Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Symptoms
Mood lighting. Mood music. Moods can change for a multitude of reasons, and can be affected by all sorts of environmental factors. The color of a wall, even (there is a reason hospitals are painted in calming colors like light green and sky blue). Iowa Hawkeyes coach Hayden Frye famously painted the locker room of the opposing team pink to make the visiting players feel less aggressive.
How, then, do you know if your mood swings are the result of the changing environment around you, or whether they are a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
Nine Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder
Although mood swings are characteristic of Borderline Personality Disorder, there are more factors to consider. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) describes nine symptoms characteristic of individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder.
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In order to be diagnosed with BPD, the text states you must show a “pervasive pattern” of behavior that includes at least five of the following symptoms:
- Extreme reactions
- A pattern of intense and stormy relationships
- Distorted and unstable self-image
- Impulsive and often dangerous behaviors, including drug or alcohol addiction
- Recurring suicidal behaviors
- Intense and highly changeable moods
- Chronic feelings of emptiness and/or boredom
- Inappropriate, intense anger, or problems controlling anger
- Having stress-related paranoid thoughts
In a story in The New York Times, one patient who had recovered from Borderline Personality Disorder described BPD as, “a serious psychiatric disorder involving a pervasive sense of emptiness, impulsivity, difficulty with emotions, transient stress-induced psychosis, and frequent suicidal thoughts or attempts.”
The key words above are “intense” and “highly changeable” moods. A distinguishing factor of mood swings associated with Borderline Personality Disorder is how quickly and drastically the mood changes.
For people with BPD, these severe mood swings can often be disabling and interfere with their daily life. They may have trouble going to work, spending time with family, or completing daily tasks.
Mood swings, in combination with the other characterizing symptoms of BPD, can be devastating, and even dangerous.
If this sounds familiar, it is time to consider finding a BPD treatment center that can help you better manage your moods. Only a mental health professional can assess whether or not you meet a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. Once you have that information, you can move forward with treatment and be on the way to a more fulfilling life.
Other Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder
For many Borderline Personality Disorder patients who struggle with severe mood swings, there are three additional symptoms of BPD that many find particularly hard to manage. These three symptoms are:
- Fear of abandonment
- Losing your sense of identity
Anger, fear of abandonment, and lack of self-identity are symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder that can be managed as long as you are aware of your condition and mindful of your triggers. Below you will find some tips for managing each of these three symptoms.
Keep in mind that professional help is available, and management of your symptoms is likely to be easier in conjunction with therapy at a BPD treatment center.
BPD Symptom: Putting a Stop to Your Anger
Charles Spielberger, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in the study of anger, describes anger as “an emotional state that varies in intensity from mild irritation to intense fury and rage.”
Like any other emotional state, anger comes with its own laundry list of physiological changes. Anger causes your heart rate to increase, your blood pressure to rise, and spikes your adrenaline.
It’s not all bad, though. Anger is a normal human emotion and can be healthy. Anger can motivate you to right a wrong. It can give you insight into yourself and your preferences so that you can make better choices in the future.
According to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, hiding anger in a relationship can be detrimental, as anger expresses to your friend or loved one when they have hurt you, thus setting boundaries.
Unhealthy Levels of Anger
The trouble is, anger becomes a problem when it is felt too intensely, too frequently, or expressed inappropriately. “Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger” is listed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
Expressions of anger can be directed at others as well as at yourself through self-harmful behaviors such as cutting, head banging, or burning.
Tips for Managing Your Anger
Here are a few tips for managing your anger and putting that energy to better use:
- Find Your Triggers. If you are aware of your triggers, you can better understand your anger and you can develop a strategy to deal with the emotional changes you are experiencing. You can either avoid the situation that triggers your anger or, if there is no way to avoid it, accept it and find a different perspective that can make the situation more palatable.
