What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

So you’ve probably heard of this diagnosis before which is Borderline Personality Disorder.  Also referred to in the mental health profession as BPD.  Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a ” a pattern of instability in personal relationships, emotional response, self-image and impulsivity,” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).   What this means is that a person with borderline personality disorder “may go to great lengths to avoid abandonment (real or perceived), have recurrent suicidal behaviour, display inappropriate intense anger or have chronic feelings of emptiness,” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013).

So what is personality and what does this mean? Personality is the way of thinking, feeling and behaving that makes a person unique from other people.   An individual’s personality is influenced by their own experiences, their environment, and genetics.  To receive a borderline personality disorder diagnosis, a person would have to undergo a thorough psychiatric evaluation performed by a psychiatrist or psychologist.   Personality is subjective  and diagnosing personality disorders are subjective.  The clinician will observe their interactions with the client and gather information in terms of their emotions, behaviours, mental and physical health, and interpersonal relationships.  The clinician may have access to third party information from the client’s families or friends, but generally speaking the information they gather is from the client.  Hence, why it is subjective and this has led to much controversy in terms of personality disorders…

the Controversy of Personality Disorders

The diagnosis of a personality disorder has been controversial in the psychological community. A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time. A diagnosis of any personality disorder implies something is inherently wrong with an individual’ s personality because personality is considered to be an integral part of who a person is.   So a personality disorder appears to be critical of how a person is and who they are, rather than reflecting on their own experience and behaviours.

All mental disorders are stigmatized in society, but personality disorders are the most misunderstood diagnoses of the DSM.  Many clinicians argue a personality disorder diagnosis is more damaging to the individual because it undermines the person’s sense of self.  However other clinicians argue a personality diagnosis can be a positive experience because it helps individuals understand their experience and provides them with more information.

There is clear divide within the psychological community on whether a personality disorder diagnosis is harmful or helpful.  In my experience, I ask the client do you find this diagnosis helpful or harmful?  I have gotten both answers.  It really depends on the person’s experience.  For some, it provides a sense of relief so they can better understand themselves.  For others, the diagnosis has led to negative implications such as stereotypes.

Resources for Borderline Personality Disorder


If someone you have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, think you may have it, or know someone who has it.  Here are some resources I recommend to check out.

  • Crisis Line: 1-800-SUICIDE 24 hour hotline
  • 1-888-4-TARA APD (1-888-4-8272-273): National Borderline Personality Disorder Resource and Referral Center in New York. Toll-free from Canada and available weekdays from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm (EST)
  • Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – Borderline Personality Disorder Clinic
  • Hadjipavlou, G. and Ogrodniczuk, J.S. (2010). Promising psychotherapies for personality disorders. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry55(4), 202-210. Available at www.cpa-apc.org
  • There are also counsellors who specialize in Borderline Personality Disorder – check out BC Association of Clinical Counsellors for the directory
  • The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know about Living with BPD by Alexander L. Chapman and Kim L. Gratz (New Harbinger Publications, 2007)
  • The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & Distress Tolerance by Matthew McKay, Jeffrey C. Wood and Jeffrey Brantley (New Harbinger Publications, 2007)




American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *