What is borderline personality disorder?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder characterized by unstable moods, behavior, self-image, and relationships. As a result of these patterns, someone who is diagnosed with BPD often takes impulsive actions, which can lead to problematic relationships. They often experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that lasts anywhere from a few hours to days.


Signs & Symptoms

BPD often leads to changing interests, values, and the way they see others. This is due to the mood swings and uncertainty about how they see themselves in the world.

Signs of BPD include:

  • Seeing things in extremes, such as all good or all bad

  • Rapidly initiating intimacy

  • Cutting off communication with someone abruptly

  • Intense, often unstable relationships with family, friends, and loved ones

  • Distorted self-image

  • Impulsive and dangerous behaviors, such as spending sprees, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating

  • Self-harming behavior

  • Recurring suicidal thoughts or behaviors

  • Highly fluctuating moods

  • Feelings of emptiness

  • Difficulty trusting

  • Intense anger

  • Feelings of dissociation

As with any other mental health diagnosis, not everyone with BPD experiences every symptom listed above. Some experience only a few symptoms and some experience more. Also, the severity, length, and frequency of symptoms will vary depending on the individual and their experiences.

Risk Factors

The cause of BPD is not yet clear, but there is research suggesting the following risk factors play a role:

  • Family history - those with an immediate family member who have BPD have a higher risk of developing the disorder.

  • Brain factors - there are studies that indicate those with BPD have structural and functional changes in brain areas, such as impulse control and emotional regulation. *Please note - it is not known if the changes are risk factors or caused by the disorder.

  • Environmental, cultural, and social factors - many people with BPD have experienced traumatic life events, abuse, abandonment, exposure to unstable relationships, and hostile conflicts.

People with BPD who are thinking of harming themselves or attempting suicide need help right away.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The service is available to everyone. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the Lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. All calls are free and confidential.