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Bipolar Disorder vs. Borderline Personality Disorder: Knowing the Difference

bipolar vs bpd


Maybe you have noticed that the free and open style of the Internet has encouraged many bloggers and social media users to open up about their experience with bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. While many of these people may have a confirmed mental health disorder, some give the impression of being self-diagnosed or of using the cover of mental illness to excuse bad behavior. Even worse, in question-based forums such as Yahoo Answers, the Internet’s finest “know-it-alls” are quick to give their expert opinion on others’ mental health often labeling any moody behavior as bipolar or borderline without any real knowledge of the topic or the person they have “diagnosed”. It would help if people on these forums or social media sites had a better understanding about these two disorders and how to talk about mental illness and mental health in an accurate and supportive way.

Bipolar disorder is a well-known disorder characterized by its extreme lows and highs which are believed to be caused by issues with brain chemistry. Many of the symptoms of borderline personality disorder may also appear during the manic or depressive phases of bipolar. When individuals with bipolar disorder are going through their depressive phase, they may experience extreme depression, fatigue and suicidal thoughts or actions much like the symptoms people with borderline experience. When they are in the manic phase of bipolar disorder, they can also have symptoms in common with borderline personality disorder such as impulsivity or risky behavior. While both of these disorders have many similarities, those with bipolar disorder have a core identity that doesn’t shift even though their moods do.

People living with borderline personality disorder struggle to keep a consistent notion of the self which leads to general and prolonged feelings of emptiness. One person online wrote about living with borderline personality disorder as feeling as if she didn’t exist unless other people were around.  Due to this emptiness of self, those with borderline will do anything to prevent abandonment that is either real or imagined. For example, a woman with borderline might break out into tears or fits of anger if her husband is running late from work and she must be alone for longer than expected. It’s also important to note that those living with borderline experience emotional instability on an almost daily basis while those with bipolar disorder are known to stay in a consistent mood for weeks, months or even years at a time.

borderline personality disorder vs bipolarIn the age of WebMD, more people are likely to diagnosis themselves with an illness based off of a description they read online. When it comes to mental health disorders, many people might look at a list of symptoms, identify with some of them and assume they must have a disorder.  Yet, key diagnosing features such as duration of illness and degree of impairment are often overlooked. Sometimes people who self-diagnose might use their new found illness as an excuse for inappropriate or malicious behavior. Even if it turns out that those who self-diagnose are correct, the symptoms of bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder don’t go away over time. Both disorders are known to increase the risk of suicidal thoughts or actions which should never be ignored in hopes that one day they will resolve themselves.

Lifestyle management is an important part of maintaining a balanced emotional state but, it’s not the only treatment option. Staying away from intoxicating substances while taking care of their emotional and physical well-being can help smooth the highs and lows people living with either mental health disorder encounter. However, living a healthy lifestyle is not going to resolve most serious mental health problems. If you are experiencing major psychological distress and noticing a similarity between your thoughts, feelings and behaviors and the description of a mental illness, please seek the help of a mental health professional. You can email a Resource Specialist at rtor.org (help@rtor.org) for information on how to identify a qualified professional where you live, or call us at (203) 724-9070.

Society needs to change the way it talks about bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. General moodiness is not a mental health disorder and a mental health disorder is not simply being moody. Experiencing a change in emotions shouldn’t be called “having a bipolar moment”. Those living with bipolar encounter others who play off their symptoms as if they are just being dramatic or overly sensitive.  Those with borderline or those who self-harm and suffer from suicidal thoughts commonly encounter name-calling and hateful words both online and in real life. Derogatory terms like “cutter”, “emo” or “drama queen” are used to down-play the severity of these symptoms and belittle those affected as attention-seeking, not legitimately in need of help. We need to foster a culture that speaks about mental health or mental illness in a helpful, caring and recovery-oriented way, instead of one of ignorance, marginalization and blame.

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American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Association.

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26 thoughts on “Bipolar Disorder vs. Borderline Personality Disorder: Knowing the Difference

  1. mary kate says:

    Loved the article! It was insightful and timely. I hope many people who act as “arm-chair psychiatrists” read it and understand how hurtful and dangerous it can be to use mental health terms that they are not qualified to use.

