Living With Borderline Personality Disorder
Living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) is challenging. It causes intense emotional reactions and mood swings; a feeling of emptiness; a deep fear of being left by loved ones; and unstable, difficult relationships. Complications are common too, including substance abuse, depression, or physical abuse. While living with this condition is hard, it can also be manageable. Professional treatment is the key to learning to live better with these very difficult symptoms.
Life with borderline personality disorder often feels like a rollercoaster ride. Your mood shifts without warning, you feel angry over the littlest things, and you get desperate if you think someone is going to leave you. Functioning normally, going to work, or even keeping the house clean and getting groceries, become major tasks. While living with this mental illness isn’t easy, there is hope. Treatment is effective if you are willing to put in the work and commit to making real, lasting changes.
A personality disorder is a type of mental illness that causes damaging and abnormal patterns in how you think, behave, and react and relate to other people. It can be challenging to see that these patterns are harmful or unusual, but the complications are very real and serious: difficulty with close relationships, inability to work, and problems functioning and completing day-to-day tasks.
Because it is hard to see the flaws in your own thoughts and behaviors with a personality disorder, you may assume that other people or circumstances cause the problems in your life. Treatment can help but is difficult for this reason. You may end up seeking professional care for issues, like relationship problems, and end up with a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Although this is frightening to hear, having a name and diagnosis means you can start to make positive changes with professional guidance.
What Are the Signs of Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline personality disorder is one of several types of personality disorders, and it is more common in women than men. You may be diagnosed with BPD if you struggle with at least five of the characteristic symptoms:
- You are terrified of being abandoned by others and take drastic measures to avoid it.
- Your relationships tend to be dramatic, intense, and unstable.
- A sense of self has always been difficult to identify, and you rely on what others think to define yourself.
- You engage in harmful, impulsive behaviors, like substance abuse or unprotected sex.
- You are suicidal or self-harm.
- Mood swings are typical and intense. You have frequent outbursts of inappropriate anger.
- You often feel empty inside.
- You feel paranoid or dissociate.
What is it Like to Live With BPD?
If you have been diagnosed with BPD or suspect you may have this condition, it may help to understand what others go through living with it. For loved ones of people diagnosed with BPD, a better understanding of what it’s like will help you be more compassionate, patient, and supportive.
1. You Are Afraid Loved Ones Will Leave You, Even if You Know It’s Irrational.
One of the most characteristic aspects of BPD is a fear of abandonment, which can lead to very unstable relationships, even abuse.
“Before I started treatment for BPD I was constantly cycling through relationships, mostly unhealthy ones. I couldn’t stand to be alone. I felt like no one when I didn’t have a boyfriend. Without someone to prop me up and give me meaning, I was lost.
Even though I was desperate to be with someone, I was never happy in relationships. I was overly emotional and sensitive about everything. If he said something innocent, like he wanted to go out with friends, I might fly into a rage and accuse him of not loving me. I felt so unworthy of my boyfriends. I ended up with one guy who hit me, and I still stayed with him for months. Once my mom pushed me into treatment I started to understand these destructive choices I made. I decided to work on my mental health before getting into another relationship. My family has been so supportive, always reassuring me that even if boyfriends come and go, they will always be there.” —Mindy S.
2. It’s Extremely Difficult to Control Your Emotions and Reactions.
Many people with BPD describe it as having a raw or exposed nerve. You feel everything intensely and are easily triggered into extreme emotional reactions and mood swings. Other people see you as being difficult and volatile, but you find managing those reactions nearly impossible. Your reactions also seem normal and appropriate to the situation.
It helps loved ones of people with BPD to understand this. They need to be validated in their feelings, which are real. Outbursts don’t feel like overreactions to them. They are intensely happy, angry, sad, or scared in the moment, and it’s important not to judge them for this but to be patient and give them space and time to think.
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3. You Feel Empty Inside, and This Can Lead to Destructive Behaviors.
A common symptom of BPD is a feeling of a void or hole in one’s self, as if you are nobody. It can be unsettling and even frightening. This feeling can lead you to fill that empty space with impulsive and destructive behaviors and relationships.
“Before I got a diagnosis of BPD I always felt like I didn’t know who I was. During high school, I went from being the punk to the artist to the athlete. If someone reacted positively to the identity I tried to create, I went into it all the way.
This led to some pretty scary situations. In college, I wanted to be the party girl. I wanted people to like me, and I needed approval so that I had an identity. It led me to be really reckless about drinking and sex. When I finally went to rehab for alcohol use, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with BPD. Everything made more sense. I still struggle with that empty feeling, but now I know how to cope with it, to rely on relationships with people who truly care about me and to develop my own, genuine interests and values.” —Krystal T.
4. You Probably Have Other Mental Heath Issues, Even Trauma.
Most people with BPD have other mental health diagnoses, most commonly depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and bipolar disorder. Understand that some of your symptoms may be from these other conditions but that they all link back to BPD. Some of your struggle may be related to past trauma, and exploring this can help you heal and cope.
In order to live your best life with BPD, you must address all of your mental health needs. A good treatment plan will begin with a complete evaluation and multiple diagnoses if necessary. It will then include treatment for all conditions. By addressing your issues with eating, with drug use, or with anxiety, you support your overall wellness and management of BPD.
How to Live Better With BPD
Women who have been diagnosed with borderline personality are facing a long, difficult path to living a better life, but it is possible. If you have BPD or suspect you do, get a diagnosis first and then discuss treatment plans. Dedicated, long-term treatment will provide you with the foundation to make real changes in your everyday life.
Residential treatment is a great option, because it gives you time to focus on learning to live better with this condition. You’ll work with mental health experts trained in specialized therapies for personality disorders. Past trauma is common in people with BPD, so good treatment will also help you face, process, and cope with anything troubling from your past.
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is one of the major types of therapy used for managing BPD. Guided by a therapist, you’ll learn how to recognize and better control your difficult and intense emotions. You will also practice changing your reactions and behaviors. The benefits are important, including being able to express your feelings to loved ones more effectively and productively. This in turn improves relationships right away.
Completing treatment is the first step, but this is a chronic illness. You will need to carry on with good self-care, outpatient therapy, and practicing the strategies you learned in treatment once you go back home. If you can take the tools you learn at a residential facility and apply them in all areas of your life, you can live well with BPD and enjoy life more.
Borderline Personality DisorderTreatment at Helix Treatment Centers
Helix Treatment Center’s innovative gender-specific mental health treatment program is designed to help women gain the life skills and strength needed to manage their symptoms and learn to better cope with the lingering effects of borderline personality disorder and other mental health disorders in a supportive environment that caters to their psychological, physiological, and emotional needs. We offer a tranquil space to restore emotional and behavioral health and stability in a safe, comfortable environment at our six-bed residence nestled in the beautiful Mt. Helix region of San Diego.
Contact us today to learn more about our program and how we can help you or your loved one start on the path to lasting wellness.