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Mood Swings and Borderline Personality Disorder

Intense Mood Swings -- A Hallmark Feature of BPD


Updated June 03, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) often experience very intense mood swings. But, how can these mood swings be distinguished from normal variations in mood, or from the types of mood swings associated with other disorders? And what can you do to reduce mood swings in BPD?

Pattern of Mood Swings in BPD

Everyone experiences emotional ups and downs, but people with BPD tend to experience mood swings that are more intense and frequent than the typical person. While it is normal to have your mood shift from feeling good to feeling down, someone with BPD may experience very severe mood swings (i.e., going from feeling okay to feeling devastated, desperate, or completely hopeless) within a matter of moments. In fact, many people with BPD feel so overwhelmed by these intense emotional shifts that they engage in impulsive behaviors such as self-harm in order to feel better.

These mood swings may also happen very frequently. Someone with BPD can have many mood swings in the course of a day, whereas most people will only experience one or two major emotional shifts in the course of a week.

Finally, BPD mood swings are quite consistent over time. Most people have times in their lives when they are more emotionally vulnerable than others. But people with BPD experience these emotional ups and downs consistently for years.

Distinguishing Features of BPD Mood Swings

Mood swings in BPD can also be distinguished from other types of mood problems by examining the triggers that precede the mood shift. Very often, a mood swing in BPD happens in reaction to an external trigger, and these triggers are often related to perceived rejection or abandonment by another person.

In contrast, bipolar disorder is also characterized by mood swings, but these mood swings are r not consistently triggered by relationship issues (see also, "Bipolar Disorder or BPD?"

Does This Mean I Have BPD?

Keep in mind that even if you have mood swings that fit the description above, this is just one of a number of symptoms of BPD. Having mood swings alone is not enough to warrant a diagnosis of BPD.

However, if you are finding that your emotional ups and downs are interfering with your work, school, relationships, or enjoyment of life, it makes sense to seek out professional help.

You might also consider ways that you can reduce the intensity and frequency of the mood shifts you experience by taking good care of your emotional health.


American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th ed, text revision. Washington, DC: Author, 2007.

Gunderson JG, Weingberg I, Daversa MT, Kueppenbender KD, et al. "Descriptive and Longitudinal Observations on the Relationship of Borderline Personality Disorder and Bipolar Disorder." American Journal of Psychiatry, 163:1173-1179, 2006.

Paris, J. "Borderline or Bipolar? Distinguishing Borderline Personality Disorder from Bipolar Spectrum Disorders." Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 12:140-145, 2004.

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