Borderline personality disorder (BPD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) are both mental disorders that can seriously affect a person’s everyday life. They have a significant overlap in symptoms and can be diagnosed simultaneously, but there are a few key differences.
BPD is a complex disorder and affects every person differently. Common symptoms are emotional instability, erratic behavior patterns, and intense feelings of emptiness as well as a poor sense of self.
Unlike PTSD, which is understood to be a fear-based disorder, complex PTSD is believed to be rooted in shame. It is characterized by a low sense of self-worth, flashbacks to traumatic events, and intense feelings of fear, sadness, and shame.
BPD is not a fully understood condition, and research on its causes is conflicting. Some studies have shown that those diagnosed with BPD have a history of trauma or neglect, particularly as a child, suggesting an environmental cause. Other research has suggested a genetic link through familial history.
PTSD, of which C-PTSD is a subset, is believed to develop due to long-term exposure to trauma. It is commonly diagnosed in survivors of child abuse and long-term relationship violence. Children exposed to abuse are particularly at risk for developing C-PTSD as the feeling of being unable to escape the abuse, or being reliant on the cause of trauma, is linked to the development of C-PTSD.
BPD and C-PTSD are easily confused due to the overlap in symptoms. Both are characterized by general emotional distress, which can include emotional “triggers.” These triggers can cause significant reactions including dissociation, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, flashbacks, and/or depression. Other similarities include negative self-worth, emotional outbursts, and struggles to develop healthy interpersonal relationships.
While those with C-PTSD and BPD both struggle with interpersonal skills, the struggles are believed to have different root causes. In BPD, there is typically a fear of abandonment which is not common in C-PTSD. In C-PTSD, there fear also presents in relationships, but in a more internalized way. Instead of fearing abandonment by another person, someone with C-PTSD may feel that they are unlovable or broken. One key difference between these two illnesses is the reaction to these similar feelings. Self-harm is very uncommon in those with
C-PTSD, but much more prevalent among those who suffer from BPD. Another difference in reactions is their willingness to engage in interpersonal relationships at all. It is common for someone with C-PTSD to avoid relationships out of fear, whereas a person with BPD is more likely to surround themselves with people in an attempt to banish any potential feelings of abandonment.
For both those with C-PTSD and BPD, a common symptom is struggling with one’s identity or self-concept. However, this tends to present in different ways. Sufferers of C-PTSD tend to have a stronger sense of self than those with BPD, but they struggle with intense feelings of being “damaged,” which is common among shame-based mental disorders. People with BPD, on the other hand, tend to have a less concrete sense of self. It’s common for them to change interests based on social groups, and they have commonly reported feeling lost or unable to know who they really are.
Treatment for both BPD and C-PTSD, just like most mental illnesses, must be tailored to the individual. Both sufferers of BPD and C-PTSD may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), especially in dealing with emotional outbursts or distress. BPD, however, is often treated with medication as well as more traditional therapy. C-PTSD patients have been known to show significant improvement in dealing with triggers after undergoing CBT and learning self-soothing techniques. If you notice symptoms of BPD of C-PTSD in yourself or a loved one and are concerned, contact Advantage Mental Health Center for advice.
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