Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder. People with BPD may often have dramatic, emotional, erratic, and attention-seeking moods. This behavior disrupts family and work life, long-term planning, and the individual’s sense of self.
The causes of BPD are not fully understood. It is thought to be a combination of brain chemistry, genetics, and environmental factors. People who develop BPD are probably born vulnerable to the illness. Certain experiences and types of stress may then further increase their chance of developing BPD. Many BPD sufferers are often found to have experienced childhood abuse, neglect, separation, sexual abuse, violence, or brain injury.
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BPD is more common in females. The following factors increase your chances of developing BPD:
- A history of abuse, neglect, or abandonment as a child
- A history of sexual abuse or violence
- Inborn sensitivity to stress
- Immediate family members with BPD
The symptoms of BPD vary. People with BPD tend to be extremely sensitive to rejection. They may react with anger and be upset at even mild separation from friends or family. Symptoms often become more acute when people with BPD feel isolated and lonely or during times of particular stress.
Traits that are common to people with BPD include:
- Fears of being left alone—resulting in frantic behaviors to avoid being left alone
- Extreme and unpredictable mood swings and difficulty managing emotions or regulating moods
- Difficulty in relationships—characterized by dramatic swings or viewing people as all good or all bad
- Unstable self-image
- Excessive spending
- Promiscuity, risky sexual behavior
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Binge eating
- Repetitively injuring themselves through cutting, scratching, or burning
- Feeling misunderstood, bored, and empty
- Having deep-seated feelings of being flawed or bad in some way
- Using defense mechanisms to avoid taking responsibility for behavior, or to blame others
- Problems with anger management, manifested as periods of intense, uncontrollable and often unreasonable anger
- Episodes of intense paranoia, dissociation, or thought patterns bordering on psychosis—often provoked by stress
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If BPD is suspected, you may be referred to a psychiatrist who specializes in personality disorders.
BPD can affect anyone. It is usually diagnosed in adolescents and young adults. A diagnosis of BPD may be made if a person has a history of the symptoms listed above. In addition, BPD patients almost always have other mental health problems such as:
Treatment options have improved as BPD is better understood. Many BPD sufferers are helped by psychotherapy and medications.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include the following:
Individual, group, and family therapy form the basis of BPD treatment. Individual psychotherapy usually consists of 2-3 sessions a week for a period of years. Group therapy may focus on the same goals but take place in a group of fellow participants. The goal of therapy is to help the person with BPD:
- Understand their behavior
- Improve their ability to tolerate frustration, anxiety, loneliness, and anger
- Control impulsive behavior
- Improve social skills
Family therapy may help family members deal with the effects of BPD. It can also provide additional support for the person with BPD.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive therapy helps you to change patterns of thinking that are unproductive and harmful. For example, some people have unrealistic worries that they’re going crazy or might have a heart attack. Cognitive therapy also helps you identify possible triggers for panic attacks, such as a thought, a situation, or even something that could cause an increase in your heart rate. When you understand the difference between an actual panic attack and a trigger, you have more control over the trigger.
Medication may be prescribed and adjusted based on your symptoms. Medication options may include:
- Antidepressant drugs
- Mood stabilizers
- Antipsychotic drugs—may be used in low doses to control distorted thinking or anxiety
There are no current guidelines for preventing BPD.
National Mental Health Association http://www.nmha.org
Canadian Psychiatric Association http://www.cpa-apc.org
Updated February 21, 2014. Accessed November 11, 2014.
Borderline personality disorder. National Mental Health Association website. Available at:
Accessed November 11, 2014.
What is borderline personality disorder?. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at:
Accessed November 11, 2014.
Last Updated: 12/20/2014