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Symptoms & Diagnosis

Treating Impulsivity in People with Borderline Personality Disorder

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Treating impulsivityImpulsivity is only one symptom associated with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and it can often result in destructive behaviors that should be taken as seriously as a BPD diagnosis itself.

Acting impulsively with no regard for potential consequences is something people with Borderline Personality Disorder do in response to negative emotions. It’s another way to avoid feeling unwanted distress.

Gone untreated, impulsivity problems can cause great damage in multiple areas of the person’s life. Financial instability, unhealthy relationships, and problems maintaining steady employment are a few ways that impulsive behavior can have a negative effect on someone with BPD.

Impulsive behaviors experienced by someone with Borderline Personality Disorder include the following:

  • Gambling
  • Promiscuity
  • Substance abuse
  • Self-harm
  • Rage
  • Shoplifting
  • Driving recklessly

Regardless of what the specific impulsive act is, it is generally indicative of an inability to self-soothe and an attempt to create distraction from underlying emotional issues. Don’t like the way you’re feeling? The fastest way to change that is to do something else as quickly as possible (or so goes the unconscious decision-making process, anyway).

Treatment for Impulsivity

Treating impulsivity effectively means teaching the person with Borderline Personality Disorder how to sit with unwanted feelings and allow those feelings to dissipate naturally without acting out in potentially destructive ways.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is now considered to be one of the most successful therapeutic approaches to Borderline Personality Disorder. It involves one-on-one therapy sessions, group therapy, and the teaching of four DBT skills: mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness.

All four of these skills can help to successfully treat impulsivity. For example, mindfulness techniques teach patients how to tolerate unpleasant emotions until they pass. We can only act impulsively when we’re not thinking clearly and we can only begin to think clearly when our judgment is not clouded by emotion. Mindfulness techniques, along with distress tolerance and emotion regulation, teach people with Borderline Personality Disorder how to manage emotional distress instead of acting on it in potentially destructive ways.

Treatment for impulsivity also means targeting specific impulsive behaviors. Behaviors such as substance abuse and gambling addiction will need to be addressed on their own to be effectively treated. In some instances, medications may also be necessary to treat symptoms of impulsivity.

It should be noted that impulsivity is not exclusively associated with Borderline Personality Disorder, but is listed as a potential symptom of many other conditions and personality disorders. And not all impulsive behaviors are indicative of a larger mental health issue – we all have moments of impulsivity from time to time. It becomes a problem when the behavior has a lasting negative effect on a person’s interpersonal relationships and quality of life. Getting BPD treatment will help curb dangerous impulsive behaviors and result in greater emotional stability.

1 Comment

  1. There is no such thing as BPD Bordenline Personality Disorder. This is a simplistic definition to a complex array of signs and symptoms often found in people with high functioning Asperger’s disorder. People with Aspergers often display histrionic, hypervigiliant traits because they don’t understand how to process emotions. THey have been long misinterpreted as BPDs. A hallmark trait of autistic or aspergers is episodic self injurious behavior. Self injurious behaviors is a hallmark trait of high and even low functioning asperger autistic individuals.

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