Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a disorder of mood and how a person interacts with others. It's the most commonly recognised personality disorder.

In general, someone with a personality disorder will differ significantly from an average person in terms of how he or she thinks, perceives, feels or relates to others.

The symptoms of BPD can be grouped into four main areas:

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

The symptoms of a personality disorder may range from mild to severe and usually emerge in adolescence, persisting into adulthood.

Read more about the symptoms of BPD.

Causes of BPD

The causes of BPD are unclear. However, as with most conditions, BPD appears to result from a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Traumatic events that occur during childhood are associated with developing BPD. Many people with BPD will have experienced parental neglect or physical, sexual or emotional abuse during their childhood.

Read more about the causes of BPD.

When to seek medical advice

If you're experiencing symptoms of BPD, make an appointment with your GP. They may ask about:

  • how you feel
  • your recent behaviour
  • what sort of impact your symptoms have had on your quality of life

This is to rule out other more common mental health conditions, such as depression, and to make sure there's no immediate risk to your health and wellbeing.

You may also find the MIND and Emergence websites useful.

Read more about how BPD is diagnosed.

Treating BPD

Many people with BPD can benefit from psychological or medical treatment.

Treatment may involve a range of individual and group psychological therapies (psychotherapy) carried out by trained professionals working with a community mental health team. Effective treatment may last more than a year.

Read more about treatments for BPD.

Over time, many people with BPD overcome their symptoms and recover. Additional treatment is recommended for people whose symptoms return.

Associated mental health problems

Many people with BPD also have another mental health condition or behavioural problem, such as:

BPD can be a serious condition, and many people with the condition self-harm and attempt suicide.

Mental and emotional health: talking therapies

Learn about different talking therapies that can help people overcome a range of problems, from depression to stress. Tip: check with your GP whether there are any Improving Access to Psychological Treatment (IAPT) services in your area.

Media last reviewed: 26/05/2015

Next review due: 26/05/2017

Page last reviewed: 22/08/2016

Next review due: 22/08/2019