Bipolar and Borderline Personality

Bipolar Disorder

Formerly called manic depression, bipolar disorder is characterized by extreme shifts or swings between extremes in mood, behaviours, relationships, attitude or energy. It is not surprising to see diagnoses of bipolar in certain individuals who are experiencing dysregulated nervous systems as a result of trauma, and who feel a diagnosis of borderline personality (or complex trauma) would be a better fit. Sometimes individuals diagnosed with borderline personality actually have bipolar. *To learn key differences between the two, click here or read on below.

Smaller swings on this continuum are not necessarily problematic. We naturally move from expansion to constriction, such as noticing a return to one’s old ways temporarily after a period of intense personal growth, healing or change, or withdrawing after feeling vulnerable. The opposite can also be true: we can shift from a period of contraction and constriction back into expansive, empowered life energy, such as after a stressful event. These are natural ebbs and flows as we develop and push our growing edges.

But sometimes, this natural ebb and flow can become dysregulated as a result of chronic stress, overwhelm or trauma.

Symptoms include:

  • Swinging between emotional intensity and numbness
  • Irritability and/or angry outbursts
  • Feeling extremely high mood and blissful, followed by deep sadness and despair
  • Fast talking and racing thoughts (or the opposite)
  • Unrealistic or grandiose beliefs about your talents and abilities
  • Feeling unworthy, guilty, unimportant or despair
  • Difficulty remembering, concentrating or focusing
  • Impaired judgment
  • Uncontrolled spontaneity without a sense of consequences
  • Impulsivity, sexual disinhibition
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Sleep difficulties or changes in sleep patterns
  • Fatigue

Treating bipolar disorder and its underlying psychophysiological causes requires a multifaceted approach, often supplemented by outside professionals and other resources. The Refuge can support you to work on restoring your ability to self-regulate and also help you identify other helpful supports.

Borderline Personality

Borderline personality traits share much in common with complex trauma or attachment trauma, and BPD is often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder given the shared symptoms of unstable moods and impulsive reactions. Though labeled a “personality disorder”, which many people view as shameful and equate to personal defectiveness, BPD is often found in individuals who have had to adapt to challenging life circumstances in which their parents or caregivers were unable to provide secure, consistent, attuned attachment to support them to feel safe and learn to self-regulate.

It can be helpful to reframe BPD as being evidence of what has happened to an individual, resulting in them adapting in very specific, complex ways to survive, as opposed to something being inherently “wrong” with them.

Symptoms of insecure attachment and emotional dysregulation include:

  • Reacting in extreme ways to real or perceived abandonment (e.g., panic, rage, outbursts, frantic actions, depression, ending relationships)
  • Intense relationships with others that swing between extremes of love and being too close (idealization) and dislike, hate and anger (devaluation)
  • Impulsive, reckless or dangerous behaviours (e.g., unsafe sex, substance use, reckless or impaired driving, binge eating, spending sprees)
  • Feelings of emptiness, worthlessness, apathy and/or boredom
  • Unhealthy aggression or difficulty controlling anger
  • Paranoid thoughts
  • Recurring suicidal or self-harming behaviours or threats
  • Dissociative symptoms, like feeling split off from yourself, watching yourself outside your body, losing touch with reality
  • Intense shifts in mood
  • Unstable and distorted sense of self leading to sudden changes or swings between extremes in your opinions, values or plans
  • Reactions that seem disproportionate to what triggered them

Treating borderline traits and attachment trauma requires a multifaceted approach, often supplemented by outside professionals and other resources. The Refuge can support you to work on restoring your ability to self-regulate, self-soothe, tolerate distress, and find safety within, as well as help you identify other helpful supports.

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© 2013 –   Sarah Schlote.

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