  2. brea says:

    I have been diagnosed schizoaffective bipolar type and borderline personality disorder because of a bad birth. Also, I have been traumatized by my mother and whatever horse she rode on. She use to spit names and insults while screaming at the top of her lungs whenever I disagree with her. I hated her! I tried to make conversation with her and spend a little time, and she accused me of imposing. Was she borderline?

  3. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:


    I am not sure if your mother suffers with Borderline Personality Disorder. From what you have written it sounds like she could have had severe emotional instability which is one of the symptoms. I believe a person should be diagnosed with a personality disorder carefully by a qualified mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or social worker that has treated someone over a period of time to accurately diagnose. I hope that you have been able to receive some therapy to help heal, be validated and supported.

    Denise Vestuti, LCSW, Resource Specialist

  4. kamisha says:

    Hello my name is kamisha, i have recently been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder after a trip to the stabilization unit i have also been diagnosed with chronic PTSD after a childhood shooting accident. However after reading the symptoms of BPD i feel that it is a better fit with my symptoms, especially the emptiness feeling and a feeling of constant fear and anxiety in my chest that never subsides. I am also wrought with paranoia that my husband is cheating on me due to the fact he has had to start staying a little later at his daily group meetings after the anger and rage subsides and we’re talking Godzilla meets Xena type of attitude epic vulgar displays of power and aggression i am able to realize what i have done and that it is wrong, this is a daily occurrence for me and i don’t want to continue treating my husband this s way. I need my meds but unfortunately at this time i have no insurance and was not able to keep my mental health appointments due to lack of transportation, what kind of options and resources do we have available where i might find some help? Please help me if you can

  5. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:

    Kamisha thank you so much for your courage to share your struggles. It seems like the blog has resonated for you particularly an awareness of noticing some of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder such as the emptiness and the instability occurring in your relationship. It is also very common when someone has experienced trauma and has PTSD that a person experiences difficulties with trust in their close relationships because of the effects from the trauma. Also, many people having PTSD symptoms can also report angry and aggressive outbursts and are constantly fearful. There is some overlap in these mental health conditions and that is why it Is critical to see a qualified mental health practitioner. The important thing is your reaching our for help and I would be happy to assist you, and try to get you connected to some mental health resources. I will follow-up with you by email.

  6. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:

    Thanks for your comment. First it’s important to make sure that you have an accurate diagnosis whether it is Bipolar or Borderline Personality Disorder because unfortunately sometimes people get misdiagnosed. As mentioned in the post, there is cross over symptoms. It is rarer for someone to have both. A thorough and detailed history is essential. Check out our previous article Mental Health Diagnosis: Getting it Right the First time: http://www.rtor.org/2015/07/30/mental-health-diagnosis/

  7. Andrea says:

    They mentioned a sense of not belonging, I have had many people tell me just be normal, just be yourself, but I have no sense of self other than the perceptions of people around me never have even as a child. I could hold everything together till I started trying to create an identity of my own. Had some major traumas in my 20 and now at 30 it’s getting noticeable and interferes with my everyday life. I am constantly tired but mentally not physically I start projects but have no follow through. I have discussions by myself to work out stress as if I were actually talking to that person. I was diagnosed with bi polar several years back but the meds only depressed me more because I missed my over productive highs. But with the on set of the ptsd it’s getting harder to cope. Are there alternatives to meds. Right now I am highly functioning but can crack at the slightest stress, I internalize my issues and anger rather then displace on to others but I fear that might change given,certain triggers of my ptsd and knowing my father has similar problems just amplified compared to mine.

  8. Jay Boll, Editor in Chief says:


    Thank you for commenting and sharing your experience. Your question about medication is not something we can answer in this forum. This topic is something that is best discussed with a doctor or mental health professional who understands your situation. Feel free to email us at help@rtor.org for help locating a provider in your area, if you’re interested.

