Borderline Personality Disorder is a serious condition which is estimated to affect between 1-3% of the general population. Yet, despite being so prevalent, BPD is not commonly known about or understood.
People who live in a relationship with a person who suffers from borderline personality disorder often know that something is terribly wrong with the behavior of their family member or loved-one but often do not know what to do about it, or that there is even a name for it.
Alternate Names for BPD
There are a number of different names used around the world for Borderline Personality Disorder:
- Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
- Emotional Regulation Disorder (ERD)
- Emotional Dysregulation Disorder
- Emotional Intensity Disorder (EID)
- Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD)
- Emotion-Impulse Regulation Disorder (EIRD)
- Impulsive Personality Disorder (IPD)
The most commonly used name today is Borderline Personality Disorder – or BPD – as defined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR).
The term “Borderline” is a historic term coined to describe people who were diagnosed to be on the borderline between a neurotic and psychotic disorder. It is commonly felt that the “Borderline” label is misleading and stigmatizes the disorder.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – The DSM Criteria
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM) as an Axis II, Cluster B (dramatic, emotional, or erratic) Disorder:
A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. [Not including suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5]
- A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
- Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
- Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, promiscuous sex, eating disorders, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). [Again, not including suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in Criterion 5]
- Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.
- Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
- Chronic feelings of emptiness.
- Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
- Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.
Characteristics & Traits
The following list is a collection of some of the more commonly observed behaviors and traits of those who suffer from BPD. Click on the links on each one for more information about a particular trait or behavior and some ideas for coping with each.
Note that these traits are given as a guideline only and are not intended for diagnosis. People who suffer from BPD are all unique and so each person will display a different subset of traits. Also, note that everyone displays “borderline” behaviors from time to time. Therefore, if a person exhibits one or more of these traits, that does not necessarily qualify them for a diagnosis of BPD. See the DSM Criteria on this page for diagnostic criteria.
Abusive Cycle – This is the name for the ongoing rotation between destructive and constructive behavior which is typical of many dysfunctional relationships and families.
Alienation – The act of cutting off or interfering with an individual’s relationships with others.
“Always” and “Never” Statements – “Always” and “Never” Statements are declarations containing the words “always” or “never”. They are commonly used but rarely true.
Anger – People who suffer from personality disorders often feel a sense of unresolved anger and a heightened or exaggerated perception that they have been wronged, invalidated, neglected or abused.
Baiting – A provocative act used to solicit an angry, aggressive or emotional response from another
Blaming – The practice of identifying a person or people responsible for creating a problem, rather than identifying ways of dealing with the problem.
Bullying – Any systematic action of hurting a person from a position of relative physical, social, economic or emotional strength.
Catastrophizing – The habit of automatically assuming a “worst case scenario” and inappropriately characterizing minor or moderate problems or issues as catastrophic events.
Chaos Manufacture – Unnecessarily creating or maintaining an environment of risk, destruction, confusion or mess.
Cheating – Sharing a romantic or intimate relationship with somebody when you are already committed to a monogamous relationship with someone else.
Chronic Broken Promises – Repeatedly making and then breaking commitments and promises is a common trait among people who suffer from personality disorders.
Circular Conversations – Arguments which go on almost endlessly, repeating the same patterns with no resolution.
“Control-Me” Syndrome – This describes a tendency which some people have to foster relationships with people who have a controlling narcissistic, antisocial or “acting-out” nature.
Denial – Believing or imagining that some painful or traumatic circumstance, event or memory does not exist or did not happen.
Dependency – An inappropriate and chronic reliance by an adult individual on another individual for their health, subsistence, decision making or personal and emotional well-being.
Depression – People who suffer from personality disorders are often also diagnosed with symptoms of depression.
Dissociation– A psychological term used to describe a mental departure from reality.
Domestic Theft – Consuming or taking control of a resource or asset belonging to (or shared with) a family member, partner or spouse without first obtaining their approval.
Emotional Abuse – Any pattern of behavior directed at one individual by another which promotes in them a destructive sense of Fear, Obligation or Guilt (FOG).
Emotional Blackmail – A system of threats and punishments used in an attempt to control someone’s behaviors.
Engulfment – An unhealthy and overwhelming level of attention and dependency on another person, which comes from imagining or believing one exists only within the context of that relationship.
