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Borderline Personality Disorder in Women   

Malibu Vista specializes in treating women with borderline personality disorder and other personality disorders. Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is marked by unstable moods and problems with self-awareness and interpersonal relationships, in addition to impulsive thoughts and behaviors. People with the disorder can develop a number of symptoms that diminish their ability to live fruitful, productive lives. For decades, doctors and mental health researchers believed that women develop BPD much more frequently than men, and current statistics regarding the disorder reflect this belief. However, many professionals in the field now believe that actual rates for the disorder are roughly equal between men and women.

BPD Basics

People with BPD have symptoms that include:

  • Unusual mood swings featuring periods of clear depression
  • Unstable interpersonal relationships that alternate drastically between “good” and “bad” states
  • Uncontrolled or extreme forms of anger that have no origin in a real-life situation
  • Persistent feelings of emptiness or boredom
  • Cutting and other forms of non-fatal self-injury
  • Threats or attempts to commit suicide
  • Impulsive, reckless patterns of eating, drinking, shopping, substance use, driving, stealing or sexual activity.

Symptoms of borderline personality disorder may first appear as early as pre-adolescence, the National Institute on Mental Health reports. However, diagnosis of the condition typically occurs during adolescence, or during the first years of adulthood.

No one knows exactly what causes BPD. Likely factors include alterations in several different genes, exposure to childhood trauma, and abnormal levels of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) such as serotonin and oxytocin. In many cases, people with the disorder have close relatives with other major forms of mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

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BPD Treatment

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is considered a front-line, evidence-based treatment for borderline personality disorder. It was founded on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which says that what we think and believe — faulty thoughts and assumptions — are at the root of many distressing emotional and mental issues. Like CBT, DBT focuses on identifying and addressing negative and self-defeating thoughts and self-talk, and replacing those erroneous thoughts with more positive and realistic ones.

DBT also stresses mindfulness and self-acceptance. Clients struggling with borderline personality disorder, many of whom have experienced trauma, are often told that their intense emotions aren’t justified — that they are over-reacting. The message they receive is that their emotions are just one more thing that’s defective or faulty about them. DBT sends a different message. DBT says, “Yes, you are experiencing extreme emotion, and that’s OK. Let’s figure out how to manage these emotions in order to give you more control over them, which will improve the quality of your life.”

DBT has helped millions of women suffering from many types of mental and emotional conditions, but it has been found particularly effective in the treatment of borderline personality disorder.

Multiple scientific studies have confirmed that DBT helps reduce self-injury, suicidal and high-risk behavior, anger, depression and substance use. In fact, a recent government report cited extensive data for the effectiveness of DBT in treating suicidal behaviors and emotional problems. The American Psychiatric Association recommends DBT for the treatment of borderline personality disorder, and DBT is included in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national registry of evidence-based programs and practices, a searchable online database of therapies that have been reviewed and rated by independent authorities in mental health treatment.

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Diagnosing Borderline Personality Disorder in Women

While borderline personality disorder is a distinct mental health condition, by its very nature it produces a wide variety of symptoms and can manifest in a wide variety of ways. Because the American Psychiatric Association has increased the number of symptoms that doctors can use to diagnose BPD, more people have the disorder now than at any other point in time. As of 2012, roughly 75 percent of all people in the U.S. with a BPD diagnosis were women. According to the NIMH, the vast majority of these women also have clear symptoms of other major psychiatric problems such as anorexia or bulimia, anxiety disorders or major depressive disorder (major depression).

Disproportionate Representation

According to researchers at Bryn Mawr College, the expanding definition of borderline personality disorder has largely focused on emotional symptoms such as emptiness and sadness, as well as rage and other forms volatile emotional expression. Generally speaking, men tend to hide or suppress sadness and emptiness; at the same time, men typically have greater social license to express rage and other volatile states of mind. Women, on the other hand, tend not to suppress feelings of sadness and emptiness as much as men; they also typically have smaller amounts of social license to express disruptive emotional states. For a combination of these reasons, doctors sometimes exclude men from diagnoses for BPD; at the same time, they may diagnose the disorder in women who have more or less the same symptoms as their undiagnosed male counterparts.

The tendency to diagnose BPD in women may also stem indirectly from women’s ways of dealing with the effects of childhood physical or sexual abuse, rape or other traumatic events. In some cases, the experience of these events creates emotional adaptations that make sense within their context, but don’t necessarily make sense to a doctor considering a diagnosis of mental illness. In addition, some of the symptoms currently associated with BPD also qualify as symptoms of two other conditions, called dependent personality disorder and histrionic personality disorder.

Other Considerations

Despite the current imbalance of BPD diagnoses between men and women, certain signs in the medical community point toward a shift in outlook. For instance, the National Alliance on Mental Illness emphasizes the existence of up-to-date research that confirms roughly equal real-world rates of borderline personality disorder in both men and women.

Reconnect with your passion for life. Call Malibu Vista 844-874-6483