9 Signs of Borderline Personality Disorder

It’s the most dramatized of the personality disorders (Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction with her boiled bunny, anyone?) but one of the least understood. This week, Savvy Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen clears the air with nine signs of borderline personality disorder.

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD
5-minute read
Episode #125

Besides Glenn Close, the original bunny boiler in Fatal Attraction, other Hollywood portrayals of Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, have included, among others, Kristen Wiig in Welcome To Me and Evan Rachel Wood in Thirteen. But each portrayal is only one view; indeed, with five of nine symptoms required for diagnosis, there are dozens of ways to have BPD (plus, put a Hollywood filter on any psychological disorder and you’ll almost always end up with the funhouse mirror version).

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So what exactly is “borderline” about BPD, besides, perhaps, our understanding and portrayals? BPD was originally thought to be “on the border” of a psychotic disorder, like schizophrenia, and a mood disorder, like depression. And while BPD is now an established disorder in its own right, the name has stuck for the millions of Americans it affects.

So if it’s not psychosis and it’s not depression, what is it? Any personality disorder, by definition, is a lens through which you see the world. It’s an ingrained way of thinking and feeling—about yourself, about other people—that affects all domains of life: work, school, social, relationships. And the hallmark for BPD is instability: instability in relationships, identity, and emotion. In other words, its stability lies in its instability.

What exactly does that look like? Look for these nine signs:

Sign #1: Fear of abandonment. Imagine being afraid you’ll be dropped by your partner or friends at any moment. It feels so real and because the idea of being rejected and left is so terrifying, it makes you a little desperate. Little things, like your partner coming home later than expected or a friend rescheduling your coffee date, can make you fly into a jealous rage, stalk them on social media, or cling like a toddler wrapped to mom’s leg on the first day of preschool. You’re convinced they’re leaving you, even when they reassure you—at first patiently, then not so patiently—that they’re not. Ironically, all the freaking out does exactly the opposite of what you’re hoping for: it sends the people you love running for cover (and away from you).

Sign #2: Unstable relationships. Your romantic relationships, friendships, and even family life are intense to say the least. You love them, you hate them. You need them, they’re dead to you. You crave a hug, but warn, “Don’t touch me.” You fall in love quickly and wholly, but things do a 180 just as quickly. It’s whiplash in emotional form. Your life has more passion and conflict than a telenovela. You can sum it up with the phrase, “I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me,” which, incidentally, is not only an impressively perceptive Demi Lovato song, but a useful book about BPD.

Sign #3: Feeling unsure of who you are. Imagine the adolescent search for identity, boiled down into a bouillon cube of angst. You shop around, trying out different jobs, social scenes, religions, lifestyles, sexual identities, groups of friends. Sometimes you feel pretty good, but that can quickly flip to hating yourself or even feeling nonexistent.

Sign #4: “I make bad choices.” Especially when you’re angry, sad, or frustrated, you may find yourself in situations you later regret: spending sprees, epic food binges, shoplifting, drunken benders, sleeping with strangers or toxic exes. It’s a welcome distraction from your pain, but after the dust settle, you’re left feeling crazy, regretful, and out of control.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ellen Hendriksen, PhD

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen was the host of the Savvy Psychologist podcast from 2014 to 2019. She is a clinical psychologist at Boston University's Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (CARD). She earned her Ph.D. at UCLA and completed her training at Harvard Medical School. Her scientifically-based, zero-judgment approach is regularly featured in Psychology Today, Scientific American, The Huffington Post, and many other media outlets. Her debut book, HOW TO BE YOURSELF: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety, was published in March 2018.