Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder: Similar to a Point

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) shares some similarities with bipolar disorder. The two conditions are frequently confused, especially since they are identified by symptoms rather than by measures such as an MRI scan or a blood test. Differentiating between the two is tricky but critical because what may work for one may not work for the other.

Here are some ways that the two are the same and different.


The person with BPD often goes from one turbulent relationship to the next. The person with BPD frequently experiences low self-esteem and requires near-constant attention and validation from his or her partner. Being alone feels like being abandoned so as soon as one relationship ends, another one is sought.
A person with bipolar disorder may also have trouble maintaining long-term relationships but it is usually because there are challenges created by unexplainable mood extremes. And while the person with bipolar disorder may have abandonment fears, their relationships are usually more stable and less stormy.


With BPD nearly everything happens quickly and in extremes. The individual’s low sense of self-worth can quickly turn into self-loathing. That self-hatred may be expressed through over-eating, over-drinking or over-spending. But it may also produce self-harming behaviors like cutting, burning or thoughts of suicide.

With bipolar disorder there are similar problems. During the periods of mania a person with bipolar disorder becomes quite impulsive and may go on a spending spree or engage in high-risk behaviors. During the low periods of depression, the person may feel so hopeless and unworthy that he or she becomes suicidal.

Quick Flares and Pendulum Swings

If the person flares up emotionally and then settles down almost as quickly, this can be an indication of BPD. The eruption usually stems from some kind of minor trigger such as a casual comment made by another person. The same can be true in terms of impulsive decisions. The person may announce a major life change one day only to change their mind 24 hours later. Intense and rapid eruptions of either emotion or behavior are common with the illness.

People with bipolar disorder also experience mood swings but there are pivotal differences. To begin with the bipolar mood swing is not usually triggered by an insignificant outside event. Shifts from depression to mania come from within the person. And whereas the flare-ups associated with BPD come and go quickly (a matter of hours), moods tend to last for days and weeks with bipolar disorder.

It’s easy to see how someone could confuse these two conditions and that is why it is important that a trained mental health professional be consulted. The good news is that once the condition is properly identified, therapies for both offer tremendous hope in terms of symptom management.