What actually IS Borderline Personality Disorder?

May 10, 2020

For the first post in my BPD Awareness Month series, running throughout May, I want to tackle the first question on everyone's minds - what is Borderline Personality Disorder exactly?

When I was diagnosed back in December 2019, I'd vaguely heard of this somewhat elusive and mysterious mental health illness. Perhaps I'd heard it once before, maybe? A million things ran through my mind... was I crazy, out-of-control, manipulative and dangerous? Did this illness make me a freak, a truly messed up person, someone beyond help, with a lifetime of pain ahead of them? Was I untreatable, with a mental illness that is possibly incurable? Most people haven't heard of BPD before, so I'm here to educate you on what it is.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) updated in 2013, BPD is "a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and emotion, as well as marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterised by extremes between idealisation and devaluation (also known as "splitting")
  • Identity disturbance: Markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
  • Impulsive behaviour in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
  • Recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, or threats, or self-harming behaviour
  • Emotional instability in reaction to day-to-day events (e.g., intense episodic sadness, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
  • Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms"
In my next posts, I'm going to take you through some of the main symptoms I struggle with and what it's like living with them. Like many mental disorders, BPD is experienced on a spectrum or continuum, meaning that how someone experiences BPD can differ greatly from person to person. Think of the analogy of a broken bone. Sometimes, it can be a small fracture that needs to be in a cast for a few months and it heals fairly quickly. Another time, it can be quite a bad break that will require a cast for an extended period of time and some physio exercises. At the other extreme, the bone may be completely shattered and in need of complete restructuring and rehabilitation. With BPD, there are literally hundreds of variants based on a combination of any of the 9 symptoms, and probably thousands more variants based on the sliding scale in which each symptom is experienced. 


For more information on BPD, visit:

The Mental Health Foundation: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

ReThink Mental Illness: https://www.rethink.org/

Royal College of Psychiatrists on Personality Disorders: https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/mental-health/problems-disorders/personality-disorder

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