The purpose of this article is not to diagnosis or even accuse anyone of anything. At times we all exhibit one or two general traits associated with BPD. Rather, it is to make you aware of certain behaviors that tend to exemplify a borderline personality.
The reason for this is simple - a borderline personality can be an incredibly destructive force in their own lives, to say nothing of the people with whom they live, work, and interact. And because of their prevalence, you've probably had interactions with several. You probably had a hunch that something just wasn't quite right about them, but you couldn't put your finger on what it was. When you read the following descriptions, see if they relate to anyone you know.
One caveat: The presence of one or two of the following traits does not mean that a person has a borderline personality, but they are red flags just the same. Here are 5 signs to look for:
1. It seems like they are addicted to drama.
We've all had that one friend. That one person in our life who just seemed to be a magnet for drama. For the borderline personality, there is no such thing as a normal break up, nor a normal argument, nor a normal test or even a normal day at work. Everything they deal with is just huge. It doesn't really matter what it is - the burden for them is overwhelming, and they can't understand why you can't see that. If you're on Facebook, I promise you that at least one of your friends is or was always posting about the constant drama in their lives. It seems like they're hysterical about everything. Relationships, work, money, religion, politics - it doesn't really matter. And this is not to say that your ranting friend has BPD - but it is fair to say that what you see is an example of borderline behavior.
No one is sure what causes Borderline Personality Disorder. However, past trauma does seem to be a contributing factor. One of the symptoms of post traumatic stress is hypervigilance, which is basically when a person is always on sensory overload. The part of their brain that controls the fight or flight mechanism is constantly engaged, so they're always keyed up and on guard.
Emotional dysregulation is another reason borderlines act the way they do. In effect, they are too emotional. Again, this probably has something to do with post traumatic stress and the myriad issues it can cause. It seems counter intuitive, but a borderline personality is more comfortable with chaos, which is why it always seems like they are trying to create drama where none existed. This leads us to the second warning sign:
2. They have a pattern of intense and unstable relationships.
Often, the borderline is involved in drama because the relationships they choose are full of conflict and discord. Men with BPD are often the ones getting jailed repeatedly for domestic violence or stalking. They have extreme attitudes towards their partners. Why can't you see how much I love you, they might scream, after assaulting their girlfriend or wife. They're also the ones who can't seem to accept that a relationship is over, and their refusal to accept the boundaries that come with a break up often result in restraining orders or jail time.
Women with BPD can behave in much the same way. They may not be as aggressive physically, but they have the same all or nothing point of view, and a distorted view of what constitutes a healthy relationship. Borderlines have a difficult accepting a "normal" relationship, because they are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. They approach relationships with suspicion and jealousy, and this attitude often begets the very thing they fear, which is rejection. Having any form of relationship with a borderline personality is a challenge. No matter how great a person you are, it is unlikely a borderline personality will change for you. This leads to the third warning sign:
3. They refuse to take responsibility for their actions.
One of the most frustrating thing about a borderline personality is that they it seems like they feel they never do anything wrong. At least, that's how seems. For reasons that are not entirely clear, borderline personalities find it exceedingly difficult to admit fault. Admittedly this is not always true, but for many who suffer from Cluster B personality disorders it is.
Lying and manipulation are two behaviors associated with this particular trait. Even if you catch a true borderline in a bold faced lie, they are still usually unwilling to admit fault in anything, for any reason, at any time. There are two probable reasons for this. First, our perception is our reality, and a borderline's perception of the world is, at best, distorted. In many cases, they may actually think that they are blameless. In fact, the idea that they are wrong may never even occur to them. Brains are capable of amazing things.
The second reason is that a borderline personality is exceedingly insecure. This aversion to accepting responsibility may be a defense mechanism - their fractured mind's way of protecting them from further hurt. Ironically, this type of behavior probably does more to drive people away than it does to retain them.
