Do you have Borderline Personality Disorder?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

personality disorder

What is borderline personality disorder?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What are the signs and symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder?

Problems with identifying Borderline Personality Disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder formerly called Borderline conditions has received a lot of attention recently. It is one of those troubling conditions that looks different to different people.

If you have Borderline Personality Disorder you know the suffering having this disorder can cause. If you have lived with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder you know how frustrating this can be. This difference in perspective is one of the problems with the increased attention to the disorder.

Many of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder overlap or are the same as symptoms of other disorders. So when should someone get a Borderline diagnosis and when should we call it something else? Sometimes those iffy cases get a notation put on their chart “Borderline traits” rather than the full diagnosis. Electronic medical records are making it harder to leave notes like that and this may result in more people getting the full diagnosis.

For the record, diagnosis is not a do it yourself project. Mental Health, as well as physical health diagnosing, should be done by a professional. But so many people out there are being called Borderline these days and talking about it is so common, it is worth looking at the whole “what is Borderline Personality Disorder?” question.

There are efforts to come up with some kind of definitive test for borderline and other mental health conditions. At this time we can read research reports of “markers” and risk factors for many mental illnesses but we can’t be sure what is causing them. For example over 95% of people with Borderline Personality Disorder also have a sleep disorder.

Lacking a good test, mental conditions are diagnosed by looking at symptoms and seeing if someone has enough symptoms and if they are severe enough to need treatment.

With so many Borderline symptoms overlapping or look just like symptoms of other mental illnesses, what name something gets called may depend on which symptoms are seen at any given appointment and the perspective of the viewer. We want to avoid normal problems of life being called diseases but this causes another problem.

Many mental illnesses are caused by identifiable life events. PTSD and other stress disorders need an identifiable stressor to get diagnosed. Many, but not all, people with Borderline Personality Disorder can point to some life event that started their symptoms.

As more people know about Borderline Personality Disorder more people are coming to believe that they have the condition. Family, Friends, and relationship partners are likely to blame all the interpersonal or relationship problems on someone having Borderline Personality Disorder. I suspect that professionals are going along with this and giving the diagnosis out more often.

Is Borderline Personality Disorder an illness or a lack of mental wellness?

Symptoms of Borderline personality disorder can vary from person to person and they may vary in intensity. This has resulted in an increasing amount of discussion, and a past counselorssoapbox blog post about whether there may be Levels or Types of Borderline Personality Disorder.  There has also been some professional discussion about whether some clients have been given the diagnosis because they angered the treating professional.

Some of you have noticed from my other writings that I believe strongly in Wellness and Recovery. (See post on Mental Illness or Mental Health.)

Many of the things we call “Mental illness” are on a continuum. Those problems get better or they get worse. Sometimes in life, we get sad. When that sadness keeps you from working or enjoying life we call it depression and it deserves to get treated. The same thing is true of Borderline Personality Disorder. Many people with this condition do get better.

As we look at the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder below I will comment on some of the questions you might have about each one of the symptoms. This discussion is based on the SAMHSA publication titled An Introduction to Co-Occurring Borderline Personality Disorder and Substance Use Disorders. This publication was written primarily for professionals but I include it here in case any of you want to see the original source. The SAMHSA publication draws on the DSM-5 (DSM is a registered trademark of the APA,which some of you may also want to consult. The paraphrasing and comments are mine, so let’s hope I get this right. If you have or think you may have this condition please see a professional in your area.

Below are some of the typical features of Borderline Personality Disorder.

Borderline Personality is not common except in psychiatric hospitals.

Estimates of how common Borderline Personality really vary. In the general population, it is estimated at around one to two percent. In inpatient psychiatric facilities the rate of Borderline Personality Diagnosis can reach 20%. That suggests to me that this is a very impairing condition.

Notice as we go through these symptoms that many of these are things that have been considered “female” characteristics. Turns out that three out of every four people who get the Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis are female. Also, many of these symptoms are exactly what we would expect in someone with a Stress or Trauma-Related Disorder as in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder or a Dissociative Disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder is not simply a matter of being overly dramatic or wanting attention. Most, about 80%, attempt suicide and they die from suicide attempts at about 50 TIMES the rate of the general population. This does not need to happen as there are effective treatments for Borderline Personality Disorder available. Additionally about 80 percent of those with this diagnosis cut on themselves, which is often called Non-Suicidal Self Injury. Some people with this condition both cut and attempt suicide.

Symptom – Intense fear of abandonment and efforts to avoid it.

