It is a significant challenge to determine if someone in your life has Borderline Personality Disorder or any personality disorder. We often do not have a formal diagnosis to rely upon.
The American Psychiatric Association cautions us against using the DSM criteria for making amateur "cookbook" diagnoses as they are often inaccurate. For our own sake and for the sake of others, we want to be responsible and constructive in assessing the mental health of others in our life.
First and foremost, these designations were created to help people and families, not label and blame.
When we encounter high conflict and destructive relationship behaviors in others, our first priority could be to triage our situation
. Write down the difficult behaviors that we have observed.
- If any are dangerous (e.g., domestic violence, suicidal ideation, or criminal) or fatal to the relationship (e.g., serial adultery, ruinousness spending), it makes sense to immediately start planning for safety.
- For all the others, we should do everything we can to reduce the conflict in the immediate term. This may not be not easy for us. It usually involves giving in to the other person and providing them space and listening to/validating them. At the same time, we should force ourselves to step back from the conflict and process the hurt or resentment that we are feeling. This requires a great deal of maturity. We have tools for neutralizing the situation (stop the bleeding) and we have tools for taking a step backward (rebalancing ourselves). As difficult as it may be, starting here is usually in the best interest of ourselves and our children.
Once the situation is defused as best it can be, we can then start investigating what is going on so that we can make informed decisions. When we encounter high conflict people with destructive relationship behaviors it is important for us to know that the problems can be caused by a large range of things from immaturity, short term mental illness (e.g. depression), substance induced illness (e.g. alcoholism), a mood disorder (e.g., bipolar), an anxiety disorder (e.g. PTSD), a personality disorder (e.g., BPD, NPD), or even a learning disability (e.g. Aspergers) and "any combination of the above" (i.e., co-morbidity
). It will likely take some digging to sort it out.The behaviors exhibited during a relationship for all of these afflictions can look somewhat alike
but the driving forces and the implications can be very different. For example, was that lying predatory (as in ASPD), ego driven (as in NPD), defensive (as in BPD), a result of being out of control (as in alcoholism), or ineptitude (as in Aspergers). Was it situational, episodic (bipolar), or has it been chronic. Yes, all lying is bad, but the prognosis for the future is not that same in all situations. For example, depression and bipolar disorder (mood disorders) are very responsive to drug therapy -- substance abuse often requires intervention and inpatient detoxification -- personality disorders require multi-year re-learning therapies (e.g. DBT, Schema) -- Aspergers is often considered a long term disability. Chronic bad behavior and situational bad behavior are very different.
It is probably best to resist the temptation to immediately latch onto one of the personality disorder symptoms lists as the magic formula. Doing this may make the situation appear more hopeless and more one-sided than it actually is, and it may send us in a wrong or unhealthy direction.
Getting back to the subject in the title "What is BPD?
" -- personality disorders, per se', are lifelong afflictions -- anyone can act "borderline" in a particular situation. To be a PD, symptoms must have been present for an extended period of time, be inflexible and pervasive, and not a result of alcohol or drugs or another psychiatric disorder -- the history of symptoms should be traceable back to adolescence or at least early adulthood -- the symptoms have caused and continue to cause significant distress or negative consequences in different aspects of the person's life. Symptoms are seen in at least two of the following areas: thoughts
(ways of looking at the world, thinking about self or others, and interacting), emotions
(appropriateness, intensity, and range of emotional functioning), interpersonal functioning
(relationships and interpersonal skills), or impulse control
"Present for an extended period of time" doesn't mean constantly and obviously present. Many people with this disorder, especially as they get older, learn to adapt and control or isolate the worst of the disordered actions except when stress pushes them past their ability to control and manage. This is why the disorder is more visible to the family and close friends. "Present for an extended period of time" means that there have been indications of the disorder at different times dating all the way back to the teen years.
It is also worth noting that personality disorders are spectrum disorders - meaning that there is a broad range of severity. At the lower end, it is not necessarily a personality disorder at all - people can have personality style like a BPD or NPD. Surely you know someone that is pretty narcissistic, but not mentally ill. People with BPD can range all the way from "very sensitive with somewhat nonconstructive ways of coping and avoiding hurt
" (BPD personailty style) all the way to social dysfunction (e.g., unable to hold a job) and potentially life threatening behavior (e.g. severe BPD).
Whether it is BPD or BPD personalty style, Bipolar Disorder, or simple depression, etc, you are welcomed and encouraged to work with the members here at BPDFamily.
A high conflict, emotionally abusive parent, child, relationship partner or spouse, regardless of the causation, is a challenge and we need to take appropriate steps for our own wellbeing and that of our family. And hopefully you want to learn how to rise above and manage your interface with the difficult person in a constructive, mature and healthy way. It's our very next step to a constructive, mature and healthy future for ourselves.
Tall order, I know. I had a loved one with this disorder, too.