Male Teens with Borderline Personality Disorder

It’s common to associate Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) with females. And if BPD shows up in adolescence, it’s even more likely to assume that the teen is female. Yet, one clinician and author recently wrote a book highlighting men who have BPD as well as pointing out the severe neglect of this topic.

Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., is the author of Hard to Love: Understanding and Overcoming Male Borderline Personality Disorder. In his book, he points out the differences between males and females who have the disorder and how BPD looks in both genders. For instance, Nowinski points out in his book that men with borderline personality disorder are:

  • More likely to demonstrate an explosive personality than women with borderline personality disorder
  • More likely to evidence substance use disorders while women with the disorder are more likely to have eating, mood, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder
  • More likely than women to have co-occurring antisocial personality disorder, narcissistic disorder, and/or intermittent explosive disorder
  • Men are more likely to have had treatment for surface substance abuse problems while women are more likely to have histories characterized by eating disorders and more prescription medications and psychotherapy

Personality Disorders are those mental illnesses that include deep-seated and long-lasting character traits that cause distress or lead to harm of oneself or another. They are those that might impair a teen’s functioning in school, at home, or within relationships. Borderline Personality Disorder, specifically, is characterized with certain behaviors that are significantly harmful such as those described below:

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.

Having relationships that are unstable with significant idealization or devaluing – 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.

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. For this reason, teens with BPD are also commonly diagnosed with an eating disorder.

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.

The advantage of the book by Nowinski is that it highlights differences that might have not been seen before. This is particularly beneficial for parents who might have explosive male teens and who may be searching for help. When a teen is assessed and diagnosed, appropriate treatment can follow.

If you are a parent or loved one of a male adolescent with some of the above characteristics, contact a mental health professional to have your child assessed for BPD.

Related Articles

A Parent’s Guide to Adolescent Borderline Personality Disorder

How Teen Borderline Personality Disorder and Teen Bipolar Disorder Differ

Teen Borderline Personality Disorder: Signs to Look For

Further Reading