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What is borderline personality disorder?

By 2012, Leah had been married for ten years to a man she loved deeply and wholly. In those ten years, she had also had affairs with numerous men, created numerous online personas, left the children at least once a quarter to travel “for work,” and had been in the hospital three times – once due to an extreme panic attack, and twice for two separate suicide attempts, three years apart.

During the third hospitalization, Leah says, she met her therapist, a woman she says “changed her life.

“I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, PTSD, clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder,” she says, counting the ailments on her fingers. “All of it made so much sense. All my life, I hated myself. I hated how I looked, I was always swinging from one mood to the other, I never kept relationships… I sound like such a mess, don’t I?

“But I learned that this is a legitimate disorder. It was me but it wasn’t me.”

Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is a mental health disorder. People with BPD may intensely fear abandonment and being alone; they may be unstable, angry, impulsive and moody. They crave love, and yet they push people away. They have a hard time managing their emotions as well as their behavior, and as a result, are unstable.

What are the symptoms?

People with BPD may have some, all, or several of the following signs and symptoms:

•Impulsive, risky behavior (including unsafe sex, gambling, sabotaging of relationships at home or at work, reckless driving, or substance abuse)
•Changes in self-image
•Stress-related paranoia
•Intense fear of being rejected or abandoned
•Frequent mood swings that may last for days
•Suicidal behaviors or threats
•Self-injurious behavior
•Emptiness
•Inappropriate behavior
•Intense anger
•Frequent engaging in unstable relationships (including idealizing someone and then thinking that person no longer cares)

Usually, borderline personality disorder starts in young adulthood (people over 18), but symptoms tend to subside over time, especially with treatment. Those with a family history of BPD or other mental health conditions, like eating disorders or depression, are at a higher risk of developing it. The majority of people with BPD are women, with 75% of diagnoses represented by females.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, about 1.4% of all adults in the US has BPD.

What causes BPD?

It’s not known exactly what causes BPD, but it’s believed that usually it’s a combination of factors, including genetics, childhood abuse and trauma, and brain activity.

How is BPD treated?

The gold standard for BPD is usually talk therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (a goal-oriented therapy), dialectical behavior therapy (a therapy that teaches you how to accept the reality of your behaviors and your life, while also helping you learn skills to help control the intense emotions and self-destruction you might experience), and group therapy are all great options.

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