Many, not all, people with Borderline Personality Disorder were abused or neglected as children. Some had this experience in adult life. This suggests that these fears are both rationally based on experience and learned. If you learned to be fearful you can learn to not be fearful. But lessons learned very early in life may be much more difficult to unlearn. For many this fear of abandonment makes sense.

Borderline symptom – troubled, vacillating relationships with others.

In a single session with a therapist, someone high in borderline traits may tell the therapist that they love them and they are the only on that ever understood them and then later they will say that they hate the therapist and “you just don’t understand at all.”

The same thing happens in their personal relationships. They fall in love quickly and they fall out just as rapidly. They have overinflated views of their potential partners and then they feel tricked, deceived, and angry. Relationships with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder can include fabulous sex followed by violent fights.

Don’t know who you are and who you are keeps changing.

People with borderline conditions have more difficulty than others in telling you what they like, who they are and they look to others to define themselves.

Impulsive acts are common in Borderline Personality Disorders.

Risky sexual behaviors are the most commonly noted behaviors. Over-spending and reckless driving are also included in this definition. Frequent conflicts with others are common.

Suicidal Behaviors or Self-Mutilation.

People with borderline personality disorder are often overwhelmed by emotion and then hurt themselves rather than express their anger towards the person that angered or hurt them. This kind of sudden flip in their feelings towards others and then their impulsive behavior can look a lot like Bipolar and turns out that many people get both diagnoses or they are moved back and forth. It is of course very possible for someone to have more than one disorder.

Borderline makes people feel empty.

Since people with Borderline do not know who they are and they fear being abandoned, this makes sense. If you look for your self-worth from others and then feel empty or nothing at all when you are not getting positive interactions from those others you can feel empty. Some of these characteristics may sound like an immature or selfish person. If you did not get enough food as a child you may be physically stunted. If you are abused or neglected as a child or abused drugs and alcohol, then you may not have learned the lessons you need to learn back then. The result is continuing to use coping strategies that may have kept you alive or got some of your needs met as a child but they are not working now. This is true of some people with Borderline Personality Disorder but not all.

Remember that these explanations are ideas about how things could happen but not precise formulas for how it did happen to any one particular person.

Episodes of strong, excessive anger.

There is no specific diagnosis for “anger issues” despite how common referrals to therapy for “Anger Management” are. Anger is a symptom reported in many other mental or emotional issues. What further clouds this picture is the high rate of Bipolar Disorder and Substance Use Disorders among those with Borderline Personality Disorder. Depression can also lead to irritability and then anger. What is looked for in Borderline Personality Disorders is sudden explosive anger often with fights and violence, that come on unexpectedly with someone who shortly before was a close friend or loved one.

Borderline may include Stress-related Dissociation or Paranoia.

This can be a problematic symptom in practice. Part of the way we identify paranoia is that the fear is excessive. Men are taught to approach things they fear. Kill it if possible. This results in men getting acting out, violence-related diagnoses. Women are taught to avoid danger and if you have been victimized in the past you recognize danger coming. So if you have been abused once the fear that your new boyfriend will abuse you sounds reasonable, not paranoid. See how this can be an issue?

It is also possible that “dissociation” gets pathologized. Some dissociating or “spacing out” is normal in children or those who are overwhelmed. People who suffer trauma may well dissociate. So it seems to me that cases of excessive dissociation may get swept into the Borderline Personality Disorder category rather than being recognized for what they are. As before someone could have both Borderline Personality Disorder and Dissociative Disorder.

Those are my thoughts on recognizing Borderline Personality Disorder and how it and other conditions may be getting mixed together. If you or someone you care about may have this condition consider professional help. If they do not have this problem please stop calling everyone you dislike Borderline. You may also want to check out other counselorssoapbox posts on Personality Disorders.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

What is Dissociation?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Confusion.

Confusion.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Does Dissociation really happen? What causes it?

Personally, I think there is more misunderstanding around this condition than most other mental health issues. First off Dissociation is way more common than most people realize. It comes in varying intensities; much of it is mild and goes unrecognized, denied and undiagnosed.

Dissociation, particularly Dissociative Identity Disorder has so much stigma around it that when we see it in clinical practice, I believe most clinicians call it something else more acceptable, like stress or Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and let it go at that. This leaves people with more severe cases of dissociation with less than adequate treatment.

My view is that milder forms of dissociation are a normal protective behavior for most vertebrates, humans included. Under stress, the brain stem engages the “F’s” and takes over the functions of the brain to ensure survival.

Dissociation in its milder forms is, as I understand it, a functional survival mechanism. It is a close cousin to daydreaming and alcoholic blackouts.

