Emotion Regulation and Borderline Personality Disorder

BPD Can Significant Impact Your Ability to Regulate Emotions

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Many people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) experience intense emotions. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, 5th edition (DSM-5), the reference manual healthcare providers use to make a diagnosis, many of the symptoms of BPD relate to emotion regulation issues. 

What is Emotion Regulation?

Emotion regulation refers to a person’s ability to understand and accept his or her emotional experience, to engage in healthy strategies to manage uncomfortable emotions when necessary and to engage in appropriate behaviors when distressed.

 People with good emotion regulation skills are able to control the urges to engage in impulsive behaviors, such as self-harm, reckless behavior or physical aggression, during times of emotional stress. 

For example, if a person who does not have BPD goes through a breakup, she likely feels sad and may be a bit depressed, but is still able to control her emotions and carry on with her routine. She'll still attend class or go to work. However someone with BPD lacks the ability to regulate emotions appropriately. If he goes through the same situation, he may depressed to the point of not functioning. He may engage in destructive or violent behaviors or be impulsive, such as engaging in promiscuity. 

Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotions

In the criteria for diagnosing BPD, the majority include issues with emotions, including:

  • Quickly changing mood swings and irritability: People with BPD have issues managing moods and expressing emotions, leading to intense anxiety and irritability. Others may have trouble being around you during these episodes, harming your relationships. 
  • Feelings of emptiness: Those with BPD often experience chronic feelings of emptiness. They will engage in all sorts of activities to try and fill the void, without any effect. Regardless of how many friends and loved ones they have, they often feel alone and sad.
  • Difficulty controlling anger: Along with intense mood swings comes intense anger, seemingly out of nowhere. Slight inconveniences or slights can trigger rages in those with BPD, potentially leading to destructive or violent behaviors. 
  • Paranoia and a fear of abandonment: Individuals with BPD often are afraid of being alone or rejected, causing intense paranoia. That can cause them to act obsessive and constantly seek reassurance. 

With difficulty regulating emotions, if you have BPD, you may experience difficulty coming down from anger or relaxing feelings of rejection. You may lack the ability to regulate your emotions appropriately, causing disruptive behaviors. This can have a negative impact on your relationships, including with your significant other, friends and family. 

Managing Emotions

While BPD can make emotion regulation difficult, it is not impossible to learn this skill and recover from BPD. If you struggle with BPD and emotions, you may want to consider seeing a therapist specializing in borderline personality disorder. Together, you can work on strategies to help regulate your emotions. You will learn appropriate reactions and skills to manage your mood swings. Over time, your emotion regulation will improve, helping you in your interpersonal relationships and daily life.

With continued therapy with a medical professional, recovery from BPD is possible. 


"Borderline Personality Disorder". Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, 5th edition. American Psychiatric Association, 2013. 




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