Written By Kristine Thomason
It’s easy to joke around about personality disorders: “I’m really OCD about keeping my house clean.” Or, “Ugh, her mood swings are so bad; is she bipolar?”
The truth is, personality disorders—long-term unhealthy and inflexible patterns of thinking—are an all-too-real struggle for roughly 9 percent of Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Of the 10 personality disorders (which include obsessive-compulsive disorder(OCD), paranoid personality disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder) borderline personality disorder (BPD) tends to be the most misunderstood.
The disorder’s name alone is enough to spark confusion, since “borderline” seems to imply that BPD is not a full-blown problem. Experts originally felt BPD fell on the border between psychosis (severe mental disorder) and neurosis (mild mental illness), and didn’t warrant being classified as a distinct disorder, says John Oldham, MD, interim chair of psychiatry and behavioral Sciences at Baylor School of Medicine in Houston. It wasn’t until the DSM-III was published in 1980 that BPD was listed as its own disorder. Nevertheless, “borderline” stuck.
Since then, experts have grown to better understand and define the complex illness. There’s ample evidence that it’s “partly inherited genetically and partly a function of stressful experiences during growth and development that leads to some pretty significant interference in successful functioning,” though experts still aren’t 100 percent sure of the underlying cause, says Dr. Oldham, who is the co-creator of the American Psychiatric Association’s Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients With Borderline Personality Disorder.