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A Look at Borderline Personality Disorder
by Carmen Schott, MSW, LCSW


Editor's Note
: Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder are often confused. For more information please visit

I often have people ask me about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I find that many individuals get this disorder confused with what is called Bipolar Disorder. The two names sound similar, but these two mental health disorders are very different. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a personality disorder and involves “a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning in early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts.” In basic terms, BPD involves severe difficulties in relationships with others, especially intimate relationships. Individuals with BPD often find it difficult to trust others fully and they are known to pull people in and then push them away.

Individuals with BPD have fears of abandonment and try very hard to avoid feelings of disapproval. They can suffer from feelings of emptiness and impulsivity that can be self-damaging such as substance abuse, reckless driving, or binge eating. There is instability of mood that is intense, irritable and often changes quickly. They sometimes have suicidal thoughts and behaviors that are self-damaging. They can have inappropriate, intense anger and displays of temper, which often leads to physical altercations with others. People often feel afraid of the person suffering from BPD, because of the intensity of symptoms and the overwhelming nature of the emotions.

Individuals experiencing BPD often lack boundaries between themselves and others. They can feel love for someone instantly and then suddenly switch to distrust and hate. Individuals who are involved in the life of a person suffering from BPD often live in constant upheaval and never know what to expect day to day. Individuals with BPD often have been victims of physical or sexual abuse at some time in their lives. Only about 1-2% of the population is diagnosed with BPD.

When we look at Bipolar Disorder we see a very different set of symptoms. Bipolar Disorder is a Mood Disorder so therefore the symptoms involve feelings of depression and sadness. An individual with Bipolar Disorder experiences depression and withdrawal from social situations. Instead of only feeling depressed (i.e. Major Depression etc.) these individuals experience what is known as a Manic or Hyper-Manic episode at sometime during the depression. This is the central difference between depression and true Bipolar Disorder. It is a very different disorder than BPD. Bipolar Disorder is more common and affects women more often than men. Bipolar Disorder often affects the mood of an individual and during a manic episode there can be instability of mood and behaviors, but is differs greatly from BPD. Bipolar Disorder can be treated with medication to manage symptoms, whereas Borderline Personality is often more difficult to treat and medication alone will not alleviate all symptoms. There are medications and research that can help treat individuals with Mood Disorders, whereas Personality Disorders are more complex and more difficult to treat.

There are many movies out there that show the severity of Borderline Personality Disorder. In the movie, “Fatal Attraction” Glenn Close becomes very upset when her lover Michael Douglas calls off their affair. When he leaves the room and returns, he finds her wrists cut and she is emotionally devastated. Later on, this leads to extreme anger and violent symptoms to manifest for Glenn Close who feels abandoned and rejected. This is a movie that has been classically analyzed and shown to let others see the manifestation of true BPD behaviors. The truth is that symptoms can vary in severity and each individual is different. Sometimes this behavior in the movies does not always account for all individuals suffering with mental disorders.

If you have further questions about Borderline Personality Disorder or Bipolar Disorder please visit http://www.nmha.org for more information on mental illness and ways you can help.



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About the Author

Carmen Turner-Schott, MSW, LISW, LCSW, CAATS is a licensed clinical social worker and Certified Alcohol Abuse Treatment Specialist (CAATS) and has worked in the mental health field since 1997 (BA – Fontbonne University; MSW – Washington University in St. Louis). She is licensed in both Ohio/Virginia. She has extensive experience with children and teens providing in-home crisis intervention, individual and family counseling. She has worked in youth service programs serving runaway teens and police stations; in adoption preservation programs and transitional living programs serving abused and neglected children. 

(314) 435-6098
Poquoson, Virginia USA



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