Is your teen daughter or son displaying signs of borderline personality disorder (BPD)?

Learn more about the condition and how to get your child the help he or she needs today.

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?

BPD is a personality disorder that is characterized by a long-standing instability in interpersonal relationships and moods.

When a teenager or young adult suffers from BPD, they experience:

  • Chronic mood instability
  • Emotional regulation difficulties
  • Fear of abandonment create interpersonal distress
  • Oversensitivity

Which leads to interpersonal distress.

Teens and young adults with BPD can also have trouble socializing. The mental illness may impede your child's ability to successfully form and maintain lasting friendships. This is because of the tendency toward impulsivity and compulsive, unpredictable behaviors.
A teenager or young adult may exhibit exaggerated emotional outbursts and frequent mood swings, which can be off-putting to peers and create instability in relationships. Learning how to manage and treat BPD symptoms is essential for these young people to achieve a productive and satisfying life.

Teens and Young Adults Struggling With BPD

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), BPD affects about 1.4% of the adult population. In most cases, the first symptoms will emerge during the early teenage years. In fact, symptoms of BPD are most consistent from ages 14-17.

Health care and medical professionals take extreme caution when diagnosing BPD in teens, knowing that this and the early adulthood phase of life is notorious for moodiness.

But when symptoms worsen and begin to disrupt a teen or young adult's life, it is critical that parents seek mental health guidance from a mental health professional for their loved one.

The Signs and Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder in teens is characterized by extreme emotional displays along with idealization and inflexible black-or-white type thinking.

These irrational behaviors can lead to paranoid thoughts and problems with relationships.

Tied to BPD behaviors are the following signs and symptoms:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Chronic feelings of worthlessness
  • Compulsive behaviors, including binge eating, eating disorders, or substance abuse
  • Difficulty with self-direction
  • Diminished capacity for empathy
  • ​Dissociation or devaluation
  • Disproportionate emotional reactions
  • ​Distorted or poor self-image
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Fear of abandonment or rejection
  • Intense anger
  • Low frustration thresholds
  • Low self-esteem
  • Paranoia
  • Self-destruction and self-destructive behaviors
  • Self-harm and self-harming behaviors
  • Suicide attempts or suicidal behaviors or thoughts
  • Unstable interpersonal relationships with caregivers, family and friends

Bipolar disorder and schizophrenia can sometimes co-occur with teen or young adult BPD as well.

Teens and young adults with BPD may also struggle with chronic feelings of emptiness or impulse control and will engage in risky behaviors, such as excessive shopping, reckless driving or unsafe sex.

Each individual with a BPD diagnosis will have a unique mix of symptoms. Some may exhibit only a few of these symptoms, where others may have a more severe form of the disorder and have multiple symptoms present.

The Causes of BPD

Although science continues to study this mental health condition, it is still unknown how BPD develops. However, research indicates predeterminant factors like:

  • Anxiety
  • Attachment insecurity
  • Depression
  • Developmental trauma or traumatic history
  • Genetics

Other risk factors that may contribute to the disorder have been identified as:

Brain factors.

Brain imaging studies have shown abnormal structures and functions in the limbic region. This region is where emotion regulation and impulse control occur.

Environmental factors.

A history of abandonment, abuse, adversity, family dysfunction or trauma may be factors.


Someone with a close family member with BPD may be at an increased risk.

Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment for Teens and Young Adults

BPD is associated with a lack of insight that the dysfunction in one's personality is the source of their impairment, and thus, a teen or young adult with BPD may be highly resistant to change or may never seek treatment.

This can lead to severe impairment or harmful and impulsive behaviors that place your teenage or young adult child, or even others, in danger. Hospitalization may sometimes be necessary, and outpatient treatment may not be adequate for managing a more serious case of BPD. This disorder requires extensive and intensive treatment to create new and reliable cognitive, emotional and physical patterns. Teen residential treatment would be the best option for pronounced BPD.

A mental health treatment program will use a wide array of treatment elements for BPD. These therapies will be integrated to provide a comprehensive treatment approach for BPD, or for BPD with a co-occurring disorder.

BPD treatment includes:

  1. Addiction treatment. If a substance use disorder overlaps with the BPD, it will be addressed alongside mental health treatment. If there is a need for detox, a medically monitored detox will be completed prior to starting treatment.
  2. Complementary activities. Some experiential activities can help the teen boy or girl with BPD learn how to regulate their emotions and reduce stress. These might include art and music therapy, guided meditation, massage, mindfulness and yoga.
  3. Group therapy. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills training and trying out cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques are an essential focus of group sessions. The small group sessions provide a nurturing, safe space for sharing personal experiences and feelings.
  4. Individual psychotherapy. Evidence-based psychotherapies for treating teens and young adults with BPD include CBT, DBT and mentalization-based therapy (MBT).
  5. Medication. While there is no specific drug for treating BPD, some medications can assist in reducing symptoms of a coexisting disorder such as anxiety or depression.
  6. Trauma therapy. In some cases, BPD coexists with trauma disorder, such as PTSD. To help augment the clinical effects of therapy, the teen may participate in prolonged exposure therapy or eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR).

Ways to Live With Borderline Personality Disorder

Managing BPD after treatment is critical. Transitioning to day treatment or an outpatient program is an essential next step. Continuing care helps prevent behaviors that pose a danger to your teen or young adult child’s wellbeing.

It is important that your teen or young adult child complies with their ongoing treatment measures. Outpatient activities and healthy lifestyle choices can help support healing and mental stability.

These might include:

  • Healthy diet
  • Holistic therapies
  • Outpatient psychotherapy
  • Regular exercise
  • Support groups

Living with a BPD diagnosis is possible. It comes down to obtaining timely treatment and learning how to effectively manage the symptoms in daily life.

Embark Provides Treatment for Teens With Borderline Personality Disorder

Embark offers access to a full continuum of mental health services for teenagers and young adults. We provide treatment for teens with a variety of mental health disorders, including BPD.

Our team of clinical and medical professionals specializes in working with teens and young adults and has a keen understanding of how to engage effectively with them. The more engaged teens are, the more effective the treatment efforts become.

Our services provide your family with affordable help, when and where you need it, at the right level of care. We also accept most insurance plans. Contact us today.

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