Causes & Effects of Borderline Personality Disorder

At San Jose Behavioral Health, we believe education is an important first step in the effort to manage borderline personality disorder. Understanding the signs, symptoms, and effects of borderline personality disorder can help you get the right type and level of care for yourself or a loved one.

Understanding BPD

Learn About Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (often abbreviated as BPD) is a serious mental health condition that impacts the moods and relationships of the affected person. This disorder is identified by a high emotional affect, low self-esteem, impulsive behaviors, and a marked pattern of unstable relationships with friends, family, and partners. Many individuals with BPD are highly intelligent and are aware that their reactions may seem strong. These individuals often report feeling that emotions control their lives or even that they feel things more intensely than other people. In close relationships, a person with BPD may appear jealous, possessive, or hyper-reactive. These individuals often fear being left alone and have deep feelings of worthlessness. In many cases, this disorder is the direct result of childhood trauma, abuse, violence, or neglect.

Borderline personality disorder is a very uncomfortable and painful disorder. Individuals with this disorder often feel unwanted and easily discarded. This feeling of being unwanted and easily discarded may result in frantic attempts to avoid any perceived abandonment. Often, these individuals cling to a partner quickly and intensely. This quick and intense pattern of bonding often results in very unhappy relationships and may impact work or school functioning. Intense emotional reactions to various life events may range from rage to self-harm behaviors to deep sadness. The intense level of distress that BPD-affected individuals feel certainly takes over daily living.

Without treatment, the symptoms of borderline personality disorder can wreak havoc on an individual’s life. Fortunately, treatment is available and can often help decrease these symptoms so the individual may live a better life.


BPD Statistics

Women are more likely than men to suffer from borderline personality disorder. In fact, women currently account for 65% of all individuals under treatment for this disorder. Between six and ten million individuals have BPD, which makes this disorder more prevalent than bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

Causes & Risks

Causes and Risk Factors of BPD

There are some specific risk factors that place individuals at a higher risk of borderline personality disorder. Some of the risk factors associated with BPD include:

Genetic: Individuals with a direct family member who has been diagnosed with BPD are ten times more likely than the general population to be diagnosed with this disorder as well. Having close family members with borderline personality disorder, such as parents or siblings, increases these chances more than having distant family members with BPD would.

Environmental: A link has been found between past trauma and BPD. Trauma that occurs in childhood is closely linked with a later BPD diagnosis. Even subtle traumas, like separation from a caregiver or a constantly disorganized or chaotic home, may be connected to BPD. More severe trauma experiences such as abuse, sexual assault, or severe neglect seem to result in higher incidences of BPD.

Risk Factors:

  • Past trauma
  • Exposure to a stressful or chaotic home environment in childhood
  • Separation from a caregiver early in life
  • Family history of BPD or other mental health disorders
  • Substance use or addiction (at any time)
  • Female gender
  • Experiences of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of BPD

While every individual is different, there are some basic symptoms of borderline personality disorder that are largely universal. In many cases, individuals with BPD do not always show symptoms. These symptoms may become more noticeable in close relationships, particularly within romantic relationships.

The following symptoms are indicators of possible borderline personality disorder:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Self-harm or self-injury
  • Behavior designed to get attention
  • Suicide attempts
  • Intense or risky behavior enacted to avoid feelings of abandonment
  • Aggression or sudden angry outbursts
  • Clinging to one person or wanting to be around one person constantly
  • Extreme eating patterns (either restrictive or overeating)

Physical symptoms:

  • Evidence of self-injury, such as cuts, scars, or burn marks
  • Fluctuations in sleeping and ability to stay asleep
  • Weight or appearance changes

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Delusions (beliefs that are not accurate)
  • Derealization (feeling detached from the real world)
  • Depersonalization (feeling “out of body” or detached from one’s body)
  • Poor decision making skills
  • Paranoia or constant worry, especially about being abandoned

Psychosocial symptoms

  • Sudden mood swings
  • Low self-esteem and self-worth
  • Constant loneliness
  • Relationships that swing from “perfect” to “impossibly terrible”
  • Rapid shifts between overvaluing and devaluing others
  • Attempting or talking about suicide
  • Moods that change drastically
  • Hopelessness and helplessness

Lasting Effects

Effects of BPD

Without proper treatment, BPD often results in very unfortunate consequences, including:

  • Chaotic home environments
  • Substance use
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Job loss or job struggles
  • Threats of, attempted, or possibly even completed suicide
  • Relationship conflicts, lost friendships and partnerships
  • Poor self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness
  • Substance use problems
  • Lack of social support
  • Lack of financial security
  • Difficulty maintaining a stable place to live

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring Disorders

The following disorders are some of the most common that occur at the same time as BPD:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders, including social anxiety, panic attacks, or phobias
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Bulimia, anorexia, and other eating disorders
  • Substance abuse and addiction

My son was acting out in school and we weren't sure what was happening. After finding a therapist, we were referred to treatment at San Jose where he could get professional comprehensive care. He is doing much better now and seems to have stabilized.

– Marcus G.