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What is Identity Disturbance in Borderline Personality Disorder

Identity disturbance is a common symptom of Borderline personality disorder (BPD), which can make someone feel disconnected or as if they are a different person each day. When someone with BPD has identity disturbance, there is no consistency in their sense of self. Their goals, beliefs, and actions are constantly changing.

What makes us, us? Most people have a sense of self that keeps them attached to everything they love and interact with. But what happens when someone's sense of self is lost? In this article, we'll discuss what identity disturbance is, how BPD affects identity, examples of identity disturbance, and how to find yourself when having BPD.

BPD and identity

The essence of someone's identity is a combination of their personality, temperament, core values, worldviews, the perception of their own abilities, their inner sense of meaning, and the way they act in relationships. People need a sense of identity to be able to live life to the fullest. We can only make sense of all that surrounds us and find our place in the world if we have a sense of identity.

While the world around you is constantly changing, having a sense of self provides an anchor to hold on to while you're adapting. Having an identity also contributes to the development of self-esteem. Because how can you establish a sense that you are worthwhile and deserving of respect if you don't know who you are?

What is identity disturbance in BPD?

If you have a stable identity, you can see yourself in the past, present, and future as the same person. And with a stable identity, you feel the same even when the environment changes since someone's identity persists over time. But when someone experiences identity disturbance, the person loses all reference points and therefore can't find meaning or form deeper connections. Eventually, this leads to confusion and internal conflict.

Since people with BPD struggle to have and maintain their own identity, they copy bits of personality from others. This is also known as a 'chameleon' personality. The way they act and the parts they show from themselves depend on the individual they're talking to. Everyone's behavior changes to some extent in different situations, but with BPD, the changes are far more apparent. They fear rejection and abandonment and therefore avoid being disliked at all costs. In other words, they alter their identity with each interaction in order to not experience any negative feelings associated with their identity. But why?

It's because people with BPD are often raised in an unhealthy environment where their feelings and opinions are meaningless or unimportant. When they get older, they tend to not show their true selves because of the negative association they now have with themselves. They start to behave in a way they believe someone else would like them to. And after a while, it's difficult to recollect who they really are since their identity is constantly changing.

As a result, people with BPD often feel as if they've lied, manipulated, or tricked their friends and lovers into liking them. This makes it difficult to experience any type of connection with anyone because it is made with their fake identity. This can make someone feel very lonely, even when they're surrounded by others.

Identity disturbance BPD examples

  • Mood swings and demeanor shifts often.

  • Changing jobs frequently in search of meaning.

  • Not feeling part of any group or community, or they over-identify with groups or roles at the expense of their own self-identity.

  • Often reconsidering their friendships.

  • Frequent changes in self-confidence regarding talents.

  • Interests, ambitions, opinions, and beliefs change often.

  • Making sudden significant life choices.

  • Having difficulty committing to values, goals, or jobs.

How to find your identity with BPD

I've often questioned myself 'who am I?'. It's something I've always struggled with, but it's gotten better since I've come to understand where it comes from. Developing a sense of self when you have BPD is not easy. But hopefully, with this article, you have already made the first step by recognizing why you lack a sense of self.

''You can't heal something if you don't realize it's damaged.''

Through searching for meaning and fulfillment, and enriching relationships and experiences, we can find meaning in our lives. To find your identity, you need to explore what your interests are, be yourself around others, and make your feelings heard. This type of self-discovery is important when finding a stable sense of self.

"It's exhausting to be someone you're not, so instead, be yourself."

I'm not saying it is easy to find your identity when you have BPD. I know it can be hard to be yourself, stand up for yourself, be judged, and to set boundaries. But it's worth it.

Finding yourself after the loss of identity due to having BPD is a long road full of obstacles. If you're suffering from identity disturbance, you should seek professional help so they can help you in your journey to find your identity.

BPD identity disturbance treatments

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is effective in challenging thoughts and beliefs about others and oneself. This therapy is especially effective against identity disturbances because it can help identify any limiting beliefs a person has about themselves or others. This type of therapy also addresses symptoms of anxiety and depression, often comorbid with BPD.

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT): This is the most commonly engaged therapy during BPD treatment. This is because it helps the patients cope with intense emotions in a non-destructive way. It gives the sufferers self-soothing practices to engage in whenever intense emotions take hold of them. A pillar technique of DBT is mindfulness.

Mentalization-based treatment (MBT): In MBT, a therapist helps the patient with understanding what they are feeling, in addition to what others might be feeling. This is crucial when trying to find a sense of self, as identity is formed by how we think the world views us.

Everyone struggles with their identity to some extent. If you've ever questioned who you are and what your life is worth, you're not alone.


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