Signs and Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Are you worried you or a loved one has BPD?

Depressed woman sitting on steps
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Borderline personality disorder symptoms include instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and emotion, as well as a pattern of impulsive behaviors. Individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) first experience these symptoms beginning in young adulthood, and the symptoms tend to continue for years.

If you are worried that you or a loved one may have borderline personality disorder (BPD), it's important to be informed about the illness and its symptoms.

While some of the symptoms of BPD are not easily identified, others are associated with observable behaviors.

Here are some signs and symptoms that may indicate you or your loved one need to be evaluated by a healthcare professional:

Fear of Abandonment

People with BPD tend to have difficulties in their relationships. In particular, people with BPD can be very sensitive to abandonment. They may believe they are being left by someone when that is not actually the case.

They may also engage in behaviors meant to provide reassurance that the other person still cares about them. For example, they may call someone on the telephone repeatedly asking for confirmation that the relationship is still intact or physically cling to others when they attempt to leave. 

Unstable Relationships

BPD is associated with patterns of very unstable and intense interpersonal relationships. These relationships can be characterized by alternating between idealization and devaluation.

The relationship may start in the idealization phase with the person with BPD feeling intensely connected to and positive about the other person and wanting to spend a lot of time with this person. When the devaluation phase emerges, the person with BPD may see the other person as worthless, mean or uncaring, and may attempt to distance herself from them.

In addition, a relationship with someone with BPD is commonly characterized by lots of conflict, ups and downs, mistrust, neediness, and frequent arguments. In fact, a person with BPD often feels disappointment in or even hatred towards loved ones. They also have difficult recognizing the feelings of others or empathizing with others. 

Impairment in Identity 

The same instability in relationships can also apply to self-image or sense of self. A person with BPD may seem to believe that they are successful one moment, but the next may be extremely self-denigrating or hard on themselves. Their sense of self may also be unstable, which may lead them to behave differently in different contexts, such as behaving one way around one group of friends but another way entirely around another group.

In addition, a person with BPD may feel nonexistent or unsure about their identity or role (for example, feeling like you don't know who you really are as a person, or what you believe in).

Impulsivity

Many people with BPD exhibit risky impulsive behaviors, such as:

  • spending sprees
  • habing promiscuous sex
  • driving recklessly
  • abusing drugs or alcohol
  • binge eating
  • breaking the law (for example, shop lifting)

Self-Harm or Suicide Behaviors

Some individuals with BPD engage in self-harming behaviors and some make suicidal gestures or attempts.

These are actually separate issues—self-harming behaviors are not attempts to commit suicide. They are attempts to get rid of emotional pain or intensely uncomfortable feelings. People who self-harm rarely do it when others are present. But you may see signs of self-harm, including scarring or wounds from cutting, burning, or other forms of self-injury.

People with BPD may also threaten suicide and may make suicide attempts. Such threats or attempts should be taken very seriously.

Emotional Instability

Although this is not always something that can be observed from the outside, people with BPD tend to have intense and frequent mood changes that usually occur in response to something happening in the environment.

They may go from seeming content to feeling upset in a matter of moments. A person with BPD may experience also intense negative feelings in reaction to day-to-day situations and/or intense sadness or irritability that can last for hours.

 Feelings of Emptiness

A person with BPD often feels a chronic sense of emptiness, like there is nothing inside or that they are emotionally dead. 

Intense Anger and Aggressive Behavior

People with BPD tend to feel intense anger that is stronger than the situation warrants. Some people with BPD experience intense anger that they rarely or never express outwardly. Others express anger openly, sometimes in the form of physical aggression. Angry behavior, ranging from sarcastic comments to physical violence against other people, is one common sign of BPD. 

A Word From Verywell

It is important to remember that some of the symptoms described above are experienced by many people from time to time. However, people with BPD experience several of these symptoms daily or almost every day for years.

Also, people with BPD experience these symptoms across different contexts. For example, they will experience instability in many relationships, not just one or two.

If you think you may have BPD, it is important to see a licensed mental health professional who can listen to your concerns and make an accurate diagnosis.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 5th ed, text revision. Washington, DC, Author, 2013.

Zanarini, MC, Frankenburg, FR, Sickel, AE, & Yong, L. Diagnostic interview for DSM-IV Personality Disorders. McLean Hospital, Belmont MA, and the Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, 1996.

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