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Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

Explains borderline personality disorder (BPD), also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

This page is also available in Welsh.

You might feel like every day is a struggle. But there are lots of things that could help. This page covers:

If you feel unable to keep yourself safe, it's a mental health emergency.

Get emergency advice

What can I do now?

"When I am in a really irritating and triggering situation which I can't get out of or change I just take it five minutes at a time. Breaking it into bite-size pieces makes it possible."

If you're feeling overwhelmed, it might help to focus on one feeling at a time. Here are some ideas that you could try to see if they work for you. Different things work at different times for different people, so try to be kind to yourself if some things don't work for you. Over time, you might develop your own tips to add to this list too.

What you could do to get through it:

  • rip up a newspaper
  • hit a pillow
  • throw ice cubes into the bath so they smash
  • do some vigorous exercise
  • listen to loud music
  • do a practical activity like gardening or woodwork.

See our page on how to manage anger for more tips.

What you could do to get through it:

  • wrap up in a blanket and watch your favourite TV show
  • write all your negative feelings on a piece of paper and tear it up
  • listen to a song or piece of music you find uplifting
  • write a comforting letter to the part of yourself that is feeling sad or alone
  • cuddle a pet or a soft toy.

See our page on self-care for depression for more tips.

What you could do to get through it:

  • make yourself a hot drink and drink it slowly, noticing the taste and smell, the shape of the mug and its weight in your hand
  • take ten deep breaths, counting each one out loud
  • write down everything you can think of about where you are right now, such as the time, date, colour of the walls and the furniture in the room
  • take a warm bath or shower – this can help change your mood by creating a soothing atmosphere and a distracting physical sensation.

See our page on self-care for anxiety and panic attacks for more tips.

What you could do to get through it:

  • chew a piece of ginger or chili
  • clap your hands and notice the stinging sensation
  • drink a glass of ice cold water.

See our page on self-care for dissociative disorders for more tips.

What you could do to get through it:

  • rub ice over where you want to hurt yourself
  • stick sellotape or a plaster on your skin and peel it off
  • take a cold bath.

See our page on helping yourself cope with self-harm for more tips.

"I have found meditation/listening to a tape on meditation and mindfulness very helpful on occasions."

What can I do in the longer term?

It can be hard to reach out when you're not feeling well, but it might help to share difficult thoughts. If you don't feel you can talk to the people around you, you could try contacting a helpline. For example, you can talk to Samaritans for free on 116 123 or [email protected] about anything that's upsetting you. (See our page on telephone support for more information about different helplines.)

"I now work within mental health and am trying to break the stigma. I still self-harm and have suicidal ideation but I have hope. I think trying to live using the recovery drivers of CHIME (Connections, Hope, Identity, Meaning and Empowerment) really helped me."

Recording your moods in a diary could help you spot patterns in what triggers difficult experiences for you, or notice early signs that they are beginning to happen.

You could also make a note of what's going well. It's really important to be kind to yourself and recognise difficult steps you've taken, or new things you've tried.

"If I am feeling very bad but can't put into words how I feel or why, I wear a particular bracelet. My closest friends and family know that this means I am having a rough time at the moment and might need some TLC."

If you're feeling less well you might not be able to tell people what help you want, so it could be helpful to plan ahead.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) – the organisation that produces guidelines on best practice in healthcare – recommends that everyone with BPD has a crisis plan. This should include possible triggers, self-help strategies and details for getting support, and should be shared with you and your GP.

(See our pages on planning for a crisis and making a support plan for more information.)

"Sometimes I have good periods where my symptoms don't really trouble me – at other times, they can be overwhelming. It's sometimes hard not to beat myself up for the relapses, but that's something I need to keep working on. It's ok to struggle sometimes."

You could put together some things that might help you when you're struggling – a bit like making a first-aid kit for your mental health.

For example:

  • favourite books, films or CDs
  • a stress ball or fiddle toy
  • helpful sayings or notes of encouragement
  • pictures or photos you find comforting
  • a soft blanket or cosy slippers
  • a nice-smelling candle or lavender bag.

"There are positive sides too; I believe that I experience pleasant emotions more strongly than others, and my friends value my sincerity."

Peer support brings together people who have had similar experiences. Some people find this very helpful.

There are lots of ways to find peer support. You could:

"Although it can sometimes be triggering, going online and talking to people who also have BPD is useful, supportive and reassuring that I really am not alone."

Looking after your physical health can make a difference to how you feel emotionally. For example, it can help to:

  • Try to get enough sleep. Sleep can help give you the energy to cope with difficult feelings and experiences. (See our pages on coping with sleep problems for more information.)
  • Think about your diet. Eating regularly and keeping your blood sugar stable can make a difference to your mood and energy levels. (See our pages on food and mood for more information.)
  • Try to do some physical activity. Exercise can be really helpful for your mental wellbeing. (See our pages on physical activity for more information.)
  • Spend time outside. Spending time in green space can boost your wellbeing. (See our pages on ecotherapy for more information.)
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. While you might want to use drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult feelings, in the long run they can make you feel a lot worse and can prevent you from dealing with any underlying problems that the drug or alcohol use may have been masking. (See our pages on recreational drugs and alcohol for more information).

If you've experienced other issues that have contributed to your problems, such as abuse or bullying, it could be helpful to explore the help out there for these too. If you have been abused in childhood, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood is there to support you, and our pages on abuse and PTSD useful contacts list many more organisations that could help.

"With time, you do learn to cope with [BPD] better. I have struggled for 15 years, but every year I seem to get stronger and better at coping with it!"

This information was published in January 2018.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References and bibliography available on request.

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