Mood Swings in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Intense mood swings and impulsive behaviors are a hallmark features of BPD

Depressed woman with head in hands.
Intense mood swings are prevalent in BPD. Tom Merton/Getty Images

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) often experience very intense mood swings. But how can these mood swings be distinguished from normal variations in mood, or from the types of mood swings associated with other disorders? 

People with BPD often feel like they are on an emotional rollercoaster and typically have an unstable sense of self and extreme fear of abandonment. BPD is part of the Cluster B personality disorders, which are marked by dramatic, emotional or erratic behavior.

 

Let's explore the typical pattern of mood swings in BPD, and how they are different from mood swings that we all experience from time to time. In addition, there are many co-occurring symptoms that a person with BPD will typically experience, which can help differentiate it from other conditions. 

Mood Swings in Borderline Personality Disorder

Everyone experiences emotional ups and downs, but people with BPD tend to experience mood swings that are more intense and frequent than the typical person and last between a few hours and a few days. While it's normal to have your mood shift from feeling good to feeling down, someone with BPD may experience very extreme mood shifts for minor reasons— going from feeling okay to feeling devastated, desperate, or completely hopeless within a matter of moments. In fact, many people with BPD feel so overwhelmed by these intense emotional shifts that they engage in impulsive behaviors such as​ substance abuse, binge eating, self-harm, or even suicidal thoughts or behaviors, in order to feel better.

These mood swings may also happen frequently. Someone with BPD can have many mood swings in the course of a day, whereas most people will only experience one or two major emotional shifts in the course of a week.

In addition, while most people have times in their lives when they are more emotionally vulnerable than other times, people with BPD experience emotional ups and downs consistently for years.

This can result in unstable interpersonal relationships with loved ones, friends, and colleagues. Some other symptoms of this disorder may include: 

  • Intense anger that they have trouble controlling
  • Paranoid thoughts
  • Extreme sensitivity to perceived rejection and abandonment 
  • Feelings of emptiness 
  • Inability to self-soothe
  • Feeling dissociated from oneself, including observing oneself from outside the body or not feeling in touch with reality 

External Trigger as a Distinguishing Feature of BPD Mood Swings

Mood swings in BPD can also be distinguished from other types of mood problems by examining the triggers that precede the mood shift. Very often, a mood swing in BPD happens in reaction to an external trigger, and these triggers are often related to perceived rejection or abandonment by another person.

Though researchers are still trying to understand the borderline personality brain, they know that its fight-or-flight response is easily triggered, causing the rational part of the brain to turn off and the survival instinct to turn on. This makes the person act in ways that are inappropriate or out-of-proportion to the situation. 

If I Have Mood Swings, Does This Mean I Have BPD?

Keep in mind that even if you have mood swings that fit the description above, this is just one of a number of symptoms of BPD.

Having mood swings alone is not enough to warrant a diagnosis of BPD.

However, if you are finding that your emotional ups and downs are interfering with your work, school, relationships, or enjoyment of life, it makes sense to seek out professional help. Remember it's important to take good care of your emotional health, just as you would your physical health. 

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. What Are Personality Disorders? 

Helpguide.org. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): A Guide to Symptoms, Treatment, and Recovery. 

National Institutes of Health. Borderline Personality Disorder.

 

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