- Listen to Yourself. Be aware of your inner thoughts. Sometimes our thoughts can be like a broken record, repeating damaging beliefs over and over again, igniting frustration and anger. Listen to yourself. Do you use a lot of absolutes in your inner dialogue? Words like “never” and “always” (“I never get things right!” or “He always says that!”) close your mind to analyzing a situation before anger sets in.
- Relax. This may sound overly simple, but it works. Deep breathing and positive imagery can reduce your anger. When you feel your anger rising, give yourself a “time out” and practice breathing slowly, from your diaphragm, and visualize a calming scene, repeat a relaxing phrase to yourself, or even hum softly.
- Get Help. If you find your anger is controlling your life and you fear you might end up hurting someone or yourself, it’s important that you seek help. Finding help for anger and other BPD symptoms at a treatment center for Borderline Personality Disorder can be viewed as an extended “time out.” The mental health professionals at a BPD treatment center can provide you with the tools and confidence to deal with your anger in a healthy and constructive way. The skills learned through therapies such as Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) can successfully help manage the BPD symptom of anger.
Reigning in your anger and turning that anger energy into positive energy takes some work, and may require professional treatment for your BPD symptoms, but the change in perspective is worth giving it a try.
BPD Symptom: How to Calm Your Fear of Abandonment
Because people are social beings who rely on each other for physical and emotional survival, the fear of abandonment is a common one. For some, though, the fear of abandonment can be overwhelming and all-encompassing.
“Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment” is one of the nine symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), as described in the DSM-V.
Another symptom of BPD, “a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships,” may be a direct result of that fear of abandonment, as the fear often leads to frantic and impulsive actions that can result in difficult relationships.
Fear of abandonment also has detrimental effects on your self-worth. In fact, the very stability of your sense of self can be threatened.
What does fear of abandonment look like?
If you find yourself doing almost anything in your relationship to avoid conflict (submitting constantly to your partner’s will), if you are jealous of the time your partner spends with other people (co-workers, friends, even relatives), if your daydreams are less about long days on beaches and more about what it would feel like if you woke up and your partner was gone, you are living in a state of fear of abandonment.
As a result, you might find yourself making unreasonable demands on your partner’s time because you are so fearful of where they are when out of your sight. Even more damaging, you might find yourself pushing your partner away with negative behavior, sabotaging the relationship before your partner has a chance to abandon you.
3 Ways to Calm Your Fears of Abandonment
This fear of abandonment can be difficult to control, but how you react to fear is a good place to start. Here are a few tips for dealing with your fear of abandonment on a daily basis:
- Pinpoint your Fear. Fear of abandonment can feel like a heavy dark cloud swirling around your relationship, overwhelming you and making it difficult to focus. Try to pinpoint exactly what it is you are afraid of. What would happen if you were abandoned? What are the exact emotions you are afraid you would experience?Naming your fears and categorizing them can make them seem less powerful. Label that constant and unnamable sense of something is wrong so that you can deal with it more directly.
- Be Present. So much of fear deals with the future rather than the present moment. If you feel that sense of anxiety creeping in, try to take a mental step back, ground yourself in the moment, and identify two or three (or more if you can!) positive things that are happening RIGHT NOW.Imagine your partner is discussing an upcoming business trip. Do you feel that fear setting in? Nip the doomsday fantasies in the bud and experience what is happening in the present moment: your partner is excited for the opportunity, your partner is sharing that excitement with you, you’re side by side, right now.Of course, this is more difficult in a fight but, even then, strive to stay on topic and make it less about your fear of abandonment than about the immediate conflict.
- Maintain your Sense of Self. If you are giving everything about yourself up in order to avoid conflict in your relationship, stop right there. Fear thrives in a shaky self-image.Take a few moments a day to list something you believe in, something you are good at, something you enjoy. What makes you, you. This can be done either mentally while, say, brushing your teeth, or you can create an actual handwritten list to keep in your pocket for reference. That list can include something as trivial as your favorite song to how you feel about a political issue.
