The first time that borderline personality disorder was recognized as a diagnosable serious mental illness was in 1980, when it was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Third Edition.1 Today, the fifth edition of that same manual is used to provide an up-to-date definition of the current understanding of what this disorder is, how develops and affects its sufferers, and how it may be treated.
Diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder paints a picture of a person who feels intense emotions that often fluctuate between extremes. A person with borderline personality has a difficult time sensing his or her own identity and developing a stable self-image. He or she may feel chronically empty. Relationships with others are damaged and perceptions of other people can swing from best-friend to hated and mistrusted foe, idol to worthless object. This instability leads to impulsive behavior in actions with others and treatment of self. Self-endangering behaviors may accompany, such as driving recklessly, binge eating, intense outbursts of anger, cutting or hurting one’s self, spending impulsively or abusing others
The feelings of insecurity that come with an unstable self-image and the misinterpretation of interpersonal communication only contributes to a deep fear of abandonment. Frantic behavior to avoid abandonment may come out in the form of anger and panic with something as simple as a person running a few minutes late for an appointment. Even situations of necessary separation bring inordinate nervousness.2
What Borderline Personality Disorder Feels Like
Relationships become very difficult to maintain with borderline personality disorder. When you have this disorder and you meet someone who expresses interest in you, someone whom you trust, you may feel inclined to eagerly jump into a relationship with that person. Soon, you may come to feel that person is not there for you as often or as frequently as you would actually like. You can easily feel betrayed, or feel that others have come to develop a negative impression of you. Others may tell you that the fact that a loved one is absent or inattentive likely means nothing about your individual character, but you may still feel a great deal of pain or anxiety. It can be difficult to put these factors all into place to realize that others do not see you as negatively as you may imagine, and you may become discouraged and say goodbye to very potentially valuable friendships. This pattern can lead to very unhappy feelings.
Borderline personality disorder might lead you to define yourself as being bad or evil. You may even feel like you do not exist, or like it would be better if you did not exist. Do not let yourself accept these beliefs as fact. Some people who let themselves think these things for too long decide to harm themselves, get into car accidents, or binge-eat, and they deeply regret it later. They end up having a self-image that is worse than the one they had before they let themselves think these bad thoughts. If you have thoughts along those lines, immediately gather the courage to advocate for yourself to get supportive help.
Often, individuals with borderline personality disorder describe feeling empty, bored, or without meaning. Staying busy is a good thing, but it is not necessary to be doing something productive or entertaining all of the time in order to make life meaningful. Down time and alone time are healthy when they are spent thinking about good and positive things, which can also help to calm feelings of anger and keep your actions within your control when there are more people around and activities going on. This is a skill that takes practice, and you may need support to learn how to be happy during those times you are alone with yourself.
Help for Borderline Personality Disorder
A very interesting characteristic of borderline personality disorder is that it impels many of its victims to give up on an endeavor just right barely before reaching their goal. For instance, some get all of the way through 12 years of school and drop out the very point of graduation, becoming convinced that the success is not for them.
If you are affected by this condition, then you may have experienced this relationship conundrum- as soon as a partner expresses loyalty and it becomes clear that a relationship could last a lifetime, you dismiss yourself as unworthy and throw the relationship to the curb. No, not in fear of commitment- indeed, you likely do not want to be alone- but in the decision that your loved one will not approve of you in the future. Borderline personality disorders can be treated in ways that will bring balance and greater freedom from all of these negative emotions.
1. National Institute of Mental Health. “Borderline Personality Disorder.” Found online 2/2/16 at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml.
2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.