Borderline personality disorder  

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"Feminist critics question why women are three times more likely to be diagnosed with borderline personality disorder than men, while other stigmatizing diagnoses, such as antisocial personality disorder, are diagnosed three times as often in men."--Sholem Stein

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Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a personality disorder described as a prolonged disturbance of personality function in a person (generally over the age of eighteen years, although it is also found in adolescents), characterized by depth and variability of moods. The disorder typically involves unusual levels of instability in mood; black and white thinking, or splitting; the disorder often manifests itself in idealization and devaluation episodes, as well as chaotic and unstable interpersonal relationships, self-image, identity, and behavior; as well as a disturbance in the individual's sense of self. In extreme cases, this disturbance in the sense of self can lead to periods of dissociation.


Diagnostic and Statistical Manual

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders fourth edition, DSM IV-TR, a widely used manual for diagnosing mental disorders, defines borderline personality disorder (in Axis II Cluster B) as:

A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image and affects, as well as marked impulsivity, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:
  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-injuring behavior covered in Criterion 5
  2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
  3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
  4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., promiscuous sex, eating disorders, binge eating, substance abuse, reckless driving). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-injuring behavior covered in Criterion 5
  5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, threats or self-injuring behavior such as cutting, interfering with the healing of scars (excoriation) or picking at oneself.
  6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness
  8. Inappropriate anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
  9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation, delusions or severe dissociative symptoms

It is a requirement of DSM-IV that a diagnosis of any specific personality disorder also satisfies a set of general personality disorder criteria.


The prevalence of BPD in the general population ranges from 1 to 2 percent. The diagnosis appears to be several times more common in (especially young) women than in men, by as much as 3:1, according to the DSM-IV-TR, although the reasons for this are not clear. The prevalence of BPD in the United States has been calculated as 1 percent to 3 percent of the adult population, with approximately 75 percent of those diagnosed being female. It has been found to account for 20 percent of psychiatric hospitalizations.


Since the earliest record of medical history, the coexistence of intense, divergent moods within an individual has been recognized by such writers as Homer, Hippocrates and Aretaeus, the last describing the vacillating presence of impulsive anger, melancholia and mania within a single person. After medieval suppression of the concept, it was revived by Swiss physician Théophile Bonet in 1684, who, using the term folie maniaco-mélancolique noted the erratic and unstable moods with periodic highs and lows that rarely followed a regular course. His observations were followed by those of other writers who noted the same pattern, including writers such as the American psychiatrist C. Hughes in 1884 and J.C. Rosse in 1890, who described "borderline insanity". Emil Kraepelin, in 1921, identified an "excitable personality" that closely parallels the borderline features outlined in the current concept of borderline.

Adolf Stern wrote the first significant psychoanalytic work to use the term "borderline" in 1938, referring to a group of patients with what was thought to be a mild form of schizophrenia, on the borderline between neurosis and psychosis. For the next decade the term was in popular and colloquial use, a loosely conceived designation mostly used by theorists of the psychoanalytic and biological schools of thought. Increasingly, theorists who focused on the operation of social forces were recognized as well.

The 1960s and 1970s saw a shift from thinking of the borderline syndrome as borderline schizophrenia to thinking of it as a borderline affective disorder (mood disorder), on the fringes of manic depression, cyclothymia and dysthymia. In DSM-II, stressing the affective components, it was called cyclothymic personality (affective personality). In parallel to this evolution of the term "borderline" to refer to a distinct category of disorder, psychoanalysts such as Otto Kernberg were using it to refer to a broad spectrum of issues, describing an intermediate level of personality organization between neurotic and psychotic processes.

Standardized criteria were developed to distinguish BPD from affective disorders and other Axis I disorders, and BPD became a personality disorder diagnosis in 1980 with the publication of DSM-III. The diagnosis was formulated predominantly in terms of mood and behavior, distinguished from sub-syndromal schizophrenia which was termed "Schizotypal personality disorder". The final terminology in use by the DSM today was decided by the DSM-IV Axis II Work Group of the American Psychiatric Association.

Society and culture

Film and television

Several films portraying characters either explicitly diagnosed or with traits strongly suggestive of mental illness have been the subject of discussion by certain psychiatrists and film experts. The films Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction are two examples, as is the memoir Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen (and the movie based on it, with Winona Ryder as the patient with BPD). Each of these films suggests the emotional instability of the disorder; however, the first two cases show a person more aggressive to others than to herself, which in fact is less typical. The 1992 film Single White Female suggests different aspects of the disorder: the character Hedy suffers from a markedly disturbed sense of identity and, as with the last two films, abandonment leads to drastic measures.

The character of Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, in the Star Wars hexology, has been "diagnosed" as having BPD. Psychiatrists Eric Bui and Rachel Rodgers have argued that the character meets six of the nine diagnostic criteria; Bui also found Anakin a useful example to explain BPD to medical students. In particular, Bui points to the character's abandonment issues, uncertainty over his identity and dissociative episodes. Other films attempting to depict characters with the disorder include The Crush, Malicious, Interiors, Notes On a Scandal, The Cable Guy and Cracks. The film Borderline, based on the book of the same name by Marie-Sissi Labrèche, attempts to explore BPD through the story of Kiki.


The memoir, Songs of Three Islands, by Millicent Monks is a meditation on how BPD has haunted several generations of the wealthy Carnegie family.

In Lois McMaster Bujold's science fiction novel Komarr, Tien Vorsoisson had BPD; this drove a large part of the story.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Borderline personality disorder" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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