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How to Distinguish Complex PTSD From Borderline Personality Disorder

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In the world where psychological and physiological symptoms define psychological ailments, complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are often neck-and-neck in similarities.

• What is PTSD?

So many of the symptoms of BPD are the same or similar to C-PTSD, the two are often confused for one another.

Suicidal thoughts, depression and negative self-image are symptoms of both the disorders, as are flashbacks and even dissociation.

So, how can you tell the difference between the two?

First, you should keep in mind the dangers of self-diagnosing.

While it can be helpful to go into the therapist’s office ready to provide your own diagnosis, the nuances of what disorders can look like or present as, is often well above what clarity any Google search would be able to give you.

Having said that, different approaches for different issues can be most useful when applied to the correct diagnosis.

So, if you happen to go try dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) when you could best benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), for example, your licensed and experienced therapist will often be able to guide you in the right direction.

BPD is different in the way relationships are generally viewed. Usually, BPD is associated with a fear of being abandoned while C-PTSD can make one weary of establishing any relationship to begin with.

C-PTSD may cause a person to avoid getting involved with people, whereas people with BPD can be extremely uncomfortable being alone and may therefore seek out others as a means to cope.

Another difference that’s been noticed by the therapeutic community is people who struggle with C-PTSD typically do not self-harm, as is often more common for those who have BPD.

Often, many of those with BPD who have thoughts of self-harm are able, over time, to develop strategies to avoid the actual harming, even if the thoughts can be persistent over time.

Lastly, people with BPD often fluctuate in their personal interests and likes more than those with C-PTSD. People with BPD may assume the interests and likes of others they may be close with.

Having a “favorite person” is a trait of BPD that captures this idea. A favorite person could have interests totally different than the individual, but because of a lack of inner sense of self, an individual with BPD may pick up those interests and unconsciously mimic the favorite person.

Both conditions can lead to very dark emotional places and both are often able to be helped by therapy and other therapeutic interventions, contributing to a whole health approach.

Mental health is becoming recognized as equally important to our overall health as our physical health is.

Educating yourself and reaching out to professionals for guidance can help mitigate symptoms of C-PTSD and BPD, and by being brave in your approach to mental wellness, your ability to practice self-care will increase.

A final note to keep in mind on the topic: Symptoms of mental health issues can be common and diagnoses are becoming more common as more people turn to the therapeutic community.

Sharing in the experiences of our lives and our mental health struggles can bring people closer not only to one another, but closer to a life full of healthy and durable emotional connections.

Getty image by Dumitru Ochievschi

Originally published: June 8, 2021
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