Impulsive Behavior and Borderline Personality Disorder

Impulsivity Can Impact Relationships, Health and Your Career

Self-harm. Credit: BSIP / Contributor / Getty Images

If you have borderline personality disorder (BPD), you may find yourself struggling to manage impulsive behaviors. From hasty decisions to getting into fights, these actions can harm you and your loved ones. 

Impulsivity can be a very troubling aspect of BPD. They can lead to problems with relationships, physical health, and finances as well as legal issues. Learning more about impulsive behavior and treatments that target it can help reduce the impact of impulsivity in your life.

What is Impulsivity?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, 5th edition, impulsive behaviors are a hallmark of BPD. Impulsivity is a tendency to act without thinking about the consequences of your actions. These actions usually occur in reaction to some event that has caused you to have an emotional response.

For example, imagine you are waiting in line at the bank and someone cuts in front of you. People with a reasoned mindset may roll their eyes, but they realize it is a small problem or inconvenience and it's not worth it to escalate the situation. However, for those with BPD, their responses can be quite different. Someone with BPD may act aggressively towards the person who cut in line, yelling at him, threatening him or even taking physical action. A person with BPD likely never takes into account potential consequences, such as getting hurt, getting detained by security or even being arrested by police.

 

Impulsivity is also linked to poor self control and severe urges. This can lead to self harm when coping with an intense emotion or binge eating for comfort. 

It is important to note that occasional impulsive behavior is not necessarily indicative of a diagnosis of BPD. Everyone acts impulsively from time to time.

Only when this type of behavior becomes either frequent or serious is it considered dangerous or as a potential symptom of BPD. 

What are Some Examples of Impulsive Behaviors?

Some examples of impulsive behaviors include:

  • Going on spending sprees
  • Driving recklessly
  • Promiscuous sex
  • Binge eating
  • Yelling, shouting, or screaming at others
  • Threatening to harm others
  • Destroying property
  • Shoplifting
  • Getting in physical fights with people

Can Impulsivity Be Treated?

While impulsive behaviors can be serious and pervasive, this symptom can be successfully managed with therapy. Many treatments for BPD have components that target impulsivity. For example, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) focuses on building skills that will help you to reduce your impulsive behaviors.By using healthy coping mechanisms to handle intense emotions, a person with BPD is better equipped to handle different situations. 

Mindfulness, a skill taught in DBT that encourages you to stay in the moment, can help you to stay more aware of your actions so that you can take time to consider consequences.

Practicing this technique can help you to take a moment to reflect on your options, empowering you to make more rational decisions about how to respond to events around you.

Medications may also help with impulsivity but are usually most effective when used in conjunction with psychotherapy with a therapist specializing in BPD.

If you are struggling with impulsivity, learn more about treatments for BPD that may help you get impulsive behavior under control.

Sources:

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

Linehan, MM. "Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder." New York: Guilford, 1993.

Moeller, FG, Barratt, ES, Dougherty, DM, Schmidt, JM, Swann, AC. "Psychiatric Aspects of Impulsivity." American Journal of Psychiatry 158:1783-1793, November 2001.

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