Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition that affects the way people feel about themselves and others, making it hard to function in everyday life. It includes a pattern of unstable, intense relationships, as well as impulsiveness and an unhealthy way of seeing themselves. Impulsiveness involves having extreme emotions and acting or doing things without thinking about them first.
People with borderline personality disorder have a strong fear of abandonment or being left alone. Even though they want to have loving and lasting relationships, the fear of being abandoned often leads to mood swings and anger. It also leads to impulsiveness and self-injury that may push others away.
Borderline personality disorder usually begins by early adulthood. The condition is most serious in young adulthood. Mood swings, anger and impulsiveness often get better with age. But the main issues of self-image and fear of being abandoned, as well as relationship issues, go on.
If you have borderline personality disorder, know that many people with this condition get better with treatment. They can learn to live stabler, more-fulfilling lives.
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Borderline personality disorder affects how you feel about yourself, relate to others and behave.
Symptoms may include:
- A strong fear of abandonment. This includes going to extreme measures so you're not separated or rejected, even if these fears are made up.
- A pattern of unstable, intense relationships, such as believing someone is perfect one moment and then suddenly believing the person doesn't care enough or is cruel.
- Quick changes in how you see yourself. This includes shifting goals and values, as well as seeing yourself as bad or as if you don't exist.
- Periods of stress-related paranoia and loss of contact with reality. These periods can last from a few minutes to a few hours.
- Impulsive and risky behavior, such as gambling, dangerous driving, unsafe sex, spending sprees, binge eating, drug misuse, or sabotaging success by suddenly quitting a good job or ending a positive relationship.
- Threats of suicide or self-injury, often in response to fears of separation or rejection.
- Wide mood swings that last from a few hours to a few days. These mood swings can include periods of being very happy, irritable or anxious, or feeling shame.
- Ongoing feelings of emptiness.
- Inappropriate, strong anger, such as losing your temper often, being sarcastic or bitter, or physically fighting.
When to see a doctor
If you're aware that you have any of the symptoms above, talk to your doctor or other regular healthcare professional or see a mental health professional.
If you have thoughts about suicide
If you have fantasies or mental images about hurting yourself, or you have thoughts about suicide, get help right away by taking one of these actions:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number right away.
- Contact a suicide hotline. In the U.S., call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Or use the Lifeline Chat. Services are free and confidential.
- U.S. veterans or service members who are in crisis can call 988 and then press "1" for the Veterans Crisis Line. Or text 838255. Or chat online.
- The Suicide & Crisis Lifeline in the U.S. has a Spanish language phone line at 1-888-628-9454 (toll-free).
- Call your mental health professional, doctor or another member of your healthcare team.
- Reach out to a loved one, close friend, trusted peer or co-worker.
- Contact someone from your faith community.
If you notice symptoms in a family member or friend, talk to that person about seeing a doctor or mental health professional. But you can't force someone to change. If the relationship causes you a lot of stress, you may find it helpful to see a therapist.
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As with other mental health conditions, the causes of borderline personality disorder aren't fully known. In addition to environmental factors — such as a history of child abuse or neglect — borderline personality disorder may be linked to:
- Genetics. Some studies of twins and families suggest that personality disorders may be inherited or strongly related to other mental health conditions among family members.
- Changes in the brain. Some research has shown that changes in certain areas of the brain affect emotions, impulsiveness and aggression.
Factors related to personality development that can raise the risk of getting borderline personality disorder include:
- Hereditary predisposition. You may be at a higher risk if a blood relative — your mother, father, brother or sister — has the same or a like condition.
- Stressful childhood. Many people with the condition report being sexually or physically abused or neglected during childhood. Some people have lost or were separated from a parent or close caregiver when they were young or had parents or caregivers with substance misuse or other mental health issues. Others have been exposed to hostile conflict and unstable family relationships.
Borderline personality disorder can damage many areas of your life. It can negatively affect close relationships, jobs, school, social activities and how you see yourself.
This can result in:
- Repeated job changes or losses.
- Not finishing an education.
- Multiple legal issues, such as jail time.
- Conflict-filled relationships, marital stress or divorce.
- Injuring yourself, such as by cutting or burning, and frequent stays in the hospital.
- Abusive relationships.
- Unplanned pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, motor vehicle accidents, and physical fights due to impulsive and risky behavior.
- Attempted suicide or death due to suicide.
Also, you may have other mental health conditions, such as:
- Alcohol or other substance misuse.
- Anxiety disorders.
- Eating disorders.
- Bipolar disorder.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
- Other personality disorders.
Jan. 31, 2024