    Best wishes,


  9. KB says:

    I’m 43 and I guess have had issues with anxiety, stress, depression at least that’s what I had been told. Was diagnosed with Borderline Personality once as well. I’ve attempted to get help a few times but just didn’t find it. I’d go a few times to a counselor and then stop going, just didn’t feel it was going anywhere..maybe I just don’t want help. I don’t know. I’ve always felt disconnected from everything around, never feel like I belong anywhere..I guess people like me ok but I don’t really have any close friends. I just feel that they already have there little group and I always feel like an I don’t belong, like an outsider. But everyone thinks I’m someone I’m not, or they see a person that I guess I wish I was but am not. I don’t know. I know there are some things I’ve done in my life that I should be proud of but I’m not, I see people around me that have such great talent in things I wish I had and I guess I’m jealous that I don’t, even though people say I do. I just feel its all a lie, everything that people have said to me just seems like a lie that they made me believe I could be someone and when I failed well I just keep wanting the dream but have no desire to do what it takes, which I don’t even know what that is. I guess I’m just always confused, don’t really know who I am, what I want. But then I say so what a lot of people have this problem and they aren’t complaining about and they are doing just fine. I don’t even know if I am going to hit post comment. I feel like I should be able to figure this out. Everyone is always saying just take a deep breath everything will be ok, or your just stressing out about X thing just relax/meditate on it, it’ll work itself out. I have a decent steady job, a fiance (wedding coming up in 4 months), I’m financially secure for the first time in my life. I should be happy, I should be excited for the future, but I’m not. I always take this step to look up info or thing ok today I’m going to call someone and maybe they will help, but I don’t. Maybe I don’t want to be happy? I don’t know. I’m feeling a lot of things but at the same time don’t know what I’m feeling. Speaking words but don’t know if I really know what I’m saying.

  10. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:

    Thank you so much sharing. It seems the post has resonated for you that perhaps you might want to take a step again to see someone. It is a sign strength to reach out and want support. Your struggles with self-image and confusing feelings are common features of BPD. I think it’s important to see someone who has expertise with BPD and I recommend giving it some time to develop a trusting and safe relationship. I am happy to help you find someone and you can email me at help@rtor.org

  11. ado says:

    Im just now reading about bi polar and bpd….my girlfriend has borderline and im putting this all together….i lover but it is very dishearting…stressful …wish there was a support group for those involved w bpd.

  12. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:

    There is a fabulous 12 week course that meets weekly to provide education, skills training and support for peopled in a relationship with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder offered by National Education Alliance Borderline Personality Disorder called Family Connections. Here is the link http://www.borderlinepersonalitydisorder.com/family-connections/

    Numerous family members have told us that this course is amazing. We are in the process of endorsing the Family Connections Course in White Plains, NY on our Directory of Family-Endorsed Providers.

    The other resource that I recommend is the Borderline Personality Disorder Resource Center – promoting Borderline Personality Disorder and connecting people to resources – here is the link http://www.bpdresourcecenter.org/

    Feel free to email us at help@rtor.org if you want to speak or need additional assistance.

  13. Tiffany says:

    I believe that my husband may have borderline personality disorder and it is really taking a hit on our marriage, not because of the issues it causes but because he refuses to seek help. What can I do to help him get the help he needs before it it too late?

  14. Jay Boll, Editor in Chief says:


    Thank you for reading the blog and posting your question.

    An untreated mental health issue at home can put a real strain on a marriage. By all means, encourage your husband to seek help, keeping in mind that treatment is most effective when a person believes he has a problem, wants to change it and believes that change is possible.

    It may be that your husband isn’t ready for this change. But you can still make a difference by seeking support and information for yourself. The National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEABPD) which my colleague Denise recommends above is a great resource for family members in your situation. They have a support program called Family Connections which might be of help.

    Feel free to send an email to help@rtor.org if you would like to make an appointment to speak with one of us or would like help identifying other resources for you or your husband.

  15. ss says:

    Hi my name is Sarah,
    A doctor told me I may have bi polar disorder he did not diagnose me but told me to first do some research so i have a question,
    Can a person have bipolar without any high like no mania episodes just normal and sometimes highly depressive?
    I have an eating disorder, cut tried committing suicide , and extremely low self esteem, emptiness, no scene of self all symptoms related to bpd but, I dont have fears of loss of relationships, rather tend to detach form people i dont have fits or anger outburst rather internalized hatred. I guess what im trying to say is that im so confused cause i seem to have symptoms of both but dont quiet fit any full description

  16. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:

    Sarah, thank you for reading the blog and raising this question. It can be quite confusing because there are symptoms that overlap so I commend you for your courage, honesty and self-reflection. When it comes to mental health diagnoses, there is no one size fits all. If you believe you have some of the symptoms of bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder I feel it is important to discuss that with a qualified mental health professional who has a chance to know you as a person.

    The website http://www.rtor.org does not offer mental health counseling or treatment. We do however, offer a free service to help people and their families locate mental health providers and resources in their communities. I would be happy to help you with that if you are interested. Feel free to email us at help@rtor.org if you want to speak or need additional assistance.

