Borderline personality disorder: impulsivity

This is my fourth post in a nine part blog series on the criteria for borderline personality disorder (BPD). In this post I am looking at the fourth point of criteria:

‘Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging such as  (but not exclusive to) spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating. This criteria does not include suicidal or self-harming behaviour’ 

There’s a lot of talk about impulsivity in borderline personality disorder with relation to self-harm and/or suicidal behaviours, but reasonably little with regards to anything else. The most probable reason for this is that a lot of these behaviours are shamed. They’re crippling beyond physical harm and are often socially stigmatised as signs of a person having poor personal control, rather than them being mentally unwell.

An impulse is described as ‘a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to act’. This is far beyond engaging in dangerous behaviours. This is feeling like you are in control, and then suddenly snapping and being dragged towards an action like a magnet. You do have agency over your own problematic actions, but you fundamentally feel like you have to do something. It’s debilitating. These urges, impulses, can come on very suddenly and can be incredibly difficult to block. Moreover, struggling with impulsivity leaves an individual feeling vulnerable. You feel like you could explode at any time.

I’m reluctant to talk about some of my own experiences with impulsivity at this point because although I am aware that the stigma against these actions is wrong, I can’t help but feel embarrassed for things that I’ve done when I’ve been really unwell. It’s not nice to feel like you were out of control. And every time you commit to one of those actions, the self-hatred builds and builds. You feel like if you can’t control yourself then what’s the point. You’re being ruled by your own battered and bruised mind. Luckily this isn’t something that I deal with at this point, but it’s always in the back of my mind that I could be only ever seconds away from doing something really stupid.

Here are some things that have made me especially vulnerable to impulsive behaviours in the past:

  • Being under stress.
  • Running on little sleep.
  • Being very drunk.
  • Being deeply angry or frustrated.
  • Being surrounded by others who do these things (regardless of whether this is impulsive for them) and thus validate the behaviour.

All of these feelings are likely to inhibit my ability to think with my usual clarity and to be able to block urges to do stupid and dangerous things to myself. As a result, I try my best to eliminate these situations. When I do want to enjoy a drink or two with friends, I’ll always make sure that I’m with at least one person who understands and will look out for me. When I am stressed, angry, or tired, I try to use healthy coping mechanisms.

I am not an impulsive person in general. In fact, I prefer to have everything planned out. I’m someone who likes to be organised and likes to feel like I’m under control. Which is why I can become so terrified of myself when I do become really unpredictable. It’s really, really scary.

I hope that others reading this post can relate to some of this. Although there’s a lot of stigma attached to the behaviours listed in the criteria, and there are even more impulsive actions that warrant a tick on this criteria box and sometimes get glossed over, it’s not a personal flaw to have a personality disorder, to be mentally unwell.


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