False Accusations – Patterns of unwarranted or exaggerated criticism directed towards someone else.
Favoritism and Scapegoating – Systematically giving a dysfunctional amount of preferential positive or negative treatment to one individual among a family group of peers.
Fear of Abandonment – An irrational belief that one is imminent danger of being personally rejected, discarded or replaced.
Feelings of Emptiness – An acute, chronic sense that daily life has little worth or significance, leading to an impulsive appetite for strong physical sensations and dramatic relationship experiences.
Gaslighting – The practice of brainwashing or convincing a mentally healthy individual that they are going insane or that their understanding of reality is mistaken or false. The term “Gaslighting” is based on the 1944 MGM movie “Gaslight”.
Harassment – Any sustained or chronic pattern of unwelcome behavior by one individual towards another.
Holiday Triggers – Mood Swings in Personality-Disordered individuals are often triggered or amplified by emotional events such as family holidays, significant anniversaries and events which trigger emotional memories.
Hoovers & Hoovering – A Hoover is a metaphor taken from the popular brand of vacuum cleaners, to describe how an abuse victim trying to assert their own rights by leaving or limiting contact in a dysfunctional relationship, gets “sucked back in” when the perpetrator temporarily exhibits improved or desirable behavior.
Hysteria – An inappropriate over-reaction to bad news or disappointments, which diverts attention away from the real problem and towards the person who is having the reaction.
Identity Disturbance – A psychological term used to describe a distorted or inconsistent self-view
Imposed Isolation – When abuse results in a person becoming isolated from their support network, including friends and family.
Impulsiveness – The tendency to act or speak based on current feelings rather than logical reasoning.
Infantilization – Treating a child as if they are much younger than their actual age.
Intimidation – Any form of veiled, hidden, indirect or non-verbal threat.
Invalidation – The creation or promotion of an environment which encourages an individual to believe that their thoughts, beliefs, values or physical presence are inferior, flawed, problematic or worthless.
Lack of Conscience – Individuals who suffer from Personality Disorders are often preoccupied with their own agendas, sometimes to the exclusion of the needs and concerns of others. This is sometimes interpreted by others as a lack of moral conscience.
Lack of Object Constancy – An inability to remember that people or objects are consistent, trustworthy and reliable, especially when they are out of your immediate field of vision.
Low Self-Esteem – A common name for a negatively-distorted self-view which is inconsistent with reality.
Manipulation – The practice of steering an individual into a desired behavior for the purpose of achieving a hidden personal goal.
Masking – Covering up one’s own natural outward appearance, mannerisms and speech in dramatic and inconsistent ways depending on the situation.
Mirroring – Imitating or copying another person’s characteristics, behaviors or traits.
Moments of Clarity – Spontaneous periods when a person with a Personality Disorder becomes more objective and tries to make amends.
Mood Swings – Unpredictable, rapid, dramatic emotional cycles which cannot be readily explained by changes in external circumstances.
Munchausen’s and Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome – A disorder in which an individual repeatedly fakes or exaggerates medical symptoms in order to manipulate the attentions of medical professionals or caregivers.
Name-Calling – Use of profane, derogatory or dehumanizing terminology to describe another individual or group.
Neglect – A passive form of abuse in which the physical or emotional needs of a dependent are disregarded or ignored by the person responsible for them.
“Not My Fault” Syndrome – The practice of avoiding personal responsibility for one’s own words and actions.
No-Win Scenarios – When you are manipulated into choosing between two bad options
Objectification – The practice of treating a person or a group of people like an object.
Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior – An inflexible adherence to arbitrary rules and systems, or an illogical adherence to cleanliness and orderly structure.
Panic Attacks – Short intense episodes of fear or anxiety, often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as hyperventilating, shaking, sweating and chills.
Parental Alienation Syndrome – When a separated parent convinces their child that the other parent is bad, evil or worthless.
Parentification – A form of role reversal, in which a child is inappropriately given the role of meeting the emotional or physical needs of the parent or of the family’s other children.
Passive-Aggressive Behavior – Expressing negative feelings in an unassertive, passive way.
Pathological Lying – Persistent deception by an individual to serve their own interests and needs with little or no regard to the needs and concerns of others. A pathological liar is a person who habitually lies to serve their own needs.
Perfectionism – The maladaptive practice of holding oneself or others to an unrealistic, unattainable or unsustainable standard of organization, order, or accomplishment in one particular area of living, while sometimes neglecting common standards of organization, order or accomplishment in other areas of living.
Projection – The act of attributing one’s own feelings or traits to another person and imagining or believing that the other person has those same feelings or traits.
Proxy Recruitment – A way of controlling or abusing another person by manipulating other people into unwittingly backing “doing the dirty work”
Push-Pull – A chronic pattern of sabotaging and re-establishing closeness in a relationship without appropriate cause or reason.
Raging, Violence and Impulsive Aggression – Explosive verbal, physical or emotional elevations of a dispute. Rages threaten the security or safety of another individual and violate their personal boundaries.
Relationship Hyper Vigilance – Maintaining an unhealthy level of interest in the behaviors, comments, thoughts and interests of others.
Riding the Emotional Elevator – Taking a fast track to different levels of emotional maturity.
Sabotage – The spontaneous disruption of calm or status quo in order to serve a personal interest, provoke a conflict or draw attention.
Scapegoating – Singling out one child, employee or member of a group of peers for unmerited negative treatment or blame.
Selective Memory and Selective Amnesia – The use of memory, or a lack of memory, which is selective to the point of reinforcing a bias, belief or desired outcome.
Selective Competence – Demonstrating different levels of intelligence, memory, resourcefulness, strength or competence depending on the situation or environment.
Self-Harm – Any form of deliberate, premeditated injury, such as cutting, poisoning or overdosing, inflicted on oneself.
Self-Loathing – An extreme hatred of one’s own self, actions or one’s ethnic or demographic background.
Self-Victimization – Casting oneself in the role of a victim.
Sense of Entitlement – An unrealistic, unmerited or inappropriate expectation of favorable living conditions and favorable treatment at the hands of others.
Shaming – The difference between blaming and shaming is that in blaming someone tells you that you did something bad, in shaming someone tells you that you are something bad.
Silent Treatment – A passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse in which displeasure, disapproval and contempt is exhibited through nonverbal gestures while maintaining verbal silence.
Situational Ethics – A philosophy which promotes the idea that, when dealing with a crisis, the end justifies the means and that a rigid interpretation of rules and laws can be set aside if a greater good or lesser evil is served by doing so.
Sleep Deprivation – The practice of routinely interrupting, impeding or restricting another person’s sleep cycle.
Splitting – The practice of regarding people and situations as either completely “good” or completely “bad”.
Stalking – Any pervasive and unwelcome pattern of pursuing contact with another individual.
Stunted Emotional Growth – A difficulty, reluctance or inability to learn from mistakes, work on self-improvement or develop more effective coping strategies.
Testing – Repeatedly forcing another individual to demonstrate or prove their love or commitment to a relationship.
Thought Policing – Any process of trying to question, control, or unduly influence another person’s thoughts or feelings.
Threats – Inappropriate, intentional warnings of destructive actions or consequences.
Triangulation – Gaining an advantage over perceived rivals by manipulating them into conflicts with each other.
Triggering -Small, insignificant or minor actions, statements or events that produce a dramatic or inappropriate response.
Tunnel Vision – The habit or tendency to only see or focus on a single priority while neglecting or ignoring other important priorities.
Verbal Abuse – Any kind of repeated pattern of inappropriate, derogatory or threatening speech directed at one individual by another.
Borderline Mother Types
An estimated 2% of the US population is estimated to meet the clinical criteria for BPD. However, prevalence results vary widely as shown below. A number of studies have been performed to determine the prevalence of personality disorders and BPD. Prevalence results indicate that BPD affects anywhere between 0.5 and 5.9% of adults
People who have a first-degree relative with BPD are five times more likely to develop BPD themselves. Those who suffer child abuse are also more likely to develop BPD.
Some people who suffer from BPD are prone to suicidal behaviors and self-injury, especially as adolescents. About 8%-10% of diagnosed BPD patients commit suicide.
See Our Statistics section for more statistics on Personality Disorders.
There is no known cure for BPD. As a result, families of people who suffer from BPD are often left to fend for themselves and rely on their own resources.
