Borderline Personality Disorder

Unlike traditional psychiatry, which rarely looks at the brain, Amen Clinics uses brain imaging technology to identify brain patterns associated with borderline personality disorder.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is one of 10 types of personality disorders and is characterized by intense and unstable emotions. People with the condition are prone to impulsive actions and strong emotional reactions that make it hard to maintain relationships. These individuals typically don’t see the world in shades of gray—things are black and white, all good or all bad. It’s the same with the way they view their friends and family—they are either a beloved ally or a hated enemy. And these views can swing rapidly from one to the other.

Suffering from borderline personality disorder increases the risk of suicide. In fact, nearly 80% of people with the condition will attempt suicide during their lifetime. And as many as 10% of people suffering from the disorder will die by taking their own life. That’s 50 times the national average. For this reason, it is absolutely critical to seek treatment if you or a loved one exhibits signs of borderline personality disorder.

Who is at Risk of BPD?

Over 4 million Americans (1.6% of the population) are affected by borderline personality disorder, but experts suggest that number could actually be closer to 15 million (5.9% of Americans). BPD is far more common in women. In fact, 3 out of every 4 people with the condition are female. However, the prevalence could be higher in men, as males who show signs of the disorder may be more likely to be mistakenly diagnosed with other mental health conditions, such as depression or PTSD.

What are the Core Symptoms?

Borderline personality disorder is associated with a wide variety of symptoms, including a distorted sense of self, excessively impulsive behavior (substance abuse, unsafe driving, overspending), hostility, and paranoid thoughts. All of these symptoms can range from mild to severe. Although some people may occasionally experience one of more of these symptoms, people with BPD tend to have many of these symptoms consistently. People with borderline personality disorder fear abandonment and rejection, but their extreme and unstable emotional reactions tend to drive others away. This leaves them feeling more isolated and exacerbates their symptoms and can increase feelings of depression.

What Causes It?

Although the cause of borderline personality disorder is unknown, we do know that it seems to emerge in the adolescent and early adulthood years and may have a combination of genetic and environmental causes. Research suggests that those with BDP have abnormalities in areas of the brain that control emotions and impulses. People with a family history of BPD are much more likely to suffer from the condition.

People with BPD frequently have co-occurring mental health disorders, such as:

  • Bipolar disorder (present in as many as 20% of those with BPD)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • PTSD
  • Eating disorders (such as bulimia nervosa)
  • Addictions

Why Choose Amen Clinics for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder?

Although borderline personality disorder is considered a chronic condition, it is possible to minimize and manage symptoms. Nearly 50% of people diagnosed with the disorder will no longer meet the criteria for the diagnosis just 2 years later. And a 2011 study found that 10 years after seeking treatment, 85% of people diagnosed with BPD no longer met the criteria for the disorder. For 30 years, Amen Clinics has been helping people overcome symptoms of borderline personality disorder with targeted solutions. We believe in taking a unique brain-body approach to treatment that involves the least toxic, most effective strategies.

BPD Brains Work Differently

Borderline personality disorder is actually a brain disorder. Brain imaging completely changes the way we think about personality. It is easy to label people as bad, willful, uncaring, or even possessed. And diagnosing someone with a personality disorder, such as BPD, suggests their personality or character is a problem. But what is the organ of personality? It’s the brain. If someone has an unstable personality, their brain may be the cause. People with BPD may have abnormal activity in areas of the brain that regulate emotion and fear. Recent research also suggests that hormonal imbalances, immune system issues, and chronic infections (such as Lyme disease) may be associated with the condition.

Our brain imaging work has taught us that many environmental factors can impact brain function and lead to symptoms of mental illness. We have seen how environmental toxins (such as toxic mold), infections like Lyme disease, extremely low thyroid, anemia, anoxia (a lack of oxygen), carbon monoxide poisoning, and even chemotherapy can alter brain function and contribute to changes in your personality.

Additional factors that may be involved in the development of borderline personality disorder include:

  • Genetics: Having a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, with borderline personality disorder may heighten the risk of developing the condition.
  • Emotional trauma: Exposure to traumatic events or experiencing abuse, neglect, or abandonment as a child appears to be common among people with borderline personality disorder.

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BPD, Misdiagnosis, and Co-Occurring Mental Health Disorders

People with borderline personality disorder frequently have co-occurring mental health disorders. This can make it more difficult to diagnose. Because there is some overlap in symptoms, BPD may be mistaken for these other conditions. In fact, research shows that over 40% of the people with BPD have been previously misdiagnosed with another mental health condition. Another reason why misdiagnosis happens far too often is because traditional psychiatry typically makes diagnoses based on symptom clusters and rarely looks at the organ it treats. (See box on this page for common co-occurring conditions.)


“With A Better Brain Comes A Better Life”

– Daniel G. Amen, M.D.


Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder is associated with a wide variety of symptoms, including:

  • A distorted sense of self
  • Extreme emotional reactions
  • Inappropriate emotional responses
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Excessively impulsive behavior (such as substance abuse, unsafe driving, unprotected sex, overspending,)
  • Unstable relationships
  • Lack of empathy
  • Intense feelings for people that swing from love to hate (also known as “splitting”)
  • Extreme fear of rejection or abandonment
  • Intense anxiety, worry, and depression
  • Hostility
  • Unstable career goals
  • Unrealistic aspirations
  • Self-harm, suicidal thoughts or attempts
  • “Out of body” feelings (also called dissociative feelings)
  • Paranoid thoughts (often related to stress)
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