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An Example of BPD in College

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Updated: August 24, 2007

The following is an example of how borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptoms can manifest, or appear, in a college/school setting.

Martha

Having taken the last year off, Martha is planning on returning to college in the fall. Her break came as a result of not participating in classes the previous term. Martha just seemed to quit in the middle of her last semester; she stopped going to class, only turned in some of her assignments, and started partying. Threatened with academic probation, she decided to sit out for a year and regroup.

This was not the first time that Martha had problems in college. In high school, she was always a capable and focused student. When she started college, her future seemed planned and clear. Always one for a cause, Martha initially planned to start and run a non-profit foundation for teenage girls. Once she started school, however, her plans began to get a bit hazy. Martha began changing majors and plans.

When Martha took her break, she had already changed her major three times in two years and was thinking of changing again. She had starting going out to bars until the wee hours of the morning, often drinking in her dorm room before she went out. It was not uncommon for her to wake up not knowing where she was or who she was with.

Through all of this, she still managed to participate in classes just enough to keep her head above water. But in her last semester, she just stopped going or doing much of anything.

Martha’s last semester had started with a level of enthusiasm that rivaled her first entree to college. She was finally able to register for a class taught by a noted professor at the university. She would pour all of her efforts into assignments for the class and even stopped going out as much. She felt that she was really connecting with her classmates as well.

Martha was devastated when her papers were not singled out as being exceptional. The professor did not seem to see her as a superior student. To Martha, it seemed like the professor did not like her at all.

When Martha mentioned this to her fellow students, they would assure her that the professor was treating all of the students the same. Their lack of validation was intensely frustrating and felt like an additional rejection. Martha felt alone and angry when she thought of class.

She stopped going to this class. Perhaps she thought the lack of her valuable contributions would be missed. Or, maybe she was angry and did not want to be where so was not wanted, or she wanted everyone to know how hurt she was. Soon she stopped going to her other classes as well.

In this example, Martha demonstrates the following BPD symptoms:

  • Intense/Unstable Interpersonal Relationships
    Martha’s initial feelings toward her professor and classmates are intense and idealized. She feels that she is really connecting with her classmates and clearly idolized her professor. These feelings quickly and suddenly change, permanently altering Martha’s perception of her experience. She begins to see her classmates as invalidating and her professor as picking on her because he's not exalting her.

  • Splitting
    When Martha’s perception changes to one of devaluation, it is a total shift (from good to bad. She is unable to recognize that she ever felt differently.

  • Sensitivity To Rejection
    Martha's heightened sensitivity to rejection triggered thoughts that her professor and classmates did not like her. The reality of their feelings is truly unknown and may not have that much bearing on Martha’s experience of them.

  • Impulsive Self-damaging Behavior
    Martha consumed alcohol excessively and was promiscuous. She would wake up with strangers and in unfamiliar surroundings. Her alcohol use resulted in her being unable to make safe decisions about those she spent her time with.

  • Identity Disturbance
    Martha's sense of who she was and what she wanted to do was fluid. Once she entered college, she lost her sense of self and found focusing on a clear self-directed goal impossible. Her sense of self was dependant on those around her.
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