May is Borderline Personality Disorder Month. In honor of this important topic, we will spend the month of May addressing different aspects of recovery from this highly treatable disorder.
This week we will focus on the nuts and bolts of what borderline personality disorder (BPD) is, what treatments are available, and recommendations for finding support for yourself or a loved one.
Just hearing the phrase “borderline personality disorder” can strike fear into the hearts of the most resilient loved ones.
But for the individual who is diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD), there is probably just a question mark where comprehension should be. This person is probably thinking, “BPD? What is that? This is just how I am!”
Therein lies the difficulty in accurately diagnosing, assessing, and treating BPD. To the professional untrained in BPD treatment, a sufferer can seem like an exercise in unpredictability, not to mention a source of continual professional self-doubt and frustration.
To the loved ones, often unwittingly caught in the disease’s trap along with the sufferer, BPD can appear as a nightmare of confused interpretations that never ends.
To the sufferer, it is just another day in a life filled with emotional pain.
Statistically-speaking, studies indicate that 2% of the population is thought to suffer from BPD. Additionally, up to 20% of all psychiatric hospitalizations stem from BPD. It is thought that nearly three-quarters of all sufferers are female, which is why current research and treatment continues to focus on females.
But what is it? What does “borderline personality disorder” even mean?
Simply put, BPD places the individual at odds with her own emotions. Emotional ups and downs are experienced as equally painful, chaotic, and unmanageable. Any other symptom traditionally associated with BPD can be traced back to this internal emotional war. Because the emotional instability is so severe, BPD is considered both serious and life-threatening. Self-harming and suicidal thoughts and behaviors are common. Relationships are a continual challenge due to continual mood swings and poor sense of self-identity. Treatment is a must – for the sufferer’s sake, and for the sake of those around them.
What causes BPD? While research is not yet able to pinpoint the exact causes, one thing is clear – it is not a self-willed disorder, and it is not the sufferer’s fault. Newer scientific evidence strongly points to a dual dance of biology and environmental triggers. For instance, while studying the brains of individuals diagnosed with BPD, researchers noted higher activity in parts of the brain that control emotional expression and experience, including the limbic system, the brain’s emotional processing center. For these and other reasons, it is widely thought that BPD-predisposed individuals’ brains differ not just in function but also in structure. This evidence also illuminates one possible reason for the tendency the disorder has shown to run in families.
Environmentally, an individual is considered at higher risk for developing BPD after experiencing childhood trauma or an invalidating emotional bond with early caregivers – or both. Since the disorder tends to first show itself in early adulthood, environmentally it appears that an earlier experience of traumatic emotional invalidation is a key factor in determining who is at risk for BPD later on in life.
But while it can be tempting to spend vast amounts of time digging into a sufferer’s past for clues as to why BPD has developed, the most important call to action is to get that person HELP.
Up until a few short decades ago, treatment options were scarce. But thanks to the pioneering work of Dr. Marsha Linehan, the founder of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), there is much hope for successful treatment of this persistent and often resistant disorder. Dr. Linehan developed DBT specifically for the treatment of individuals suffering from BPD after studying their symptoms extensively and determining a range of four core building blocks needed to successfully overcome the disorder.
This is good news for sufferers, loved ones, and professionals. Sufferers who become students of DBT learn key coping techniques in Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance, and Interpersonal Effectiveness. These four core modules are introduced over a period of time in an atmosphere of comprehensive individual and group support, including extra phone support if needed. The end result is an individual who is equipped with all the tools and resources she needs to combat her tendencies toward emotional overextension and self invalidation. Since the instruction is done in a nurturing and emotionally-validating environment, the individual is repairing old hurts while learning new skills, and emerges a stronger, more confident person within herself and in her interpersonal relationships.
If you or someone you love is exhibiting signs and symptoms of BPD, it is important to seek help immediately. BPD is a serious disorder and deserves the highest respect. Do not attempt to manage symptoms of BPD for yourself or a loved one. The professionals at Southlake Counseling have dedicated more than two decades to proficiency in supporting individuals with borderline symptoms through the recovery process. We are here to help. Southlake Counseling offers a wide variety of DBT-based individual and group support, including phone support. Our support groups are offered for both females and males, adolescents and adults. Our comprehensive DBT outpatient program is designed to make immediate, measurable progress in reduction of symptoms and improvement in emotional functioning. Visit us at www.southlakecounseling.com to learn more.