All humans are social, and one of our deepest needs is to attach, or feel connected to others. In fact, we can’t survive without others. When we’re young, our most important attachments are to parents and adult caregivers. As we get older, our attachments change to include friends and peers. In adulthood, it changes to focus on romantic partners.
Because one of our deepest needs is to attach, it is natural then, that one of our deepest fears is lack of attachment, or rejection, or abandonment. For youth with borderline personality traits, these fears become overwhelming and extreme.
Youth with borderline personality traits are very emotionally sensitive. They are especially sensitive to rejection, where they can feel rejected by others, even when the other person did not intend to reject them. This can cause problems in relationships.
When things are going well, youth with borderline personality traits can be exciting and fun to be with. They can be very appreciative, and ‘idealize’ friends and loved ones. This can make friends and loved ones feel very important and valued.
But it’s a different story if things are not going well. If youth with borderline personality traits feel rejected (perhaps because of a disagreement), their feelings can change very quickly. For example:
- Feelings of happiness may suddenly shift to feeling depressed and suicidal.
- Appreciation may suddenly shift to anger and hatred of others.
Unfortunately, the fears of abandonment and rejection can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Youth with borderline personality traits fear abandonment or rejection. This leads to negative behaviours (like excessive clinginess and jealousy) that make it so others find it hard to be with them..
How do I know if my teen has borderline personality traits?
Youth who have Borderline Personality traits:
- Are very afraid of being rejected or abandoned. Because of this, they can become very clingy in relationships. They may need a lot of reassurance, which can be hard for others to understand.
- Have trouble regulating their emotions(for example, controlling intense emotions and anger). It’s natural to care about our relationships. It’s important for us to get upset if we have stresses in our relationships, because this reminds us to work out the problem. For youth with borderline personality traits, their extreme emotions cause problems.
- Can have impulsive and harmful behaviour. Youth with borderline personality traits may turn to negative behaviours (like self-harm, or self-medicating with drugs and alcohol) to control their intense emotions. But in the long run, these negative behaviours end up causing more problems.
Youth go through many changes during the teen years. And the way they react to people and situations can change a lot too during this time. For these reasons, psychologists and psychiatrists generally don’t make a formal diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) until youth are at least 18.
Borderline personality traits include:
- Intense and frequent mood swings;
- Trouble managing anger;
- Feeling alone and empty inside;
- Fears of being alone, rejected or abandoned to the point where your teen makes frantic efforts to avoid being alone, rejected or abandoned;
- Relationships that go from one extreme to the other (alternating between powerful love and hate for the same person);
- Problems from impulsive behaviour (acting before thinking);
- Repeated thoughts of suicide or self-harm behaviours (like cutting).
Families of youth with borderline personality traits may feel that they are ‘walking on eggshells’ much of the time.