The good, the bad, and the ugly of Borderline Personality Disorder

    A scene in the biographical Oscar-winning movie, Girl, Interrupted, shows the main character finding out more about her diagnosis. 18-year-old Susanna Kaysen is seen reading out loud from a book: “Borderline Personality Disorder. An instability of self-image, relationships, and moods… uncertainty about goals, impulsive in activities that are self-damaging […]. Social contrariness and a generally pessimistic attitude, and often observed.”

    What it is

    As described by the National Institute of Mental Health, borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental illness that has a severe impact on one’s ability to regulate their emotions. “This loss of emotional control can increase impulsivity, affect how a person feels about themselves, and negatively impact their relationships with others”. People with BPD see the world in black and white and feel emotions deeply.

    BPD is the most common personality disorder, and it is estimated that 1.6% of the US population has it. BPD can be caused by several factors, but mostly, the roots are found in early childhood trauma. BPD is one of the most painful mental illnesses, “since individuals struggling with this disorder are constantly trying to cope with volatile and overwhelming emotions”. While BPD is caused by trauma, it is not usually diagnosed until the age of 18. The reason behind that is that pre-teens and teenagers do not have defined personalities, as they are still developing and changing.

    Getting diagnosed

    I was diagnosed with BPD a few months ago. I went to therapy convinced I was depressed. After my first session, my therapist told me she didn’t think I was depressed. I was certain she was wrong.

    Fast forward a few weeks to getting my results. I got several diagnoses, yet none of them stated “depression”.  I felt like my life had fallen apart. There was no way I wasn’t depressed. After years of research, misery, numbness, suicidal ideation, quizzes, and books, I knew I had depression. There was no other way around it. I felt like I had been living a lie. I have written about being depressed, I have described it, I called myself depressed, and used “depressive” to describe what I felt, so what did that mean for me? That I was a fake? I felt like my world changed entirely.

    I had been suspecting there was a possibility of me having BPD since the early summer of 2022. The subject kept popping up on my TikTok feed and I saw parts of myself in what others were sharing, so I Googled to see whatever this BPD meant. Oddly enough, I used to think “BPD” was short for “bipolar disorder”. Despite believing I had been depressed for the past three years, it turned out it was BPD all along, but there’s a catch. I do have depressive symptoms, but not enough to be diagnosed with depression. BPD comes with depressive states.


    The main symptoms of BPD are the following: an extreme fear of real or imagined abandonment, very unstable relationships where you idealize someone, after which it seems like they are horrible and uncaring; lack of self-image, feeling as if you’re the worst person or as if you don’t even exist, impulsiveness; self-harm (often in response to the fear of abandonment) and risky behavior (drug abuse, gambling, spending sprees, etc.); suicidal ideation; intense mood swings; inappropriate explosive anger, and feeling empty. I felt seen and I could relate to most of the symptoms.

    You may think that BPD is not all that. Aren’t we all insecure and don’t we also get angry and like to drink? The difference between a person with BPD and a person without it is the intensity of the feeling. People with BPD feel every emotion exceptionally deeply and their mood swings are extreme. The switch between happiness, sadness, anxiety, and misery can happen in a matter of minutes. Anger is explosive, misery feels like the end of the world, happiness feels like walking on sunshine, and sadness and emptiness feel never-ending.


    Borderline. Borderline between what and what? To simply highlight how highly misunderstood and stigmatized this disorder is, I went on Google, typed “are borderlines” and let it give me options of what others have searched for the most. Here, you have the result:

    Spoiler alert, we are not psychopaths, dangerous, sociopaths, incapable of love (quite the opposite, actually), unable to empathize, or necessarily neurodivergent. And for the most part, we are self-aware.

    When asked what special trait she has seen in people with BPD, psychotherapist Magda Moldovan affirmed that their capacity to self-analyze, reflect and be aware is high. She says that these traits were developed through detachment, as a conclusion of the lack of emotional self-regulating mechanisms. Being diagnosed with borderline isn’t all bad, nor does it make you a bad person. As somebody who is diagnosed with BPD, I find myself to be highly empathetic, caring, sensitive, sociable, and friendly.

    What splitting is

    I mentioned the fact that borderlines see the world in black and white. The psychological term for that is splitting. Splitting is a defense mechanism that is widely attributed to BPD, but it’s not unique to it. According to Medical News Today, “splitting means a person has difficulty in accurately assessing another individual or situation” and it can lead to “intensely polarizing views of others, for instance, as either very good or very bad”. The splitting is not done on purpose or consciously. It is caused by a trigger and during an episode, we feel like our emotions do, in fact, reflect reality.

