About Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships. In 1980, BPD was listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Third Edition (DSM-III) as a diagnosable illness for the first time. Most psychiatrists and other mental health professionals use the DSM to diagnose mental illnesses.

Because some people with severe BPD have brief psychotic episodes, experts originally thought of this illness as atypical, or borderline, versions of other mental disorders. While mental health experts now generally agree that the name “Borderline Personality Disorder” is misleading, a more accurate term does not exist yet.

People with Borderline Personality Disorder Tend to Experience:

Problems with regulating emotions and thoughts; Impulsive and reckless behavior; Unstable relationships with other people.

People with this disorder also have high rates of co-occurring disorders, such as depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and eating disorders, along with self-harm, suicidal behaviors, and completed suicides. According to data from a subsample of participants in a national survey on mental disorders, about 1.6 percent of adults in the United States have BPD in a given year. BPD is often viewed as difficult to treat.

However, recent research shows that BPD can be treated effectively, and that many people with this illness improve over time. According to the DSM, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR), to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, a person must show an enduring pattern of behavior that includes at least five of the following symptoms:

  • Extreme reactions — including panic, depression, rage, or frantic actions — to abandonment, whether real or perceived;
  • A pattern of intense and stormy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often veering from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation);
  • Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self, which can result in sudden changes in feelings, opinions, values, or plans and goals for the future (such as school or career choices);
  • Impulsive and often dangerous behaviors, such as spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, and binge eating;
  • Recurring suicidal behaviors or threats or self-harming behavior, such as cutting;
  • Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few days; Chronic feelings of emptiness and / or boredom;
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or problems controlling anger;
  • Having stress-related paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms, such as feeling cut off from oneself, observing oneself from outside the body, or losing touch with reality.

Seemingly mundane events may trigger symptoms. For example, people with BPD may feel angry and distressed over minor separations—such as vacations, business trips, or sudden changes of plans—from people to whom they feel close.

Studies show that people with this disorder may see anger in an emotionally neutral face and have a stronger reaction to words with negative meanings than people who do not have the disorder.

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Additional Resources

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