Expert advice on coping strategies for individuals living with Borderline Personality Disorder

Published Jun 18, 2024


Millions of people across the globe are currently living with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

The National Alliance on Mental Health describes this condition as a mental disorder that is characterised by significant fluctuations in mood, behaviour, interpersonal interactions and self-image.

The South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) added that BPD is less well-known when compared to other mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

“But it comes with debilitating symptoms that cause significant distress and unstable relationships, for both those diagnosed and their families and loved ones,” SASOP member Dr Aneshree Moodley warned.

She added that up to 10% of BPD patients die by suicide and that at least 40% of sufferers will make multiple attempts to take their own lives.

However, health coverage provider Affinity Health believes that while it is challenging to live with BPD, sufferers are not alone and that healing is possible.

“With proper treatment, support and coping strategies, those affected with BPD can learn to manage their symptoms, build fulfilling relationships and lead meaningful lives,” the organisation’s chief executive Murray Hewlett said.

Scores of people across the globe suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder. File image.

What causes BPD?

Researchers suggest that BPD arises from a mix of complex factors, including traumatic life events, genetic predispositions and changes in some regions of the brain affecting emotions, impulsiveness and aggression.

“Women are diagnosed with BPD more frequently than men, but the reasons for this disparity remain unclear,” Hewlett explained.

Symptoms of BPD

BPD typically manifests in early adulthood and Hewlett said that the most common symptoms include:

  • Intense emotional instability:
  • Unstable relationships:
  • Distorted self-image:
  • Impulsive behaviours:
  • Self-harm and suicidal ideation:
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness:

Treatment options

While living with BPD is a challenging ordeal, the mental health ailment can be diagnosed by a licensed mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or clinical social worker, who carefully analyse an individual’s symptoms, events and their family’s medical background.

“There are various successful therapy techniques and interventions available to assist people in managing their BPD symptoms,” Hewlett said.

Millions of people across the globe suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder. File image.

These can include:


In particular, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is considered the gold standard treatment for BPD.

“DBT focuses on teaching skills for regulating emotions, improving interpersonal relationships and tolerating distress,” Hewlett said.

Meanwhile, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Schema Therapy and Mentalisation-Based Therapy may also be beneficial.


Certain medications may be prescribed by a licensed mental health professional to BPD sufferers in order to alleviate co-occurring symptoms such as depression, anxiety or impulsivity.

These may include antidepressants, mood stabilisers or antipsychotic medications.

“This all depends on the individual’s needs.


In severe cases where individuals are at risk of self-harm or suicide, hospitalisation in a psychiatric facility may be necessary to ensure their safety and provide intensive treatment and support.

Coping strategies for individuals with BPD

Hewlett believes that several self-help strategies and coping techniques are available to individuals with BPD, which they can incorporate into their daily lives in order to manage their symptoms and to improve their well-being.

Some effective coping strategies include:

Practice mindfulness

Deep breathing, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation can help people with BPD remain grounded and allow them to be present in the moment, which ultimately lowers anxiety and emotional dysregulation.

Develop healthy coping skills

Healthy coping skills, such as assertive communication, problem-solving and emotion regulation can empower individuals to manage stress and navigate challenging situations effectively, Hewlett believes.

Build a support network

Developing supportive connections with friends, family, therapists and support groups can provide emotional support and encouragement.

Prioritise self-care

Hewlett urges BPD sufferers to engage in self-care activities such as exercise, hobbies, relaxation techniques and spending time in nature.

“This can help individuals with BPD recharge their batteries and improve their overall well-being.”

Set boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries with others and advocating for your needs and preferences can help prevent feelings of resentment and burnout in relationships.

Practise self-compassion

Hewlett said that BPD sufferers should be gentle and kind to themselves, especially during difficult times.

“Recognise that healing from BPD is a journey and progress may be gradual.

“Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small.”