Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment Has Evolved

There was a time when being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) was more than a bit discouraging. Effective treatments for the condition were almost non-existent, and there was little hope in terms of measurable recovery. The wonderful news today is that there are now a handful of effective therapies used to treat BPD and, as a result, many are finding significant help.

There was also a time when BPD was considered a predominantly female illness. That too has changed over time. Clinicians today report that the condition affects equal numbers of men and women. As the understanding of BPD and how to treat it grows, there is increasing clarity about how the illness affects men and women.

Evaluating the Gender Differences

Traditionally the differences in how the illness manifests in men and women has been emphasized. For example, women with BPD frequently struggle with anxiety, stress and mood disorders, or some form of eating disorder. Men, on the other hand, more often manifest symptoms of antisocial behaviors, paranoia, narcissism or passive-aggressive coping. It has been said that men with BPD tend to be more explosive, directing their anger outwardly toward others rather than themselves. They are also generalized as thrill seekers for whom substance abuse is a common problem.

However, the gender differences may have been over-emphasized. Some suggest that clinicians treating patients with BPD would be better served to consider the many things male and female patients share in common: both struggle greatly with anxiety; both have a hard time managing stress; men and women with BPD both have a strong need for validation. These are powerful commonalities.

It does seem to be the case however, that men with BPD tend to be perfectionists. Seeing life as a series of black and white issues makes it very difficult to relate with others. The inability to yield or compromise creates an enormous barrier to intimacy.

Characterizing men with BPD as antisocial or narcissistic will eventually become an outdated diagnostic metric. And as more men are willing to come forward for treatment, more comprehensive and realistic therapies will also be forthcoming. Generalizations are based on evidence, but it’s vitally important to treat each patient, male or female, as an individual.