Borderline Personality Disorder: What does it mean and what does it NOT mean?

Borderline Personality Disorder – What does it mean, and what doesn’t it mean?

Often when my clients first receive a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, I get one of two reactions.  Either they have never heard of it, and are wondering, “What do you mean there’s something wrong with my personality?” or, they have heard of it and are afraid of the diagnosis because of what they have heard.  So, what does this diagnosis really mean, and what doesn’t it mean?

What does it mean?

A “personality disorder” is admittedly a strange term.  It’s not like someone gives you a personality test and when you fail it you get a personality disorder.  What the term describes that makes personality disorders different from other mental conditions is that the symptoms tend to impact every aspect of a person’s life and go on for years.  For instance, if you have depression, you might have feelings of sadness, guilt, hopelessness, and feeling like a burden to others.  These feelings usually last while you are in the depressive episode and then more-or-less resolve later and might only be a part of your life for a few months.  Maybe your depression affects your whole life, or maybe you can hide your symptoms in a certain setting.  With a personality disorder, unhelpful behaviors, feelings, and ways of viewing yourself, others, and the world are much more ingrained and harder to shake.  So, in this sense, people with personality disorders tend to identify with their symptoms on a much deeper level and feel a bit more like “my symptoms are who I am.”  People who experience BPD tend to struggle with trust, fears of abandonment, chronic feelings of emptiness, impulsivity, problems in relationships, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.  You can view the full criteria here:

What does it NOT mean?

However, this does not mean that personality disorders are untreatable, or that they have to define you!  For many years, this was the popular opinion in the mental health world, and there are some people out there who still believe it to be true.  Sadly, many people with BPD still encounter providers who subscribe to these beliefs and they end up losing hope.  However, several treatments have emerged over the years to help people diagnosed with BPD which are very effective, most notably Dialectical Behavior Therapy or DBT.  DBT is designed to help you learn to monitor and regulate your emotions, handle crisis situations, and improve your interpersonal relationships.  Research also shows strong links between BPD and traumatic life experiences.  I often find that for my clients with BPD, treatment for traumatic stress can provide them with huge relief and help them to reshape their lives. A treatment combination of individual and group therapy addressing trauma and providing DBT therapy shows great improvement for those with BPD and gives them hope again for their futures.

If you are struggling with BPD or traumatic stress, please contact us – we can help!


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