Some simple examples of Dissociation.

I am driving along, I am thinking about something I need to do tonight. In my mind, I am picturing a set of slides that I want to create for the PowerPoint. I realize all of a sudden that I am miles past my freeway exit and I have no memory of driving this way. My mind has blanked out.

At this point, I turn around, drive as fast as I can, and reach my destination. Do I tell everyone about my “zoning out?” Not a chance. I make some lame excuse about traffic and getting off work late.

Next example, more severe

A woman who was gang-raped in the past is walking around downtown. She sees some men who are wearing gang colors and look kind of like the men that assaulted her. She becomes frightened and crosses the street, she begins walking fast to get away. A few minutes later she slows down. Her panic is subsiding. She looks around and finds she is walking through a neighborhood and she has no idea where she is or how she got here.

So now we can see a mechanism by which someone who is upset might do actions like run away and be functioning essentially on autopilot. High levels of stress, like high levels of alcohol in blackouts, might shut off the connection between current functioning and memory.

Does that mean this woman has some form of Dissociative Disorder?

Maybe, maybe not. The new DSM-5 lists five major kinds of Dissociative Disorders plus some specifiers and or sub-types.

This woman, now upset because this past problem, memories of the rape, is messing up her life and also a lot worried because she ended up in a strange neighborhood with no memory of how she got there comes to see a therapist.

She begins to talk about her experience. She had an experience that brought back memories of her rape (Intrusive thoughts.) She tried to avoid things, ran away (avoidance, yes.) She has been anxious for several nights since and has lost sleep over this. Maybe even had a nightmare and this has been affecting her home life and her relationship.

At this point she gets assessed, a treatment plan created and treatment begins.

She was embarrassed so she left out the part about walking for a while and having no memory how she got there.

Her diagnosis – it’s likely to be Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

In clinical settings, stress-related disorders get diagnosed a lot more than dissociative disorders. Sometimes it is a judgment call. Which disorder are this woman’s symptoms more like? But I think we professionals may be overlooking a lot of dissociative symptoms. The result may be that in outpatient settings we are under-diagnosing Dissociative Disorder and over-diagnosing PTSD.

In carefully controlled research the prevalence of Dissociative Disorders of all 5 types exceeded 5% of the population. That makes dissociation up to 17 times more common than Schizophrenia.

Dissociative Disorders are the next chapter over in the DSM-5 from stress-related disorders. We see a huge overlap between those two groups. There is also an overlap with Borderline Personality Disorder another misunderstood condition.

If we think of all these conditions as reasonable responses to stress given the person’s biology and experiences we can see how some of the things that occur to a person with dissociation make sense.

Dissociative Disorders are most commonly found in the aftermath of traumatic events. Some of the symptoms of dissociation are embarrassment, confusion, and a desire to hide the existence of your symptoms. If you are the victim of trauma and let on how much the trauma affected you, this might put you at risk to be revictimized.

People under stress will have gaps in their memory. People with dissociation may also not know they have those gaps until someone asks about something they can’t remember. This is referred to in the literature as “amnesia about the amnesia.”

Dissociative Disorders, all 5 of them according to the DSM-5, include both positive and negative symptoms. In the past the only other disorder that I remember being described that way was Schizophrenia, but as I think about them other disorders have both also.

Positive and negative symptoms do not mean they are good and bad. What this means is that people with a disorder lose the ability to do some things others can do. This loss is called negative symptoms.

They also develop symptoms that others do not have. These added symptoms are called positive symptoms.

Since I believe people can and do recover I think that these areas of altered functioning can vary in intensity and can get better or worse depending on time, traumas, conditions, and treatment. More on negative and positive symptoms in future posts.

Another area of concern in talking about dissociation is something called state or trait theory. Trait would imply that once you got it you always got it. So if you dissociate then you are a goner and who wants to believe that. But if dissociation is a state then you can move into and out of it.

One other cause of Dissociative symptoms are efforts to reprogram or expose someone to “thought reform.” This mental reprogramming, like brainwashing, results in a brain that at some level believes two contradictory things. Can you see how that brain could pop in and out of contact with others?

Last, despite all the press about extreme cases of dissociation and the recurrent belief that this is something that only happens to women, the research tells me it is, in fact, more common among men than women. I have some theories about why that might be but that like the rest of this needs to wait till another post.

