Mood Swings in Borderline Personality Disorder

Intense Mood Swings as a Hallmark Feature 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? 

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. 

Pattern of 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.

While it's normal to have your mood shift from feeling good to feeling down, someone with BPD may experience very severe mood shifts — 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 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.

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.

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 take good care of your emotional health, just as you would your physical health. 

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th ed, text revision. Washington, DC: Author, 2007.

Gunderson JG, Weingberg I, Daversa MT, Kueppenbender KD, et al. "Descriptive and Longitudinal Observations on the Relationship of Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder." American Journal of Psychiatry, 163:1173-1179, 2006.

Paris, J. "Borderline or Bipolar? Distinguishing Borderline Personality Disorder from Bipolar Spectrum Disorders." Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 12:140-145, 2004.

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