Before getting started, I just want to mention that while people with borderline personality disorder cause destruction and trauma to their partners, they are not inherently “bad” people.
They just can’t control their emotions because they lack regulation, so they don’t intend to harm most of the time. It’s often a by-product of their lack of regulation and dysfunctional attachment strategies.
They just want to feel safe like the rest of us, but the way they go about this causes great harm to those close to them.
So, learning to spot them can be helpful.
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Let’s look at what you can expect from a borderline.
Borderlines are less calculated and manipulative than narcissists and socio/psychopaths, but they lack entirely emotional regulation.
Think of a 3-year-old traumatized child.
They feel emotions very intensely -hence why they idolize so intensely and say things like “you are my soulmate,” “I want to marry you,” “only you get me” after dating a few weeks or months.
As a child, there is no emotional stability.
When something upsets them, they will split you black and suddenly hate you, forget all the good parts and become abusive because they feel overwhelmed with negative emotions.
They live in an internal hell making it impossible to create a functional exterior.
They are very seductive because they lack identity, and as a survival mechanism, they mirror your interests and praise everything about you.
They go along with what you like.
You will think you found your “soulmate” perfect match.
But it’s not who they are.
It’s like a chameleon.
They are changing colors to fit their environment.
When the illusion breaks, they are gone in an instant after lining up your replacement as they can’t be alone. The emptiness is too painful for them.
Like the other cluster-b personality disorders, they will suddenly block you and be gone, even when they said they loved you a week ago.
They will be intense very fast, and they often have story after story of how badly others have treated them.
These signs are mainly used to diagnose someone with borderline personality disorder, and they are not very helpful for you as some of these are not easy to spot, and they will not show up until it’s too late.
Also, for some people with borderline personality disorder, anger is internalized and not showed outwardly, so they might instead pull away and suddenly not be in contact or punish you by withholding sex, touch, compliments, and so on.
Only what they feel in the moment is real to them, and no logic can reach them at this point.
They see you as either all good or all evil.
It’s the 4-year-old telling you how they made a new best friend, and they will be best friends forever, and the next day when the other child doesn’t share their toy, your child says they hate the other child and never want to play with them again.
It’s quick and intense, and their words of commitment mean nothing as it’s only them stating how they feel in that moment.
You are viewed as the best in the world even when they don’t know you because they project onto you what they want and see everything as perfect.
As soon as something upset them, you are all bad, and nothing of the past matters, and it’s from one extreme to the other.
1. Fear of abandonment.
People with BPD are often terrified of being abandoned or left alone.
Even something as innocuous as a loved one arriving home late from work or going away for the weekend may trigger intense fear.
This can prompt frantic efforts to keep the other person close.
They may beg, cling, start fights, track your loved one’s movements, or even physically block the person from leaving.
Unfortunately, this behavior tends to have the opposite effect—driving others away.
They see abandonment happening where there is none and are hypersensitive to signs of people leaving them.
It’s anxious attachment on steroids.
2. Unstable relationships.
People with BPD tend to have relationships that are intense and short-lived.
They may fall in love quickly, believing that each new person is the one who will make them feel whole, only to be soon disappointed.
Their relationships either seem perfect or horrible, without any middle ground.
Their lovers, friends, or family members may feel like they have emotional whiplash because of their rapid swings from idealization to devaluation, anger, and hate.
3. Unclear or shifting self-image.
When they have BPD, their sense of self is typically unstable.
Sometimes they may feel good about themselves, but other times they hate themselves or even view themselves as evil.
They don’t have a clear idea of who they are or what they want in life.
As a result, you may frequently change jobs, friends, lovers, religion, values, goals, or even sexual identity.
4. Impulsive, self-destructive behaviors.
They may engage in harmful, sensation-seeking behaviors, especially when they’re upset.
They may impulsively spend money they can’t afford, binge eats, drive recklessly, shoplift, engage in risky sex, or overdo it with drugs or alcohol.
These risky behaviors may help them feel better in the moment, but they hurt them and those around them over the long term.
Suicidal behavior and deliberate self-harm are common in people with BPD.
Suicidal behavior includes thinking about suicide, making suicidal gestures or threats, or carrying out a suicide attempt.
Self-harm encompasses all other attempts to hurt yourself without suicidal intent.
Typical forms of self-harm include cutting and burning.
6. Extreme emotional swings.
Unstable emotions and moods are frequent with BPD.
One moment, they may feel happy, and the next, despondent.
Little things that other people brush off can send them into an emotional tailspin.
