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BPD and Career Choices - Do Your Symptoms Matter?

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Updated July 02, 2014

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Question: BPD and Career Choices - Do Your Symptoms Matter?
I am in college and was diagnosed with BPD two years ago. I know that BPD has a major effect on almost every area of my life, but so far I've been doing okay in school. Now the time has come to choose my major, and I am having a hard time deciding what I want to do. I also worry that my BPD will ruin my chances in most careers. Are there particular careers that are best for people with BPD?
Answer:

It is quite possible to have BPD and career success. In fact, many people with BPD are very successful in their work (even when other areas of their lives seem to be falling apart). On the other hand, many people with BPD have lots of trouble in their careers, and are either unemployed, underemployed, or very unhappy in their jobs.

BPD can affect your career in a few different ways. First, you may suffer from identity problems, which can make it hard to settle on one career path. This can cause you to jump from job to job without ever committing to one career and building success in that area.

In addition, you may engage in a lot of dichotomous thinking, which may lead you to idealize one type of job, only to be let down and then quit when the job does not turn out to be perfect. This can cause people with BPD to engage in even more "job hopping."

Symptoms of BPD can also interfere with concentration, which can lead to poor work performance. For example, if you dissociate a lot, you may have trouble focusing on tasks.

Finally, most careers include some element of interpersonal interaction. You may have trouble at work if you have difficulty maintaining stable relationships. For example, people with BPD are sometimes fired from their jobs because they don't get along well with colleagues, have trouble maintaining appropriate boundaries, or generate a lot of conflict in the workplace.

These are all things to keep in mind as you choose a career. It may be that you experience problems in all of these areas, or just one or two. Think about how these symptoms might impact your ability to function daily in the career you choose. For example, if you have problems setting boundaries, choosing a line of work that involves strict adherence to boundaries (e.g., becoming a psychotherapist) may not be right for you. Or, if you dissociate under significant stress, choosing a career in a very fast-paced or high-stress industry may be ill-advised.

At the same time, don't let your BPD diagnosis completely govern or limit your job choices. There are people with BPD who have been successful in every possible profession. Keep your symptoms in mind as you evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, but also keep in mind that you are a person separate from your diagnosis.

Sources:

Elliott CH, Smith LL. Borderline Personality Disorder for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2009.

Skodol AE, Gunderson JG, McGlashan TH, Dych IR, Stout RL, Bender DS, et al. "Functional Impairment in Patients with Schizotypal, Borderline, Avoidant, or Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder." American Journal of Psychiatry, 159:276–283, 2002.

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