Practicing mindfulness of these aspects of the fear of abandonment can help you manage this symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder. Please remember: if you find yourself struggling with a fear of abandonment so strong that it’s getting in the way of your everyday life, there is professional help out there.
BPD Symptom: Losing Your Sense of Identity
Having a sense of your own identity is important for a number of reasons. A strong sense of identity helps you adapt as your environment changes, it helps you stay stable in your beliefs even if those around you disagree or devalue your belief system, and it helps you develop self-esteem and a sense of self-worth. The ancient Greek aphorism “Know Thyself” says it all.
But what if you don’t have that sense of identity? One of the nine symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder, as described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), is “markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.”
This wavering sense of identity is marked by an almost chameleon-like ability to blend into different social groups, different professions, whatever is being idealized at the time. This can be a tool for survival, but leaves little room to develop strong relationships with others or to make meaningful strides in a career path. Worse yet, the lack of identity can leave you feeling empty and, as some with Borderline Personality Disorder report, with a feeling of “worthlessness.”
In a review on the topic published in the Journal of Personality Disorders, a patient with Borderline Personality Disorder said, “I am afraid that others will discover that I am nothing at all, that I am nobody, a shadow, a ghost.”
Feeling this empty is painful for you and for those around you. Here are a few tips to help get you on the path of a better self-image:
- Be Realistic. Goals are valuable in building a sense of identity and in growing your self-esteem, but make sure you’re reaching for the attainable. Setting unrealistic goals is self-defeating and can make you give up before you’ve even started. Remind yourself that there is no such thing as perfection, and that no one expects perfection from you.
- Take Stock. When we think about ourselves, it’s often easy to take for granted our positive attributes and focus instead on what we want to change about ourselves. Make a real effort to think about what you like about yourself, what your strong points are as well as things you want to change. Get in the habit of listening to your inner voice and, each time you find yourself thinking something negative, try to look at it in a new perspective and put a positive spin on it (“My thighs are too fat” becomes “I have strong upper legs from biking”; “Why am I so shy?’ becomes “I’m careful about who I share myself with”).
- Listen to Yourself. Become more aware of how much of your self-image is coming from your thoughts and how much is coming from what you perceive to be others’ opinions of you. Every time you find yourself judging your abilities or some aspect of your physical or emotional state, test yourself. Ask yourself, do I really believe this to be true about me? Do I really think I’m a slow jogger, or do I just suspect that my running partner feels I’m holding her back?
- Feel Good. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Feeling good takes work sometimes, but you might be surprised at how quickly it becomes a habit once you break the vicious cycle of negative self-image. One surefire way to feel good is to do things that make you proud of yourself. Take care of your body with exercise. Eat right. Do something nice for someone else, maybe for someone who can’t repay your kindness. Look at your everyday actions and take note of how many things you do, without even thinking about them, that are making you unhappy with yourself. Smoking, judging others, watching TV instead of enjoying the sunshine. Then take necessary steps to stop doing them.
- Baby Steps. Be aware that you don’t build a strong sense of identity or self-esteem overnight. There is no instant fix. Sometimes it can be too difficult to accomplish on your own. There is help out there. A Borderline Personality Disorder treatment center that offers group and individual therapy can give you skills needed to change what you can about yourself and accept the things you cannot change. Like any other skill set, these skills must be learned, practiced, and honed.
Losing your sense of identity and other symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder can be managed through the skills of mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness that are learned in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).
DBT is offered at Borderline Personality Disorder treatment centers, such as Clearview Women’s Center in Los Angeles. This treatment can help you learn to have better control over your emotions to finally calm the often anxiety-inducing symptoms of BPD, including loss of self-identity, anger, and fear of abandonment.
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Since 2004, Lori has worked with the behavioral health treatment community to bring awareness about mental health disorders and evidence-based treatments. Lori strives to help people better understand mental illness and provide support to those needing help and their families. As a mental health advocate, Lori works to be a voice for those suffering from borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, trauma, or any other disorder.