The Borderline Personality Disorder is quite a complicated condition to explain. Sometimes, I wish, that it was “just” a Depression or the Panic Disorder because those are much easier described. I will try and give the easiest explanation for BPD I can manage. Note that this is not a scientific text – I might refer to some things by giving personal examples and leave out facts that are not necessary for getting a feeling for the whole thing in my eyes. You are very welcome to read more about BPD on more sophisticated pages 😉
Why the term “Borderline”?
Basically, a clever man called Adolf Stern wanted to divide mental disorders in two categories : neuroses and psychoses. Unfortunately, BPD doesn’t really fit in any of those, because it shows characteristics of both – so it is on the “borderline” between the two categories. An alternative term for it is “Emotionally unstable Personality Disorder”, which sounds even more complicated to me.
The nine symptoms
In order to get a diagnose with BPD, you need to show at least 5 of the following symptoms. I show eight of them, though not all of them are equally strong.
- Desperate attempts to stop family and friends from abandoning you. I can totally relate to that. If I am in love with someone, I go to extreme lengths to try and please them so that they won’t leave me.
- Unstable relationships due to “splitting” – that means idealization on one day and complete devaluation on the next. Check – not only in my personal relationships do I tend to think in black and white, but also my jobs and flats always seemed perfect in the beginning and completely worthless a short time later. It makes letting go easy for me but I see that it must be a nightmare for my (ex)-partners.
- Distorted and unstable self-image. “I don’t really know who I am!”, is a sentence that every borderliner says or thinks. For example, I can tell you exactly what I do and what I look like but as my moods and goals change so rapidly, I can’t tell you who I AM…
- Impulsive behaviours that might be quite dangerous. That is the one I do not have, I guess I am too cowardly or too reasonable to drive fast, have non-safer sex, spend too much money,…..
- Suicidal and self-harming behaviour: I think about suicide a lot and but I never acutally tried. It is more of a last resort, when the thoughts get too intense, I tell myself that I could still do it the next day. A similar delaying tactics works concerning self-harm but it happens. You can read more about that in the category self-harm (surprise).
- Periods of severe depressive moods, irritability, fear,…that can change every few hours or days. Well, yes. Long enough misunderstood as “puberty problems”, I didn’t recognise that my mood swings were not “normal” for a very long time.
- Chronic feeling of emotional emptiness. My biggest enemy…
- Inappropriate, intense anger, often followed by feelings of shame and guilt. To a certain extent, yes: I can get so angry about apparently nothing that the wrath fills just everything and makes thinking clearly impossible. But in contrast to many other borderliners, I do not have bad fits of rage as I tend to bottle things up – I am unable to get aggressive.
- Dissociative feelings (feeling disconnectes from your own body, etc.), maybe even psychotic episodes and paranoia when there is too much stress. Unfortunately, yes. Dissociation seems to be a sort of survival tactic for people to get through traumatic events unharmed. To me it happens more often than I encounter situations that might justify it.
What are borderliners like?
As 5 of the criteria mentioned above are enough to get the diagnose, borderline personalities can be extremely different from each other. The stereotype is a person who cuts their arms, destroys every relationship (and the people involved), gets aggressive quite often and seems to change their mind about things all the time. If you read more about me, you will find that I am not that kind of borderliner – I am the “quiet” sort, people tend to react with “You? Impossible!”, and yet, I show eight out of nine symptoms.
Apparently, BPD is diagnosed more frequently over the last few years. It is estimated that 2-4% of the population suffer from BPD and we can be quite certain that 10-20% of people who are treated in psychiatric wards are borderliners! Those numbers vary, it seems that nobody is sure about what is going on exactly as BPD has only been recongnised as a disorder for quite a short time.
Also, nobody seems to know where it comes from exactly: As far as I understand Latin, borderline brains seems to be more active in the parts that are concerned with negative emotions, such as fear, sadness or anger, whilst the ones that regulate stress are less active than in other brains.
At the same time, most people estimate that childhood traumata, such as sexual abuse and violence play a large role as possible causes (a huge number of patients, though not everyone who has BPD had experiences like that in their childhood).
Finally, it could be that there are genes that cause BPD, but like I said, all that is not fully agreed upon.
There are even doctors (not to mention other people) who claim that BPD doesn’t exist or don’t take it seriously which is frustrating and unsettling for those who suffer from it. An mind you – BPD has a 10% suicidal rate!
It may take a little reading to fully understand BPD, and there are always new, interesting aspects; although I have it, I still find new information all the time. This text cannot go into detail about all that happens to a borderliner but I just tried to give an overview. If you are interested in a specific symptom, I have subcategories for those I know best.
Also, I would like to recommend a book, that has helped me understand BPD much better and also included useful tips for my partner and family. It is called “Sometimes I act crazy” and was written by Dr. Jerold J. Kreisman and Hal Straus. I am sure that there are many useful books out there but I likes this one best as it gives lots of examples and is informative, yet not overly scientific.