Borderline Personality Disorder in Teens

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Teenagers are facing more stress and challenges than ever before. Today’s youth stress at home to pressures at school, and everywhere in between. Teens have a lot on their plate; it’s natural for young people to act out in times of stress.

The old adage “it’s just a phase” or “they’ll grow out of it” is true in many scenarios, but some behaviors exhibited by teens are worth paying extra attention to. As prioritizing mental health becomes more critical for young people, families may notice the signs and symptoms of an emerging borderline personality disorder in their child.

An understanding of borderline personality disorder is crucial to helping your teen get the help they need and deserve. Here’s all you need to know about borderline personality disorder in teens.

What is borderline personality disorder?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition that causes individuals to struggle with their self-image, exhibit impulsive behaviors, and mood swings, and often have an intense fear of abandonment. It affects the way individuals view themselves and others and can cause problems involving daily functions.

Borderline personality disorder affects around 1.6 percent of the general population. In teens and adolescents, it’s around 3 percent. This mental health condition typically emerges in early adulthood and seems to improve for many people with age.

However, research is beginning to reveal that it can be diagnosed in pre-teens as young as 11 and that early intervention is extremely beneficial to this age group. It prevents worsening symptoms or the development of co-occurring mental disorders.

BPD is often characterized by unstable moods, behaviors, and relationships. Borderline personality disorder symptoms in most adults include:

  • Intense and unstable relationships
  • Irrational fear of being alone and abandoned
  • Stress-related paranoia and delusion
  • Impulsive behavior and risk-taking
  • Self-harm, self-injury, and self-destructive behavior
  • Suicidal behaviors and ideation
  • Extreme emotional reactions
  • Intense anger, frustration, loss of temper
  • Violence and physical altercations
  • Feelings of emptiness and hopelessness
  • Changes in self-identity and self-worth

How does borderline personality disorder in teens emerge?

Self-identity issues can begin from very early on in a child’s life. If an adolescent experiences childhood trauma, including physical abuse, abandonment, stress, or anxiety, these are substantial risk factors for developing borderline personality disorder as a young adult.

Environmental risk factors that are associated with borderline personality disorder in teens also include verbal abuse, sexual abuse, and emotional and physical neglect.

This can also include exposure to unstable relationships, both inside the home and outside the family unit. It’s also worth noting that witnessing violence or hostile environments can contribute to the emergence of borderline personality disorder in teens as well.

Signs and symptoms of borderline personality disorder in teens

In teens, borderline personality disorder shows itself in various ways. The signs can be difficult to discern from normal teenage behavior and struggles, including mood swings, withdrawal, an unstable self-image, and trouble maintaining friendships and relationships.

Many of these indicators are common difficulties in teenagers and young adults, however, these behaviors tend to be more severe, consistent, and prolonged if a teen is dealing with an emerging borderline personality disorder. Here are the signs and BPD symptoms to be aware of in teens:

Compulsive behaviors

Whether they’re driving recklessly, acting out at school, risky sexual behavior, drinking, or using drugs, these types of compulsive behaviors often stem from a lack of identity and feeling empty inside.

Teens may even be aware that these behaviors are negative and still choose to act this way. As a result, they may experience feelings of guilt and shame after the fact.

Self-harming behaviors

Parents and family members may notice that their teen is showing signs of self-harm, like cutting or burning themselves. This is known as non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) and is believed to stem from a feeling of chronic emptiness and a lack of identity.

Suicidal behavior is certainly more dangerous than NSSI and is one of the main diagnostic criteria for diagnosing BPD in teens.

If you or someone you know is engaging in self-harm or suicidal ideation, help is available. Text with a crisis counselor here.

Difficulty finding connections with others

Fueled by a fear of abandonment, teens with BPD may struggle to make and keep friends and relationships. Their volatile mood swings, risky behaviors, and inability to feel empathy for others can make it difficult to build connections with their peers.

Emotional dysregulation

Emotional reactions and outbursts are common signs of borderline personality disorder in teens. They may experience severe, intense mood swings that they can not control. Fits of anger or a bad temper are common as well. As young people already struggle to regulate their emotions, BPD symptoms can heighten these overwhelming emotions and make them much worse.

Substance-use disorder

When teens feel unable to control their emotions, some may try to cope with the symptoms by self-medicating with drugs or alcohol. The high or euphoria they experience from drugs is temporary, but it provides an escape from the discomfort and agony they may be experiencing. As a result, they may seek substances more often and develop an addiction because their mental health remains unchanged.

How do you receive a BPD diagnosis?

In young people, a licensed healthcare professional makes a borderline personality disorder diagnosis. They assess the individual, discuss their symptoms and rule out any other potential mental health conditions to make an accurate diagnosis.

Teenagers often exhibit reckless or risky behaviors as a way to get attention or ask for help. The reasoning behind the behaviors matters—whether they’re drinking, trying drugs, driving recklessly, or acting irrationally, the why behind the action is helpful in determining what’s really going on.

A licensed therapist can evaluate these behaviors and talk with your teenager about why they’re acting in certain ways, taking risks, and having trouble managing emotions.

Treating borderline personality disorder

Fortunately, in teens and adults, there are several ways to treat BPD, and many individuals experience relief from the symptoms and recover from the condition. Here are the most beneficial ways that borderline personality disorder in teens is treated:

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)

Dialectical behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy is a form of talk therapy that is a highly effective modality to treat borderline personality disorder, along with many other mental health disorders. Through this therapy modality, a mental health professional works with the teen to determine what these behaviors are fueled by. Teens will learn valuable coping skills to help control their emotions, think clearly in stressful situations, and stop self-destructive behaviors.

Other skills teens can learn in therapy will help them to communicate effectively, be less judgmental of themselves and others, and to manage emotions in productive ways.

Group therapy

Teens in BPD treatment can benefit from group therapy, where they can communicate their feelings with other BPD patients, find common ground, and build connections with others who are struggling with a personality disorder. Receiving a BPD diagnosis can be a difficult path, and group therapy helps teens realize they aren’t alone.

Many treatment facilities also offer and encourage family therapy, where important family members are able to attend therapy sessions and show their support for their teen. Because mental health conditions affect every person in the home, it’s highly beneficial for everyone to be involved in the teen’s treatment plan and recovery.

When to seek help from a mental health professional

For young people, early intervention is critical to prevent the worsening of BPD symptoms and to prevent self-harming behavior, the development of other mental health conditions, and preventing suicide.

If you think your child or someone you know is living with borderline personality disorder, watching for the signs listed above is the most effective way to determine if they should speak to a doctor about their behaviors.

Treating BPD in teens is more important than ever. Young people need support and adequate care from licensed professionals in order to gain the skills they need to live a quality and productive life.

Get your teen the support they need at Clear Behavioral Health.

At Clear Behavioral Health, our evidence-based approach to treatment helps adolescents who are struggling with various mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and BPD. Our mental health professionals work alongside your teen to develop healthy coping mechanisms through life skills development, stress management, boundaries, and anxiety management.

Through individual therapy, group therapy, family therapy, and holistic changes, your teen will gain the skills and confidence to live a quality life without the constant burden of their condition. Learn more about our teen outpatient program here.

Last Updated on May 24, 2023

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