BPD and Identity: Exploring Identity Disturbance in Borderline Personality Disorder

Written by: Zafra Aswar Ali

Photo by Tetiana Kreminska on iStock

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a complex mental health condition that has a major impact on the thinking patterns of individuals and their feelings about themselves and others. One of the main symptoms of BPD is identity disturbance, which makes people with BPD feel that their thoughts and actions are inconsistent. In this article, we will explore what identity disturbance is, how it is associated with BPD, and ways to overcome it.

Identity Disturbance in BPD

Identity disturbance is referred to as an inconsistency in one’s thoughts and actions regarding their sense of self. It can be influenced by various reasons like family history, changes in the brain chemistry that controls emotional regulation, as well as environmental and social factors. As a result, such individuals tend to adopt the personality traits of others (‘chameleon’ personality) as they fail to maintain their own identity. This goes beyond the feelings of self-doubt that typically arise during adolescence, making it chronic and bringing about serious consequences for a person with BPD.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), identity disturbance is described as “markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self”. Based on this definition, it can be understood that although individuals without BPD also may experience identity disturbance occasionally, those with BPD lack a sense of self while losing their identity completely.

Indications of Identity Disturbance

The presence of identity disturbance can vary from person to person with BPD. Here are some common indications:

1. Feelings of emptiness

A typical issue among those with BPD is a feeling of void within themselves. Consequently, they look for something to get rid of the emptiness because of the sense of discomfort caused by this feeling.

2. Severe emotional reactions

Due to an unstable sense of self, individuals with BPD often express intense emotional reactions to any form of criticism. This is because they perceive these as attacks on how they view themselves.

3. Struggles in relationships

The incoherent self-identity often leads people experiencing BPD to have unstable relationships. They have low self-esteem and lack personal boundaries, making it challenging to form close ties with other individuals. Moreover, the feelings of emptiness are associated with a lack of support and meaning in their relationships.

4. Mental health issues

People with BPD struggling with identity disturbance may also face other mental health issues like anxiety and depression. These conditions would be aggravated further due to chronic stress or severe emotions.

Treatment Approaches and Coping Strategies for Identity Disturbance in BPD

Despite the challenges of overcoming identity disturbance in BPD, here are some methods and treatments that can assist individuals in restoring their self-identity:

1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT helps combat both thoughts and behaviours that contribute to an instability in self-identity. It can also help overcome any symptoms associated with other comorbid mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

2. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)

This is the most commonly used treatment method for BPD. DBT aims to assist individuals with BPD to control their intense emotions and unfavourable behaviours by introducing mindfulness as a technique. As a result, such individuals can gradually work towards building a stable sense of self.

3. Mentalisation-Based Treatment

This treatment method helps individuals with BPD to improve their interpersonal skills as well as to understand their and others’ thoughts and feelings.

4. Self-exploration activities

Engaging in activities like journaling can be useful to a great extent for those with BPD, as such activities will help them explore and accept various dimensions of themselves. Furthermore, they result in a better sense of self, increasing one’s self-esteem and self-confidence.


Identity disturbance is one of the main criteria in diagnosing BPD, and is a challenging issue connected with BPD that occurs due to many reasons. Hence, it is crucial to understand the impact of identity disturbance on people with BPD and help them navigate their self-identity through suitable treatment methods and self-exploration activities. Subsequently, this will allow them to develop a stronger self-image and improve their mental health and overall well-being.