When we describe one another, we talk about our personalities. A personality is what makes each of us unique. It is our pattern of thinking, feeling and behaving. But for some people, that personality is not defined, which causes numerous side effects, as well as problems with career, friendships and intimate relationships.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness that is characterized by instability of mood, behavior, relationships and being impulsive. BPD affects 5 percent of adults at some time in their life and often affects women more than men. It is usually first diagnosed during adolescence or early adulthood.
Symptoms of BPD include:
▪ Feelings of emptiness.
▪ Extreme reactions to any real or imagined abandonment.
▪ A pattern of stormy and intense relationships with family, friends and loved ones.
▪ A distorted and unstable self-image, where patients don’t have a clear idea of who they are or
what they want in life.
▪ Impulsive and self-destructive behaviors such as reckless driving, unsafe sex, spending sprees,
binge eating or substance abuse.
▪ Recurrent suicidal gestures, threats or acts.
▪ Intense mood swings, especially irritability, depression or anxiety, that can last a few hours or a
▪ Explosive anger that often takes the form of temper tantrums.
▪ Suspicious or paranoid under stress, questioning others’ motives and often
Research data tells us that both genetic and environmental factors play a significant role in the cause of BPD. For example, emotional, physical or sexual abuse in childhood can significantly increase the risk of BPD within people who have a genetic predisposition.
Women with BPD frequently have other disorders such as depression, anxiety or an eating disorder. Men with BPD are more likely to also have substance abuse or antisocial personality disorder.
People assume that BPD is difficult to treat, but it can be treated effectively. In fact, most patients significantly improve over time with consistent treatment.
Psychotherapy is the first line of treatment, but medications are often used to treat mood symptoms of BPD such as anxiety, depression, irritability or aggression. There are also a variety of psychotherapeutic approaches – used in individual and group therapy – that have been found to be effective. They focus on solving behavioral problems by:
▪ Changing the way patients think or behave.
▪ Building coping skills.
▪ Managing emotions.
▪ Replacing negative thoughts and behaviors with positive.
Most BPD patients who receive treatment have productive and satisfying lives. The key to overcoming BPD is getting help from a behavioral health expert.
Radu V. Saveanu, M.D., is a psychiatrist with UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. To learn more, visit umiamihospital.com/specialties/psychiatry.