Dissociative disorders vary from person to person and from time to time. Nothing I can say will fit everyone and there is a lot to be said for listening to the “lived experience” of those who have these disorders. More to come on this topic, but in the meantime what do all of you think about this?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Does Multiple Personality Disorder really exist?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

personality disorder

What Causes DID Disorder?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Are Multiple Personality Disorder, Manic-Depressive Disorder, and Addiction real illnesses?

There have been some books, articles, and blog posts recently saying that many things we are calling illness either do not exist or if they do exist they are not really illnesses but choices people make.

Some of the arguments these people are making seem to have some merit on the face, but when I look deeper there are some serious flaws in this kind of reasoning. All good lies have some truth in them and so these misconceptions about illnesses take some sorting out. Most of these efforts to deny the existence of a particular illness are cases of – if I do not believe in this it can’t hurt me.

Let’s look at some examples of ways people try to deny the existence of mental disorders.

1. Change the name and the illness ceases to exist – Denial one.

“There is no such thing as Consumption. When people believed in consumption they got it and died. No one gets it now because we know it does not exist.”

You buying that?

Consumption is the old name for Tuberculosis. Yes, people still get T. B. and die from it. We do have medication to treat it, but if you take no meds, you still can die from this illness. Changing the name did not erase the disease.

What about Manic-Depressive Disorder? No such thing right?

Well, we changed the name of that one to Bipolar Disorder so in that sense there is no such thing as Manic Depressive Disease. No difference really in the condition. Still, a serious illness and still needs treating, but not in the strictly literal sense, there is no such thing as Manic Depressive disorder anymore at least not in the DSM.

Which brings us to Multiple Personality Disorder.

The name misled a lot of people into thinking that everyone who had this issue would look like Sybil.  The truth is that there are lots of variations. The new name is “Dissociative Identity Disorder” so while technically, semantically, Multiple Personality Disorder no longer exists, there are still millions of people living with exactly these symptoms; we just call this condition by a new name.

Watch for an upcoming post on Dissociation Disorders. (Yes, there are more than one of these creatures.)

2. Second denial – There is no such thing as mental illness.

The argument runs – mental illness is not a “real disease” these are just people who think or behave differently from the rest of us and we want to force them to act and think like the rest of us.

A lot was made of this a few years back. Again in a strictly semantically way, this has some truth to it. Just enough truth to be misleading.

One definition of illness or disease is a process of an organism, bacteria, or virus, invading the body, and damaging cells. The proponents of this “no mental illness” idea argued that if mental illness was a real illness we should be able to find the bug that caused it and a drug that removed this infection from the body.

Newer research on the brain is chipping away at this one. There are lots of changes that nerve cells undergo that cause a change in functioning. Thoughts and traumatic experiences can change the wiring and the chemistry of the brain.

Most mental issues are correctly referred to as “disorders” not technically diseases. The specific definition of a disorder is essentially something that causes you a thinking, feeling, or behavioral issue.

So if the emotional, mental, or behavior problem cause you to have impairment in Social functioning, (You can’t get along with family and or friends) occupational functioning (the ability to hold a job) of subjective distress (You say it bothers you) then we diagnose it as a mental disorder. The DSM-5 adds “other important area of functioning” I am still not sure what all that might be but if we find that we can give you the diagnosis also.

So while there does not appear to be any Dissociative Disorder germ, I still think that the effects of trauma can alter your emotions sufficiently that we can say you have a disorder.

3. Denial three – I do not believe in Dissociative Disorders so they do not exist.

I take this to be the funniest reason of all to pretend that disorders do not exist. Still, some people cling to the notion that there was no evolution or that the sun does, in fact, revolve around the earth.

Personally, I have taken to believing that Arizona does not exist. California just runs all the way to New Mexico. Those of you that think you live in Arizona knock that foolishness off and start sending your taxes my way.

People have denied the existence of addiction for years saying those people just chose to be that way. Some of them say the same thing about schizophrenia. Now the medical people are saying almost all medications including prescribed ones can cause tolerance and withdrawal so they all met the old definition for addiction.

We are getting around this one by eliminating addiction – it is no more. All of you that thought you knew someone with an addiction you were wrong – there is no such thing as addiction – We will, however, be treating a lot of people next year for substance use disorders and the key characteristic of that disorder will be a loss of control over their use of a substance.

See how this works.

4. Straw man argument.

The way this one goes is: When you talk about Multiple Personality Disorder or Dissociative Disorder what you really mean is –

They then proceed to spend the rest of their post arguing about things that you never said and wouldn’t have said, but it makes them feel better to win an argument even if they need to misrepresent what you think to win one.

Oh, my – another long post. So in the future let’s talk some more about all the things that we have been learning about stress, trauma, and dissociation.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel