Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms

Understand the symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD)

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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. Below is a description of the borderline personality disorder symptoms:

Abandonment Sensitivity

  • Frequently fearing being left or abandoned by loved ones or friends
  • Often imagining or believing that others are leaving, even when they are not
  • Attempts to avoid abandonment (for example, physically clinging to others when they attempt to leave)

Unstable Relationships

  • Having intense relationships with lots of conflicts, and/or breakups
  • Having frequent arguments with friends and loved ones
  • Experiencing ups and downs in relationships (for example, going from feeling as if you really need someone to feeling as if you need to get far away from him or her)
  • Often feeling disappointment in or even hatred toward loved ones

Identity Disturbance

  • Experiencing frequent changes in sense of self-worth (for example, one moment feeling okay about yourself and then next feeling that you are a bad person)
  • Feeling unsure about identity (for example, feeling like you don't know who you really are as a person, or what you believe in)
  • Feeling nonexistent


  • Engaging in impulsive behaviors, such as going on spending sprees, having promiscuous sex, driving recklessly, abusing drugs or alcohol, binge eating, or breaking the law

    Suicidal Behaviors or Self-Harm

    • Making suicide attempts or gestures
    • Threatening to commit suicide to communicate emotional pain or to see if others care
    • Engaging in acts of self-harm without intending to commit suicide (for example, cutting or burning yourself)

    Emotional Instability

    • Experiencing intense negative feelings in reaction to day-to-day situations
    • Feeling intense sadness, irritability, or anger that may last for hours
    • Having frequent and intense mood changes (for example, going from feeling okay to feeling totally despairing in a matter of minutes or hours)

    Chronic Feelings of Emptiness

    • Often feeling empty
    • Feeling no emotions or feeling as if there is nothing inside

    Inappropriate Anger

    • Feeling intense anger that is stronger than the situation warrants
    • Having difficulty controlling anger (for example, often yelling at others, being sarcastic, breaking things, or getting into physical fights)

    Stress-induced Paranoia or Dissociation

    Having some or all of the following experiences in response to stress:

    • Feeling that others are picking on you or are trying to cause you harm
    • Having a feeling that people or things are "unreal" or experiencing episodes of feeling "zoned out" or "numb"
    • Feeling emotionally dead inside

    BPD: Making a diagnosis

    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.

    To be diagnosed with BPD, a person must experience at least 5 of the 9 symptoms listed above. In addition, these symptoms must have started in adolescence or early adulthood.

    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.


    American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th ed, text revision. Washington, DC, Author, 2000.

    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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