Borderline Personality Disorder & Loneliness Often Go Hand-In-Hand
Those who struggle with borderline personality disorder (BPD) may feel like no one can truly relate to what they’re going through — or the sense of loneliness it creates.
That’s a very common experience in those struggling with mental illness and loneliness.
Since the symptoms of BPD can be extreme and highly misunderstood, many who experience the disorder feel like they often cannot connect to anyone else, which is a very lonely feeling.
One person I spoke with — we’ll call him Sam although that isn’t his real name — told me that when people hear the words “borderline personality disorder,” their minds conjure the worst untruths.
“BPD is pretty misunderstood by most people…” he told me.
“Most people put up barriers, I think, the moment they find out you’ve been diagnosed with it because you’re seen as ‘unstable’ all of a sudden.”
“There IS instability, but it’s emotional,” he explained. “We’re not going to turn into psycho killers. We can be impulsive, but again, we’re not ‘crazy’ in the sense that people often think we are.”
He noted that whether due to his natural behavior or a lack of understanding from others regarding how his BPD manifests, it can be difficult to find and maintain long-term relationships or close friendships.
What Sam has experienced is not uncommon.
Emma, a woman who struggles with BPD, told me, “The first time I opened up to someone about my personality disorder, I noticed her withdraw immediately.”
“That was the reaction I kept getting from a lot of people until I had to lock up and mind my business,” she said.
Although living through extreme emotional shifts is difficult enough on its own, it’s a challenge to connect with others on top of it.
Loneliness, unfortunately, takes hold of many who struggle with BPD on a daily basis.
In this article, I’ll cover:
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our ongoing series The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types that we might experience over the course of our lives.
What Is BPD Loneliness & Why Do People Experience It?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health and personality disorder that causes one to experience feelings of insecurity, impulsiveness, and destructive social or emotional behaviors.
All of these can impair relationships and a person’s overall mental wellbeing.
The symptoms of BPD include impulsive and destructive behavior, feelings of insecurity, long-lasting and extreme mood swings, dissociation, intense fears of abandonment, and rapid changes in self-identity.
Bearing this in mind, it makes sense that someone dealing with BPD would certainly undergo intense and sometimes crippling feelings of loneliness.
Especially when, according to Dr. Christie Hartman, who sits on our medical review board, BPD is relatively rare.
“Only about 1.4% of the U.S. general population has the disorder, which means fewer people who understand or relate,” she explained.
“It’s hard to explain the intensity of BPD to someone who doesn’t experience it,” Sam told me. He continued:
“It’s easy to use the term ‘mania’ to describe it, but I don’t feel like that hits the mark. I think it’s a lot like having a built-in amplifier inside your brain. Whether you’re happy, sad, angry, jealous, or paranoid — the dial on those feelings is cranked up to 100. But the channel from one feeling to another can change instantly and without warning.”
He noted that the feelings of paranoia are some of the most difficult to manage.
“I know fears of abandonment are common for BPD,” he said. “I have that same paranoia. My friends are great, I love and trust them, but I still feel like they’d drop me in a heartbeat if I act impulsively or read too much into a situation that makes my emotions run off the deep end.”
“I have a friend who told me once that if she walks into a room and someone is laughing, she assumes that they’re laughing at her,” Sam told me, adding:
“That’s how I feel about every interaction. If someone smiles at me, they love me. If they look upset, they’re angry and they hate me. If someone gives me a compliment, they’re lying. That’s the self-loathing part.
Even when I’m with a group of friends I know well and should feel completely comfortable with, I’m one facial expression or comment away from feeling completely rejected by them.”
Sam told me that he’s learned how to manage those fears, at least somewhat, although it’s still a struggle and probably always will be.
Emma, another person I spoke with, told me that BPD “has really affected my relationship with people and apart from [very few] who understand me, I cannot boast of many friends.”
She explained that some remain comfortable with it for a while, but they eventually become frustrated with her — and leave.
A 2021 study found that chronic feelings of emptiness are significant in those with borderline personality disorder.
Out of 15 participants, the study found that 93.3% endorsed abandonment fears and affective dysregulations, and 80% endorsed feelings of identity disturbance and chronic emptiness.
It’s certainly fair to say that those with BPD deal with loneliness brought on by their symptoms.
In her article on the social isolation of people with BPD, Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne dissects a 2019 study by McLean Hospital (Belmont, Massachusetts) psychologist Hannah Parker. The study found that:
“…as expected, people with borderline personality disorder indeed had higher rates of social isolation than the comparison sample. Across the 20 years of the study, the rates of social isolation in the borderline participants ranged from 22 percent to 32 percent, with 26 percent remaining isolated at the end of the study period.
Those with other personality disorders showed a similar pattern over time, but their rates were far lower, so that at the 20-year mark, 10 percent reported themselves as being socially isolated.”
BPD is an exhausting and lengthy internal mental health battle.
There is still much to uncover about the root causes of BPD, but it is linked to genetics, negative environmental factors (like child abuse and neglect), brain abnormalities, and stressful childhood experiences.
The reasons why those with BPD experience loneliness include:
- Feelings of chronic emptiness
- Extreme mood swings
- Social anxiety
- Intense fear of abandonment
- Anger outbursts
- Increased fear of rejection
Because a person with BPD is experiencing these intense fears of abandonment, feelings of instability, and extreme mood swings, their brain runs on high alert.
