According to the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), BPDis a mental illness that revolves around the inability to manage one's emotions. This loss of emotional control can negatively impact one's relationships with themselves and others. It is estimated that around 1.6% of the U.S population is diagnosed with BPD. Within this 1.6%, it is also estimated that 75% of those diagnosed are women. Experiences of BPD are different for different people. If you are struggling with BPD, it is important to reach out for treatment.
What Exactly is BPD?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is the most commonly recognized personality disorder. Research and understanding of BPD has substantially increased, although there is still a stigma associated with the disorder. Many people view BPD as attention seeking, guilt tripping, or abusive due to the intensity of emotions portrayed. People with BPD usually experience intense mood swings, and their feelings for others can change quickly. This instability can lead to difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships with others. BPD affects relationships through the idea that they have a huge fear of abandonment, and will go to extreme measures to avoid separation or being alone. With this, people with BPD usually view things as black and white or all or nothing, always in extremes which can lead to impulsive actions. This could include impulsive spending, substance misuse, reckless driving, and binge eating. It is important to remember that everyone's experience with BPD is different. The severity, frequency, and duration of the symptoms vary from person to person.
People with BPD are at a significantly higher risk for suicide than the general population. This is because BPD typically coexists with depression, anxiety, and substance use. According to the Psychiatric Times, approximately 96% of patients with BPD have a coexisting mood disorder in their lifetime. With this, research has estimated that about 75% of people with BPD will make at least one suicide attempt in the span of their lifetime. Although this is due to many factors, a big reason for the higher risk is because BPD is highly associated with impulsivity. With these dangerous risks, it is important that people with BPD get the treatment and help they deserve.
BPD vs. Bipolar Disorder
BPD and Bipolar Disorder are often confused. Mainly because they both have symptoms of impulsiveness and mood swings. The main difference between the two is that Bipolar is a mood disorder, whereas BPD is a personality disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1.6% of the United States adult population has BPD, and 4.4% will experience Bipolar Disorder at some point in their life. It is important to understand the difference in the two disorders in order to find the proper care and treatment.
Mood disorders involve fluctuations between moods, like extreme happiness and sadness. This is different from a personality disorder, which involves the way one thinks, feels, and behaves. There are many specifics within the disorder symptoms, age of onset, and treatment.
One similarity between the two disorders is that they both consist of changes in mood. However, the difference is that for BPD, the mood episodes last hours or days, whereas for Bipolar Disorder the mood episodes can last a week or more. Additionally, people with BPD often have more relationship trouble, which is not as common in Bipolar Disorder.This is due to the common development of insecure attachment in people with BPD, leading to a more intense fear of abandonment.
Because Bipolar Disorder and BPD are distinct conditions, it is very important to treat the two disorders individually. For Bipolar Disorder, medication is the primary treatment. This includes mood stabilizers and antipsychotics. Although medications can help treat BPD, it is most often treated with psychotherapy, specifically Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). This type of therapy was in fact created specifically to treat BPD, but is used for many different diagnoses and issuesnow. DBT teaches people stress management, emotional regulation, and relationship skills.
Supporting Youth with BPD
Since BPD is so often misunderstood, it can be very difficult to support youth who are struggling. Psychotherapy and medication are very helpful for youth with BPD, but peer and family support can make all the difference. If you have a loved one with BPD, it is very important to learn all you can to best support them. People with BPD who have support in their personal lives often see improvements in their symptoms sooner. Teens with BPD need empathy, understanding, and compassion. This can be hard to give sometimes when their behavior is angry or aggressive. Understanding that these behaviors are not intended to hurt you is important. Unconditional love no matter the extremity of their behavior is very important in supporting youth with BPD.
Validation is key when it comes to BPD. If your loved one is sharing a difficult emotion with you, do not try to fix it. Instead, listen and understand that strong emotional reactions are part of the disorder. With listening to your loved one struggling, it is important to remember that their emotions can go in extremes. They may go from loving to hating you in the span of hours. However, even when they might appear to ‘hate’ you, know that it is not the reality of their feelings. A fear of abandonment can often cause people to push their loved ones away and what they are really seeking is validation. Be prepared for these mixed messages, but continue to support them and do not take it personally.
With self-harm and suicide so prevelant in people with BPD, do not ignore the signs and threats of harm that they may show. Learn the possible signs that your loved one might be having thoughts to act on these behaviors, and work with them to create a safety plan. If you ever believe that they are at a risk for harming themselves, it is important to call emergency personnel such as 911.
Self-Care for Caretakers
It is important to remember that you cannot do any of these helpful things without taking care of yourself first. You cannot truly help someone else if you are overwhelmed by stress. You are still allowed to have a life outside of the relationship with the person with BPD. It is not selfish to take care of yourself. You can also join a support group for BPD family members or friends, to meet with others who understand what you are going through.
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About the Author:
Ali Green (she/her) is an Editorial Intern at Neolth, and a rising undergraduate senior at Emory University. As a student studying psychology, she found a huge passion for mental health. Upon discovering Neolth and then becoming accepted as an editorial intern, she became super excited to be able to bring awareness, education, and resources to students worldwide. She believes that it is important to create more accessible education and support around mental health issues to reduce stigmas and increase understanding. Outside of school, she enjoys spending time with friends and family, graphic design, and reading.