Differences between bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder

By: Kayla Madison

*Note, this article may have material that could trigger individuals (suicide), therefore, we present a trigger warning here.

Mental health is a big deal, always has been. There are a variety of mental disorders, and while most can seem very similar, the two I’m going to talk about today are almost twins.

Borderline Personality Disorder not only affects your moods, it affects your personality, hence ‘Personality Disorder.’ Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder are both characterized, in part, by major mood swings. The similarity of the two mood shifts having extremely high highs, to very low lows, causes people and clinicians to confuse the two disorders.

Borderline is said to be characterized by: rejection-sensitivity, chaotic relationships, and difficulty in managing emotions. Most people think the stressor is a bad childhood, which can be it, but it could also be other things. If your spouse leaves you, you’ll tend to get depressed and that’s normal, with borderlines though, they are more reactive to relatively minor events and demonstrate contradictory emotions.

Borderline Personality signs:

  • Fear of abandonment; they’re terrified of being abandoned or left alone.
  • Unstable relationships; relationships get intense very quickly and are very short lived.
  • Unclear or shifting self image; there is no clear idea of who you are or what you want. You may frequently change everything about yourself from jobs to even your sexual identity or religion.
  • Impulsive/ self-destructive behaviors; you may start engaging in harmful, sensation-seeking behaviors such as spending money recklessly, doing drugs or drinking alcohol to ‘feel better.’
  • Self harm; suicidal behavior and deliberate self harm is a common factor with mental illnesses.
  • Extreme emotional swings; unstable emotions and moods these moods are intense but tend to pass very quickly.
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness; you feel empty, as if there’s a void you have to fill, you may feel like you’re nothing or nobody.
  • Explosive anger; you may struggle with intense anger and a short temper.
  • Feeling suspicious or out of touch with reality; you lose touch with reality- dissociation. You struggle with paranoia.

Everybody has a mood swing or two but with Bipolar Disorder these are more severe. These cycles can last days, weeks, or even months. These mood changes can interfere with your everyday life such as your job or school performance. During a manic episode you may quit your job or spend huge amounts of money on useless items. During a depressive episode you might be too tired to do anything most days or be full of self-loathing and feel hopeless.

Bipolar Disorder Causes:

  • Stress; stressful life events can be very triggering in someone with genetic vulnerability. These events tend to have drastic or sudden changes.
  • Substance abuse; this doesn’t cause bipolar, it can bring on an episode or worsen the course of the disease.
  • Medication; certain medications, notably antidepressants, can trigger mania, most over the counter medications can as well.
  • Seasonal changes; episodes of mania and depression are sometimes caused by the seasons changing.
  • Sleep deprivation; loss of sleep can trigger a manic episode even skipping a few hours of sleep.

So, what’s the difference? Well, BPD is a personality disorder that causes you to think, feel, act, and relate differently than those without it. Bipolar Disorder is a mood disorder, which is a category of illnesses that causes severe mood changes.

For more information, please visit:

  • medicalnewstoday.com
  • helpguide.org
  • healthmatters.nyp.org

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