A second goes past, and instead of feeling focused in your studies, you feel a rush of playfully happy feelings flood your mind, making the world seem like a childish place, one of little consequence. You try to suppress this spontaneous burst of emotion so that you can continue studying. Perhaps you succeed, but then – a moment later – it feels like an enormous weight has been laid over you, leaving you with a body that has little to no energy, and your thoughts begin to replicate these feelings.
What you just read is an example of an experience some with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) may go through in their lives. Dealing with these mood swings can be a difficult task, and they aren’t the only thing those living with BPD have to cope with .
The fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) defines BPD as consisting of a “pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self image and affects, and marked impulsivity” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).
Unless a therapist has sufficient experience with this condition, they generally don’t feel comfortable managing a person with BPD. Those who suffer from this condition lack the support and understanding from the wider community. Pair this with the fact that these individuals have a heightened fear of abandonment, and chronic feelings of emptiness. To make things even worse, people who live with this condition are at a higher risk of depression and suicidal thoughts. This is the life that a person who lives with BPD faces.
Those statistics are confronting, and in all honesty there aren’t many people that acknowledge the struggles of those with this this condition without being patronising. There needs to be more awareness, especially within the mental health community, of how to treat people with this condition.
What people don’t appreciate is that those with BPD are highly sensitive and require patience to understand where they’re coming from, and there are simple things that you can do that can dramatically help someone who may have BPD and these things aren’t difficult.
If someone discloses to you that they have this condition, try to understand they aren’t trying to overwhelm you, but rather trying to inform you. Like a stop sign at an intersection, you can definitely pass on through, but you should be wary that there may be other cars crossing. In other words, be mindful that they are fundamentally a decent human being, but they do have unpredictable emotions that can come up at random points in their life.
This is known as being emotionally vulnerable, and it is part of the reason that people who have BPD generally have mood swings. The biggest thing you can do to help someone who suffers from emotional vulnerability is to listen to them, talk to them about the world around you, and engage with them on a sincere level.
Another symptom of BPD is when a person swings into an irrepressible high, known as a manic state. It’s a hard state to notice, but for many people who suffer BPD, it can be the hardest mood they face. It can draw them out into being more impulsive, and when in this state, they can lose sight of consequences: this can leave them extremely vulnerable. If you notice the person’s voice beginning to rise, or they begin to act silly, and say really inappropriate comments, these are signs that they may have gone into a manic state. If this occurs, try to get them to breathe and calm down.
On the other end of the mood swing, if someone looks like they are going to have a meltdown, or are having one, the main thing for you to do is to be kind. Be gentle in your words, be sincere, and reinforce that they are a good person. Those who suffer this condition have a hard time understanding reason why they begin to get emotional, and they are generally more sensitive to hearing criticism from someone they care about. When a serious issue arises, it is best to avoid overwhelming the person. Instead, break it down into the steps that you need to take in order to resolve it, and help them focus on those.
This condition is a serious impairment on the individual’s life. It isn’t easy to get over it, or to stop thinking in a particular way: it doesn’t work like that. Those who suffer from this disorder can face serious disadvantages in daily life, especially in work or study environments.
To be frank, people seem to ignore the fact that it isn’t a choice to have a mental illness. Although it isn’t your job to care for these people, you should at least try to appreciate where they are coming from. It’s understandable that people aren’t always able to support those who are in need, but maybe if people made an effort to accommodate those who are suffering, the world would be a nicer place.
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For more information about BPD, visit