    What it means for people with BPD to have a “favorite person”

    According to Verywellmind, for people with BPD, having a favorite person means having a “special connection to a person in their lives”. This person is often described as their ‘favorite person,’ and “may be anyone from a teacher, to a best friend, or even a family member”. While this sounds widely common, the connection the individuals share is bound to switch from extreme love to intense dislike and vice versa. The switch happens when borderlines split, after their needs are not sufficiently met. Having a favorite person is not necessary to get diagnosed with BPD, but those who do have one see the person in question as somebody they are not able to live without.

    Signs of having a favorite person (BPD-wise) are the following: feeling jealous, needing a lot of attention, creating fantasies around the person, eagerness to please them, and switching between hot and cold.

    As seen on the medical site previously given, “the attachment to the favorite person is so strong that someone with BPD may consider extreme actions like moving cities or making threats to maintain their favorite person’s attention”. I used to be significantly close to one of my high school teachers that I once thought about not moving away to for university, just so I would be physically close to her. We weren’t best friends or anything remotely close to that, but the bond we shared was a strong one. At one point, I was willing to buy a train ticket to see one of my favorite people, even if it was for an hour. For others, I would instantly leave wherever I was, in order to spend five minutes with them. I sought a reaction in some of them, such as what they would do if I were to potentially die.

    The outcome on close relationships

    One of the main BPD traits is a pattern of unstable relationships. Relationships that are now good, but which inevitably become bad, and back and forth. Not all relationships are messy and intense, but those with the people they are closest to and idealize are bound to extreme euphoria, emotional distress, codependency, heartache, and threats of abandonment.

    I have had several best friends over the years and nearly every relationship I had with them ended up in shambles. I have either left them, been threatened with abandonment, or been abandoned. When I find a best friend, that particular person means everything to me, and being away from them (especially over text) is immensely painful, both physically and emotionally. I have been told that I was too much, that I was giving insignificant details about myself and my life, or that I was asking too much of them.

    I remember back in my first two high school years, I had a best friend whom I shared everything with (and vice versa). Things changed when they got a girlfriend and stopped talking to me as much or hardly at all. For half a year, I tried to keep things kind of the same, so we wouldn’t end up becoming even more distant, but eventually, enough was enough, we had a fight, I got sent proof I was no longer cared for, so I left. I blocked them and that was it. Looking back on it now, I was too much, but all I’ve ever wanted was to be cared for and loved. I have always wanted to have friends. I didn’t know precisely how to go on afterwards. I no longer had somebody who knew everything about me, and I thought it impossible to ever find someone new to start with. I couldn’t simply start from scratch with somebody else, not after I had shared everything with my best friend for over two years. Well, I was wrong.

    A while after that friendship breakup, I did, in fact, meet somebody else I instantly clicked with. We talked all the time; we told each other everything. Not a day passed that we didn’t talk. Until it did. She needed a break from me, and we wouldn’t talk for at least one day. I cried. I couldn’t imagine not being able to talk to her, not telling her everything. Life felt incomplete without her. What was I supposed to do? Who was I even supposed to talk to? Naturally, what I felt was absolute misery, but I had no other choice but to adjust. A year after we began our friendship, we had a fight. Up to that point, I had been indirectly called “clingy” and “too much”. We had a fight; I ghosted her and left her indefinitely. We hadn’t talked for two months, after which I reached out to her, and we went back to normal.

    What to do when triggered

    When triggered and dealing with an intense episode, Magda Moldovan advises people with BPD to take deep breaths, close their eyes, visualize a safe place, touch an object or a texture that is interesting and nice and has a lovely smell, take a hot bath, or take a walk in nature. She states that before trying to find a solution, they need to calm down their nervous system and avoid being impulsive for as much as possible.

    A common symptom of BPD is an extreme fear of abandonment. “The fear of abandonment can lead to the need for frequent reassurance that abandonment is not imminent”, and it generates a “drive to go to great lengths to try to avoid real or imagined abandonment and the feelings associated with it”. Facing abandonment is particularly devastating and painful in this case. It feels like your heart is being ripped apart from your body.

