Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder in Teens

Some teens don’t have it easy. They’re inner life is filled with tumultuous thoughts and feelings and the thoughts about themselves are anything but positive. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness marked by unstable moods, behavior, and relationships. This illness often begins during adolescence or early adulthood.

The classic symptoms of BPD include problems with managing emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships with other people. Yet, other symptoms of BPD include:

– Extreme reactions, such as panic, rage, or frantic behavior.

– A pattern of intense and stormy relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, which swing from idealizing others to extreme dislike and devaluing others. One of the defining traits of BPD is all or nothing thinking. A teen might see his or her best friend as being the most wonderful person in the world one day and then his or her worst enemy the next.

– Avoiding real or imagined abandonment – One of the more significant beliefs that a teen with BPD possesses is that he or she is worthy of abandonment, that he or she is worthy of rejection. At the same time, avoiding abandonment at all costs becomes necessary for survival. If the possibility of abandonment is present, a teen might make attempts at suicide, engage in self-harming behavior such as cutting, or manipulate the person whom they feel abandoned by in order to feel in control.

– An inability to maintain a stable sense of self – This might be difficult to assess for an adolescent because this stage of life is defined as the time in life to discover a sense of self. However, a teen with BPD tendencies will exhibit signs of self-loathing, self-hatred, and an inability to be who they are among friends. For instance, they might act as “chameleons” taking on the traits of friends or peers they are with at the time. Although this might be seen as a way to work through this particular life stage, those with BPD have a difficult time recognizing who they are.

– Dangerous and impulsive behavior – For an adolescent, the impulsivity that is common with BDP might be drug use, frequent experiences of unsafe sex, or running away from home.  These behaviors are a way of managing challenging and unbearable emotions.

– Self-Harming Behavior – Adolescents with BPD might cut themselves as a way to manage anxiety or other overwhelming feelings. Although caregivers often see cutting and other self-harming behavior as a suicide attempt, it is better understood among clinicians to be a way of managing difficult feelings.

– Mood Instability – What characterizes Borderline Personality Disorder is the frequency of mood swings from depressive symptoms to those of mania.

– Chronically feeling empty – This is often experienced by a BPD teen as loneliness or boredom, and it is compensated by their impulsivity and dangerous behavior, which tends to arouse strong and intense feelings.

– Inability to regulate feelings of anger– Fights are common with those who have BPD, especially with those close to them. However, anger is not the only emotion that becomes difficult to manage; any strong emotion can be overwhelming and challenging to regulate.

– Signs of dissociation with reality – Many teens with BPD have experienced trauma and as a result have signs of dissociation. That is, they tend to divorce themselves from their emotional experience and/or an aspect of reality in order to find safety in the experience of life.

If you or someone you know experiences any of the above symptoms, contact a mental health professional for an assessment. With the right diagnosis, whether it’s BPD or another illness, you can begin to receive a proper Borderline Personality Disorder treatment plan to address these above listed symptoms.

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