Borderline personality disorder - Symptoms 

Symptoms of borderline personality disorder 


An expert explains why young people may self-harm, and describes some of the different forms it can take. Caroline, director of Harmless, used to self-harm as a teenager. She gives advice on how to get the right support.

Media last reviewed: 29/01/2012

Next review due: 29/01/2014

Suicidal thoughts

If you have suicidal thoughts:

  • Call your GP or the out-of-hours GP service. If you have taken an overdose or cut or burned yourself badly, dial 999.
  • Call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90. This organisation provides emotional support 24 hours a day for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair.
  • Contact a friend, family member or someone you trust.

If you have been diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder, tell someone you trust about your condition. Give them the contact details of your care team and ask them to contact the team if they become concerned about your behaviour.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) can cause a wide range of symptoms which can be broadly grouped into four main areas.

The four areas are:

  • emotional instability (a psychological term for this is affective dysregulation)
  • disturbed patterns of thinking or perception (psychological terms for these are cognitive or perceptual distortions)
  • impulsive behaviour
  • intense but unstable relationships with others

Each of these areas is described in more detail below.

Emotional instability

If you have BPD, you may experience a range of often intense negative emotions, such as:

  • rage
  • sorrow
  • shame
  • panic
  • terror
  • long-term feelings of emptiness and loneliness

You may have severe mood swings over a short space of time. It is common for people with BPD to feel suicidal with despair and then feel reasonably positive a few hours later. Some people feel better in the morning and some in the evening. The pattern varies, but the key sign is that your moods swing in unpredictable ways.

Disturbed patterns of thinking

There are three levels of disturbed thinking that can affect people with BPD. These are ranked according to severity:

  • upsetting thoughts, such as thinking you are a terrible person or feeling you do not exist. You may not be sure of these thoughts and may seek reassurance that they are not true
  • brief episodes of strange experiences, such as hearing voices outside your head for minutes at a time. These may often feel like instructions to harm yourself or others. You may or may not be certain whether these are real
  • prolonged episodes of abnormal experiences, where you might experience both hallucinations (voices outside your head) or distressing beliefs that no one can talk you out of (such as believing your family are secretly trying to kill you). These types of beliefs may be psychotic (delusions), and a sign you are becoming more unwell. It is important to get help if you are struggling with delusions

Impulsive behaviour

If you have BPD, there are two main types of impulses you may find extremely difficult to control:

  • an impulse to self-harm, such as cutting your arms with razors or burning your skin with cigarettes. In severe cases, especially if you also feel intensely sad and depressed, this impulse can lead to feeling suicidal and you may attempt suicide
  • a strong impulse to engage in reckless and irresponsible activities, such as binge drinking, drug abuse, going on a spending or gambling spree or having unprotected sex with strangers. Impulsive behaviours are especially dangerous when people are in brief psychotic states, because they may be much more likely to act impulsively if their judgement is impaired

Unstable relationships

If you have BPD, you may feel other people abandon you when you most need them or get too close and smother you.

When people fear abandonment, it can lead to feelings of intense anxiety and anger. They may make frantic efforts to prevent being left alone, such as:

  • constantly texting or phoning a person
  • suddenly calling that person in the middle of the night
  • physically clinging on to that person and refusing to let go
  • making threats they will harm or kill themselves if that person ever leaves them

Alternatively, you may feel others are smothering, controlling or crowding you, which also provokes intense fear and anger.

You may then respond by acting in ways to make people go away, such as emotionally withdrawing, rejecting them or using verbal abuse.

These two patterns will probably result in an unstable ‘love-hate’ relationship with certain people.

Many people with BPD seem to be stuck with a very rigid ‘black-white’ view of relationships. Either a relationship is perfect and that person is wonderful, or the relationship is doomed and that person is terrible. People with BPD seem unable or unwilling to accept any sort of ‘grey area’ in their personal life and relationships.

For many with BPD, emotional relationships (including relationships with professional carers) involve ‘go away!/please don’t go’ states of mind, which is confusing for them and their partners. Sadly, this can often lead to break-ups.

Page last reviewed: 02/08/2012

Next review due: 02/08/2014


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The 6 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

TAMMY101 said on 28 March 2014

Sadly I suffer from disorder, and I think its one of the worst things 2 ever have the mentle torcher u endure every day, I have had treatment dbt the first time I went it didn't go good as I was still drinking and not ready, but second time round I found it use full but could of done with been there longer as having a head that constantly on the go its hard to take information, there is a lot of ppl out there with borderline and I think its wrong they wait till your older to be dignosed, as I showed symtoms from the age of seven I took first over dose and violent outbursts I wish that I learned skills back then, I don't think my life would be as caotic as it has been, I think there should be more awarence about disorder and maybe ppl would be more understanding, I want to try and fight for kids showing symtoms of disorder as they deserve treatment, and the brain would develop as it should

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jacccc said on 09 January 2014

My daughter has all the symptoms of BPD she I now 27
I have been aware f her emotional instability always but hoped she would grow out of it. Now it appears worse than ever and has isolated her from all of her family. I feel better for the lack of contact but cant help worrying about her future
I have read all I can about the disorder and how to deal with it an feel I have mainly responded to her in the ways suggested by the 'experts'
Except at times I have been tested to my limits.
I think my own mental health has suffered as I am now depressed
She I very creative attractive and charming but also very abusive.
Her relationships always end in disaster. But now I have to
remain detached for both our sakes

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Osamu said on 05 December 2013

I feel strangely that I suffered a companion of Antisocial personality disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder and I need help not sure where to start , I just start to read in NHS site today only, any recommending please

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Flare269 said on 22 October 2013


If you are certain she has BPD your best bet is taking her to see your GP and get them to make a referral to a mental health team or CAMHS depending on her age.
If she is under 18 it's unlikely she'll be diagnosed unless CAMHS see her displaying the behaviours and meeting the criteria for borderline personality disorder for a year or more.

The best thing you can do for her is be there for her, be supportive. Be there when she needs you, be a shoulder to cry on etc.

Sometimes breathing exercises and meditation can help, keeping a diary of thoughts and feelings, writing poetry, being creative in general if she likes doing that sort of stuff :).

What keeps me going the most, I don't know about others is telling myself the bad moods won't last, telling myself it's X amount of days/weeks till I see my mental health nurse or the psychiatrist.

I hope you are both okay and you find out what is going on soon :-).

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doodledo said on 15 October 2013

I am pretty certain my daughter has BPD. After reading some comments from people who also suffer this disorder and say antideps don't help them, as a parent to someone suffering this awful disorder how can I best help and support her? For people who suffer this disorder - what helps you? how do you manage and cope whith your experience?

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Lisamadmonty67 said on 01 September 2013

Hello I am a sufferer of borderline personality disorder and it is a daily struggle to deal with negative thought, emotions anger paranoia and emptiness but all we can do is try and don't give in to this horrible illness.

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