Am I Just Emotional? Or Is it Borderline Personality Disorder?

Sometimes it can be more serious than emotions

Woman and psychologist talking in office. Hill Street Studios/Getty Images

If you feel that you're emotional, or that your emotions are easily stimulated by even minor occurrences, you may have wondered if it could possibly be more serious. Some mental illnesses, including borderline personality disorder (BPD), can cause irrational and emotional behaviors. However, having strong emotions does not necessarily mean that you have a mental illness. 

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

One of the key features of borderline personality disorder is emotional instability, also called emotional lability or affective dysregulation.

People with BPD experience a lot of dramatic shifts in their emotional states. They may feel okay one moment but feel extremely angry, sad, lonely, afraid, jealous or ashamed moments later. People with BPD are typically unable to sooth or calm their own emotions. They often are triggered within seconds and cannot be reined in. 

Having a lot of emotional changes does not necessarily mean you have BPD. First, emotional instability is just one of the symptoms of BPD. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, 5th edition, the reference manual healthcare professionals use when treating mental disorders, there is a set criteria that must be met to be diagnosed  with borderline personality disorder.

To meet the diagnostic criteria for BPD, you would need to exhibit symptoms other than emotional instability. You would have to also have some of the other symptoms, such as impulsivity, sensitivity to abandonment, self-harm or suicidality.


Also, the emotional shifts typical of someone with BPD are very intense and frequent. Everyone has emotional changes every now and then. But, people with BPD experience mood changes that are very dramatic and very severe, so much so that they significantly impact work, school, relationships or other areas of functioning.

They also happen consistently over the course of several years. It can be a debilitating condition that can limit the ability to hold a job or maintain a relationship. 

Finally, in addition to the mood changes, people who have BPD also have other problems with emotions. For example, they tend to feel less positive emotions than other people. They also report chronic feelings of emptiness, or times when they feel nothing inside. They also often exhibit very impulsive or reckless behaviors, such as violence, substance abuse or promiscuity. 

Maybe you are someone who has the tendency to be emotional and are wondering if you might have BPD. If your emotional changes are not getting in your way, meaning they do not cause you problems and are not particularly distressing for you,  it may be that you are just a sensitive person. But, if your emotional changes are causing you a lot of problems, it can be helpful to see a professional for an assessment.

If you think you may have BPD, see a therapist who specializes in BPD and mood disorders. A professional diagnosis and a healthcare provider with a strong understanding of the condition can help you manage your symptoms through therapy. By learning strong coping skills, you can limit your emotional instability and impulsiveness and live a more stable life.



American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 5h ed, 2013.