  17. James R. says:

    Actually, Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder are frequently comorbid.

  18. Jay Boll, Editor in Chief says:


    While some people may have both bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder, they are two different disorders with different treatments. Having both together can be even more of a challenge to diagnose and treat. That’s why it’s so important to seek a diagnosis from a skilled clinician.

  19. Chris says:

    I have been desperately seeking an answer and how to get help for my daughter. She is 37 and has been angry since a child. Her angry outbursts of violence, mean and hurtful language and distorted perception of herself and others and events has puzzled me and caused great distress for me. My greatest concern is for her4 children particularity the eldest who is 14. When I described her behavior to a friend she believed. It sounded like BPD which her mother suffered with. The biggest problem is she does not admit she has a problem and blames everyone else for her outbursts it is impossible to speak with her about the issues because she feels you are ganging up on her and she will go on for hours trying to prove you wrong and justifying herself. I recently witnessed a dangerous violent outburst and found out from her husband this has occurred quite often before this. When I attempted to warn her of the consequences she became angry and said everyone believed everything was her fault ? It is like being around a ticking time bomb. What can we do to help her and protect the family? I wake every night in tears about this situation.

  20. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:

    Thank you for your comment and I want to validate your efforts to reach out for some help in regards to your daughter. I understand your concerns, and I have sent you an email so I can provide more personalized assistance and support.

  21. Hannah says:

    I am 19 years old and was Diagnosed with Bipolar in December 2015 after being forced into a mental hospital for 3 days on suicide watch. Since then I’ve seen multiple therapists and psychiatrists and finally found two that work together (a therapist and a psychiatrist). I’ve been diagnosed with bipolar disorder 3 times now by different professionals, yet when i first started looking into borderline personality disorder it just fits so much better with my daily life struggles. I see my therapist and psychiatrist soon so I will bring up the idea of me not being bipolar but actually having BPD. I keep being verbally abusive to my boyfriend who I love so much, but i just cant stop getting to the point in my anger to where all I see is red. Or when we get in a small argument it seems like the world is falling all around me. I have hypomania and depression symptoms many times a day, unless its a rare day/week where I am more manic or depressed. Please give me some tips to help stop hurting and pushing away the love of my life?

  22. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:

    Thank you for sharing and reaching out. I am so glad that you’re engaged in treatment with mental health providers. I think it’s a good idea to discuss and explore further BPD with them since BPD is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. Someone suffering with BPD has difficulties regulating emotions, thoughts, and can display impulsive or reckless behavior. BPD significantly affects interpersonal relationships. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is one of the evidence based treatment for BPD and focuses on developing skills such as distress tolerance, affect regulation, interpersonal effectiveness and mindfulness. I am a big proponent that learning these types of skills can be beneficial regardless of having a mental health condition. I will email you as well to see if you’re interested in speaking.

  23. Teresa says:

    I can’t believe I’m doing this, but here goes. I was diagnosed in my middle 30’s with MDD, PTSD & MPD, later dropped to Personality Disorder. I had experienced sexual/emotional abuse for about 10 or 11 yrs from a toddler on. I spent 6wks in a treatment facility & 3 yrs in therapy, & basically declared stabilized. I’m now 61 & totally related with Sarah above who talked about the disconnected feeling. I rarely feel excited or thrilled about things. And even tho I know that I love the people in my life, only bad things seem to evoke emotion. My husband just told me he’s always thought I was bipolar, my son had ADHD as a child, but now has extreme mood swings w/explosive anger & dangerous low moods. I’ve been trying to figure out how to get help for him, but lately I’ve been having terrible trouble focusing, feeling like screaming & break into tears w/little reason. I lost my job at a call center because I couldn’t handle the stress of angry customers, so now have no insurance & very limited access to medication or doctors. What can I do?

  24. Denise Vestuti, Resource Specialist says:

    Teresa thanks for your sharing on our post. RtoR has found this post has resonated for many like yourself and we are happy for the dialogue it has created. You feel a commonality with another user regarding feeling disconnected. You seem pretty tuned in to me and this is a strength. Since you have been in treatment before, it might be worth exploring returning for some help with mood regulation and working on ways to understand and address the disconnected feelings.

    I would be happy to research locating resources and discuss options considering your recent unemployment, and will send a personal email offering to set up a time to speak.

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