All the time, as Sam can attest.
People with BPD are battling deep and powerful feelings, which can sometimes be extremely overwhelming.
It’s highly likely that those with BPD experience loneliness because their experience of life is so extreme and overwhelming.
As Sam described earlier, it’s like having a built-in amplifier inside your brain, with the dial turned up to the maximum possible decibel level.
Emma told me that she wouldn’t describe her state as lonely, “but the loneliness does hit on some days, reminding me that I was too much for some people to stay with me.”
She said that none of her relationships had even reached the six-month mark — until she met her husband.
“Even though he understands me and puts up with my mood swings and all, I know I am being too much sometimes,” she told me. “I am always grateful that he has been by my side.”
How To Work Toward Alleviating BPD Loneliness
People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) may act impulsively and make decisions that are not typical of their behavior.
It can be hard to navigate BPD — and the feelings that come with it — but it isn’t impossible with the right support.
That often (and with the most success) involves therapy.
Medication may be used in tandem but there are currently no medications approved specifically by the FDA for the treatment of BPD.
There are several medications that can be prescribed to reduce symptoms, namely those typically used for treating depression or anxiety, however, that is a decision best made between you and your doctor.
Although it’s often a good idea to open up to your friends and family about how you’re feeling, the truth is that it can be hard to do when you’re struggling with BPD.
In the absence of talking with your friends and family, there are some other things that may help you alleviate some of the loneliness associated with BPD.
- Know (and understand) your triggers:
Knowing what triggers you to feel particularly empty or down during a BPD-induced mood swing or spiral can help you to remain tethered to the present.
Triggers can and do vary from person to person but when it comes to borderline personality disorder, they most often relate to interpersonal relationships or internal thoughts.
For instance, if you call someone and leave a voicemail but they don’t respond, that single event can trigger a spiral that leaves you feeling rejected, which can cause swift and intense feelings of anger or fear of abandonment.
Understanding that as a trigger and working toward rationalizing your reaction to it can help you to manage your thoughts and feelings.
Looking at it rationally, they most likely forgot to call you back. That’s all.
Knowing that BPD is causing you to view that interaction in a wholly intense and negative way can help you to navigate it with less distress.
The knowledge of what triggers you to react a certain way or feel a specific emotion is an important way to know yourself so that you can be more prepared during periods of emotional distress.
- Go into therapy — even if it’s difficult:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) are two of the most often-used forms of psychotherapy for those struggling with borderline personality disorder.
Both forms of therapy involve changing the way you look at yourself and others — and what you believe to be true — although DBT works on managing distress and interpersonal skills as well.
For Sam, the man who shared his experience with me, DBT has been one of the most effective forms of treatment for managing his feelings on a day-to-day basis.
“Therapy has helped me to shift my way of thinking about myself in some ways,” Sam noted. He continued:
“It got easier over time but DBT especially helped me to start keeping my emotional responses in check. I still struggle with self-doubt and esteem and probably always will. I don’t feel at this point that it is something that will ever completely go away. But it has become more manageable.”
Talk therapy like CBT and DBT is especially helpful for those with borderline personality disorder.
A trusting therapist can provide a beneficial and helpful listening ear.
Therapists are also great resources for advice and useful ways to help you to manage extended periods of BPD loneliness.
And, according to Dr. Hartman, the psychologist and medical review board member we spoke with earlier, therapy can also help those with BPD manage their relationships better, which will help prevent loneliness.
- Practice mindfulness while alone, or in a therapeutic setting:
Mindfulness is the practice of noticing the present moment, also often thought of as meditation.
Mindfulness is also part of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which helps you to become more aware of your mood, behavior, and emotions.
A great way to try mindfulness — even on your own — is to focus on your breath.
Try closing your eyes, placing your feet on the ground and breathing into each muscle in your body.
Breathe into your feet, calves, thighs, and waist — all the way up to your head — until you feel calm and centered.
Another mindfulness technique is to list and focus on what you’re grateful for. Gratitude is a wonderful way to nurture tender feelings.
- Try your hand at journaling — in earnest:
Taking the time to write down your thoughts is a helpful way to get in tune with your sense of self and feel less alone.
Emma, the woman I spoke with earlier, told me that she delves into writing “just to let go of the loneliness and have something I can call mine.”
I prefer journaling stream of consciousness style, writing whatever thoughts pop into my head just to get them out.
Putting what is inside your head onto paper is a visual and physical way to connect with your feelings and feel a little less alone.
It’s also a great way to practice mindfulness — focusing on the present and how you feel — as well as for expressing gratitude.
Even if it is a void that we’re all writing into, it still feels great to write our feelings out.
If handwriting isn’t your thing, you can just as easily journal on a computer.
You don’t have to write your thoughts and feeling on paper; even the act of typing them out on a digital sheet is enough to release them into the universe.
The loneliness that comes with borderline personality disorder is common yet still unique to each individual’s experience.
The symptoms experienced by those with borderline personality disorder might heighten and extend feelings of loneliness in myriad ways.
Some with BPD experience a sense of lost identity, extreme highs and lows, a pattern of unstable relationships, and impulsive behavior, all of which are symptoms that prime the mind for feeling lonely.
If you are struggling with BPD and feeling lonely, try checking in with a therapist or close friend if you can.
Although BPD is something that many people struggle to relate to unless they’ve experienced it themselves, you’re not alone in what you’re going through — even if it feels like you are.