However, some treatments do exist which have proven effective in managing symptoms. The most common approach is the combination of SSRI medication and DBT Therapy.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a psychosocial treatment which combines intensive individual and group therapy.
SSRI’s – Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. Popular SSRI’s include Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Paxil, & Zoloft.
BPD Possible Causes
The causes for BPD are not precisely known. However, recent research has turned up some clues. Further study is necessary to definitively establish a cause. However, theories do exist.
There is some evidence relating the prevalence of BPD to the kind of environment a child grew up in. A significant percentage of people who suffer from BPD were also abused as children. However, this kind of correlation does not always prove that the environment they grew up in contributed to their own disorder.
There is a higher incidence of personality disorders in those who have parents who suffer from a personality disorder. This has led some scientists to suspect there may be a genetic link for BPD.
BPD is more commonly diagnosed in females than males. Read our section on the Amygdala for some information on gender differences in neural activity which may some day lead to a greater understanding of why certain disorders may afflict one gender more than another.
The Amygdala and it’s Link to BPD
The Amygdala is a small region of the brain which plays a key role in emotional regulation, emotional memory and responses to emotional stimuli.
Recent technological advances have given neurologists two new ways to create 3-D images of the brain. These techniques are known as Positron Emission Tomography (PET Scanning) and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). By scanning a person’s brain while prompting them to think in a certain way, scientists are unlocking clues as to which regions of the brain are responsible for different kinds of thought.
Much of this work has focused on the amygdala – a small region deep in the brain shown below. There is one amygdala the right side of the brain and one on the left.
The Amygdala, courtesy The Brain From Top To Bottom @ http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/
The Amygdala’s Role in Emotional Reactions
It is believed that the amygdala has an important rule in producing lightning-fast emotional responses to events, whenever a person recognizes an event with a strong emotional element (good or bad) such as events that results in fear, anger or rage or events that result in delight, joy or excitement.
The amygdala is believed to be part of our fast, instinctive and reactive brains. Not much conscious thought is involved if an object is hurled towards us and we instinctively duck. This ability to react instinctively to danger is thought to have historically played a critical function in survival of most species. Similarly, witness the reaction of a crowd whenever a sports team scores a goal. There is a universal instant response of throwing hands in the air, widening the eyes, leaping into the air etc, without much thought given. When you see these instinctive reactions occur, the amygdala is at work.
The Amygdala and Memory
The amygdala has also been shown to have an important function in enhancing memory functions by releasing stress hormones, such as adrenaline. It has been shown experimentally that rats, who have had their amygdala disabled lose their fear of cats. It has also been shown that increasing stress hormones improves memory of an event. This helps explain why people can remember stressful moments in great detail – such as times of disasters or crises, when adrenaline is released and yet can easily forget long periods when nothing significant seems to have happened.
Gender Differences in the Way the Amygdala is Connected
Another interesting finding resulted from a study comparing amygdala activity in males and females. When shown images containing strong emotionally arousing content, it was found that the amygdala on the right side of the brain was the most active in men, while the amygdala on the left side of the brain was most active in women.
Other experiments with people who are relaxing have shown that in men, the right amygdala is more closely connected to the rest of the brain than the left, while women show a stronger connectivity between the left amygdala and the rest of the brain. Additionally, in men the right amygdala seems to be strongly connected to regions of the brain normally associated with interactions with the external environment while in women, the left amygdala seems to be strongly connected to regions of the brain normally associated with more internal thought. This suggests that in an emotional context, men are biased toward thoughts about the external environment and women toward thoughts about the internal environment.
The Link between the Amygdala and Emotional Regulation Disorder / Borderline Personality Disorder
In a famous experiment at Yale University, 15 people diagnosed with BPD and 15 people with no BPD diagnosis were shown photographs of faces with neutral, happy, sad, and fearful facial expressions while mapping the activity in the brain using fMRI. It was found that there is a lot more activity in the left amygdala of people who had been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder when exposed to an emotional stimulus than there is for most other people.