When you get right down to it, the behaviors have to do with a person's need for control. We all want control to some degree - over our lives, our careers, our relationships. However, mentally healthy people seek to control their world in healthy ways. Borderline personalities, generally speaking, do not. These next two warning signs are about control as well, even though it may seem like they are not.
4. Impulsive, high risk behaviors.
The DSM 5 lists several examples of behaviors that it refers to as "potentially self-damaging." These include spending, substance abuse, sex, binge eating and reckless driving. Once, I had a teenage girl on my caseload who had been caught several times using websites like craigslist.com to arrange for sexual liaisons with grown men more than twice her age. She had a borderline personality, and that was definitely an example of high risk behavior.
High risk behavior does not mean someone has a borderline personality. There's way more to it than that. It is, however, a warning sign, especially when you combine it with some of the others on this list. A runny nose does not mean you have the flu. However, it very well may be, if you also have a fever, chills, body aches and a sore throat.
There may not be a good reason why borderline personalities tend to engage in high risk behaviors. These are impulsive acts, which by definition means that they act without thinking. Going back to the example of the teenage girl, when I asked her why she was trying to have sex with strangers on the internet, she told me she did not know. Often, this is a blow off answer. Teenagers use "I don't know" all the time to account for their actions. But in her case, I believed it. I really don't think she knew. It was an impulse. I think that she was used to trauma and abuse, and part of her brain had convinced her to go looking for more. She had had so many awful things done to her. At least this time, she would have some say in the matter.
The final warning sign is perhaps the most disturbing one on the list.
5. Self-mutilation and suicidal behavior.
It is not at all fair to say that people who struggle with suicidal thoughts or behaviors have borderline personalities. But suicidal behavior is fairly common in borderline personalities. So are self-injurious behaviors, such as cutting. It's important to note that these are two different sets of behaviors. Many suicidal people never harm themselves. Conversely, self-harming behaviors such as cutting are not the same as suicide.
As with the other warning signs, cutting behaviors are about control - in this case, emotional control. At the beginning we talked about emotional dysregulation. For the borderline personality, cutting is a way to regulate their emotions. If this sounds bizarre, it's because you're not a borderline.
The idea here is simple - the borderline personality can't control their emotions, but by cutting themselves, they can control the pain. They cut themselves, they feel pain. The physical pain distracts them from their emotional pain. The pain is real to them. It comes from an obvious place, has an obvious cause and an obvious solution. The emotional pain they feel, on the other hand, is far more complex and insidious. They can't escape it. Hence, the need to cut. This type of behavior is seen in both men and women. Cutting is just one example of self-harming behavior.
Borderline Personality Disorder is a so-called Spectrum Disorder, as are many other mental illnesses. Imagine a sliding scale, where zero is the complete absence of symptoms and 100 is full blown psychosis. We all exist somewhere on that scale. Borderline personalities exist on a spectrum as well. It is also important to note that people can exhibit borderline traits and not actually have a diagnosable personality disorder. Even at the extreme end of the spectrum, BPD is one of the few personality disorders that can see a reduction is symptoms with proper therapy and/or medication management. Many people with BPD are "high functioning" while many are not. It is a complicated disorder that affects each person in different ways. Perhaps the best news is that if you are concerned that you have BPD, chances are fairly good that you don't. The most debilitating form of BPD is the one where the person refuses to admit they have a problem. This also happens to be true for almost every other mental illness as well. When we admit that we have a problem, we are one step closer to finding the solution.
If you or someone you know suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, know that there is hope. It can be managed. While counseling in almost any form is better than no counseling at all, look for a therapist who specializes in personality disorders or uses something called DBT. Here's a link if you'd like to learn more about it. BPD is manageable, but the person must first recognize that there is a problem, which is often hard for them to do (see reason 3). If you are in a relationship with someone with BPD, I would recommend you educate yourself on the condition. Check the Recommended Reading section for a few books on the subject.
Have you ever known some with a Borderline Personality? I would like to hear your story in the comments section below. And of course, if you struggle with BPD, I'd like to hear from you as well.