9 Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder – and What It's Like to Experience Them


woman sitting on a dock by the water

Editor’s note: The following is based on an individual’s experience, and doesn’t necessarily reflect every person with borderline personality disorder.

There are nine criteria to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder — and I want to explain them as someone who has experienced them in an “internal” sense. A lot of these do not apply to me anymore due to my hard work with recovery, but I sometimes struggle with a couple of them.

1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.

Sometimes I would have frantic thoughts about how I’m going to handle, manipulate and control certain situations that have not happened yet. During an episode, I can get myself worked up with facts and detailed research about situations that have not happened, making myself extremely upset.

2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.

The love-hate relationships, oh yes! I can feel the intensity inside me just thinking about it; feeling so loved, extremely happy and cared about to suddenly feeling forgotten, neglected, or disappointed. I’m feeling that way right now and I’m not even in a relationship. This can happen for me with coworkers or friends, even family members. Usually I don’t say anything because I’m aware it’s not necessarily something that others are doing, it’s just how I’m feeling or it’s just a part of the disorder. In my past relationships before I was diagnosed, the intensity was bad. They were breakdowns over nothing, really. That happened far more than I care to admit.

3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.

I was always chameleon like. I adapted and identified myself with whoever I was around or associating with. I never had a personality or a sense of who Kayla was. If someone asked me what I liked, I’d say something I thought that person liked. If I liked what my friends liked, then I wouldn’t feel alone or different and we would all get along better. I was easily convinced others’ ideas and thoughts were always right and I was always wrong. The idea of thinking for myself or working on my own personality was terrifying. I was a follower, I needed decisions and ideas and thoughts to be made up for me. I was scared of being me, scared of being different. I had no sense of self, or what I liked. Now, I can’t tell you how much I love being different. At 27 years old, I finally came into my own. I finally figuring out what I like and don’t like. I discovered a huge sense of self and it is the most liberating feeling. Be you!

4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., promiscuous sex, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving).

“Promiscuous sex, alcohol and spending money. If I didn’t feel loved by someone, I was seeking a lot of attention from men just to feel something, anything. There wasn’t even any real connection with the person, I just wanted to feel desired during times I was feeling so empty and alone. At that time, I truly thought my worth was defined by someone loving or not loving me. I would drink often, almost every night. I would spend money I didn’t have, put myself in extreme amount of debt just because shopping was, I thought, therapeutic. Now, I will never put myself in these situations again. Maybe it’s maturity or recovery, but I’ve lost interest in informal sex or drinking heavily. I have gained a major sense of self-respect through this journey. If I feel empty or alone, I embrace it and sleep it off or I will surround myself with positive friends. If I’m dealing with an issue or problem in life, I will face it head on rather than coping in a negative or unhealthy way.

5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-injuring behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars (excoriation) or picking at oneself.

I have never self-harmed or attempted suicide. I’ve had thoughts of not wanting to live anymore because life became too painful. Yes, I’ve thought about ways I could end my life, but never attempted them. If I didn’t have my two beautiful children, things probably would have been different. They are my life and I can’t and won’t walk away from them. They are the reason I get out of bed every day.

6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).

I’m not sure if people can accurately see how intense my mood is and how quickly it changes. Some say they can, but often times I try to keep it to myself unless I see it affecting somebody else. I get irritable and depressed a lot. I used to have intense anger, but I’ve come a long way with it. My mood swings or episodes can last from a couple hours to a couple days depending on the trigger. Self-awareness is most important because once I realize I’m having an episode, it’s so much easier for me to control my actions. Sometimes it takes a stupid reaction to something to realize I’m not doing OK, but luckily with a lot of work I can catch it before I react. In part due to medication and better understanding of the illness, my episodes happened more often a couple years ago than they do now. If I miss one day of my meds, I will be in a dark place within 24 hours and it’s tough to get out of because I blame myself for causing it, albeit unintentionally.

7. Chronic feelings of emptiness.

Yup! Sometimes I feel so empty I can’t feel emotions. I can’t cry, I can’t feel anger or sadness, I can’t feel sympathetic towards others. I’m not happy or unhappy, I just simply don’t feel a damn thing. I walk around like a robot. This one rarely ever happens for me but when it does, it can be bad. I have nothing inside me to give or care. I have no filter or motivation to care about anyone including myself. I feel useless and helpless. Empty.

8. Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).

Oh boy. I can’t explain how many things I’ve thrown and broken because my anger was so out of control. I had and sometimes still do have a short fuse. I grew up watching it and living with it so I became it. I didn’t know how to control it or work on it. Now with therapy, I can’t remember the last time I reacted on anger, maybe three years ago? I still get angry, that’s an emotion we can get rid of, but I can control it much better than ever before.

9. Transient, stress-related paranoid idealization, delusions or severe dissociation symptoms.

I dissociate in my nightmares at night over traumatic experiences in my childhood, but nothing severe or in the middle of the day. I’ve never been paranoid or had delusions.

Two years into my recovery, I was/am considered in recovery. Today, I don’t meet the number of criteria in the DSM for borderline personality disorder. I do, however, still struggle with my emotions. I will always be an emotionally sensitive person but with my DBT therapy, skills and high emotional intelligence — I’m capable of handling my emotions in a healthy and positive way. Recovery has led me to new clarity and a deep appreciation for life. I hope you can take something from my personal experience with borderline personality disorder.

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