What is borderline personality disorder?

What is borderline personality disorder?

Borderline personality disorder is a scary string of words. There are some very strong reactions out there to this diagnosis. It can be a tough diagnosis to get and honestly it can be a tough diagnosis to give: many counselors are afraid to talk to their clients about it, but borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a real thing and it’s time to get the facts straight.

Unlike bipolar disorder, which is a brain disorder and you can learn more about here, BPD is simply a set of symptoms. A person with these symptoms meets the criteria for borderline personality disorder and if the symptoms were to go away, so too would the diagnosis.

A person with BPD will have specific symptoms that show up in these 3 personality areas: emotions, relationship, and identity.

What are the symptoms in these areas?


People with this diagnosis are typically very emotionally reactive, especially when emotions such as shame, anger, fear, sadness, or guilt are triggered.


How important am I in this relationship? That’s what many of us have pondered from time to time: where do I fit in? Well, for someone with a borderline personality disorder diagnosis they typically perceive themselves as having low value in the relationship and consequently are very fearful of being rejected, abandoned, criticized, or controlled.


Identity is how a person views themselves and their value in the world: what is my worth? Based on what we know about the emotional and relationship states for someone with BPD it’s not hard to conclude that these individuals can be very confused about their identity. Being on an emotional roller coaster and always doubting one’s importance in relationships leads to feelings of chaos. Often the chaos is channeled into being overly critical about oneself and maybe self-injurious behaviors.

Self-injury and suicidal ideation (thinking about killing oneself) are common with this population. People who self-injure will report feeling calm after the act, and unfortunately, when your life is chaos and you don’t feel you have any worth then suicidal thoughts will often arise.

Is there help?

There is help! Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) was created by Marsha Linehan to treat chronically suicidal individuals with BPD and is now “the gold standard for treating this population”. DBT teaches mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and emotion regulation skills.

  • Mindfulness is all about being present in the moment;
  • Distress tolerance is learning how to deal with painful moments, without changing them;
  • Interpersonal effectiveness is all about how to communicate your needs to others; and,
  • Emotion regulation is how to change the emotions that you want to change.

Borderline personality disorder can show up by itself or be present with other mental health disorders, such as eating disorders, major depressive disorder, and substance abuse to name a few. If you feel the description above fits you, or someone you know, first seek out a counselor to get an official diagnosis and then ask about DBT.

If you are in the Vancouver, WA or Portland, OR area and are looking for more information about borderline personality disorder or eating disorder (which is my specialty area), please call me at 360-284-7008 or click the button below and we can schedule a phone consult.


Tamara Werner

Tamara Werner is a counselor, author, speaker, and activist. Her private practice, Get Centered Counseling in Vancouver WA, helps women with food and body issues learn to love themselves, their body, their life, and their relationships. Her life’s work is steeped in personal experience, having fifteen years in recovery for anorexia, in addition to being a breast cancer survivor. An up and coming force in the counseling community, Tamara has been published in a textbook called Treatment Strategies for Substance and Process Addictions, and has sat on a panel at the American Counseling Association Conference, where she spoke to her peers on strategies and tools to use with clients struggling with eating disorders. Having a deep, personal understanding of what it takes to recover from this condition, she seeks to be an example to those she treats, to let them know that recovery is possible.