Going through the lists of different psychological disorders and their symptoms, most people would find at least one description or trait, or behavioral pattern they could relate to. Some of us are nervous eaters, some tend to have bad night sleep, some are emotionally sensitive, and some may react aggressively to certain small things. A behavioral pattern will be classified as a disorder when it seriously influences a person’s social life, their job or occupation, their private relationships.
According to Levitt (2007), the behavior of people with personality disorders is rigid and inflexible, their way of thinking and the way they act remains the same in different situations. They have difficulties with adjusting, understanding when they cross the line, or simply regulating their emotions and impulses, also they lack skills of learning from their own mistakes.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a quite common diagnosis nowadays. It is called “borderline” because it has features of both neurotic and psychotic mental disorders, which makes it quite hard to diagnose. Manning (2011) characterizes borderline personality disorder by five types of symptoms. The first one is “emotional dysregulation” (p. 14) – people with BPD often overreact to situations, their emotions build up and it may end as a breakdown leading to drinking or drug abuse, self-damage, feeling of emptiness.
The second type is “interpersonal chaos” (p. 16): BPD causes a lot of trouble not only to the person, who has it but also to all their close ones, such as relatives and friends. As borderline people are extremely emotionally sensitive and vulnerable – they tend to misinterpret other people’s reactions and behavior, they see a double meaning in everything said to them, so the most ordinary situations make them feel abandoned, betrayed, and forgotten.
The next aspect typical for BPD people is “behavioral dysregulation” (p. 18) or acting on impulse, it includes uncontrolled drinking and drug abuse, irrational spending of money, self-damage – these are attempts to feel better, and calm painful emotions down. Such people may choose to go home with a total stranger, suddenly take off on a trip, or make unexpected late-night calls. People with BPD suffer from feeling empty; they search for someone to fill in the void. BPD patients say that this feeling is like having a black hole inside, it sucks love and care out of others, and ruins all the relationships, leaving the person feeling lost and useless.
BPD patients have problems with understanding what they need in relationships, finding favorite occupations, passions, hobbies. These symptoms fall into a category called “cognitive dysregulation” (p. 23). It also includes problems with concentration, as extreme emotionality keeps borderlines, or BPs, on edge all the time, once their emotions burst out – there is no way for them to shift or quickly calm down. In the moments of their outbursts, people with borderline personality cannot judge their own behavior, be rational or logical.
Another trait typical to some BPs is what Manning (2011) calls “dissociating” (p. 24), she explains it as “zoning out”, going someplace else in their minds for a while. Some borderline patients use this in stressful situations, in order to avoid painful emotions. One of the common ways BPs use to shut down negative situations is imagining themselves being dead or killing themselves in their minds. Actual suicide attempts are also typical of borderline behavior, but in most cases, such people do not want to kill themselves for real, it’s only one of their ways to act out.
As Mason (2010) mentioned, stories of spouses, relatives and friends of people with borderline personality disorder are horrifying. The constant need for attention, constant criticism and accusations of not doing enough, not being good enough drive healthy people away from the BPs, ruin the relationships and make BPs feel even worse, even more lonely, vulnerable, and misunderstood.
A borderline personality disorder is closely connected with human development. In most cases, this disorder starts being diagnosed when the person enters their 20s or 30s, after the personality is fully shaped, and the disorder starts being visible due to behavioral patterns that are unusual for a healthy adult. If we look at borderline personality disorder in the aspect of socialization – we can see that one of the main causes of the development of BPD is growing up in an emotionally invalidating environment – an environment where the child’s emotions are neglected, not paid attention to, not reacted properly too, or reacted to in an aggressive way.
A child that was not taught the meaning of emotions properly is more likely to turn into a lost and confused young adult, once they have to live an independent life and face different emotional challenges on their own.
Treatments for a borderline personality disorder are based on teaching the patients to be aware of what is going on with their emotions, what triggers them, feeling when it is better to start calming down. People with BPD learn how to see the difference between rational and emotional thinking. One of the most important skills borderline patients have to learn is impulse control – this prevents acting on impulse, which leads to self-damage and self-injuring. BPD is hard to treat, but many determined patients are successful at managing their disorder and live relatively normal life.
Levitt, P. (2007). Personality Disorders. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing.
Manning, S. Y. (2011). Loving Someone with Borderline Personality Disorder: How to Keep Out-of-Control Emotions from Destroying Your Relationship. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Mason, P. T. (2010). Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back when Someone You Care about Has Borderline Personality Disorder. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.