These mood swings are intense, but they tend to pass quickly (unlike the emotional swings of depression or bipolar disorder), usually lasting just a few minutes or hours.
7. Chronic feelings of emptiness.
People with BPD often talk about feeling empty, as if there’s a hole or a void inside them.
At the extreme, you may feel as if you’re “nothing” or “nobody.”
This feeling is uncomfortable, so you may try to fill the void with things like drugs, food, sex, new partners.
But nothing feels truly satisfying.
8. Explosive anger.
They may struggle with intense anger and a short temper.
They may also have trouble controlling themselves once the fuse is lit, yelling, throwing things, or becoming completely consumed by rage.
It’s important to note that this anger isn’t always directed outwards.
They may spend a lot of time feeling angry at themselves and punish their partner through withdrawal and belittling, shaming, or humiliating them.
9. Feeling suspicious or out of touch with reality.
People with BPD often struggle with paranoia or suspicious thoughts about others’ motives.
When under stress, they may even lose touch with reality—an experience known as dissociation.
They may feel foggy, spaced out, or as if they’re outside their own body.
Since we are not diagnosing BPD, here are some more useful signs to help you identify if you are dealing with someone who could have BPD or a cluster-b personality disorder.
They tend to have many short and unstable relationships.
The borderline struggle to maintain relationships because of their splitting, unstable and extreme emotional swings.
Ask your date about their past relationships and notice how many and how long they tend to last.
Many short relationships show instability, which is a warning sign even if they are not toxic.
Do they have close relationships with family or friends?
How do they describe current relationships?
Few friends and victim stories about past relationships tend to be the norm.
They struggle to keep people close because of their abusive & toxic behaviors and their instability.
You were being lined up to replace someone else, and they would be lining someone up to replace you as soon as they devalue you.
They will then discard you once the next person is lined up.
This is their cycle.
The borderline needs a constant supply because they lack a sense of identity and get it from others, and they lack emotional regulation and are terrified of being alone most of the time.
Do they mention marriage, having kids, or moving in together in the first 6 months of dating?
Have you heard statements such as “I love you,” “You are my soulmate,” “Let’s move in together” within months of dating?
The statements will be more intense than you have ever heard before and come much sooner.
What comes fast goes fast.
They don’t love you. Instead, they idolize you, and at one point, the fantasies they project onto you will collapse, and then they will split and devalue you.
Do they idealize you and seek quiet commitment and intensity?
Love-bombing feels like a giant spotlight has been put on you like you’re the only person in the world.
Constant flattery (the way you look, your accomplishments, whatever you value or feel insecure about).
It’s way too intense and personal for someone you just met.
Flattery compliments, and appreciate everything about you far more than you have experienced before.
This person makes you feel better about yourself than ever before.
It feels like you found your perfect match. Your soulmate.
They will ask you a lot of questions in the early stage of dating.
They show more interest in you, what you do, like, and desire than anyone has done before.
You never felt this kind of attention and interest before, and it feels good.
The conversation feels so natural and easy because they make you talk about what you enjoy, and they seem to share your passions and interests. Or so they make it appear.
Why do they do this?
Because they are chameleons without a clear identity, so they will mirror what you want back to you, and you will think you have found someone that shares your interests, same values, and goals, and it’s a perfect match.
They will become who you desire and form a unique identity just for you, so you get emotionally hooked.
It seems too good to be true.
We tend to trust people that need our help, so the victim role plays into our trust system.
Do they have conflicts with many people?
Do they talk about how badly or unfairly everyone has/is treating them?
How do they describe past relationships?
Listen to how they describe past relationships as they don’t take any responsibility for what happened.
They always blame others, and they will often describe many short relationships that ended suddenly and some element of drama.
Do they overshare early on?
Over-sharing very intense victim stories very soon are typical for these personality disorders.
Do they talk about significant commitments very fast, such as marriage, having kids, or moving in together in the first 6 months of dating?
This is a big red flag as these personality disorders tend to talk about commitments very fast as they want to create intensity and commitment to get you emotionally hooked.
The borderline does this unconsciously as they simply lack emotional regulation and idolize you and, like a child, believe what they say at the moment.
They tend to use extreme words such as always and forever. “I will love you forever,” “It will always be you and me, baby” were common statements by my ex with borderline.
Anyone using these extreme words is either in a fantasy world removed from reality or manipulating you. They are not stable.
Triangulation is how they make you feel insecure and therefore more eager to please.
They accomplish this by bringing in a third person.
It might be an ex, friend, or college that they flirt with or give hope of a hook-up to get them to chase them.
