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Borderline personality disorder

What do we mean by 'personality'?

‘Personality’ is difficult to define. It’s a collection of things that makes us an individual, including how we think, feel and behave. We could think about it as the part of us which relates to other people and decides how we express ourselves.

Our personality develops as we’re growing up. That’s why when a young person starts to experience features linked to a personality disorder, they might be diagnosed with an ‘emerging’ or ‘borderline’ personality disorder.

The way personality develops is complicated and not fully understood, but it is a lot to do with our experiences and how we process them. Sometimes when we go through difficult or traumatic experiences it can affect our mental health. This can lead to things like depression or psychosis. But sometimes, difficult experiences affect us more generally. For example, they can affect our developing personalities and make it difficult to accept ourselves for who we are. This can often lead to unstable relationships with other people too.

Sometimes it feels like I’m on an emotional rollercoaster that I can’t get off.
Harriet, YoungMinds Activist

What is a 'personality disorder'?

A person with a personality disorder doesn’t have a ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ personality.

Instead, it means the way you see yourself and relate to others has been very affected by your negative experiences. So much so that it causes you significant emotional difficulties. This can lead to lots of problems in daily life, such as:

  • struggling to keep friendships
  • feeling abandoned and unable to cope with life
  • struggling to control your reactions

Everyone has emotional difficulties at some point, but some people need a bit more help when they are struggling than others.

If your emotional difficulties, stress and struggles with relationships continue over a long period of time, you probably need special help to break out of these patterns.

  • When I was first told I had BPD I remember feeling scared. The name ‘personality disorder’ made me feel like there was something wrong with who I am as a person.
  • I tend to feel quite intense emotions that can feel pretty frightening at the time.

What is 'borderline' or 'emerging borderline' personality disorder?

If you have borderline personality disorder (BPD), you may experience very changeable emotions. This may particularly be triggered by your relationships. At times of stress, these emotions can become so intense that you may feel you cannot cope and don’t want to be alive. These feelings may become most intense during times when you are most unable to cope. This is when it is most important to tell others and get support. You don’t need to go through this alone.

BPD often develops as a result of experiencing trauma growing up. For example, being the victim of abuse, being in care, or having parents with their own complex mental health needs. A significant learning disability can also make it much harder for people to cope and manage their feelings and behaviour.

Two young people sit on a sofa with the person on the left putting an arm around the other. They both are looking at each other while talking.

Features of borderline or emerging borderline personality disorder may include some or all of the following:

  • feeling alone and abandoned
  • having mood swings (emotions that change very quickly and in an extreme way) - these could be from day to day, or even from one hour to the next
  • having doubt about who you are, or feeling empty
  • wondering if anybody really cares about you
  • difficulty making or maintaining close relationships with a partner, friends or family members
  • taking risks with drugs, relationships, studies, money and sex - this could be because of your quickly-changing emotions or uncertainty over your relationships
  • showing impulsive and dangerous behaviours, such as reckless driving
  • self-harmsuicidal feelings or suicidal thoughts
  • struggling with intense anger
  • hearing voices or having other unusual experiences

The challenge for anyone struggling with a borderline or emerging personality disorder is first to recognise that there is a problem. That can be really hard to do. Often family members and friends may be the first to notice these patterns. Having trusted support is important during this time.

It can take time, but you can start to take control over negative patterns that are starting to become second nature. With the right help and support, you can get better and make your life and relationships healthy and positive again.

I felt ashamed and abnormal when I would feel certain things: such as feeling suicidal over seemingly trivial events or interactions. Some days, I didn’t feel real: believing that the emptiness of being so unwell had consumed all of me so much so that there wasn’t even really a true ‘me’ anymore. I desperately wished I could undo all of it; but every day was a drop deeper than the last, and it happened so suddenly.

I never spoke about the details of what I felt, and never thought I would. I worried about how it would look and how far people would drift from me, because if it didn’t even make sense to me, how could it make sense to anybody else?

Reaching out for help

Having borderline difficulties is exhausting emotionally. Reaching out for help is the first step to getting better. Talk to someone you trust – this could be a friend, a teacher, a relative or a counsellor. This can be difficult, but we have tips and advice for having that conversation on our reaching out for help page.

It is really important for you to talk to your GP and tell them if you are worried you might have BPD. Your doctor might ask you questions about how you’ve been feeling and behaving. Don’t be afraid of being honest. It’s more than likely your doctor will have heard of similar experiences from lots of other people. You might find it helpful to write down what you want to say in advance and bring it with you to your appointment.

Your GP will not be able to give you a diagnosis of BPD – only a special mental health professional can do this. But they can refer you to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), or your community mental health team for an assessment. They can also let you know what other support is available to you in your local area, like support groups.

Your guide to support

Treating borderline personality disorder

There are different therapies used to treat BPD. These include:

  • dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) – a type of talking therapy adapted for people who feel emotions very intensely
  • cognitive analytic therapy (CAT) – a talking therapy that focuses on relationship patterns
  • mentalisation based therapy (MBT) – a therapy that encourages you to think about your own and other people’s state of mind

Many of these use coping strategies such as mindfulness to start off with. They help you develop and improve your self-esteem and relationships.

You might be prescribed medication like sedatives. These reduce distress and allow the psychological therapy to work.

Seeking help is often the first step to your recovery. Getting the right support can help you learn to deal with all the difficult and upsetting things you have gone through. This will make a real difference to your future wellbeing.

While DBT didn’t cure me overnight, it has given me the tools to talk about my experiences and create some breathing space between my emotions and actions.

BPD and other mental health problems

It’s common for people with BPD to experience other mental health problems alongside BPD. This could include:

Having other mental health problems can impact the treatment you are given. For example, many people with BPD have anxiety or depression alongside borderline problems. They might be prescribed antidepressants for these.

Experiencing other mental health problems alongside BPD can make it difficult to get a diagnosis of BPD. It’s important to be as clear as you can be with your GP about all your symptoms so they can decide what support is right for you.

  • Looking back, for a long time I had suffered alone and didn't realise I could ask for help. Don’t let fear prevent you from getting the support you deserve.
  • Just know that sometimes we want a bad period of life to end rather than life itself.

Get help now

If you're struggling with how you feel, you don't have to struggle alone. Here are some services that can support you. 

  • Samaritans

    Whatever you're going through, you can contact the Samaritans for support. N.B. This is a listening service and does not offer advice or intervention.

    Opening times:
  • The Mix

    Free, short-term online counselling for young people aged 25 or under. Their website also provides lots of information and advice about mental health and wellbeing. 

    Email support is available via their online contact form.

    They have a free 1-2-1 webchat service available during opening hours.

    Opening times:
    4pm - 11pm, Monday - Friday
  • NAPAC (the National Association for People Abused in Childhood)

    Offers support to adult survivors of all types of childhood abuse, including physical, sexual, emotional abuse or neglect.

    Opening times:
    10am - 4pm, Monday, Wednesdays & Fridays; 2pm - 9pm, Tuesdays & Thursdays
  • Childline

    If you’re under 19 you can confidentially call, chat online or email about any problem big or small.

    Sign up for a free Childline locker (real name or email address not needed) to use their free 1-2-1 counsellor chat and email support service.

    Can provide a BSL interpreter if you are deaf or hearing-impaired.

    Hosts online message boards where you can share your experiences, have fun and get support from other young people in similar situations.

    Opening times:

Whether you love the page or think something is missing, we appreciate your feedback. It all helps us to support more young people with their mental health.

Please be aware that this form isn’t a mental health support service. If you are in crisis right now and want to talk to someone urgently, find out who to contact on our urgent help page.

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