What is borderline personality disorder?

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a complex mental health condition that causes emotional instability, relationship problems, a low sense of self-worth, and fear of abandonment. Other common symptoms include problems managing anger and recurring self-harming or suicidal behaviors.

The negative or destructive behaviors of borderline personality disorder are intense. These behaviors occur over a long period of time. They often occur in combination with other disorders such as depression, anxiety, or other mental health problems. People with this disorder often have problems with substance use, gambling, or eating disorders.

There is no cure for borderline personality disorder. But symptoms are often treated with counseling and medicines such as antidepressants or mood stabilizers. Most people who are treated for borderline personality disorder do get better over time. But treatment can be difficult, and recovery can take years.

What are the symptoms of borderline personality disorder?

Everyone has problems with emotions or behaviors sometimes. But if you have borderline personality disorder, the problems are severe. They repeat over a long time and disrupt your life. The most common symptoms include:

  • Intense emotions and mood swings.
  • Harmful, impulsive behaviors. These may include substance use, binge eating, out-of-control spending, risky sexual behavior, and reckless driving.
  • Hurting yourself. This may include cutting or burning yourself or attempting suicide.
  • Trouble with relationships. You may see others as either "good" or "bad." And your view may suddenly shift from one to the other, for minor reasons.
  • Feeling worthless or empty inside.
  • A frantic fear of being left alone (abandoned). This fear may lead to desperate attempts to hold on to those around you. Or it may cause you to reject others before they can reject you.
  • Problems with anger. These may include violent temper tantrums and aggressive behavior.

How is borderline personality disorder treated?

It may seem that there is no one on your side. You might have been told that there is no hope. But just because you've heard this, that doesn't mean it's true. Getting medical treatment and taking care of yourself can really help.

Medical treatment

When you start treatment, you will find health professionals who will help you. You will also meet others who have gone through what you are going through.

Long-term treatment can reduce symptoms and harmful behaviors. It can also help you manage your emotions better. Treatment may include:

  • Counseling and therapy. It's important to find a counselor you can build a stable relationship with. This can be hard. Your condition may cause you to see your counselor as caring one minute and cruel the next. This can happen especially when your counselor asks you to try to change a behavior. Try to find a counselor who has special training in dialectical behavioral therapy. It's a type of therapy that is often used to treat people with this disorder.
  • Medicines. Examples are antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and antipsychotics. They may be helpful when you use them along with therapy.


There are things you can do to help yourself. Here are some tips:

  • Keep a regular daily schedule.
  • Do not drink alcohol or use drugs. If your doctor prescribed medicines for you, take them exactly as directed.
  • Get a healthy amount of sleep. Try to be active during daylight hours, and go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables; whole-grain breads and cereals; and lean meats, fish, and poultry.
  • Practice mindfulness or other meditation. To be mindful means to pay attention to and accept the things that are happening right now, in the present moment.
  • Keep to your treatment plan, even when it's hard.

Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week

If you or someone you know talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:

  • Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
  • Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
  • Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.

Consider saving these numbers in your phone.

Go to 988lifeline.org for more information or to chat online.

How can you care for yourself when you have borderline personality disorder?

Self-care for borderline personality disorder includes healthy habits, such as getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, getting regular exercise, and avoiding alcohol and drugs. These habits can help reduce stress and anxiety. And they can help make your symptoms less severe and less frequent.

What is borderline personality disorder?

Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that causes intense mood swings, impulsive behaviors, and severe problems with self-worth. It can lead to troubled relationships in every area of a person's life.

Most of the time, signs of the disorder first appear in childhood. But problems often don't start until early adulthood. Treatment can be hard, and getting better can take years. Problems with emotions and behaviors are hard to improve. But with treatment, most people with severe symptoms do get better over time.

What causes borderline personality disorder?

Experts don't know exactly what causes borderline personality disorder. Problems with chemicals in the brain that help control moods may play a role. It also seems to run in families.

Often, people who get it faced some kind of childhood trauma such as abuse, neglect, or the death of a parent. The risk is higher when people who had childhood trauma also have problems coping with anxiety or stress.

How can you help someone with borderline personality disorder?

Accepting that a loved one has a personality disorder can be hard. You may feel helpless. But there are things you can do to help. Show love, and learn as much as you can about the illness. Understand that the behavior you may see—which may include anger directed at you—is caused by the illness, not by the person you love.

Know when to get help. This disorder can cause a person to become angry, violent, or suicidal. Take these situations seriously. Call for help if you think the person may be in danger or may harm someone else.

Finding your own support is important too. Ask your local or state health department about local support organizations, or contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For more information, go to www.nami.org.

Borderline personality disorder: When to call

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You feel you cannot stop from hurting yourself or someone else.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You feel much more depressed.
  • You hear voices.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have a new crisis you can't handle.

©2011-2024 Healthwise, Incorporated

The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.