Is there a person in your life who‘s behavior is baffling? Are that person’s emotions volatile and unpredictable? Do they do things impulsively, flit from one bad relationship to another or have problems with alcohol or drugs? Do they get depressed or anxious? Do they self injure or threaten to kill themselves? If this sounds like someone in your life – your child, parent, spouse, close friend or romantic partner, you may often ask yourself this question, “Why do they do that?” It’s possible that your loved one may be experiencing borderline personality disorder. Which may prompt another question: “What is that?”. The answers to both of these questions are simultaneously both simple and yet complicated.

 The first thing to know is that no one is born with borderline personality disorder. BPD in fact, develops over a number of years. Secondly, people most at risk for BPD share two things: they have a genetic makeup that results in being a highly sensitive person; and they were likely exposed to a highly traumatic event or an ongoing series of traumatic events early in their lives. This could have been the death of a parent, or sibling, divorce or parental abandonment, physical, sexual or emotional abuse at home, school, church or other social environment.

Young people with these genetic factors and social experiences are at greater risk for developing BPD behaviors as they mature into adolescence and can reach full blown BPD in their adulthood.

When someone who is highly sensitive feels verbally ‘attacked’ by someone, and especially someone close such as a parent or a spouse, they typically will react by fighting back – either verbally or physically- and in the process escalate the emotional tension.  They may react this way even when asked to do something completely benign. For example, a request to clean up their room before going out may be met with a strong verbal or even physical reaction.

Over time, the person’s emotions become more intense, and their ability to control their responses diminishes. As a result, they develop a belief that they are misunderstood all the time, out of sync with everybody else in their lives. They mistrust others and may feel that they are the cause of all the problems they encounter in their relationships. Their behaviors- the anger, impulsivity, diminished self image and poor decision making- become more extreme. Their attempts to soothe themselves become more maladaptive- including risk-taking behaviors, substance abuse, promiscuity. They find themselves in a constant state of emotional pain, pain every bit as real as physical pain. To soothe that pain they resort to substance abuse, self-harm and suicide attempts.

Those closest to them wonder why they act the way they do and struggle trying to figure out what, if anything, can be done to help their loved ones and themselves. The good news os that while they may feel hopeless, there are therapies and support resources that have been shown to be helpful.for people with BPD and the people closest to them.  You can find a number of them on our website, including extensive information about BPD and support resources for individuals with BPD and their families.  Coping with BPD may seem hopeless, but it’s not. Many people can and do recover and lead worthwhile lives.

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