BPD vs. Bipolar Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Bipolar Disorder are similar in that both are characterized by dramatic changes in mood. It is thought that many people who suffer from BPD are inaccurately diagnosed as having Bipolar disorder because it generally carries less stigma and is easier to treat with pharmaceuticals. However, there are also some important differences between Bipolar & BPD:
Frequency of Mood Cycles
Mood swings for people who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder typically cycle much faster than for people who suffer from Bipolar Disorder. BPD sufferers often exhibit mood cycles lasting from a few hours to a few days. People who suffer from Bipolar Disorder typically exhibit mood swings lasting from a few weeks to a few months.
It should be noted that some Bipolar patients are characterized or diagnosed with Rapid Cycling Bipolar Disorder which has the same symptoms as Bipolar Disorder but with a shorter cycle time.
People who suffer from BPD often exhibit an acute Fear of Abandonment. The mood swings a person with BPD exhibits are often attached to their fear of being left alone or their preoccupation with not being alone. Sometimes, BPD is described as a “relationship disorder” in that it manifests itself in interactions with others.
Bipolar Disorder tends to be less relationship-based. People who suffer from Bipolar Disorder often display cycles of mood which are more inwardly self-focused and have less to do with how they feel about the relationships they are involved in.
Borderline Personality Disorder comprises both psychotic & neurotic thought processes. This gives rise to the name “Borderline” because it is thought to be on the “borderline” between psychosis & neurosis. The thinking and behavior of a person with Borderline Personality Disorder includes more mental departures from reality, known as Dissociation or “feelings create facts”.
In contrast, Bipolar Disorder tends to be more neurotic in that the mood swings tend to be based more on extreme exaggerations of fact.
Response To Treatment
People who suffer from Bipolar Disorder often respond positively to appropriate regimes of medication.
People who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder may also exhibit some improvement when treated with appropriate medication but typically also require extensive therapeutic intervention such as DBT over a period of months or years in order to see comparable results.
Both groups are often reluctant to seek help and may be resistant to medication. Also, both groups have a tendency to stop taking prescribed medications when they begin to feel better which often leads to relapses.
Movies Portraying Borderline Personality Disorder Traits
A Streetcar Named Desire – A Streetcar Named Desire is a is a 1947 play written by Tennessee Williams, later adapted for film, which tells the story of a woman who displays histrionic and borderline traits, who goes to live with her codependent sister and her narcissistic husband.
Fatal Attraction – Fatal Attraction is a 1987 Movie Thriller starring Glenn Close & Michael Douglas about Dan Gallagher, a New York Lawyer (played by Michael Douglas) who is stalked by Alex Forrest (played by Glenn Close) with whom he has had an affair. The story portrays Alex’s increasingly unstable behavior as a result of having Borderline Personality Disorder and feeling abandoned by Dan.
Girl, Interrupted – Girl, Interrupted is a 1999 Columbia Pictures movie which chronicles the experiences of a teenage girl with Borderline Personality Disorder, who is admitted to a mental health institution after attempting suicide.
Mommie Dearest – Mommie Dearest is a 1981 biography of Hollywood Actress Joan Crawford, played by Faye Dunaway, who, according to the account in the movie, exhibited Obsessive Compulsive, Borderline and Narcissistic Traits.
Single White Female – Single White Female is a 1992 Columbia Pictures Release starring Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh which portrays the events after a young woman takes in a roommate who exhibits some of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Dependent Personality Disorder (DPD) including mirroring, impulsivity and fear of abandonment.
The Wizard of Oz – The Wizard of Oz is a 1944 movie starring Judy Garland which is sometimes used as a metaphor to describe the disconnect between the dissociated reality of the personality-disordered individual (Oz) and the real world experienced by the Non-PD (Kansas). The metaphor is based on the iconic phrase: “Toto – I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas any more”.
BPD Support Groups & Links:
Psychforums BPD forum – Psychforums Site.
Anything to Stop The Pain – information site, blog and support board for Non-Borderlines, with a particular emphasis on supporting people who have children with BPD and people in a committed relationship with a person who suffers from BPD.
Emergence – http://www.emergenceplus.org.uk – UK site with personality disorder related information and services.
http://borderlinepersonality.ca/board BPD Support Site run by BPD Author A. J. Mahari.
http://www.BPDCentral.com – An information and support site about BPD run by Randi Kreger, co-author of “Stop Walking on Eggshells”.