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BPD traits - the signs and symptoms of BPD

If you are concerned that someone close to you has borderline personality disorder (BPD) traits, this blog outlines the common characteristics to look out for.

Priory Group has a network of hospitals and wellbeing centres located throughout the UK, and our specialist teams are highly experienced in supporting people with borderline personality disorders. By providing treatment that is tailored specifically to the person and their circumstances, we can help people to reduce the impact the condition has on their day-to-day life.

Common BPD traits 

Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment

A person with traits of BPD may react strongly if you arrive home late or have to spend time apart.

They will make every effort to remain in your presence, which may include begging you to stay, physically trying to stop you from leaving, or self-harming. While you are away, they may constantly call and text, or phone you at unsociable hours including in the middle of the night.

These BPD traits occur as the person fears the possibility of separation or rejection.

A pattern of intense and short-lived relationships

Someone BPD is likely to fall in love or develop friendships quickly and intensely, but then fall out of these relationships just as rapidly.

They view most things in ‘black and white’ terms, seeing everything and everyone as entirely good or entirely bad. As a result, they can quickly shift from idolising to devaluing a person. This typically happens when they experience a real or perceived slight, which causes them to feel disappointed, betrayed, unloved or abandoned.

An unstable self-image and chronic feelings of emptiness

BPD can result in a person making sudden changes to their opinions, values, friendship groups and sexual identity. They can also rapidly change their career goals and vocational aspirations. For some, they alter their identity depending on where they are and who they are with.

These changes happen as the person doesn’t feel that they know who they are or what to believe in. They may also feel as though they are non-existent.

Impulsive and self-destructive behaviour

Making hasty decisions is another BPD trait, where the person finds it difficult to judge the possible consequences of their actions.

This can lead to the person behaving in a dangerous, impulsive and irresponsible manner. For example, they may misuse alcohol and drugs, spend excessively, drive recklessly or become involved in gambling. They often turn to self-harm behaviours too.

Repeated, rapid and abrupt shifts in mood, and inappropriate, intense anger

A person with traits of BPD will experience mood changes more frequently and rapidly than people without the condition. As a person with BPD is less able to manage their emotional responses, they are also likely to respond to situations in a way that falls outside what is expected.

They can quickly change from being reasonably to intensely angry or sad, panicked or afraid. It can feel as though you cannot predict how they will react to something or someone.

Stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

A person with BPD may believe that they can see messages and threats where people without BPD would not, such as in a casual glance, a conversation or in body language. They may also have distressing beliefs about groups such as the government or big corporations plotting to cause them harm.

Receiving treatment for BPD at Priory Group

If someone you are close to is displaying BPD traits, encourage them to visit their GP to talk about their symptoms and the impact they are having on their daily life.

The GP can then refer them for an in-depth assessment. At this point, they may want to mention whether they would prefer to be referred for private mental health treatment such as with Priory Group. Our psychiatrists are highly experienced in working with people with BPD, and providing them with access to the most effective treatment. The person can also start their journey by seeking the opinion of one of our psychiatrists if that is preferred.

To find out more about how we assess people for BPD, please read our blog on the BPD diagnosis process

Residential treatment

If a person would benefit from a highly structured programme, it may be recommended that they receive residential based treatment. During this time, the person will receive 24-hour care and support. They will be involved in psychotherapy sessions, rehabilitative workshops and creative classes to learn techniques for dealing with BPD traits in their everyday life.

The psychotherapy treatment that is used for BPD at Priory Group includes mentalisation-based therapy (MBT). This treatment can be very effective for those with personality disorders. It encourages people to closely examine and assess their thoughts and beliefs to help them reduce their impulsive and reckless behaviours.

Talking therapies such as dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) also form a core part of our treatment for BPD. Through group and one-to-one sessions, a person has the opportunity to recognise their feelings as real and acceptable, and learn ways to challenge these thoughts with alternative and more positive ways of thinking. It can help to free the person from seeing the world in such a rigid and ‘black and white’ way, and instead view everything and everyone in a more helpful and positive manner.

Day and outpatient treatment

Day care and outpatient facilities are also available for people whose BPD traits are diagnosed as less severe, or for those who have already taken part in residential treatment. This can provide people with access to therapy in a flexible and supportive environment, where they are able to integrate their treatment within their daily life.

Reviewed by Dr Ian Nnatu (MB BS, PG DIP (CBT), MSc, FRCPsych, MRCPsych) Consultant Adult Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital North London

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