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What Borderline Personality Disorder 'Impulsivity' Looks Like


One of the classic signs of borderline personality disorder is impulsivity. When most people (myself included) hear that, the first images that often come to mind are going on a shopping spree, speeding down the highway in the middle of the night or making other poor judgment calls. At first I laughed it off and thought, “I’m not impulsive!” The more I try to understand myself and reflect, though, the more I can see the impulsivity… but it’s not what most people think.

I’m impulsive with words. I talk out of my ass sometimes. I respond quickly and emotionally to others, especially when I am upset or angry (I call this my tendency to “word vomit” on people). As soon as an idea crosses my mind, I am telling someone about it. I try to answer questions as quickly as possible, like it’s a race. There’s often no filter with what I say.

I’m impulsive with relationships. I fall hard and I dive in deep before even thinking through the truth. I’m sometimes too trusting, I’m often too giving and I’m always too invested. I also tend to leave relationships impulsively: I’ve written off people I’d been friends with for years over a small argument or because my new “favorite person” didn’t like that other friend.

I’ve also noticed the timing when my impulsivity is most likely to occur is not when I’m doing great… it’s actually when I’m overwhelmed and usually feeling low. I try to use words to save myself from abandonment or to hurt others when I am feeling pain inside. I unload on people without even thinking about what I’m saying or how they will react.

I impulsively reach for self-harm as a coping mechanism when things get out of control in my head. I’ll find something I already have or even seek out objects in stores. My therapist says it’s my way of trying to take back control when I feel I don’t have control over my emotions or what is happening in my life.

I think that because of this unique form of impulsivity, when I’ve been asked if I am impulsive in the past I’ve always said, “No, not really.” But I’m seeing now that impulsive behavior can look different for each individual. I’m glad I’ve become aware of this as I learn more about myself and mindfulness through Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). I hope that in time I can gain control of my impulses more so I can be less impulsive and more attentive, more methodical in my words and choices.

Unsplash photo via Valeria Andersson