5 Common Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms and How I’ve Learned to Cope

Dealing with borderline personality disorder symptoms can be overwhelming and exhausting. So much of my life feels wasted dealing with this disorder, trying to make my way through the world without hurting myself or others.

Fighting unrelenting anxiety in social situations or intense anger at work? Trying to keep from killing yourself? It’s exhausting. It makes me want to quit sometimes. But I don’t.

Here are some symptoms of borderline personality disorder, and how I’ve learned to deal with them.

1. Identity disturbance.

Defined as markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self. Most days, I hate myself. My vision of myself may be skewed, but it’s hard to combat. Sometimes I look at myself and think I’m ugly, unlovable, mean. When I start feeling like this, I try to instead focus on what I can change. Don’t like the way I look? Change hair colors or try a new clothing style. Don’t like the way I’m responding to stress? Take a mental health weekend and re-evaluate. Don’t like how I’m treating people? Do something nice for someone, totally unexpected. For me, active change means taking my power back. It keeps me focused on moving forward, rather than being stuck ruminating.

2. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger.

I try to control the feelings of intense anger I get, but sometimes it feels impossible. A friend once said I’m like the hulk when I get mad, and it’s true. When that happens, I force myself to exercise. As soon as I can, I take a walk, go for a run or work out. It might not be a long walk or a very intense workout. But it provides me with a healthy outlet for my anger and is better than bottling it up or projecting it onto someone else.


3. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood.

For me, affective instability manifests in two ways: exaggerated reactions to negative stimuli and severe mood swings. With both, I remind myself to be patient. With negative reactions, I force myself to wait at least 20 minutes before responding to the trigger. Sometimes I’ll wait longer — an hour or a day. Waiting helps me analyze the situation away from the heat of the moment and tempers my response. With negative mood swings, I try to remind myself that there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I burrow up, read a good book (self care!) and look forward to feeling better in a few days. This obviously doesn’t solve all my problems, but knowing my bad mood is temporary does help.

4. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.

This is the toughest one for me. This is what keeps me up at night, what makes me cry on long car rides, what I obsess over. I wish I could say I have a foolproof method for dealing with this, but I don’t. What I’ve been trying to do lately is force myself to spend time alone. Go to the movies alone. Go to the beach alone. For the most part, it’s not that bad spending time with myself. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. I’m strong and capable of moving through this world on my own. I’m cool and fun! I have to remind myself. I practice seeing the positives. People will come and go throughout my life but I will always be able to rely on myself.

5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats, or self-mutilating behavior.

Anyone who’s dealt with suicidal ideation knows it’s incredibly difficult. I think about suicide a lot. Fortunately, I’ve become really good at reaching out for help when I feel this way. It can be embarrassing for me to be vulnerable, but I force myself to do it. I’m lucky to have a mom who will rattle on about her life and the ridiculous things happening in her day without digging into why I’ve called. Listening to her distracts me (or makes me laugh) until the feeling passes.

I’m also lucky to have a best friend who is good at listening and never judges me. His support allows me vent my feelings and reminds me that someone cares. I can’t express how important it is to find a friend like this — if you have borderline or not. These are the people that will stay with you for the long haul. They will save your life a million times over; my best friend has. It took me a long time to find him, so if you haven’t yet, hang in there. Keep trying.

I’ve failed to use my coping mechanisms a million times, and yet every time I do use one is a triumph. It’s like inching forward in traffic — progress is slow but I’m getting there. And I’m proud of how far I’ve come, though I still have a long way to go.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Thinkstock photo via diignat

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