What is borderline personality disorder (BPD)?

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) often have trouble dealing with everyday situations and interactions. BPD can be difficult to manage, but there are ways to treat it. Start by getting the facts on the signs, symptoms and causes of BPD.

This can help if:

  • you have much more intense emotional reactions than the people around you

  • your moods change all the time

  • you feel lost or abandoned

  • you often behave in a risky way

  • you want to understand how people get a BPD diagnosis.

Girl depressed sitting on floor

What is borderline personality disorder?

BPD causes a person to consistently experience overly intense emotions. People with BPD will often struggle to relate to and interact with other people and the world around them. As a result, they find it difficult and distressing to cope with the normal things in their everyday lives.

Signs and symptoms of borderline personality disorder

People with BPD may experience just a few or all of these common signs and symptoms:

Extreme or unstable emotions

Their moods are so intense that they interfere with everyday life. Someone with BPD might feel fine one second and then really angry or upset the next.

Unstable relationships

People with BPD struggle to develop stable relationships with friends, family and loved ones, often swinging from feelings of intense closeness to someone to extreme dislike and anger.

Deep insecurity

People with BPD often feel like they don’t really know who they are, or what their place in the world is. They might also experience intense fears of abandonment.

Impulsive or risky behaviour

Everyone gets urges, but people with BPD will often find it hard not to act on their urges. Alcohol and drug abuse are common symptoms, as well as reckless spending, unsafe sex and dangerous driving.

Constant changes of mind

People with BPD might find that they constantly change their mind about things, whether it’s their feelings towards the people around them, or other areas of their life, such as their goals, ambitions or sexuality.


In some cases, people with BPD self-harm. The reasons why a person self-harms can vary, but generally it’s a way of coping with strong feelings and emotions, and of expressing emotional pain.

What causes BPD?

As with many personality disorders, the causes of BPD aren’t fully understood. However, most professionals think that BPD is caused by a combination of things, such as:

  • genes

  • past abuse or trauma

  • a dysfunctional family life

  • negative or difficult interactions with others during childhood.

Keep in mind that not all people who have BPD experience these things, just as not everyone will develop BPD because of them. It’s different for everyone.

What can be done to treat BPD?

If you’re experiencing some of the symptoms of BPD and are having a rough time coping, it’s worth having a chat with a professional to try and figure out what’s going on. It might just be too big to manage on your own, which is why seeking help is important.

The best ways to deal with BPD are:

  • psychological therapy, such as interpersonal psychotherapy (where people learn more effective ways of relating to others in their life) or dialectical behaviour therapy (where people learn (a) how to manage their emotions; and (b) appropriate ways of responding to people and situations)

  • support from family, friends and community groups

  • medication, if necessary (seek advice from your mental health professional).

Along with the help of professionals, talking to trusted friends and family members can help you come up with positive ways of thinking about and dealing with BPD.

Frequently asked questions about BPD

Are borderline personality disorder tests accurate?

While you may find borderline personality disorders tests floating around online, it’s important to remember that these aren’t giving you a complete picture. If you suspect you have BPD or know someone who is showing BPD symptoms, seeking professional help is the first step to getting a BPD diagnosis and support.

Do symptoms of BPD in females differ to symptoms in males?

Generally, BPD  symptoms are similar in males and females. There is research that shows that males may experience more external symptoms like aggression or impulsivity, while females may experience more internal symptoms like intense mood swings. 

BPD vs bipolar – what’s the difference?

While BPD and bipolar disorder might share some symptoms, and even an acronym (bipolar disorder is sometimes referred to as ‘BPD’ as well) they're a bit different. 

Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition where people experience extreme mood swings, called ‘episodes’, that interfere with their daily life. These episodes are known as manic/hypomanic and depressive. Treatment of bipolar often includes a combination of psychological therapy and medication. You can read more about bipolar disorder here. It could be the case that you experience both bipolar and borderline personality disorder symptoms. The best first step is to see a professional who can help identify what’s going on for you.

Is BPD genetic?

There's some evidence to suggest that BPD can run in families but just because someone in your family has it doesn't mean you'll have it too. It’s important to remember that your genes aren't your destiny – there are lots of other factors at play that can contribute to whether or not you develop borderline personality disorder.

What can I do now?

  • Talk to a mental health professional about treatment options.

  • Get more info on personality disorders.