6 Easily-Missed Signs You May Have Borderline Personality Disorder

Why you react to the world the way you do.

Woman easily-missed the signs that she may have borderline personality disorder. Kristina Kokhanova | Canva

If you've asked yourself, "Do I have borderline personality disorder?" then likely you've noticed some BPD symptoms that concern you. Although borderline personality disorder, or BPD, can be overwhelming or even scary at first, you need to know what borderline personality disorder is so you can answer that question and get in control of your life again. A borderline personality disorder is defined as "... is a long-term pattern of abnormal behavior characterized by unstable relationships with other people, unstable sense of self and unstable emotions." If you constantly feel rejected in relationships and struggle to maintain relationships due to a pervasive fear of abandonment, then the chances are that you could be showing the symptoms of borderline personality disorder. A person with BPD displays frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment, depicted by clinging to relationships, to distancing. The hallmark of BPD is that you struggle with being alone and feel underdeveloped as a fully functioning adult. How do you know if you're suffering from BPD symptoms?


According to psychoanalytic psychiatrist James Masterson, who pioneered the treatment and study of borderline personality disorder, the borderline person suffers from underlying feelings of abandonment, which the borderline patient defends with all kinds of acting-out behaviors. The borderline internalized a parent who was loving or rewarding when they focused on the parent. They felt "good" for regressive behavior, pleasing, being compliant, being needy, clingy, helpless, or dependent. Whereas they felt bad and abandoned during efforts to self-activate or separate from the parent, causing a developmental arrest in the emerging self.


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Here are 6 major BPD symptoms that could mean you're displaying signs of having borderline personality disorder:

1. You lack a reliable sense of self

Due to the developmental arrest in the emerging self, many with BPD can present as childlike, wanting someone to take care of them or function for them, appearing as if they can’t do things for themselves, or quitting at the first sign of stress. They often hide how competent they can be, because they do not believe in themselves and seek comfort in staying regressed.

Due to the impaired self, they lack stability in work, career, and relationships. They fill the empty self with instant pleasures or addictions to feel good momentarily while denying the destructive impact on their life. They can be impulsive or reckless to escape the emptiness of an impaired self. They give up on themselves and live in perpetual chaos or crisis by acting needy, helpless, wanting to be rescued, or being co-dependent in relationships. Often others can act as a life raft that supports them to cope with the impaired self, burning out their relationships.

They lack a stable sense of self and view of others. How they see themselves and others can change rapidly and can be distorted or disproportionate to the real situation. They have a distorted image of themselves, depicted by self-hatred, self-loathing, unworthiness, or feelings of not being good enough. They have often internalized that they are not good enough, which distorts how they see themselves.


borderline personality disorder signs Pexels / Nathan Cowley

2. You struggle to regulate your feelings and moods

People with BPD suffer from dysregulation of emotions, usually in the form of mood swings. This can range from feeling good to feeling bad, feeling loved, or feeling intense anger. If you find yourself in extremes of feelings that range from feeling good to feeling bad or feeling love to anger, then you could be exhibiting the emotional roller coaster of BPD. Borderline personality sufferers may also have poor impulse control, be emotional, have poor frustration tolerance or impatience, mood swings, and anger plus a lack of boundaries.

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3. You have a pattern of unstable relationships

Those who suffer from symptoms of borderline personality disorder are characterized as having a pattern of instability in relationships, ranging from intense, to volatile or ending abruptly. If you have BPD, you may often end up jumping from one relationship to another, sometimes not thinking about the choice of partner, to escape feelings of abandonment or being alone. Often, you'll end up in relationships that aren't good for you because you feel undeserving, worthless, or not good enough.

signs you have borderline personality disorder Pexels / cottonbro studio

Your relationships start with you feeling good and end with you burning bridges. Those with borderline personality disorder can be extremely loving, caring, and kind — until they feel abandoned. Then, you may switch to inflicting abuse on loved ones who pay the tortuous price. Those with BPD can subconsciously destroy their relationships when they feel they will be abandoned. You may reject others to avoid being abandoned. You might end up reenacting the same abuse that was done to you, by abusing others in the same way you were abused. Masterson calls this the "Talionic Impulse," which boils down to "an eye for an eye." In other words, you'll give what you get. This can mean lashing out and verbally attacking your partner by taking out your pain on them; as if they caused it. The borderline person can become hostile, aggressive, accusatory, or attack when they perceive abandonment.


4. You are terrified of the idea that you'll be abandoned

Extreme separation distress, due to jealousy or a relationship breakup, can trigger these abandonment feelings. This can lead to suicidal ideation, anxiety, emptiness, loneliness, panic attacks, or depression, which is known as "abandonment depression." This will make you act out to escape these feelings.

RELATED: What Living With Borderline Personality Disorder Really Feels Like

5. You display primitive defenses when threatened with rejection

Symptoms of BPD include a person displaying primitive defenses to avoid dealing with aspects of reality or to avoid their feelings. Primitive defenses include Denial, splitting, projection, acting out, dissociation, repression, and compartmentalization. "Splitting" causes the borderline person to love someone one moment, and then hate them the next. They will either feel "good" or feel "bad." This is because you can’t tolerate the good and bad aspects at the time. You'll feel like the victim while your partner is the "villain."

Other times, you'll blame yourself when someone is abusive toward you. "Splitting" prevents you from seeing the shades of gray or looking at the whole perspective. Often, you'll get a one-sided account of what is going on, blown out of proportion to the real situation. This means your partner or spouse is either idealized or devalued; no in-between.


6. You act out with behaviors you know are inappropriate

Those with a borderline disorder of self will act out or use risk-taking behaviors to alleviate intolerable feelings. This can include promiscuity as well as reckless or impulsive behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse. According to Masterson, acting-out behaviors keep your real self stuck and will not allow you to grow unless you work through your abandonment depression and give up your investment in focusing on others instead of yourself. The hallmark of BPD stems from abandonment. If you recognize signs of BPD, you may perceive others as abandoning you when they’re not focused on you because they're focusing on their own lives.

You may feel abandoned if your partner forgets to call, comes home late, or goes out with friends. This can cause you to cling to your relationships. You may accuse your partner of abandoning you when they trigger your abandonment feelings, causing you to feel unwanted. Those with BPD can present as warm, empathetic, or engaging when feeling close. They can also become attacking, hostile, and angry when feeling abandoned.

Usually, these abandonment feelings get triggered in relationships, which causes them to blame their partner for making them feel this way. So they focus on changing their partner or finding fault in them for not caring about them when they misperceive the situation. This often causes them to push loved ones away. The real antidote for change stems from rebuilding the real impaired self, so the person with borderline personality disorder can function fully for themselves and maintain healthier relationships.


If you or somebody that you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, there is a way to get help. Call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or text "HELLO" to 741741 to be connected with the Crisis Text Line.

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Nancy Carbone is an author, relationship therapist, and psychodynamic therapist. She specializes in the treatment of personality disorders and relational trauma and is accredited as a mental health social worker.