Borderline Personality Disorder

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What is borderline personality disorder?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is classified as a personality disorder that involves unstable moods, behaviours, and relationships. 

BPD can have a profound impact on your sense of identity, how you cope with daily life and how you manage your relationships. 

The condition is typically diagnosed in early adulthood, i.e., in a person’s late teens or early twenties. However, in some cases, individuals may receive a diagnosis of BPD out of the typical age range.

Borderline personality disorder is a severe mental illness that often requires psychotherapeutic intervention due to the high prevalence of self-harm and suicide attempts associated with the condition.

Our feelings and thoughts make up our personality or character traits. However, individuals with BPD often find their thoughts and emotions confusing, exhausting, intense, and challenging to control or regulate.

BPD sufferers often struggle with daily functioning, where everyday tasks such as cleaning, cooking, and going to work can be profoundly challenging.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may have borderline personality disorder, it’s important that you speak to a mental health specialist who can provide further advice and support.

Early treatment can help you manage your symptoms and get to the root cause of your condition, allowing you to resume ordinary life and return to being the healthiest, happiest version of yourself.

Contact our friendly team in Ontario for support and information about our borderline personality disorder treatment program.

What causes borderline personality disorder?

Although the exact cause of the condition is unknown, borderline personality disorder is linked to various risk factors, including the following:

  • A family history of BPD
  • Experiencing parental neglect or abandonment in childhood or your teenage years
  • Losing a parent in childhood
  • A dysfunctional family life
  • Childhood trauma, such as sexual, physical, or emotional abuse
  • Social stress
  • Abnormalities in the brain
  • Hereditary factors


Research shows that individuals with one or more parents with BPD are more susceptible to developing the disorder themselves.

For instance, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states that having a first-line relative or family member with BPD can make you up to five times more likely to develop the condition. 

Brain development

Brain scan reports have shown that people with borderline personality disorder have lower activity in a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex (PFC) than those without BPD.

The prefrontal cortex regulates higher brain, executive, and cognitive functions and is one of the last parts of the brain to mature.

It is the brain’s “rational part” and affects our personality, behaviour, and ability to plan and make decisions. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for controlling specific executive functions, including:

  • Your ability to resolve conflicting thoughts and emotions
  • Your ability to plan and make healthy choices and decisions
  • Impulse control
  • How you perceive and anticipate current and future events
  • Social skills

In addition, MRI scans reveal that individuals with BPD have three brain regions that are smaller than average or have unusual levels of activity. 

These brain regions include:

  • The amygdala: a part of the brain that plays a vital role in emotional regulation.
  • The hippocampus: a part of the brain that helps regulate behaviour and self-control through emotional processing.
  • The orbitofrontal cortex: a part of the brain involved in processing rewards and punishments, affecting our motivational, emotional and social behaviours.

Environmental factors

Environmental factors can also play a crucial role in the development of BPD.

Although it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact cause, researchers have noted several environmental risk factors that may increase a person’s likelihood of developing BPD in early adulthood.

They include:

  • Emotional, physical, or sexual abuse at an early age
  • Exposure to long-term fear or distress in childhood
  • Neglect or abandonment by one or both parents
  • Growing up with a family member who has a chronic mental health disorder or addiction

As well as putting people at risk of developing BPD, the above factors may lead to negative or distorted thinking patterns where an individual experiences unresolved fear, anger, low self-esteem, and distress in adulthood.

What it feels like to live with borderline personality disorder

People with BPD experience extreme moods, including intense anger, sadness, depression and anxiety. 

They may behave erratically, act impulsively, and alternate between low and inflated self-images. 

BPD can make it difficult for an individual to maintain stable relationships both professionally and personally. 

Moreover, violence and self-harm are common behaviours observed in those with borderline personality disorder.

The signs and symptoms of BPD may vary from person to person and can range from mild to moderate to severe. 

Diagnostic criteria and symptoms for BPD

BPD is categorised as a personality disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), meaning that it comes with its own set of diagnostic criteria and symptoms.