They want a reaction to create insecurity and uncertainty to make you feel insecure, so you try to please them, and they can control, have the power, and dictate the terms.
They might flirt with someone in front of you,” ‘accidentally” find a number in their pocket that someone gave them, compare you to their ex-partners, mention ex-partners that are interested in them, ‘accidentally” let you see a photo of another man on their phone.
They tend to seek out or target people in a vulnerable position, with low self-worth, insecurities, fear of being alone (co-dependency), and fragile boundaries.
If you asked them to describe past partners, it will often become evident that there is a consistency that many of their past partners felt insecure and were, therefore, an easy target.
People with high self-worth, secure attachment, and clear boundaries are not attracted to love-bombing and will walk away when the victim stories and emotional dumping starts.
The rage, aggression, and put-downs tend to come later when they have devalued you.
In the early stages, you will get the love-bombing and is unlikely to experience this side of them.
So, to spot this early, you must observe how they treat others.
A few people with these personality disorders don’t show this outwardly and are more subtle by talking badly about others behind their backs.
This is harder to spot in the borderline or psychopath.
Your borderline might suddenly block someone or stop talking to “A close friend.”
Do they operate in extremes?
They see someone as either the best, most fantastic person or suddenly the worst.
We call this black and white thinking and splitting. Most of us live in the grey, meaning we can hold opposite ideas of someone simultaneously.
We know our partner is a great person, and yet sometimes they mess up, but that does not mean all the great qualities are not valid.
People who have black and white thinking only operate in the extremes, meaning they either idolize you and think you are the most fantastic person ever, or they devalue you and see you as useless, worthless, and horrible.
They can’t operate in the grey zone, which is the human experience.
Do they have big intense emotional swings if you disagree, or something happens they don’t like?
Do you feel you are walking on eggshells around them?
Do they seem to discard people from their lives suddenly?
Because of a lack of identity and emotional regulation, they change rapidly and regularly.
It’s erratic and unstable.
In the 8 months I dated my ex-partner with BPD, she would change her mind 10 times about what work she wanted to do.
Suddenly she wanted to go 3 months on a film set and leave her daughter with her mum.
She would change her mind around her religion, her goals, her work, where she wanted to live.
She would say she liked some things, and suddenly her preferences would be very different.
This one is harder to spot as you only know the identity you get presented, and it’s often based on mirroring, but you can make sure you socialize with them and see how to act with others.
When you don’t want to do something that they wish to or that you simply want more space or privacy, and they get upset, angry, pull away, or punish you in some way or form for expressing your boundaries.
Toxic people don’t respect other people’s boundaries because it’s all about their needs.
You are just there to fulfill their needs, and you will often get extreme reactions when you set a gentle boundary and say no to something they want.
Perhaps they want you to call 3 times a day, or not speak to someone or see you every day, and you say no, and they will then get angry or punish you with the silent treatment.
This is toxicity.
Healthy partners respect and encourage your boundaries.
If you feel worried about setting a boundary or get an adverse reaction to a boundary, then that is a huge warning sign.
They often start to control who you should speak to and make you feel wrong about speak to or seeing certain friends, family, or ex-partners.
They will use punishment such as anger or silent treatment to get compliance and ensure the pain and fear of loss make you pull away from these people and isolate you.
This makes you more vulnerable to their manipulation and control.
It starts slowing and looks innocent, but if anyone is trying to control who you can speak to and when then it’s a big warning sign.
It’s okay that they can express concerns about you speaking to ex-partners, but they must respect your decisions who you stay friends with.
No one should ever control who you are friends with or who you speak to.
It’s a huge warning sign if they do.
No one who is emotionally mature and healthy would try to control who you speak to and when.
They would encourage your independence and right to have your own life and friends outside the relationship.
Toxic relationships are characterized by a lack of mutuality as the toxic person is focused on their needs.
Healthy relationships have mutuality with two people that show care and effort to meet each other’s needs within reason.
A toxic partner is like a spoiled little child where it becomes all about their needs, and if you can’t give them their needs, they throw a tantrum and get upset.
You will feel like you must set your own needs aside to accommodate theirs, which is a warning sign.
You start feeling worried about expressing your needs—another big warning sign.
At some point, it will feel like the relationship is all about them, and you are constantly trying to keep up to fulfill all their needs but are a constant disappointment.
This is toxic, so walk away.
That’s enough for today.
If you are in the middle of this confusing and painful place, check out the comprehensive course I did on how to heal and flourish after dating a borderline, narcissist, or socio/psychopath.
Never forget. You are worthy of love, safety, kindness & mutuality.