What is Borderline Personality Disorder? #UnderstandToEmpower

Instead of pushing away or shunning what is different to you, what stands out, maybe listening to and understanding the ‘other’ might teach you something new or even change your perception on something. And so – understanding what some words weigh and what their origin of usage was, and how they got to where they are now; that’s one way of picking the right choice of words when it’s our turn to speak. 

This week, we talk about the Borderline personality disorder; The origin of the word, the personality disorder and the misconceptions around it and what it means today. 

The Borderline Personality Disorder

Imagine yourself on a rollercoaster, your body constantly shifting sides as it moves, when it goes up you get an adrenaline rush and as is it heads down you kind of lose balance. This is exactly how people with borderline personality disorder feel. Borderline personality disorder, or BPD,  is a mental health disorder that affects the way you see yourself and how you relate to others. It is characterized by extreme instability in various issues including self-image and identity, behaviors, moods, and emotions as well as relationships. 

“I experience extreme mood shifts and often feel angry, sad and anxious”

“The way I feel about people in my life constantly changes and I push people away without a reason”

“I fear that people I care about will abandon and leave me”

“Most of my romantic relationships are intense – but unstable”

“I erratically engage in impulsive actions not thinking of the end result”

The above are all statements that most likely resonate with someone who has BPD. Thus, for diagnostic purposes, mental health professionals grouped the disorder’s symptoms into nine main categories which are: fear of abandonment, unstable relationships, unclear or shifting self-image, self-destructive behaviors, self-harm, extreme emotional swings, chronic feelings of emptiness, explosive anger and feeling suspicious or out of touch with reality. In which diagnosis only occurs when five or more symptoms are experienced by the early adult age. 

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Managing a life where your interests, values, emotions, and goals are rapidly changing is a life challenge solely dominated by terror. Hence, we further need to learn more about the condition and its complications and implications. 

History of The Borderline Personality Disorder

Okay, but why the term “borderline”? In 1938, psychiatrists in the US used it to describe people who were on the border between psychosis (severe mental disorder) and neurosis (mild mental disorder). 

In the 1970s, borderline personality disorder began to get a deeper meaning. People with BPD were described to have an unbalanced level of functioning where they’re emotional, needy, hard to deal with and at a high risk of suicide. As time passed, more symptoms came into view that were common to other disorders, so BPD became known as a border where all psychiatric disorders intersect. So yea having other major disorders such as bipolar, depression, PTSD and ADHD with BPD is common. 

Finally in 1980 borderline personality disorder was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). 

Yes.. There is a Cure! 

When it comes to managing the symptoms of BPD, therapy is key! The first step to managing symptoms is clearly to get a diagnosis. Due to the fact that misdiagnosis occurs, only a licensed mental health professional should diagnose a patient. According to various studies and cases, psychotherapy is the best treatment for BPD and is always a professional’s first choice. 

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a type of psychotherapy that is used to treat individuals specifically with BPD.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, DBT helps:

  1. Control intense emotions
  2. Reduce self-destructive behaviors 
  3. Improve relationships

“There’s no medication that can be used to treat personality disorders, though you can treat any sideline mental health issues [like depression and anxiety]. Really, the only real way to manage it at this point is with DBT, which just focuses a bit more on mindfulness, and emotion regulation, and how to avoid certain behaviors, like self-harm. DBT asks you to retrain your brain so the default thing you reach for isn’t self-harm, or substance abuse, or abuse toward somebody else, which, thankfully, has not been a thing for me. It’s challenging. It’s really, really hard,” writes Katie Heaney, The Cut author, and a BPD patient.  

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can also be used to “help people with borderline personality disorder identify and change core beliefs and behaviors that underlie inaccurate perceptions of themselves and others, and problems interacting with others,” NIMH. 

Alongside therapy, educational programs about the disorder should emerge especially amongst people who are surrounded by someone who has BPD, that guides and shows them how to deal with the individuals suffering. As for people struggling with BDP, you should take responsibility and know that you are much more than your struggle and that you’re not defined by a disorder

What it’s like to live with Borderline Personality Disorder

Other than it being distressful, BPD can also be traumatic. 

“That means I find it very difficult to trust. That means I lash out when I think someone is betraying me or deserting me. That means I use impulsive behavior to try and fill the emptiness I feel — be it by spending money, through alcohol binges, or self-harm. I need validation from other people to feel like I’m not as awful and worthless as I think I am, even though I have no emotional permanence and am unable to hold onto that validation when I get it,” writes Tilly Grove a journalist in London, England with BPD. 

christian bale bipolar personality disorder facial expressions
via pinterest.com

It doesn’t end at trauma, BPD can be very abusive..

“being close to me can be extremely hard. I have drained romantic partners because I’ve needed a seemingly endless supply of reassurance. I’ve ignored the needs of other people because I’ve assumed that if they want space, or experience a change in mood, that it’s about me. I’ve built up a wall when I’ve thought I’m about to be hurt. When things go wrong, no matter how small they really are, I am prone to thinking that suicide is the only option” adds Grove.  

It’s not just something you have to deal with, its a real struggle describes Grove,

“The thing is, I might do all of those things. I might hurt myself because I sensed you were annoyed that I didn’t do the washing up. I might cry because you became friends with a pretty girl on Facebook. BPD is hyper-emotional, erratic, and irrational. As difficult as I know it can be to have someone in your life with it, it’s 10 times more difficult to have it.” 

Borderline Personality Disorder Today 

Today borderline personality disorder is not considered a psychotic disorder, but rather a disorder characterized by intense emotions and instability that have significant effects in multiple contexts. Having impairments in identity, empathy or intimacy is enough for diagnosis. In addition, experts have identified a genetic component to the causation of the disorder and found it to be a common disorder that runs in families.

The term borderline today is thought by many to be outdated, hence new identifications for the disorder are being suggested. Some of which are emotion dysregulation disorder, unstable personality disorder, and the impulse spectrum disorder. 

Many think that people with BPD are manipulative, controlling and even liars, they’re just individuals who are not true to their feelings. But to an individual with BDP this language is like a scar, it stays. It stays and adds on to the burden they already feel.


Next time you talk about BPD make sure you understand the difficulties that go along with it and the components that make it up.

Understanding is the first step to resolving the stigma around the diagnosis of personality disorders like BPD.

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