    I had a toxic friendship with somebody I am still in contact with, but with whom I now talk twice a month. This case is unlike the aforementioned ones, as other feelings were involved, and I have been threatened with abandonment countless times. The very first two months were pure bliss, as everything went smoothly. It was lovely, until we stopped talking as much, the love bombing wasn’t happening as often, and I wasn’t sure how to act around her. Things were beginning to change; she became less talkative, and I’d even started counting the days we wouldn’t talk. One turned to three, three turned to five, and eventually, five became fifteen. Adjusting to change was difficult. I was extremely attached to her and the way all relationships went, we began fighting. She was abusive, manipulative, and toxic, and it took me more than two years to see it. There was a month when all we did was fight. I was miserable most of the time. I idealized a fake version of her, but I realized that awfully late. She made me think I needed her and every time we fought, she threatened to leave, seeing as we were not compatible. I recall being in agony for weeks and having panic attacks when we were this close to ending it for good. I was hyperventilating and crying while reading her texts. I tried all that I could so that I wouldn’t be abandoned. We had a one-month break, and the rest is history.

    Painful breaks are necessary in order for me to heal, and to see that I can live without these people. What a break does is leave me distant, as I begin to focus on everything else. Having said that, I need to be able to see that I am okay on my own, that I do not require their approval, that I can be my own person and that I do not need them to be in touch with me at all times.

    In order to deal with intense emotions, we need to accept what we are feeling. “The intensity of an emotion that is already activated can be welcomed with attention, validation (why it makes sense to feel a certain emotion), compassion, self-acceptance and by resorting to self-soothing methods,” Moldovan explains. After the emotion stops being as intense, there is a bigger chance of finding healthier perspectives to solve the issue at hand.

    Number five is perhaps the most intense relationship on the list. While the relationship is a healthy one, the triggers and episodes are innumerable. I have lost track of all the times I split on her. I used to always check my phone in case she texted me and as the usual story goes, I felt as if I could not live without her. Jealousy strikes me when she hangs out with certain people or when she puts other things above me. I always panic and become sad when I’m told she’ll be away for a few days. I used to text her frequently and update her on my life, even when she was away, as I knew she would read what I sent when she had the chance. I once arguably unjustly complained about the absence of a reply, and I was hit back with the fact that I had sent her 65 messages. Summertime is especially hard BPD-wise, given that I am away from her. As for the abandonment issue, I have feared she would leave me since the very beginning. Every time we had a fight, I braced myself for what I considered to be the inevitable. I have even reassured her that she is able to leave anytime.

    Guilt and intense emotions

    As somebody who deals with a lot of intense emotions, I tend to feel guilty about feeling things so deeply. I find it hard to be certain of whether what I feel is justified or not. Magda Moldovan explained that there are several factors that contribute to the feeling of guilt. An abandonment scheme can be handled by resorting to a surrendering (acting as if I will be abandoned) coping mechanism, where the person does everything in their power to prevent the abandonment from happening, so that the scheme does not come full circle. “As a conclusion, the surrender of the person can launch the guilt of not having done enough or not being enough in order to prevent that from happening”. The person can have an emotional scheme of guilt or shame regarding their own feelings, “based on internalizing the negative reactions to the feelings expressed”. Guilt can be an indirect consequence of the lack of control or hopelessness, when faced with a painful situation (“what I should have done differently in order to avoid feeling this emotional pain at the moment”). In general, guilt can be linked to certain negative beliefs we have about ourselves or with a tendency of feeling remorse towards other people’s feelings.

    When it comes to the difference between a justified and an unjustified emotion, the psychotherapist says that each emotion has a certain degree of justification, whether it has to do with a need that is not adequately met or a boundary that is not respected. To reduce emotional distress, emotions must be validated, according to Moldovan. We can validate an emotion by affirming that it does, in fact, make sense to feel distressed, sad, or envious, as the person in question is highly important to us, for example. If we invalidate what we feel when we are triggered, it could backfire on us. I cannot think clearly when I am triggered, and it does take a while for me to be able to calm down and reflect on what I have experienced.

    Having to deal with such a complex and challenging mental disorder is far from easy. It takes a lot of patience, therapy, self-acceptance, pain, time, and support to have a chance at overcoming it. While there is no cure for BPD, through therapy and with the help of antidepressants and mood stabilizers prescribed by a psychiatrist, many people struggling with the disorder can learn to manage their symptoms. If you believe you might have borderline personality disorder, please seek help from a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, or a psychotherapist.