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—a category of mental illnesses that are characterized by persistent abnormal and unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving. It is a serious mental health condition marked by an instability of self-image, interpersonal relating, and strong emotions—including destructive anger—as well as ongoing feelings of emptiness and impulsive behavior that can be self-damaging. These individuals typically view the world in terms of black or white, as all good or all bad. It’s the same with the way they see their friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers—they are either a beloved ally or a hated enemy. And their views can swing rapidly from one extreme to the other, depending on the circumstances.

Suffering from BPD causes a great deal of distress and can make it difficult to cope with life’s challenges. It significantly increases the risk of suicide. In fact, nearly 80% of people with this disorder will attempt suicide during their lifetime, and as many as 10% will die by taking their own life. That’s 50 times greater than the national average. For this reason alone, 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?

More than 4 million Americans (1.6% of the population) have borderline personality disorder, although experts suggest that number could actually be closer to 15 million (5.9% of Americans). Symptoms of this condition usually become evident by early adulthood. BPD is far more common in women. In fact, 75% of people with this condition are female. However, the prevalence could be higher in men, as males with signs of this disorder may be more likely to be misdiagnosed with other mental health conditions, such as depression or PTSD.

What are the Core Symptoms?

People with borderline personality disorder have a range of pervasive symptoms that include:

  • A distorted sense of self and chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Extreme and inappropriate emotional reactions
  • Intense fear of abandonment and rejection
  • Unstable relationships
  • Recurrent suicidal threats, gestures, and behaviors
  • Self-mutilation, such as cutting or burning
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Abnormally impulsive behavior, such substance abuse, unsafe driving, unprotected sex, gambling, binge eating, and overspending
  • Episodes of hostility and uncontrollable rage
  • A lack of empathy for others
  • Intense anxiety, worry, and depression
  • Dissociative (“out of body”) feelings
  • Paranoid thoughts (often related to stress)

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

All of these symptoms can range from mild to severe. Although others may occasionally experience one of more of these issues, those with BPD have many of them consistently, and they are pervasive across all domains of their lives. Their unpredictable responses to situations or people, along with the volatility of their emotions often make those around them feel like they need to walk on eggshells to avoid upsetting them. People with borderline personality disorder also have an intense underlying fear of abandonment and rejection, but their extreme and unstable reactions and challenging disposition often drive others away. Consequently, this leaves them feeling even more isolated and abandoned, exacerbates their symptoms, and can increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and self-harming behaviors.

What Causes It?

Although the exact cause of borderline personality disorder is unknown, many people with this condition experienced traumatic events like physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, or abandonment during childhood. Genetics also can play a role. The risk for developing BPD is 5 times greater for people who have a first degree relative with it, such as a parent or sibling.

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. Some research has found that after 10 years of treatment, 50% of people diagnosed with BPD no longer met the full criteria for it. For more than 30 years, Amen Clinics has been helping people improve their symptoms of borderline personality disorder by using targeted solutions that address their specific needs. We believe in taking a unique brain-body approach to treatment that involves the least toxic, most effective strategies.

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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, it is most likely related to imbalances in their brain. People with BPD may have abnormal activity in areas of the brain that regulate emotion, fear, and impulse control. Getting an accurate diagnosis is vital because there are several symptoms in BPD that overlap with some of those seen in other mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and PTSD.

Our brain imaging work has also taught us that many environmental factors can adversely 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, brain injury (especially to the frontal lobes), and even chemotherapy can alter brain function and contribute to changes in your personality. Recent research also suggests that hormonal imbalances, immune system issues, and chronic infections may be associated with symptoms of borderline personality disorder. Therefore, if you or a loved one developed personality changes later in life, it is very important to get a comprehensive evaluation to identify the underlying cause, which may be related to an undiagnosed condition.

Ready to learn more? Speak to a care coordinator today!

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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.


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