Borderline Personality Disorder vs Bipolar Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder can often get confused.  While both are characterized by intense mood swings they are two different disorders that require a different approach to treatment. 

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Many people struggle with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other mental health issues. In fact, it’s estimated that nearly 1 in every 5 adults in the United States struggles with mental health issues of some kind.

Two mental health issues that people can struggle with are borderline personality disorder and bipolar disorder. And, while both are characterized by drastic mood swings, these disorders are not the same.

Knowing the difference between borderline personality disorder vs bipolar disorder is important for helping you or a loved one get the assistance they need. Here’s what to know about the differences between borderline personality disorder vs bipolar.

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline Personality Disorder is a type of mental health disease that affects how you function in everyday life. It changes the way that you think about both yourself and others.

Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD, is characterized by a pattern of self-image issues, unstable relationships, and trouble managing your emotions.

People struggling with BPD have a deep fear of instability or abandonment. This can lead to issues with being alone.

Worse yet, despite their fear of being alone, people suffering from BPD often end up pushing others away. Even though they want to have lasting and loving relationships, their mood swings make it difficult for them to do so.

Most people struggling with BPD begin showing signs and symptoms in early adulthood. It tends to get better as a person ages and to have the most intense symptoms during their young adulthood.

While BPD is certainly a serious disorder, it can be treated. Many people who struggle with this illness learn to cope and to get better over time. They are still able to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms

Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms

Borderline Personality Disorder is characterized by several main symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • Impulsive behavior
  • Inappropriate anger
  • Drastic mood swings that can last between a few hours and several days
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feelings of emptiness
  • Unsafe and risky behavior
  • Self-harm
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Chronic depression
  • Unstable relationships
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Thoughts of self-injury or suicide
  • Poor or distorted self-image
  • Uncontrolled aggressive outbursts

Because people struggling with BPD tend to show signs of impulsive and risky behavior, it can lead them to engage in addictive activities. These include gambling, alcohol consumption, or drug use.

What’s worse is that many symptoms of BPD are triggered by interactions with institutions or individuals. Stressful or traumatic events can also lead to an outburst of BPD symptoms.

Another symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder is something called splitting. Splitting is a term used to describe a person’s inability to hold emotionally opposing viewpoints.

These viewpoints could be surrounding themselves or other people. Most often, the viewpoints are defense mechanisms to help the individual with their fear of abandonment.

Splitting is dangerous because it can lead to risky and impulsive behaviors. This can put the individual in harm’s way.

Causes of Borderline Personality Disorder

While there is no exact answer as to what causes BPD, research suggests that people develop this disease due to environmental factors. Many times those factors are experienced during childhood.

Environmental Factors

A few experiences that can cause BPD include physical, sexual, or emotional abuse. Parental neglect or substance abuse can also lead to the development of BPD in children.

Children who experience emotional trauma and stress in their youth may struggle to manage their emotions later in life. This can ultimately end up leading to the development of BPD.

Biological Factors

Experiences aren’t the only factors that cause BPD, either. Brain structure, genetics, and chemical imbalances can all lead to BPD as well.

Individuals who have a family history of Borderline Personality Disorder are more likely to develop this illness themselves. And, people who struggle with decreased levels of serotonin may also develop this illness.

Interestingly enough, people who suffer from BPD often have altered neurotransmitter function in the brain. They may experience structural changes in the orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus.

Diagnosis of BPD

If you suspect that you or a loved one is struggling with BPD, you’ll want to get a diagnosis. To get a diagnosis, you will need to visit a licensed mental health professional.

A mental health professional will ask a series of questions and observe behaviors to make a diagnosis. In order to be diagnosed with BPD, the individual must display five or more symptoms. 

These symptoms include some of the following BPD attributes:

  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate emotional reactions and instability throughout day to day events
  • Chronic feelings of sadness and emptiness
  • Desperate attempts to avoid imagined or real abandonment
  • Unstable self-image
  • Identity disturbance
  • Impulsive behaviors in two areas that could be potentially dangerous or harmful, such as spending, sex, driving, binge eating, or substance abuse
  • Intense and inappropriate anger
  • Difficulty controlling anger
  • A pattern of intense and unstable relationships characterized by idolization and devaluation
  • Paranoid ideation
  • Severe dissociative symptoms
  • Self-harming behavior or threats
    Suicide behaviors or gestures

If you or someone you know is experiencing multiple instances of the above symptoms, it could mean that BPD is to blame. Getting an appropriate diagnosis from a healthcare professional will help you get treatment.

BPD Treatment

If you or someone you love is diagnosed with BPD, it’s important to seek treatment. Luckily, there are several treatment options available for people struggling with this issue.

The most common type of treatment for those dealing with BPD is psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can be delivered using one of two methods:

  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy: a therapy to support controlling emotions
  • Mentalization-Based Therapy: therapy to help foster a better understanding of why you are experiencing BPD and how it works

Aside from therapy, some doctors choose to prescribe medication for this issue. While the benefits for BPD itself are not entirely clear, medicine can help combat some of the symptoms of the disease.
For example, medication can help with depression, mood swings, anxiety, and other mental disorders that co-occur with BPD.
In addition to medication and therapy, people struggling with BPD can make some lifestyle adjustments. Getting enough sleep, engaging in an exercise routine, and psychoeducational can all help with BPD management.

