Unfortunately, DBT is not available everywhere. And where it is available, many times it’s too expensive for sufferers to afford. We need to change this. We need to raise more awareness and reduce stigma.

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