Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is not often spoken about in general, however, it is serious and warrants significant attention by individuals and societal groups alike. As a matter of fact, BPD is so serious that it is said to need extensive treatment, in order for those affected by it to experience a significantly better quality of life. To put it into greater perspective, around 20% of psychiatric hospitalizations are of BPD patients, with more women than men being diagnosed, amounting to a total of approximately 75% of the BPD population.  

While it has been argued that the name ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’ is misleading, a more accurate name has yet to be established. The name stems from the original thought that this illness represents a ‘border’ between psychosis and neurosis.

Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is a condition where the victim has long term patterns of unstable or turbulent emotions. It is  characterized by pervasive patterns of mood instability, unstable interpersonal relationships, negative self-image and harmful behaviours. Being able to distinguish reality from personal misperceptions of the world around them is also often experienced. According to Shauna Springer, Ph.D., people with this disorder have issues with emotional regulation. Borderline personality disorder is diagnosed by a thorough psychological examination, where the primary health care provider would determine the severity of the symptoms.  Here are seven symptoms of borderline personality disorder according to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH):

  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
  2. Impulsive and often dangerous behaviours, such as spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, and binge eating
  3. Inappropriate, intense anger or problems controlling anger
  4. Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few days
  5. A pattern of intense and unstable relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often swinging from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
  6. Chronic feelings of emptiness
  7. Having stress-related paranoid thoughts

Risk Factors

As with most mental illnesses, there are no definite causes but there are risk factors that are believed to influence the emergence of the condition.

Possible risk factors according to Medline Plus, the online medical encyclopaedia, are:

  1. Either real or fear of abandonment in childhood or adolescence
  2. Disrupted family life
  3. Poor communication in the family
  4. Sexual, physical, or emotional abuse

Around 40-75% of the those suffering from borderline personality disorder have reported to have been survivors of sexually abuse, and/or rape.

Other risk factors include, but are not limited to, genetics, brain chemistry, as well as environmental and social factors. For example, it was noted that the disorder is five times more likely to occur in persons who have a close family member with the disease.

Treatment Options

Psychotherapy, whether in individual or group settings, is the main treatment method for borderline personality disorder. The types of psychotherapy used to treat the disorder are:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)
  • Schema-Focused Therapy
  • Systems Training for Emotional Predictability and Problem Solving (STEPPS)

Medication may be administered to alleviate certain symptoms such as mood swings and depression. Negative emotional symptoms may be alleviated by prescription medication that enhances the function of serotonin in the brain, while antipsychotic drugs may be prescribed in the event of distortions in thought. However, medication would not be considered the main source of treatment, as suicidal thoughts linked to possible overdose is a significant concern.

What To Do If You Think You May Have Borderline Personality Disorder

Here are just a couple of suggestions, among others for when you may think you have BPD:

  • Talk to your doctor about treatment options and stick with prescribed treatment, even though this may require a signature length of time..
  • Identify and seek out comforting situations, places, and people.
  • Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or family member.
  • If a family member happens to be diagnosed with BPD, be mindful of offering emotional support, understanding, patience, and encouragement.

If you, or a loved one is contemplating suicide, seek immediate help from a mental health or primary care professional.