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Borderline Personality Disorder & Relationships

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

In this lesson you will learn the definition and symptoms of borderline personality disorder, as well as how having borderline personality disorder affects relationships. Following the lesson will be a brief quiz to test your knowledge.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Trisha's therapist diagnosed her with borderline personality disorder and attributed it to her environment, namely her abusive upbringing. She grew up in a home where she was sexually molested by her uncle and often neglected by her parents. Due to these circumstances, Trisha was never able to fully trust and rely on her adult caregivers growing up. She was also not able to form secure and healthy attachments. Now, she is unable to maintain stable relationships with men. Trisha and her therapist have a long journey of treatment ahead of them!

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by a tendency to have consistently unstable relationships with others, impulsivity, deep-rooted fears of abandonment, unstable self-esteem, feelings of emptiness, intense and unsubstantiated anger, and paranoia. Paranoia in BPD is characterized by an unreasonable mistrust of the intentions of others, and centers around feelings of insecurity and fears of being hurt or abandoned in their interpersonal relationships.

Adolescents can be diagnosed with BPD and the symptoms often look similar to those of adults. The causes of personality disorders can be genetics, biological factors or environment. Treatment of personality disorders is a tough and long process involving therapy and, sometimes, psychotropic medications. Psychotropic medications are medications that are intended to treat a mental, rather than physical, condition. The good news is that BPD does not have to be a lifelong condition and symptoms can improve with proper treatment.

Research using MRIs has shown that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is an important part in self-control, is less active in people with BPD, suggesting a cause for their impulsivity.
Abnormal brain structure in a person with Borderline personality disorder.

How Does Borderline Personality Disorder Affect Relationships?

The symptoms of BPD make it difficult for someone to form and maintain healthy relationships. Let's look at some reasons why.

Fluctuating between idealizing someone to hating them. A person with borderline personality disorder may hold a person in high esteem at one moment and then hate them the next. It's a dance between 'I love you' and 'I hate you.'This dance, unfortunately, usually ends poorly, with either anger, violence or dissolution of the relationship all together.

Let's look again at Trisha. Trisha quickly falls in love with Bill, a man that she met through an online dating website. They have a couple of dates, and Bill loves that Trisha always compliments him and is highly affectionate. But things quickly turn for the worse when Trisha asks Bill a question about marriage on the third date. Bill replies that he wants to take things slowly. Trisha, scarred from a lifetime of abandonment issues, instantly interprets Bill's answer to mean that he is looking to end the relationship. Trisha's demeanor changes from loving to enraged, and after a few angry words, she impulsively stands up and leaves the restaurant. Bill is immediately turned off and confused by Trisha's outburst.

After a couple more outbursts, Bill decides to end the relationship.

Low self-esteem. Trisha revealed insecurities about her weight, appearance and intelligence to Bill. She constantly needed Bill to reaffirm her worth. She constantly needed Bill to tell her that he loved her. The truth is that Trisha did not think herself worthy or lovable. Low self-esteem is common amongst people with BPD.

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