What is Borderline Personality Disorder? – Dr Shakira

Too often, we use words such as “disorder”, which have negative connotations and result in further stigma and discrimination. For example, not wanting to be friends with people who have “disorders”. These are normal health conditions, and it’s important that we educate ourselves. Here’s more.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder? 

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can be recognised by an ongoing pattern of specific moods, self-image, and behaviours. People with this disorder may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that can last from a few hours, to days. BPD affects how you cope with overall life, manage relationships, and feel emotionally. 

BPD could be due to genetics, but most times it develops due to traumatic environments and circumstances that one is exposed to. Difficult family environments, in which there’s abuse, constant fighting or even where a child/teenager has been abandoned, can affect your emotions, relationships and overall health long-term. 

Often, those with BPD are triggered by certain unhealthy relationship dynamics, which lead to severe emotional changes. If these changes aren’t managed in healthy ways, they may also result in self-harm.

Symptoms of BPD

Here are some BPD symptoms:

  • Emotions and moods which change quickly
  • Disturbed thinking or perceptions
  • Difficulties in personal relationships, such as with family and friends
  • Being impulsive (acting without thinking of the consequences)
  • Feeling empty, abandoned
  • Anger
  • Using drugs
  • Thinking of harming oneself
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Problems with your self-image

Tips to manage BPD

1. Practice mindfulness and deep breathing

Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more aware of the present moment, rather than dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. It involves becoming more aware of your senses (noticing your breathing, feeling the sensations of your body, etc.) and being “in the now.”

I always read about the benefits of yoga, and tried one or two sessions several years ago but didn’t pursue it further. About two years ago during the pandemic, I became a regular yogi, practicing at least 2-3 times a week Yoga allowed me to cope with work demands, stress and even the emptiness and immense grief I feel since I’ve lost my father. It doesn’t have to be yoga – simple breathing exercises, being in nature, writing in a journal or even mediating/praying. We all need a coping mechanism to deal with our stress and emotions, so do what works for you.

2. Personal development and building positive self-image

BPD is triggered by our interpersonal relationships. These relationships are important parts of our lives; but the issue arises when we become fixated and focus on the relationship to “fill our emptiness”. It’s important to focus on your education and take up new hobbies such as painting, dancing or volunteering.

3. Reach out for help

The emotions you’re going through are real and valid. The longer you wait to tell a friend or family member and seek medical care, the worse your condition may get. The minute you experience any of the about symptoms or you start thinking about self-harm, it’s time to reach out.

Types of treatment

Your doctor can advise on different types of therapy. For example, behaviour therapy encourages mindfulness, learning how to deal with your relationships and managing stress. You may also be prescribed medication. While medical care is important, you need to believe in yourself and move towards self-acceptance.

Where to get help

If you’re not comfortable reaching out to a friend or relative, you can contact a professional counsellor at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group. Contact them between 8am-8pm Monday to Sunday by calling 011 234 4837.

For a suicidal emergency, contact 0800 567 567 or the 24hr Helpline 0800 456 789.

For counselling questions, e-mail: zane@sadag.org

About the author: Dr Shakira Choonara is an award-winning public health practitioner, 2017 Woman of the Year in Health in South Africa and is an expert serving in both the World Health Organization and UN Women.

If you or a friend need advice or help, you can contact me here on Ask Choma, send a Facebook message or a Twitter DM, or a WhatsApp Message (071 172 3657).