Psychology is a fascinating field. It evolves with our ever-increasing knowledge of the human mind. Therefore, there will be times when even an expert needs to take a closer look — a much closer look. If not, some disorders can easily be mistaken for others. This is an important reminder to be wary of self-diagnosis and actively participate in your treatment. You can work together with your therapist to pinpoint the root cause of your distress.
For example, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder are very different conditions that share some very similar primary symptoms. Let’s take a closer look.
Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder
Someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) often struggles with extreme, rapidly shifting emotions. Besides being more likely to experience negative states, a person with BPD may display signs and symptoms like:
- Recurring, shifting episodes of depression, emptiness, anger, loneliness, and anxiety
- Fear of abandonment and being alone
- All-or-nothing thinking patterns and opinions that can change quickly
- Feeling detached from the world and, thus, uncertain about where/how you fit in
- Distorted self-image
- Impulsiveness and reckless behavior
- Extreme inability to trust others
- Thoughts of self-harm, death, dying, and suicide
Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
People suffering from bipolar disorder experience mood swings that can appear very BPD-like. These shifts are called manic or depressive episodes. The below symptom list is broken into those two categories.
- Your mood is noticeably and palpably elevated
- Operating on a minimal amount of sleep
- A grandiose aura: self-importance, over-confidence, etc.
- Demonstrating poor judgment and recklessness
- Moving, talking, and thinking at full speed
- In severe cases: delusions and hallucinations
- Chronic sadness, crying, and social isolation
- Unable to make decisions, focus, or concentrate
- Extremely low energy
- Aches and pains with no apparent source
- Feeling worthless, agitated, and guilty
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in appetite (more or less)
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Thoughts of death, dying, and suicide
How is Borderline Personality Disorder Different From Bipolar Disorder?
Even a casual glance at the lists above highlights how these two conditions can be mistaken for one another. So, let’s reveal a few clear and significant differences.
- People with bipolar have stable periods when they are in neither a manic or depressive episode. Someone with BPD will not display this kind of stability.
- During manic bipolar episodes, a person will almost always behave impulsively. With BPD, impulsivity is more random and constant.
- BPD moods can last for weeks or even months. People with BPD present with mood shifts that can be as brief as a couple of hours long.
- A person with bipolar disorder can find it very difficult to even enter into a relationship. Someone with BPD often finds themselves in volatile, short-lived romantic connections.
- During bipolar episodes of both mania and depression, sleep can be irregular and erratic. Meanwhile, BPD does not seem to impact one’s sleep cycle.
- Nearly three-quarters of people with BPD have self-harmed. This is far less common with bipolar disorder. However, the risk of suicide attempts among folks with bipolar is higher.
- Medication is not the standard choice for BPD and treatment tends to focus on talk therapy. For bipolar, mood stabilizers can help balance mood the highs and lows of manic and depressive episodes.
This is not an exhaustive list of differences. However, it can be a powerful starting point for anyone working to discern between the two conditions. Self-diagnosis is never advised but in cases like this, it can be particularly risky. If any of the above sounds familiar to you or someone you know, it is essential that you get a professional assessment as soon as you can.