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Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

Explains borderline personality disorder (BPD), also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD). Includes what it feels like, causes, treatment, support and self-care, as well as tips for friends and family.

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

Get emergency advice

How can I help myself now?

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.

Here are some tips on how to help yourself:

What helps when I’m having a bad time is more 'practical' than emotional. Delaying my emotions a little until I feel more able to cope.

If I'm feeling angry, frustrated or restless

You could:

  • Rip up some paper
  • Hit a pillow
  • Do some exercise
  • Listen to loud music
  • Do a practical activity like gardening or woodwork

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

If I'm feeling depressed, sad or lonely

You could:

  • 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 music that you find uplifting or soothing
  • Write a comforting letter to the part of yourself that is feeling sad or alone
  • Let yourself cry or sleep
  • Cuddle a pet or a soft toy

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

If I'm feeling anxious, panicky or tense

You could:

  • 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 10 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.

If I'm feeling dissociative or spaced out

You could:

  • Chew a piece of ginger or chilli
  • 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.

If I want to self-harm

You could:

  • 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 or shower

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

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

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

Talk to someone

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 helplines and listening services for more information about different helplines.

Keep a mood diary

Recording your moods in a diary could help you spot patterns in what triggers difficult experiences for you. Or notice early signs when they're beginning to happen.

Try noting down difficult thoughts or feelings. This might help get them out of your head and make them feel less overwhelming. You can then reflect on them when you feel calmer or talk about them with someone you trust.

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. These don’t need to be big things. They could be things like having a shower, going for a walk or sending someone a text. Or managing a difficult situation in a slightly different way.

Plan for difficult times

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.

With time, you do learn to cope better with BPD. I've struggled for 15 years, but every year I seem to get stronger and better at coping with it.

Make a self-care box

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 music
  • A stress ball or fiddle toy
  • Helpful sayings or notes of encouragement
  • Pictures or photos you find comforting
  • A soft or weighted blanket
  • Cosy slippers
  • Something comforting to smell or taste, like a lavender bag or mints

Or you could make a digital self-care kit. You could save this on your phone so you can look at it anytime. You could save photos, music, videos, messages or sayings that you find helpful. Or notes to remind yourself how to manage difficult situations.

Try peer support

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

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

Focus on what matters to you

Sometimes when we're given a mental health diagnosis, it can feel like this defines us as a person. But this isn't true.

Try to focus on the things that matter to you. Or things you value about your character, or which make you happy. This could be your values, interests, opinions or passions. It might help to write them down or say them out load. Some people find it helpful to express themselves creatively.

And if you don’t know yet what matters to you or what you value about yourself that’s ok too – take your time. It can sometimes be difficult to have a sense of what we enjoy and why we matter when we're feeling low or unwell. Especially if we've been treated badly by others.

See our page on improving your self-esteem for more information.

Look after your physical health

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

  • Try to improve your 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 what you eat. 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 and eating problems 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 nature and mental health for more information.
  • Be careful with alcohol or drug use. 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 may prevent you from getting the support you need for your mental health. See our pages on recreational drugs, alcohol and addiction for more information on what to do if you're struggling with drugs and alcohol use.

Find specialist support for contributing factors

If you’ve experienced other issues that have contributed to your problems, it could be helpful to explore the help out there for these too.

For example:

  • Abuse or bullying. If you've been abused in childhood, the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) is there to support you, and our pages on abuse and useful contacts for PTSD list many more organisations that could help.
  • Racism. Our pages on racism and mental health have information about the impacts of racism, as well as options for support. This also includes information on racism within the mental health system. And advice on overcoming barriers to getting support.
  • Money problems. Our pages on money and mental health have information about the links between money worries and mental health. This includes advice about managing your money when you're unwell. And options for support with debt, benefits or other financial concerns.

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

This information was published in September 2022. We'll revise it in 2025.

References and bibliography available on request.

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