Do Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms Decrease With Age?

BPD symptoms ageYou may be wondering if your Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) symptoms will always feel as intense as they do now. Studies have shown that, as people suffering with BPD age, it is likely that some of their symptoms will become less acute.

A 2007 study by a Harvard-based research team found that 12 of 24 BPD symptoms in participants in the study were markedly reduced over a 10-year period. Each person who participated in the study was contacted and interviewed by the research team every two years after their initial involvement.

The 24 symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder that were the focus of the study were broken down into two categories of 12: acute symptoms and chronic symptoms.

Acute BPD Symptoms

“Acute” Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms are defined as more severe and shorter in duration. The 12 acute symptoms examined in the study are as follows:

  • Quasi-psychotic thought
  • Substance abuse/dependence
  • Sexual deviance (mostly promiscuity)
  • Self-mutilation
  • Manipulative suicide efforts
  • Stormy relationships
  • Devaluation/manipulation/sadism
  • Demandingness/entitlement
  • Treatment regressions
  • Countertransference problems/”special” treatment relationships
  • Affective instability
  • Serious identity disturbance

Chronic BPD Symptoms

“Chronic” Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms are defined by long duration or frequent recurrence. The 12 chronic symptoms examined in the study are as follows:

  • Chronic feelings of depression
  • Helplessness/hopelessness/worthlessness/guilt
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Loneliness/emptiness
  • Odd thinking/unusual perceptual experiences (overvalued ideas or depersonalization)
  • Nondelusional paranoia
  • General impulsivity (eating binges, spending sprees, and reckless driving)
  • Intolerance of aloneness
  • Abandonment/engulfment/annihilation concerns
  • Counterdependency/serious conflict over help/care
  • Dependency/masochism

Of the 290 participants in the study who met the DSM-IV criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder, fewer than 15 percent still showed signs of certain reported symptoms after a 10- year period. The symptoms of BPD that showed the greatest decrease were those defined as acute.

Theories on Decrease in BPD Symptoms

Although some of the decrease in Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms as people age can be attributed to BPD treatment and therapy, there are no definitive answers about why some symptoms decline while others remain. Some theories about the reasons for people with BPD “mellowing” with age are interesting to contemplate:

Burn out is the idea that age itself contributes to the lessening of certain Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms. People with BPD simply engage in less impulsive behaviors as they get older.

Learning about Borderline Personality Disorder through therapy is an obvious reason some symptoms decline. However, even people suffering BPD who have not sought BPD treatment may simply understand over time how to manage their symptoms better to avoid some of the problems they’ve encountered over the years as a result of their BPD-related behavior.

Avoidance of interpersonal relationships can result after years of struggling with conflict and crisis. Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms decline as people with BPD engage less often in relationships with others in order to avoid problems.

Strong evidence exists to support the idea that Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms can be reduced naturally through the years as people get older. There is no substitute for BPD treatment such as a residential program for BPD, however, and it remains the single best chance for those suffering with BPD to effectively manage and reduce their symptoms.

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