The Key Traits Of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition often misconstrued. Despite the complicated nature of this condition, treatment is feasible and can be effective. Read on to learn more about the key traits of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Visual representation of the key traits of borderline personality disorder.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition that can severely impact your ability to regulate emotions. This loss of emotional control makes you feel more impulsive, affects the way you think about yourself, and negatively impacts your relationships with family and friends.

However, the good news is that the key traits of borderline personality disorder can be managed, and effective treatments are available to help you navigate your symptoms of borderline personality disorder.

What Causes Borderline Personality Disorder?

Similar to many other mental health conditions, researchers haven’t identified one cause of BPD. However, the following risk factors can play a role in the development of the disorder:

Brain Structure

Researchers have found that people with a borderline personality disorder may differ in the part of their brain accountable for managing emotions and impulses. But it’s not clear whether these differences cause BPD or are a consequence of the disorder.

Family History

Individuals with a close family member, such as a parent or a sibling, may be at increased risk for BPD.

Environmental Factors

Individuals with BPD usually have a history of trauma, including physical, emotional, sexual abuse, ACEs (adverse childhood experiences), or exposure to violence. However, it’s essential to mention that not everyone with BPD has had traumatic experiences. On the other hand, numerous people who have experienced them don’t continuously develop BPD.

Remember that a risk factor isn’t the same thing as a cause for BPD. Just because you may have one of these factors doesn’t always entail you will develop BPD.

The criteria and key traits of borderline personality disorder for a Diagnosis

BPD is diagnosed by evaluating your or a loved one’s symptoms and reviewing your medical history. A doctor may also want to perform a physical exam or lab tests to rule out any potential medical illnesses contributing to the signs. BPD can present in a variety of contexts, which are indicated by five or more of the following symptoms:

Regular feelings of emptiness

Emotional instability in reacting to day-to-day hassles and stressors (e.g., intense episodic despair, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and in some cases, days.) Emotional instability is a crucial feature of BPD. Individuals can feel like they’re on an emotional roller coaster with rapid mood shifts (i.e., going from feeling content to feeling extremely low or blue within only a few minutes). Mood changes can endure from minutes to days and are usually intense. Anger, anxiety, and overwhelming feeling of emptiness are common as well.

Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment

People with BPD often have intense relationships with their loved ones, which are characterised by frequent confrontations, arguments, and break-ups. In addition, BPD is often associated with severe anxiety about being abandoned by loved ones and attempts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. This usually leads to difficulty trusting others, putting a strain on relationships. 

Identity disturbance with markedly unstable self-image or sense of self

Individuals with BPD have problems related to their sense of self-stability. They report numerous ups and downs in the way they feel about themselves. One instant, they can feel good about themselves and who they are, and in the next, they may feel they are wrong or even evil.


BPD is often associated with a tendency to engage in risky and impulsive behaviours, such as spending loads of money, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or abusing drugs, engaging in promiscuous or dangerous sex, or binge eating. Additionally, those with BPD are more inclined to engage in self-harming behaviours, such as cutting and attempting suicide. Impulsive behaviour in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)

Difficulty managing emotions

Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent exhibitions of temper, persistent irritation, reoccurring physical fights). The pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterised by extremes between idealisation and depreciation (also referred to as “splitting“). This can also include recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats, or self-harming behaviour.

Not everyone with BPD experiences each and every symptom listed. Some people may only have a few, while others can experience most of these symptoms. However, with appropriate help and treatment, individuals diagnosed with BPD can improve their quality of life and minimise their symptoms. 

Diagnosis can be tricky because many of the symptoms above overlap with other mental health disorders. And because many symptoms include extreme emotions and impulsive behaviours, it’s common for someone with BPD also to have a substance abuse issue. The best way to receive a diagnosis is via a thorough evaluation by a mental health professional. This will involve a comprehensive assessment.

Finding Help

The symptoms and traits of borderline personality disorder can affect various areas, including work, school, relationships, legal status, and physical health. This is why treatment is so critical. Yet, despite the obstacles that BPD can cause, many people with BPD lead normal, fulfilling lives. Especially when they stick with their treatment plan. 

Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) is considered one of the most effective treatment options for those who suffer from borderline personality disorder (BPD), as well as other mental health disorders. DBT aims to help people learn how to manage emotions, relationships, interactions with others, and general situations that may trigger emotional instability.

The good news is that we offer a free 20-minute DBT consultation. If you would like to learn more about how DBT could help – to learn more, click here

Remember, what works for one person may not work for another. It’s essential to develop the right treatment plan with a mental health professional. However, with appropriate support, many people with BPD can maintain healthy, joyful relationships and lead fulfilling lives.

About The Author

Picture of Lorna Wykes

Lorna Wykes

With over 18 years of experience, Lorna, our clinical director holds a Diploma in Psychology, BSc Criminology & Psychology and MSc in Addiction Psychology and Counselling and is registered with The British Psychological Society, The Federation of Drug and Alcohol Practitioners and The American Psychological Association.

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