man leaning against wall suffering from borderline personality disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder: What It Looks Like

Written By: The Meadows Web Team

By Beau Black

Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder

Marked by intense outbursts of anger, impulsiveness, periods of depression and anxiety, and deep-seated fear of abandonment, borderline personality disorder (BPD) can distort how you perceive yourself and the people around you. Individuals with BPD tend to see life and other people through a filter of binary, black and white, or good and bad thinking that can damage your relationships and cause you to suddenly distance yourself from loved ones.

It feels like going through life with third-degree burns; everything is hot and painful to touch.

Recognizing BPD Symptoms

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), symptoms and signs of BPD include:

  • Volatile, unstable relationships with friends and family
  • Hypersensitivity to abandonment (real or imagined) and going to great lengths to avoid it, including breaking off relationships suddenly or preemptively
  • Impulsive behaviors (spending sprees, sexual hookups, substance abuse, and the like)
  • An altered sense of self and self-worth
  • Self-harming, or suicidal thoughts or threats
  • Chronic mood swings and spells of intense, out-of-proportion anger
  • Deep trust issues, suspicion of others’ motives, and persistent feelings of emptiness
  • Distorted views of others and self

In some, the churning feelings that patients with a BPD diagnosis deal with can lead to “intense and unstable relationships,” NIMH reports. This can be challenging both for the person with BPD symptoms and those around them.

Researchers aren’t certain of the causes of BPD, but it’s believed that genetics may play a role in the development of the disorder, as may a history of traumatic events. Researchers have identified some structural differences in the brains of patients with borderline personality disorder, but they do not yet understand if these structural changes are a cause or result of the disorder.

What Is It Like to Have Borderline Personality Disorder? questioned patients to find out what it’s like to live with borderline personality disorder. The responses indicate that sufferers experience their feelings very strongly. One interviewee said, “Everything is felt more intensely: good, bad, or otherwise.” Another described a “pervasive fear” of abandonment, while another said, “It feels like going through life with third-degree burns; everything is hot and painful to touch.”

Another respondent discussed the stigma surrounding people with BPD: “Many people believe that those living with it can be manipulative or dangerous due to their symptoms. While this can be the case in a very small minority of people, most people with BPD are just struggling with their sense of self and their relationships … and need a little bit of extra love.”

Identity Disturbance and Self-Image Issues

man in therapy session

The Journal of Personality Disorders shares that people with BPD can often struggle with self-image issues due to impulsivity, emotional instability, and identity disturbance. describes identity disturbance as an inconsistent sense of your personal identity, with your own goals, beliefs, and actions always changing. Consequently, if you experience identity disturbance, you may begin to take on the personalities of other people depending on your circumstances and what you think your peers may want from you. 

While others can have a stable sense of who they are, if you have BPD, you may have no idea what you believe in or even feel nonexistent when it comes to your identity. As impulsivity and BPD are associated with one another, these self-image issues may result in regularly changing your values, aspirations, friendships, and opinions. This leaves many with BPD struggling with career direction and overall relationship difficulties. 

Destigmatizing BPD

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) describes BPD as one of the most misunderstood and stigmatized mental health conditions, sharing that even mental health professionals can have a stigma towards treating people with a BPD diagnosis. Those with BPD also experience societal stigmas, as others may choose to disassociate themselves from you. Because of these stigmas, you can experience discrimination or social disconnection, heightening your own BPD symptoms, including fear of abandonment. 

These stigmas sadly create barriers that can prevent you from getting the proper help you need. That’s why it’s critical for borderline personality disorder to be destigmatized. And it all starts with understanding and empathy. If you have BPD, there’s no reason to be ashamed. It is in fact a treatable condition. With the right treatment in a safe environment free from judgment, you can learn to manage your BPD behavior patterns and thrive as a functioning member of society. 

Treating Borderline Personality Disorder

BPD can be challenging to treat, in part because its symptoms can be confused with or co-occur with those of other disorders, like bipolar disorder or depression. Borderline personality disorder is sometimes mistaken for multiple personality disorder because of its rapid mood changes, but the two are not the same.

BPD can be challenging to treat, in part because its symptoms can be confused with or co-occur with those of other disorders, like bipolar disorder or depression.

According to the NIMH, treatment with a therapist who specializes in BPD will be most effective. Treatment may involve cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps you to develop problem-solving and emotion-processing skills, or dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which was developed to treat BPD.

DBT helps you to:

  • Develop increased mindfulness (being able to accept and be present in what’s happening right now)
  • Learn to tolerate stress (to increase their ability to deal with negative emotions)
  • Manage their emotional responses to events around them
  • Work on their interpersonal communication skills to improve their relationships

Psychotherapy is favored over medication, although mood stabilizers or antidepressants may also be used to help manage symptoms in some cases.

Treatment may also include family members or loved ones who are impacted by your emotional volatility. Counseling involving loved ones may help you to understand how the disorder works and learn ways of interacting that benefit you. This may also help you to feel understood and supported.

Coping With BPD

With its intense mood swings, emotional instability, and other challenges, navigating each day with BPD can be difficult. However, according to, there are healthy short- and long-term strategies for coping with BPD, depending on your situation. If you’re feeling angry or restless, exercising or doing practical physical activities (think gardening, woodworking, etc.) can help. Or taking a cold bath or shower can be useful if you’re tempted to pursue self-destructive behaviors. Longer-term coping strategies can include talking through your difficulties with others (including support groups), keeping a mood diary, and making a self-care box of items that can help you when you’re struggling. 

Friends and family can show support for your loved one with BPD as well. offers a few tips: 

  • Educate yourself on BPD to understand the motivations behind their behaviors
  • Express your support (and even accompany them) when they seek professional help
  • Listen to their struggles and validate their feelings
  • Don’t ignore self-destructive behaviors or threats

Gentle Path Can Help You Navigate BPD

Borderline personality disorder can make it difficult to interact with others and know who you are. However, at Gentle Path at The Meadows, our experienced, caring team can help you find the courage to confront your difficulties, heal from underlying trauma, and learn to navigate your BPD in a healthy way. Contact us today to begin your journey toward hope, identity, and connection. 

November 10th, 2023

Categories: bipolar emotional trauma relationships trauma

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