Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), also know as Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, is a thought to affect between 0.7 and 2% of the general population. While estimates vary, it is considered that the disorder is predominantly diagnosed in women (75%).
So what is BPD? On a generic level, BPD is characterised by having difficulties in how you feel and think about yourself and other people. This can manifest in feeling insecure in relationships and consistently worrying that people will abandon you. This can bring about intense feelings that are very painful and difficult to mange, and they can last anything from a few hours to many days. This can make it hard to make and maintain stable relationships as the intense emotions and abandonment fears can push other people away. People with BPD often don’t have a strong sense of self and will try to change who they are depending on the person they are relating to.
The difficult feelings that are associated with BPD can often lead people to act impulsively, have strong feelings of anger that are hard to control and often self-harming or suicidal feelings. At the most difficult times, they may also experience paranoia or dissociation.
The causes of BPD aren’t clear, but there are some factors that appear with most people that can lead to a diagnosis of BPD. These are environmental factors when growing up, such as feeling unsupported, afraid or upset, with little validation. Family difficulties such as addictions in the parents or any kind of neglect or abuse can also lead to BPD. In additions to these factors, having an inherent emotional sensitivity can also be a factor that can lead to BPD.
So what should you do if you have been diagnosed with BPD? The first thing to consider is whether or not the diagnosis is correct. BPD is a controversial diagnosis as in itself it is hard to diagnose. The disorder shares a lot of commonalities with other personality disorders, and also with other conditions such as depression, bipolar-disorder and PTSD. For some people the diagnosis is a relief as the difficult feelings they experience now start to make sense. For others, having the label of BPD is unhelpful and doesn’t seem to capture their experience. Whatever way you feel about your diagnosis, it is important to get help so you can learn to manage your difficult emotions.
While there are a few treatments available for BPD, the one that is recommended by the NICE guidelines is Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). In DBT therapy, you will focus on acceptance and change. Accepting yourself is a fundamental part of building a sense of self, and leads the way to making positive changes in how you experience life. You will also start to learn emotional regulation skills so you are not swamped by difficult emotions, but instead learn to accept them and let them go. One of the key tools for this is mindfulness, as this allows you to really see what you are thinking and feeling, and allows you to distance yourself from these thoughts and feelings and stay rooted in the present moment. DBT therapy does take commitment to change, but it can allow you experience life in a more positive and balanced way.
Dr Simon Cassar is an integrative existential therapist, trained in Person Centred Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), and Existential Psychotherapy. He is available in our Hove and Lewes clinics and also works online.
Further reading by Dr Simon Cassar –