People with BPD typically experience some, but not necessarily all, of these symptoms. See a mental health professional for a proper diagnosis.
Fear of abandonment
People with BPD can sometimes feel intense anxiety, fear or anger at the idea of being left alone or abandoned, even when there’s no real cause for it. They might make frantic efforts to try and prevent the perceived abandonment, by begging, fighting or threatening self-harm.
All-or-nothing approach to relationships
A person with BPD often views relationships in a black-or-white, all-or-nothing way, where they see the other person as either ‘perfect’ or ‘bad’, with no in between. They might demand to spend a lot of time with the other person and share a lot of intimate details early in the relationship, then flip quickly to hatred and feeling the other person does not care enough.
People with BPD might have sudden changes of mind about their careers, sexual identity, values and types of friends they have. They might make a series of extreme life changes and have no sense of who they are or where they are headed in life.
People with BPD might behave impulsively as a way of easing their distress, despite the possible consequences. Some examples of impulsive behaviour are reckless driving, gambling, reckless spending, binge eating, unsafe sex and drug and alcohol abuse.
Suicidal or self-harming behaviour
People with BPD might deliberately physically harm themselves as a way to distract or get relief from emotional distress. The most common methods of self-harm include cutting and burning. Thoughts of suicide are also common in people living with BPD, due to the intense emotional states they experience.
People living with BPD are often highly sensitive and can have sudden, intense emotional responses, even to minor events. Once triggered, it can take a long time for the person to return to a more stable mood. Managing these rapid, unpredictable surges in emotion can be overwhelming and leave the person feeling out of control.
Feelings of emptiness
People with BPD often describe feeling empty. Some describe it as a physical sensation in their chest or abdomen, like a hole that needs to be filled. These feelings can occur for a number of reasons, including being let down throughout life, expecting others to let them down, a lack of close relationships and shutting out feelings to stop the emotional surges.
Anger is a normal human emotion, but it is often felt unusually strongly by people with BPD, especially in relationships. They can struggle to cope with their anger, which can be expressed as aggressive or destructive behaviour or turned inwards, often leading to self-harm. Not everyone with BPD is aggressive or self-harms, but the behaviour associated with unchecked anger can cause problems for the person with BPD, their family, friends and others.
Paranoia & dissociation
During times of stress, people with BPD may perceive threats or dangers that don’t exist. They may worry that others are judging them and respond by withdrawing from social groups or lashing out at people they perceive as a threat. People with a history of trauma may be hypersensitive to their environment in order to protect themselves from perceived dangers.
Dissociation is the feeling of being ‘checked out’, as though you’re not inside your body. It’s a bit like driving on a route that you take every day and getting to your destination with no memory of how you got there or what happened during the drive. Dissociation is a way of coping with distress, and while in certain situations it may be helpful, people can do things while they are dissociated that are dangerous.
There isn’t a single known cause for BPD. Research suggests that a combination of factors, including genetic predisposition, developmental or psychological problems, neglect, abuse, or trauma during childhood, make some people more susceptible to developing BPD. Not everyone who develops BPD has experienced trauma as a child, nor does everyone who experiences trauma develop BPD.
How common is BPD?
Between 1-4% of the population are estimated to have BPD.