Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder in Teens
The difference between typical teen behaviors and emerging personality disorders can be hard to recognize. How can you tell which is which?
December 6, 2021
Being a teenager is difficult. Teens go through many changes, including social and educational changes and hormonal mood swings.
Sometimes teens act without thinking if they will get into trouble, with out-of-character actions, thoughts, and feelings all being part of the typical teen experience.
Other times, emotions may overpower a teenager, maybe even control their actions. Some young people may also spend a lot of time being overly worried about social situations.
It’s important to be able to tell the difference between “typical” teen moodiness and signs of a mental health condition, such as BPD. Below you can learn more about the condition to understand what typical teen behavior may be—and what may be a sign that help is needed.
Keep Reading To Learn
- The truth about the onset of borderline personality disorder in kids and teens
- How emerging BPD affects adolescents
- How to effectively manage and treat BPD symptoms in young people
Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a complex mental health condition in which people often struggle with self-image, mood swings, impulse control, an intense fear of abandonment, and low feelings of self-worth.
BPD may cause people to have a difficult time controlling their emotional reactions to certain situations. It’s not unusual for people with BPD to live with other mental health conditions, such as eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder.
Borderline personality disorder is more common than many people realize, affecting an estimated 1.6% of U.S. adults. This number may be higher, however, because many people with BPD are misdiagnosed with PTSD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, or depression.
Because the disorder is common—and complex—it’s important to recognize its signs and symptoms. The sooner BPD is diagnosed, the faster it can be treated.
What Does Emerging BPD Look Like in Teens?
Like with any mental health diagnosis, what’s within a normal range for that person’s age, culture, and so, is taken into consideration. When mental health professionals consider a BPD diagnosis, they look for the following key symptoms:
- An intense fear of abandonment
- Unstable relationships with family members and friends
- An unclear or constantly shifting self-image
- Impulsive or self-destructive behaviors
- A pattern of self-harm
- Extreme emotional swings, particularly in response to seemingly minor issues
- Chronic feelings of emptiness or loneliness
- Explosive periods of anger
- A feeling of being out of touch with reality
The following are significant symptoms that may indicate borderline personality disorder in a child or teenager.
This is one of the first signs people may notice, with some teens engaging in self-harming behavior. They may cut themselves, burn their skin, or punch a wall. Plenty of other issues may appear as well: the child or teen may use substances or engage in dangerous sexual behavior.
Many kids and teens with emerging BPD have trouble managing relationships. They may have an intense fear of abandonment or may have trouble controlling their anger. When very emotionally distressed, some teens may hold irrational or paranoid beliefs. These fears and beliefs may make it hard to develop friendships or romantic relationships.
Strong Emotional Reactions
There may be strong emotional reactions to seemingly minor issues, where they may appear to overreact to everything. Minor issues may feel like the end of the world.
It is difficult for health care professionals—and parents—to look at these signs and know whether an adolescent has emerging BPD or if the individual is simply going through a normal teenage phase.
With this in mind, a teenager who displays any or all of the characteristics associated with BPD might look around and ask themselves: “Does it seem that other people can deal with things I can’t deal with?” or “Why aren’t others struggling like I am?”
A teenager who feels strong emotions for longer periods than others or takes longer to get back to their emotional baseline may have the condition. Strong reactions to seemingly small irritations—a sense that minor issues feel like the “end of the world” and that behaviors like self-harm, drugs, or death seem to be the only way to make these stop—could be signs of a serious problem.
Teens with these actions and reactions should seek help for their symptoms.
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