What Is Bipolar Disorder?

Although similar to BPD, there are a few key differences between borderline personality disorder vs bipolar. Knowing the differences will help make sure that you and your loved one get the correct help.

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder that causes emotional lows and highs. It is characterized by extreme mood swings.

When people are experiencing an emotional low they may become depressed and lose interest in normal activities. They may also feel hopeless, sad, or even become suicidal.

When those same individuals enter an emotional high state or a manic state, they feel euphoric and full of energy. They are often irritable, and their state of mind can affect their ability to think clearly and make smart judgments.

People who struggle with bipolar disorder, also known as BD, can experience mood swings as often as multiple times a day or as little as a few times a year. It is a lifelong condition and requires careful monitoring to overcome.

Luckily, despite the fact that this condition cannot be cured, it can be managed with the correct treatment.

Bipolar Symptoms

If you suspect that you or someone you love is experiencing bipolar disorder, there are a few symptoms that you can look out for. In analyzing symptoms, you’ll need to remember that individuals have cycles that alternate between states of depression and mania.

Depressive episodes include feelings of hopelessness and sadness. Manic episodes include feelings of euphoria and irritability. Sometimes people can experience these cycles with both symptoms.

In between cycles, people with borderline personality often have symptom-free wellness. This can lead them to think that they have been cured of their illness.

In contrast, people struggling with BPD have persistent symptoms. Their illness is more likely to affect their daily life than BD is.

Manic Symptoms

People who experience manic episodes may experience the following symptoms:

    • Inflated self-esteem
    • Excessive talkativeness
    • The need for less sleep
    • Feelings of grandiosity
    • Racing thoughts
    • Easy distraction
    • Aggressive or threatening behavior
    • Irritability
    • Elevated mood
    • Impaired judgment
    • Euphoria


While these symptoms might not sound harmful, they’re not beneficial either. Many people in a manic state take rash actions. They don’t have the self-awareness they need to stay safe.

People in manic states can take actions that can put themselves and others at harm. Despite being the alternative to depression, they can be extremely dangerous.

Depressive Symptoms
When an individual with BD enters into a depressive state, they will experience different symptoms. These symptoms include:
  • Depressed mood
  • A vacant or flat expression
  • Feelings of failure and guilt
  • Memory and cognition impairment
  • Slow speech
  • Lack of motivation
  • Lack of energy
  • Negative beliefs and feelings
  • Insomnia
  • Thoughts of suicide or death
  • Weight fluctuations

These symptoms can last for long or short periods of time.

Causes of Bipolar Disorder

No one knows exactly what causes bipolar disorder. This disease is extremely complex, and many doctors believe that there is no single cause for it.

However, there are some factors that can put individuals at a higher risk for developing bipolar disorder. For example, genetic and family history can both affect a person’s likelihood to develop BD.

Chemical imbalances also play a role in bipolar disorder. When individuals have an imbalance in neurotransmitters in the brain, they may experience symptoms of bipolar disorder.

Diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder

Diagnosing bipolar disorder is something that requires a few different assessments. This is different from BPD, which only requires an individual to meet certain criteria.

One evaluation for bipolar disorder includes getting a physical exam. This will most often include lab work or even MRIs to see if there is an underlying condition that is causing BD symptoms.

In addition to a physical exam, individuals may undergo a psychiatric exam. During this exam, the person will be asked about their behavior, feelings, and thoughts.

Another method for diagnosing bipolar disorder is something called mood charting. This requires you to keep track of your sleep patterns, moods, and environmental factors on a daily basis.

Finally, doctors may compare your symptoms with those of people who already suffer from bipolar disorder. They may compare your symptoms with a manual of diagnostics for mental disorders to come up with the correct diagnosis.

Bipolar Treatment

Getting treatment for bipolar disorder is extremely important. That’s because people who have bipolar disorder have a shorter life expectancy and higher rates of mortality.

Luckily, there are several ways that doctors can treat people suffering from BD. For one, they can prescribe medications. Medications such as antipsychotics, antidepressants, and mood stabilizers can all help people suffering from BD.

In addition to medication, people with borderline personality disorder can get psychotherapy treatment.

These treatments typically include:
  • Psychoeducation
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Social rhythm therapy
  • Interpersonal therapy
  • Family-focused therapy

Sometimes a blend of these therapies will be needed to help a person fully heal. The exact type of therapy or therapies that a person needs will depend on their individual case.

For people who are suffering from more severe cases of BPD, they may be prescribed electroconvulsive therapy. This type of therapy uses brain stimulation to prevent mood swings.

Electroconvulsive therapy functions through transcranial magnetic stimulation. It is most often used for people who are suffering from severe depressive or manic episodes.

Understand BPD vs Bipolar Disorder

Knowing the difference between borderline personality disorder vs bipolar disorder is important for helping you or a loved one get the right treatment. With the right treatment, these mental illnesses can be controlled and cured.

If you are ready to take the next step in getting the mental health assistance you need, we’re here for you. Get in touch, and we’ll help you tackle the treatment that you need to overcome these disorders.


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