Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder in a Pandemic – Is This You?

by Andrea Blundell

There are government guidelines for the physically vulnerable during the pandemic we find ourselves in. But what about the emotionally vulnerable? 

Emotionally unstable personality disorder can mean you are struggling far more with the lockdown lifestyle than those around you. 

Do you have emotionally unstable personality disorder? 

Emotionally unstable personality disorder is a more accurate term for what is commonly calledborderline personality disorder‘, or BPD. (There is nothing ‘borderline’ about you if you have the disorder, this was a poorly chosen name that has unfortunately stuck around).

It’s main symptom is a constant fear of rejection and abandonment, resulting in difficult, push pull relationships, a shifting sense of self, and impulsive behaviours that can include self-harm.

Another key factor of BPD is emotional dsyregulation.  Unlike others, your emotions can go from hot to cold in an instant, and it’s like you can’t control the thermostat. 

7 Pandemic responses that point to BPD

Don’t already have a diagnosis of an emotionally unstable personality? The following description of how it affects a response to social isolation and lockdown might help you clarify if you are a candidate.

1.You are responding more to the stress of lockdown than others.

Emotionally unstable personality disorder is often connected to childhood trauma. And childhood adversity affects the development of the brain.

This could be why if you have this disorder you are way more sensitive to stress, as shown by a neuro-imagining study which found that participants with BPD exhibit hyper-responsiveness to stress compared to a control group. 

2. You feel abandoned by friends who don’t contact you.

emotionally unstable personality disorder

Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra

At first, when the pandemic hit, there was a bonding effect. You might have heard often from your friends, or even from old acquaintances, making sure you were doing okay. It might have felt pretty good.

But as lockdown continued, people have become insular, retreating into their minimised lives and reaching out less. And this can leave you feeling suspicious and abandoned. 

Everyone says you should relax. Other people are struggling, too. People are just ‘spaced out’. But you can’t help it, you feel rejected. 

The Asian Journal of Psychiatry recently published a case study on the psychological impact of coronavirus outbreak on a BPD client. It  concludes that, “public health measures during coronavirus outbreak such as the social distancing and mass indoor quarantine could intensify the feeling of emptiness and aggravate the fear of abandonment among people with BPD”.

3. You are struggling even more than usual to understand yourself and others.

Stress and anxiety from a pandemic are hard on anyone.

But when we have BPD, stress and anxiety have an additional affect of making us less able to understand the mental states of ourselves and others, also called ‘mentalising’. 

Our minds get caught in cycles of black and white, dramatic thinking, with little things getting blown out of proportion. One small comment from a partner that we didn’t do a good job on the dishes and we wonder if they don’t like us anymore, or want to break up with us when the pandemic ends.

4. Extreme feelings of loneliness are becoming an issue. 

emotionally unstable personality disorderThe less people reach out to us, and the more we struggle to understand why they aren’t and overthink it all, the lonelier we can feel. 

Loneliness also comes from feeling different, so we can feel lonely even if we are self-isolating with family.

Because the lockdown lifestyle brings our oversensitivity to the foreground, we can be more aware than ever that we are not like others, or that others find us ‘too intense’ or ‘dramatic’. 

5. You are sabotaging friendships right when you need to keep them strong.

Boredom can lead to being impulsive. And if we have BPD, then we are prone to being impulsive already.

We send that biting text, only to regret it the moment we realise what we have done, or post that comment declaring we feel we’ll have no real friends left when the pandemic ends on Facebook. Our impulsivity starts to create the very rejection we fear. 

Or we might be sabotaging by withdrawing. Some people with emotionally unstable personality disorder have a ‘quiet’ version. You punish by going cold.

6. You are creating conflict if you are self-isolating with your partner. 

Lockdown has seen some couples get really close, but others engaging in more conflict. If you have emotionally unstable personality disorder, it’s likely to be the latter.

It’s not that you want conflict. But somehow being bored or stressed (hello, Covid-19 self isolation) sees you creating drama before you even realise what you are doing.

And once you start, it’s like you can’t stop.

Before you know it you are suggesting a breakup, even if it’s not what you want. It’s just that deep down you worry that the fact they responded to you pushing them must mean they are thinking of leaving you, and you are rejecting them first to protect yourself. 

But then you find a way to draw them close again. And the BPD conflict cycle begins of push pull, push pull….

7. You have thoughts of hurting yourself. 

It’s a perfect storm. Boredom, loneliness, dramatic unhelpful thoughts dancing through you head. If it all gets too much, you might be tempted to self harm, another major symptom of BPD.

As the book Mentalisation-based Treatment for Personality Disorders by Batement and Fonagy points out, “Loss of mentalising [understanding yourself and others] lead to interpersonal and social problems, variability, impulsivity, self-destructive behaviours, and violence’.

Is it definitely emotionally unstable personality disorder?

Fit most of the above descriptions? If you had a big life change or difficult experience right before the pandemic hit, such as the loss of loved one, you might simply be experiencing emotional shock. Hence your unstable behaviours.

But if you have quite honestly engaged in the sort of behaviours described here since late adolescence, and these sorts of behaviours affect all areas of your life? Then it is worth seeking a diagnosis. You can book a session with a psychiatrist for a full assessment.

Or, if you don’t want to wait (psychiatrists often have waitlists) and want a cheaper option, you can work with a psychotherapist that specialises in one of the talk therapies known to be effective for BPD.

If your therapist thinks, after several sessions of working together, that you are a candidate for a diagnosis? They can then refer you on to a psychiatrist. Otherwise, you can work together to find healthy coping skills that see you manage your emotions and reactions and save your relationships.

Time to talk to someone about your emotional instability? We connect you with psychiatrists who can diagnose borderline personality disorder and with top London BPD talk therapists. Or find psychotherapists UK-wide on our booking platform now. 


Want to share how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting your emotional instability? Comment below. 

Andrea BlundellAndrea Blundell is the editor and lead writer of this site. With training in coaching and person-centred counselling, her main areas of interest are trauma and ADHD. 

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