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The Borderline Personality Disorder Symptom I Didn't Know I Experienced

One of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is: “I have very suspicious ideas, and am even paranoid (falsely believe that others are plotting to cause me harm) at times; or I experience episodes under stress when I feel that I, other people, or the situation is somewhat unreal.”

This symptom may at first glance look like it encompasses two parts which bear little resemblance to each other (suspicion or paranoia of people and feeling things are unreal). But what they have in common is that they strike when the person is feeling stressed.

I initially thought I didn’t experience this particular symptom of BPD. From the wording, it makes it sound like people experiencing this are paranoid others want to hurt them or the government is conspiring against them, etc. Something dramatic. But when I said to my friend, “I don’t get paranoid,” she turned to me and said, “when you get stressed, you think people are mad at you, or they hate you or don’t care about you. That’s paranoia.” And from looking into this, it seems many people who have paranoia in BPD do have this kind of paranoia. There are people who have more paranoid delusions certainly, but a lot of them will display the behaviors I just mentioned.

I’ve never thought people are trying to harm me, but if a friend takes a while to reply to me, I’ll worry they don’t care about me anymore. If my wife snaps at me, she must be mad at me and perhaps she’ll break up with me. If my manager is busy and doesn’t talk to me as much as usual, I must have done something wrong and she might fire me. All paranoid thoughts tied up with another BPD trait — that of being terrified of being abandoned by the person and hence always on the lookout for any “evidence,” even if that evidence is not real.

As for the second part, the bit about things feeling unreal — last year I gained access to my medical notes and there were several instances on there from when I was a teenager saying: “she reports strange feelings of unreality almost every day.” That was a long time ago, but I remember being so convinced things weren’t real that I used to cry my eyes out over it. At times, I would think I was in a coma and just dreaming everything that was happening to me. Things didn’t feel real at all; I felt constantly spaced out. Doctors are reluctant to diagnose teenagers with personality disorders as their personalities are still developing, and I didn’t get diagnosed until last year — many years later than those initial notes — but I feel now they were clearly related to my BPD.

I don’t get it to anywhere near that extent anymore, but I have times of stress where I do feel spaced out and far away, like things are not real. At times it’s like things are painted on my eyes rather than me actually being a part of them — like my world is two-dimensional rather than three-dimensional, and I’m watching it rather than living it.

For other people it can be worse — they can completely disassociate, which can lead them to do things like self-harm more seriously as they don’t feel like things are real.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via MariaDubova