Borderline Personality Disorder or BPD is a type of personality disorder. Everyone has a personality and everyone has traits within their personalities. Some times these personality traits interfere with their functioning and take over the other aspects of the personality. When the traits interfere with functioning, are numerous, are pervasive throughout all interactions with others, and have been present throughout all or most of the person’s adult life, then we call that a personality disorder. To explain BPD, I can either quote the Diagnostics and Statistics Manual (DSM) to you or I can explain it in a less stuffy way. I choose the latter.
Two Year Old
Have you been around a two or three year old? Can you recall what that two or three year old was like the last time you were around them? Two and three year olds typically throw tantrums when they don’t get their way. They may show some fear of being abandoned by one or both parents (i.e. cry when dropped off at daycare). They are also easily distracted with a new toy. They easily become irritable or grumpy when they are hungry, angry or tired. The two or three year old has difficulty with managing or controlling their emotions, so what ever they are feeling at the moment is what you are seeing.
A person with Borderline Personality Disorder is stuck emotionally as a two or three year old. Depending on the severity, persons with BPD or traits of BPD may throw tantrums which may look quite a bit different than a two year old’s tantrum. They attempt to manipulate others around them to meet their needs. A person with BPD has needs that are as great and vast as a blackhole. They seem to always need something from others and are creative at getting their needs met.
Now Let’s Look at Us, You and I
Beneath our layers of coping skills, identity, and self esteem, we are all two or three year olds inside. Essentially BPD exists in all of us somewhere, the difference is how deep. For highly emotionally developed persons, it may be very deep and for others it may be beneath a thin veneer. With enough stressors, anyone will begin to act more like a 2 year old (or like someone with BPD).
Friends, Family, and Possibly Exes
Everyone, whether they know it or not, knows or has known someone with BPD. You are probably beginning to think back across all the people you know and a few are starting to pop up as possibilities. Women are most often diagnosed with BPD, but there is debate that perhaps there is a selectivity bias that mental health professionals see BPD symptoms in women more often than in men. If you can’t think of anyone by this point, then you should read I Hate You Don’t Leave Me, a classic guide to understanding BPD.
If you have someone in mind, recall their frequent mood swings and their mood changing on a dime, sometimes for no apparent reason. What frustrated you the most about that person? Were they an ex who stalked you after you broke the relationship off? Perhaps they threatened suicide multiple times, to get attention. Alternatively they either cut or burned themselves or had scars from when they had done that earlier in their lives.
Many Faces of BPD
People with BPD often present differently. Some are more angry while others present more with anxiety. Some are needy or demanding of attention, while others are seductive. Some present more as manipulative. Some people with BPD have such frequent and sudden mood changes it could make your head spin, while others only have one or two per day and they are so sudden and so different it is jarring. Some people with BPD threaten suicide frequently as a way to get their needs met, while others make frequent suicide attempts such as with overdoses. These attempts are often attention seeking and have a high chance for survival (i.e. taking overdose when another person is in the next room or is expected back home in less than thirty minutes). There is no one face of BPD and each person with BPD will look a little different.
And The Rest of the Story…
This is a brief summary of what BPD looks like. In thinking about writing this post, I realized the topic was too large for one post. I have decided to break this topic into several posts and create a series. The next post will be Why You Should Include a Character with BPD in Your Next Novel and the third post in the series will be How to Write a BPD Character in Your Next Novel. If you have any questions, you can ask in the comments, via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @CoriDyson. If I receive several questions, I will answer them all in a fourth post. This is a rather dense subject and if I need to expound on an area, let me know.