What is borderline personality disorder (BPD) – and how do I know if I have it?

When you're living with borderline personality disorder, it can make everything in your life feel unstable. Including your feelings, relationships and sense of self.

Most people with borderline personality disorder can and do get better. If you're experiencing BPD symptoms, getting help is the first step.

Support is available to help you manage your symptoms, and feel confident as you work towards your goals in life and work.

In this guide on how to know if you have BPD, we look at the common symptoms, when to get help and what support is available.

What is borderline personality disorder (BPD)?

Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition that affects how you think, feel and behave.

It's the most common type of personality disorder in Australia, affecting around 1 to 4 people out of 100.

People living with BPD have an abnormal view of themselves and the world, which can lead to self-image issues and unstable relationships.

If you have BPD, you may experience intense emotions, which can cause you to feel distressed or frustrated.

You might fear being abandoned by the people in your life, find it hard to be alone or act impulsively to cope.

BPD symptoms usually begin in late teens or early adulthood and can make it hard to cope in all areas of life, including self-care, relationships and work.

Borderline personality disorder is a treatable mental health condition, and can improve over time.

If you're experiencing BPD symptoms in your own life, it's important to get help.

How to know if you have BPD

Understanding the symptoms of BPD is a good place to start. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms, it’s best to make an appointment with your GP.

They can refer you to a mental health professional for a formal diagnosis.

Not everyone with borderline personality disorder will experience all of the symptoms below.

You may experience some of the symptoms and still be diagnosed with BPD.

BPD symptoms

  • Intense fear of abandonment – being afraid that people in your life will leave you.
  • Unstable relationships – you’ve had a lot of short, intense relationships with people. Or your feelings towards loved ones change frequently.
  • Feeling unstable in yourself – your identity, goals, likes and dislikes change very often.
  • Impulsive behaviour – doing risky activities such as driving recklessly, unsafe sex, gambling, binge drinking or spending a lot of money.
  • Self harm or suicidal thoughts and behaviours.
  • Extreme emotional swings – even small things may trigger a big emotional reaction, and it can be hard to calm down.
  • Feelings of emptiness – feeling worthless or like you don’t matter.
  • Intense anger – feeling very angry or frustrated, and finding it hard to manage angry outbursts.
  • Stress-related paranoia – feeling out of touch with reality, spaced out or disconnected. Or feeling suspicious about other people's motivations.

Other conditions

Sometimes BPD symptoms can look like the symptoms of other mental health conditions. BPD is sometimes misdiagnosed as:

  • Bipolar disorder – a long-term mental health condition characterised by extreme mood swings, including extreme highs (mania) and extreme lows (depression). Find out more: Living with bipolar disorder.
  • Anxiety disorders – anxiety disorders can leave you feeling worried, anxious or fearful to the point that it affects your everyday life. Read our guide: How to know if you have anxiety.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a type of anxiety disorder that develops after experiencing a traumatic event. It's common for people living with BPD to also have PTSD.

When to see your doctor

You should see your doctor when:

  • You're finding it hard to cope
  • You’re feeling very anxious, stressed or upset
  • Symptoms are impacting your life in negative ways
  • You're self-harming
  • You're thinking or talking about suicide

If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of suicide, call 000.

For crisis support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

How is BPD diagnosed?

Speaking to your GP or family doctor is usually the first step. They may refer you to a mental health professional for a formal diagnosis.

Borderline personality disorder can only be diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional.

Your mental health professional will ask you about your symptoms and how they affect your life.

It can be helpful to keep a record of your symptoms and bring them to your appointment.

You may also be asked about your family history and other health conditions you're living with.

A BPD diagnosis usually means you're experiencing at least 5 of the main symptoms, and that you've had the symptoms for a long period of time, usually starting in your late teens or early adulthood.

Treatments for borderline personality disorder

Most people living with BPD can and do get better.

There are many effective treatments available. Your mental health professional will work closely with you to create a treatment plan that's right for you.

Psychological therapy is the main treatment for BPD.

Therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy can help you break down why you think, feel and behave in certain ways.

It can also help you find tools and habits to better look after your health, wellbeing and relationships.

Your doctor may also recommend medications to help with managing your symptoms.

Support for living with borderline personality disorder

BPD symptoms can affect every area of life. Having the right supports in place can help you feel more confident, connected and empowered moving forward.

Australian BPD Foundation

The Australian BPD Foundation provides information, resources and support for people living with borderline personality disorder, as well as their families and carers.

Support groups

Online and in-person support groups can connect you with other people who have similar experiences to you.

As well as providing emotional and social support, support groups can give you practical tips and solutions for coping with BPD.

Ask your doctor about support groups in your area or search online.

Mental health helplines

If you're finding it hard to cope or just need someone to talk to, you can contact a mental health helpline.

Many helplines offer phone and online chat support, and can recommend mental health services in your area.

Employment support

APM helps people living with BPD and other health conditions find work and succeed in the workplace.

You may be eligible for Disability Employment Services or another one of our employment programs at no cost to you. Call us on 1800 276 276 for more information.

Further reading

After reading this guide on how to know if you have BPD, check out our other guides to living and working with a mental health disorder: