Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder is characterized by emotion dysregulation, meaning quick, frequent, and painful mood swings that are beyond the control of the person with the problem. People struggling with this problem have great difficulty forming and maintaining relationships. They also experience problems controlling their own spontaneous and reckless behaviors and often have a fluctuating idea about who they are. The overall theme for this disorder is rapid and unpredictable changes in a person’s thoughts, moods, behaviors, relationships, and beliefs.
Very often, these rapid changes are caused by recurring fears of being criticized or deserted by other people, or they are triggered by actions of other people that feel like criticism, such as small disagreements or changes in plans. In response to these types of situations, a person with borderline personality disorder can suddenly become very sad, nervous, angry, or short-tempered. The person might also practice self-harming behaviors, like cutting himself or herself, or engage in suicidal acts. Unfortunately, personality styles like this often create problems in a person’s relationships, job, and other social situations, which is why they’re referred to as personality disorders.
People who suffer with borderline personality disorder often have histories of intense relationships that begin and end very suddenly. Frequently, this is caused by two things: their fear of being abandoned and their tendency to quickly idolize and then criticize other people. For example, a female student with borderline personality disorder quickly formed a very intense relationship with another student she met in class. Immediately, the young woman wanted to spend all of her free time with the other student and spoke very highly of her new “best friend.” However, the first time the other student declined an offer to socialize, the young woman felt intensely afraid and hurt. She suddenly suspected that her new friend was abandoning her and lashed out at the other student, berating her and accusing her friend of deserting her. Understandably, the other student ended the relationship.
For people struggling with borderline personality disorder, episodes like this happen frequently and can be very overwhelming. Intense emotions such as fear, hurt, anxiety, anger, sadness, and shame can last for a few hours to as long as a few days. In response to feeling abandoned or hurt, the person with the disorder might do something extreme (or threaten to do something extreme) in an attempt to keep the other person from leaving. Using the previous example, the student with borderline personality disorder might begin to repeatedly call her friend in an attempt to convince her to continue the relationship. In very desperate situations, the person might even threaten suicide if the other person doesn’t do what is requested, as in “Don’t leave me—or else.”
However, people with borderline personality disorder also tend to lash out at themselves when they’re feeling angry and overwhelmed. Some people engage in activities such as cutting on their arms and legs and other forms of self-mutilation. Others might use drugs and alcohol excessively, engage in unsafe sexual encounters, go on shopping sprees they can’t afford, gamble excessively, or engage in unhealthy eating habits like bingeing and purging. In more hopeless situations, the person might attempt suicide or think about suicide in a detailed way.
Most people with this problem are constantly examining their relationships for problems and expecting to be deserted by other people. They also tend to categorize themselves, others, and things into classes of either “all good” or “all bad,” with no middle ground in between. This is why small problems can often lead to the end of a relationship. Yet, despite how quickly their relationships end, many people with borderline personality disorder are actually afraid of being alone because they think they’re not capable of coping with problems by themselves.6
Battling borderline personality disorder can be very tiring and confusing. People with this problem are in severe physical, emotional, and psychological pain almost all the time. They also lack a stable sense of who they are. One minute the person might think of himself or herself as a good person, and the next minute think of himself or herself as evil and flawed. Thoughts about other people fluctuate rapidly, as well. The person might want to trust others, but at the same time, he or she doesn’t think other people are trustworthy. All of this confusion can very easily leave a person feeling empty, sad, and hollow inside.
Adding to the bewilderment of the disorder, people struggling with borderline personality disorder might sometimes feel as though they leave their bodies during times of stress and can’t recall what happened. These severe periods of dissociation only add to their unstable sense of self. Similarly, and equally disturbing, are periods of hallucinations that can occur during times of stress or depression.