The Four Types of Borderline Personality Disorder

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Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by difficulties regulating emotions. People with BPD feel emotions intensely and for long periods of time. It’s hard for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally triggering event.

Like other mental disorders, the exact cause of BPD isn’t clear. However, experts say several risk factors can make a person more likely to experience BPD.

One of them is having a parent with the disorder or any mental disorder. It’s believed that BPD is the result of a combination of genetics, environmental factors, and brain function.

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BPD Symptoms

People with BPD experience mood swings and can feel a great sense of instability and insecurity. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, which mental health professionals use to diagnose mental disorders, symptoms of BPD can include:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment by friends and family
  • Unstable personal relationships that alternate between idealization and devaluation
  • Distorted and unstable self-image
  • Impulsive behaviors that can have dangerous outcomes, such as excessive spending, unsafe sex, reckless driving, or misuse or overuse of substances
  • Self-harming behavior, including suicidal threats or attempts
  • Periods of intense depressed mood, irritability, or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days
  • Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense, or uncontrollable anger, often followed by shame and guilt
  • Dissociative feelings, disconnecting from your thoughts or sense of identity, and stress-related paranoid thoughts

People with BPD tend to view things in extremes, such as all good or all bad. Since their opinions of others can change quickly, people with BPD tend to have unstable relationships with others.

Types of BPD

There are four types of BPD. You can be diagnosed with more than one type at the same time or at different times.

Impulsive Borderline Personality Disorder

Impulsivity is a hallmark symptom of borderline personality disorder. A person with BPD can act in impulsive and often dangerous ways. Impulsive actions happen without any regard for others or potential consequences.

People with this type of BPD may appear:

  • Charismatic
  • Energetic
  • Elusive or detached
  • Flirtatious
  • Engaging or motivating

Potentially impulsive behaviors and actions include:

  • Bingeing behaviors: Excessively eating, spending money, or having sex
  • Risky and self-destructive behaviors: Having unprotected sex (including unprotected oral sex), sex with multiple partners, driving under the influence, drinking alcohol to excess, doing illicit drugs, gambling
  • Aggressive behaviors: Outbursts, physical fights, breaking things, hitting things, yelling fits

Discouraged Borderline Personality Disorder

This is also known as quiet borderline personality disorder. Fears of abandonment and extreme actions to prevent real or perceived abandonment are the defining symptoms of a person with discouraged BPD.

People with this type of BPD tend to direct their emotions inward more so than people with other types of BPD. They also blame themselves rather than point a finger at others. 

Discouraged types may:

  • Be perfectionists 
  • Be extremely successful
  • Be high functioning 
  • Feel dejected or alienated and detached in groups
  • Feel like they don’t have real, strong, or reliable bonds with others 
  • Seek approval but also self-isolate
  • Engage in self-mutilating or suicidal behaviors
  • Feel lonely and empty a lot of the time

Signs of discouraged BPD include:

  • Clinginess
  • Codependency 
  • Neediness 
  • Anger and emotional mood swings if abandonment issues get triggered

Self-Destructive Borderline Personality Disorder

This type of BPD characterizes someone who struggles intensely with self-hatred and bitterness. They may or may not be aware of what’s happening. 

If a person is acting like this and it’s paired with a noticeable increase in energy, reduced feelings of need for sleep, and feelings of euphoria, this may be a sign of a manic episode or bipolar disorder rather than self-destructive BPD. Talk to your doctor to be sure so you can get the right treatment.

Example behaviors of people with this type of BPD include: 

  • Substance abuse, including recreational substances and prescription medication abuse
  • Risky adrenaline-seeking activities, especially if you’re unprepared
  • Self-harm behaviors, including cutting, burning, scratching, or hitting
  • Threats of suicide

Don’t discount suicide threats from people with BPD as just another symptom. You may need to intervene and help your loved one access emergency services.

Petulant Borderline Personality Disorder

People with this type of BPD swing somewhat unpredictably from anger or rage to sadness or sulkiness. Feelings of unworthiness and not being loved create relationship challenges and an unhealthy desire for control.

This type of BPD is associated with manipulation and extreme relationship dissatisfaction. Substance abuse and other damaging behaviors typically follow.

There are inconsistencies in the research literature about borderline personality disorder and these subtypes. Some literature introduces different and more than four subtypes, including one study that found reliable subtypes in girls, but not in boys. BPD subtypes in the girls were grouped as high-functioning internalizing, depressive internalizing, histrionic, and angry externalizing.

Example behaviors of people with this type of BPD include:

  • Irritability and impatience
  • Stubbornness and defiance
  • Passive-aggressiveness
  • Severe mood swings

If you or someone you know is in crisis and threatening self-harm or suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is a national toll-free number that is available 24/7 that will provide confidential support and connect you to local crisis centers.

Summary

The four types of BPD include impulsive, discouraged, self-destructive, and petulant. Each highlights a different aspect of BPD. For example, people with impulsive BPD tend to perform actions without considering the consequences, while people with self-destructive BPD struggle with self-hatred and suicidal thoughts.

A Word From Verywell

If someone you know has borderline personality disorder, or if you’ve been diagnosed with BPD, it can be helpful to learn more about the subtypes so you can get better insights into the mental disorder.

Controversies surrounding personality disorders don’t take away the fact that a person with symptoms is experiencing an immense and sickly amount of emotional pain. Remember that no two people experience BPD the same way, and the same person may not always experience BPD the same way either.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes borderline personality disorder?

It’s not clear what causes borderline personality disorder. Research suggests that genetics, environmental factors, and differences in brain structure are all risk factors for developing BPD. 

How do you treat borderline personality disorder?

Borderline personality disorder is treated by a mental health professional. They can determine the best type of psychotherapy and medications for you. While it can be difficult to diagnose and treat, sticking with a doctor or team of medical professionals is helpful so someone can monitor symptoms over time (rather than relying solely on your recounting of symptoms). 

How do you help someone with borderline personality disorder?

You can help someone with borderline personality disorder by reading up on their condition so you can better understand what they’re going through, practicing patience and empathy, and doing your best to help them through challenging times. If either of you need more support, don’t hesitate to speak up and reach out to their support system.

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