Do empaths have a borderline personality disorder? (A Complete Guide)

In this article, we will discuss Do empaths have borderline personality disorder?. We will explain empathy and related concepts along with borderline personality disorder, it’s signs, and their emotions. We will then discuss how empathy and borderline personality disorder are related.

Do empaths have a borderline personality disorder? 

No, it is not necessary that all empaths have a borderline personality disorder or that all people with borderline personality disorder are empaths. Prior research has largely indicated that people with borderline personality disorder have difficulty with cognitive and emotional empathy which plays a huge role in disrupting their interpersonal relationships. 

However, in a few studies, there has been a discovery of the borderline empathy paradox. According to this, some patients with borderline personality disorder are highly empathetic and sensitive to detecting the emotional states of other people. However, it is not clear whether they use this information in improving their interpersonal relationships or not. The empathetic paradox requires more research so that we can understand the experience of empathetic people with borderline personality disorder in a better way.

Empathy and related concepts 

If we talk about empathy, we can describe it as an ability to understand the emotions and feelings of another person.  It is the capacity to understand another person’s perspective and view the world from their perception. Empathy is a multi-dimensional concept that has cognitive and emotional layers. It also involves a dimension of motor responses. For example, mirroring facial expressions, posture and movements of others etc.

 Emotion recognition refers to being able to identify emotions from facial expressions. It enables a person to identify the emotional state of another person. It is a prerequisite for affective empathy.  Affective empathy refers to being able to respond to the emotional state of another person in an empathetic manner. These people experience and observe the emotions of another person. In other words, they mirror the behavior and actions of someone including their facial emotional expressions in order to empathize with them.

 Cognitive empathy on the other hand means being able to take the perspective of others without emotionally investing or experiencing it vicariously. It refers to an intellectual understanding of another person’s emotional experience. Such people can understand the significance of feelings, beliefs, intentions, thoughts, etc of another person and use it to understand and predict behavior.  Finally, emotional intelligence involves perception assimilation, understanding, and management of emotions.

Borderline personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder involves a pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships. Along with that, the person suffering from borderline personality disorder has an unstable self-image, unstable mood, and behavior. Their behavior is highly impulsive and can involve multiple episodes of self-injury. These people have a high degree of committing successful suicides. It is an affective disorder with  3 Core symptoms of disturbed affective instability, unstable relationships, and impulsivity. Among these, disturbed relationships is the most prevalent and pervasive symptom that is associated with the psychological distress of this disorder.

People with a borderline personality disorder often have fears related to abandonment and a constant feeling of emptiness. They sometimes feel detached from reality. It also includes sensitivity to criticism and rejection from others. These people may shift from extreme idealization to devaluation of others. Symptoms may begin in early adulthood and occur in a variety of situations. Other disorders may also occur with borderline personality disorder including substance abuse, eating disorders, and depression.

Genetic, environmental, neurological, and social factors contribute to the development of borderline personality disorder. People with relatives with this disorder are more likely to develop it at some point in their life.

 Treatment of borderline personality disorder can usually be done using cognitive behavior therapy or dialectical behavior therapy. These therapies can reduce the probability of suicide. Medication can be used but it may require institute admission for some time for proper care of such patients. This disorder is more common in women compared to men and less common in people who are older.

Signs of borderline personality disorder

 According to DSM 5, the most common signs of borderline personality disorder includes the following:

  •  Disturbed sense of identity
  •  Attempts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  •  Black and white thinking
  •  Behavior marked by impulsivity and recklessness e.g substance abuse, binge eating, unsafe sex, spending a lot of money, etc
  •  Intense emotional reactions that are more reactive in nature.
  • Unstable interpersonal relationships
  •  self-harm
  •  Disrupted self-image
  •  Dissociation

Emotions of people with a borderline personality disorder

People with borderline personality disorder may experience emotions intensely and for longer durations. These can be positive or negative. At one point they can be enthusiastic and joyful. Whereas, at another point, they can be extremely negative in terms of emotions e.g sadness, anxiety, grief, shame, and humiliation.

 These people get overwhelmed when they are rejected, criticized or face failure. Unhealthy coping can involve self-injury and suicidal behavior. Furthermore, their emotions are labile which means that they fluctuate rapidly from one mood to another.

 Empathy and borderline personality disorder

 It has been suggested by prior research that borderline personality disorder patients have dysfunction of empathy. This means that they have difficulty understanding the mental states of other people possibly due to a history of trauma, abuse, and family dysfunction.  These people have difficulty attributing the correct emotions and behavior to other people.

However, there is also an empathetic paradox that occurs in patients with a borderline personality disorder. This paradox is called the borderline empathy paradox.  It can be explained as high empathy in such people despite having impaired interpersonal relationships. These patients can recognize even minor differences in the emotional state of other people but this ability does not help them in stabilizing their interpersonal functioning. 

 A review of scientific studies done on empathy and patients with borderline personality disorder revealed mixed findings regarding dysfunctional empathy versus high empathy. A possible reason for such mixed findings can be due to clinical heterogeneity across the samples in these studies.  Such as differences in demographic factors, symptoms of borderline personality disorder, prior psychiatric history, and family history may have influenced the results. 

 Only a few studies confirmed the existence of the borderline empathy paradox where patients with borderline personality disorder could express emotional empathy and respond to emotional cues given by other people. Such people are attentive to social stimuli and dysfunctional processing of social information but whether they use it to improve their interpersonal relationships or not, has not been confirmed.

However, the predominant finding was that patients with borderline personality disorder suffer from empathy dysfunction which contributes to their ability to express cognitive and emotional empathy to other people. It also contributed to the disruption of their relationships and lowered their overall emotional intelligence.

FAQs: Do empaths have a borderline personality disorder?

What is a borderline personality disorder person like?

People with borderline personality disorder have an intense fear of being abandoned. They struggle to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships and experience intense emotions. They react in an impulsive manner and often go through dissociation and paranoia.

 Can a person with borderline personality disorder love?

 A person with a borderline personality disorder can have a romantic relationship. However, their relationship may go through a struggle because of constant dysfunction and ups and downs in emotions. These people can be caring, compassionate, and loyal apart from their difficulties in identity and emotional processing.

 What is the main cause of borderline personality disorder?

There are many causes of borderline personality disorder including genetic and neurological, social, and environmental factors. History of prior abuse, be it emotional, physical, or sexual in their childhood can be a major contributory cause.  Along with that, neglecting parents and living with a person with a serious mental health condition can have an effect on such people.

 

Conclusion

In this article, we discussed Do empaths have borderline personality disorder?. We found that it is not necessary that all empaths have a borderline personality disorder or that all people with borderline personality disorder are empaths. Prior research has largely indicated that people with borderline personality disorder have difficulty with cognitive and emotional empathy which plays a huge role in disrupting their interpersonal relationships. 

However, in a few studies, there has been a discovery of the borderline empathy paradox. According to this, some patients with borderline personality disorder are highly empathetic and sensitive to detecting the emotional states of other people. However, it is not clear whether they use this information in improving their interpersonal relationships or not. The empathetic paradox requires more research so that we can understand the experience of empathetic people with borderline personality disorder in a better way.

 I hope you found this article interesting. If you have any queries or comments, please state them in the comment section 😊

Citations

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Borderline_personality_disorder#:~:text=Borderline%20personality%20disorder%20(BPD)%2C,harm%20and%20other%20dangerous%20behavior.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7357542/

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