Some of the research literature describes BPD as:

A pervasive pattern of instability in self-image, relationships, and emotion, as well as marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in various contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following nine symptoms or criteria”:

  • Drastic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
  • A pattern of unstable and intense relationships which feature “extreme idealisation” or “devaluation” sometimes called “splitting”.
  • Issues with self-image and identity marked by a pervasive unstable sense of self.
  • Destructive or impulsive behaviours that are potentially dangerous or could cause severe harm, including reckless driving, unsafe sex, or substance abuse.
  • Recurrent suicidal behaviour, including suicidal ideation, threats, and self-injurious behaviour.
  • Extreme mood swings or emotional instability in response to daily events. For instance, you may experience periods of extreme sadness, anxiety, or irritability that may last a few hours, and in rare cases, a few days.
  • Profound feelings of worthlessness, emptiness or sadness.
  • Intense anger, including trouble controlling your temper.
  • Temporary (stress-related) paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms. 

Once you receive a BPD diagnosis, you can start having treatment where you will begin to notice an improvement in your symptoms and overall quality of life.

It is uncommon for BPD to be diagnosed in children before they have reached puberty.

What is the difference between BPD and bipolar disorder?

BPD is often confused with bipolar disorder.

This is because both conditions share some similar symptoms, such as intense mood changes, depression, and erratic behaviour. 

However, BPD and bipolar disorder are two distinct mental health conditions and can only be diagnosed by a mental health professional.

If you are worried that you may have BPD or bipolar disorder, it’s important to speak to a mental health professional to get the help and treatment you need.

To learn more about the differences between BPD and bipolar disorder – click here for further information and support.

How is borderline personality disorder treated?

Fortunately, BPD is a treatable mental health condition. 

Specialised psychotherapy can help reduce the severity of your symptoms, and improve your quality of life significantly.

Psychotherapy, also called talk therapy, is a highly effective treatment for borderline personality disorder. 

It’s often thought of as the backbone treatment program for BPD and involves one or two individual therapy sessions a week with a mental health practitioner such as a psychologist or counsellor.

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) is one of the most effective talk therapy techniques for borderline personality disorder. 

DBT adopts a proactive, problem-solving approach that focuses on mindfulness and teaches coping skills that help control intense emotions and behaviours. 

Developed by Marsha Linehan at the University of Washington, DBT is a type of cognitive behavioural therapy that focuses on the role of cognition (which refers to thoughts, beliefs, behaviour, or actions) in treating BPD.

DBT includes specific changes to the traditional cognitive-behavioural model of therapy that are intended to help reduce the symptoms of BPD specifically. 

One study showed DBT’s effectiveness in reducing substance use, psychiatric hospitalisation, and suicidal behaviour in BPD patients. 

This treatment also helped to significantly reduce self-harming behaviours, the length of hospital stays, and the severity of BPD symptoms. (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy for BPD, verywell mind, Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD, February 21, 2020.) 

DBT can also help reduce self-destructive behaviour, manage distress, and improve relationships in those with borderline personality disorder.

Other psychotherapy techniques commonly used to treat BPD include the following:

If you have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, it is essential to engage in self-care practices as much as possible.

Some effective self-care strategies include exercising regularly, cultivating a consistent sleeping pattern, and enjoying a balanced, nutritious diet.

Medication for BPD

Medication is not usually prescribed for BPD unless a person has been diagnosed with a co-occurring mental health disorder such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, or schizophrenia. 

In this case, an individual may be prescribed the following medication to relieve symptoms:

  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Mood stabilisers
  • Anti-anxiety medicine

Borderline personality disorder treatment at Centres for Health and Healing

Centres for Health and Healing provide a specialised treatment program to treat borderline personality disorder (BPD) that is tailored to each client’s individual needs. 

We adopt an integrated treatment approach that incorporates several therapeutic methods and techniques.

With our strategic approach, mixed therapeutic methods, and staff with decades of experience, Centres for Health and Healing provides the setting, resources, and tools necessary for deep transformational healing.

Seeking professional help for borderline personality disorder may seem daunting at first. However, it is the first step to a fulfilling, healthy, and happy life. 

If you are experiencing BPD symptoms or are worried that you may have another mental health disorder, contact us today to discuss treatment options.

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