When you know something isn’t right, it’s frustrating. You go through life working ten times harder than everyone else, possibly due to BPD vs anxiety, and people tell you that you’re not. It’s so difficult to understand how everyone else functions differently than us.
So, it’s no surprise that you’re trying to find answers. BPD vs Anxiety feel similar when you think about some of the similar symptoms they have. They can both cause irritability and mood swings, but what determines the key differences comes down to motivation.
Check out these 9 key differences between BPD and anxiety to get a better idea of where you fit and if either of these might be an accurate diagnosis for you.
This post is all about BPD vs anxiety.
What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline Personality Disorder is, at its core, characterized by the inability to regulate emotions. While this might seem like a small, isolated issue, it can lead to impulsivity, poor self-image, and cause problems in the relationships of people with BPD.
A few different factors can cause BPD, including a family history of BPD, differing brain structure, and environmental factors like a history of trauma.
If someone has developed BPD as a coping mechanism during a period of trauma (like physical abuse or sexual abuse), they likely developed it as a method of survival.
One of the driving forces behind BPD, and what frequently causes mood swings or intense emotions, is the fear of abandonment.
At some point, someone with BPD might have learned that it was unsafe to be vulnerable and emotionally available to someone because they were rejected. So, now, anything that feels like abandonment will trigger them. Only about 1% of the population is diagnosed with BPD.
What is Anxiety?
This evolves into Generalized Anxiety Disorder when excessive worry and intrusive thoughts become chronic, proving challenging to control and often diverging into unrealistic concerns.
Individuals may find themselves preoccupied with everyday matters that others would think of as unreasonable or irrational.
There are various types of anxiety disorders, including Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Anxiety disorders impact approximately 20% of adults, making them the most common mental illnesses.
BPD VS ANXIETY:
1. Both BPD and anxiety can involve self-harm as a coping mechanism
Before we dive into self-harm as a common coping mechanism, let’s clarify that self-harm is always a cause for concern. If you or someone you know self-harms, please reach out to mental health professionals for support.
BPD and anxiety can both cause people to self-harm because self-harm can release tension. When people struggle with the symptoms of borderline personality disorder, they may resort to self-harm.
They deal with strong emotions, they are impulsive, and they lose a sense of identity. Since BPD makes it difficult to regulate emotions, it’s painful for people with BPD to experience intense emotions because they don’t know how to stop feeling so intensely.
BPD people can experienced increaser impulsivity. This contributes to a loss of identity because they can’t control their emotions and don’t know who they are aside from their BPD. When people struggle with anxiety, they tend to deal with constant worry and intrusive thoughts.
In both cases, people want to escape the pain of their mental illnesses. However, they have different reasons for doing that and that’s what helps differentiate between BPD and anxiety.
2. BPD can cause you to have an unstable self-image, while anxiety has little effect on it
One of the major differences between BPD and anxiety is the effect on self-image. The causes of BPD and anxiety are largely up for debate, but a few factors include trauma and a history of mental illness in the family.
This means that, for many people, BPD and anxiety likely arise from a need to survive. When someone has BPD, they probably developed or manifested the symptoms of BPD during a time when that was the best way to stay safe in an unsafe situation.
Perhaps they benefited from changing their personality according to the people around them. Maybe they needed to see the people around them as all good or all bad, otherwise known as splitting, to get through a traumatic experience.
This unstable self-image and lack of sense of self is unique to BPD and does not occur in people who only experience anxiety. When considering if this applies to you, you can ask questions like “What do I believe in?” or “What activities do I like to do?” or “What’s my passion?”
You may notice that you struggle to answer the questions or that the answers change frequently.
3. BPD causes mood swings from perceived abandonment whereas anxiety consists of excessive worry and fear
When we think about how BPD and anxiety affect emotions, we have to think about BPD as a specific mood disorder. On the other hand, anxiety is a much more generalized term. It can include everything from panic attacks to irrational phobias.
So, BPD can often cause mood swings that may seem like they come out of nowhere. These mood swings typically accompany intense emotions that can be hard for people with BPD to manage.
Typically, these mood swings result from perceived abandonment or rejection, which is one of the most central fears of BPD. Anxiety does not cause these same mood swings or intense emotions.
However, negative emotions like sadness, fear, and anger can still arise from the constant flow of anxious thoughts. People with anxiety may exhibit the same angry behavior as people with BPD due to the emotional weight of constant worry and fear.
BPD and anxiety both cause people to feel strong, painful emotions, but the context around those emotions is what differentiates between the two disorders.
4. You’re at a higher risk for both BPD and anxiety if you have a family history of either
Unfortunately, anyone who has a family history of mental illness is at a higher risk for mental illness. There are lots of different causes for mental health conditions, which makes it difficult to identify whether mental health problems are hereditary or developed over time.
However, studies have confirmed a family history of mental illness is one of the most common risk factors for developing a mental illness. There’s a higher risk of developing a mental illness when other family members have a documented medical history of mental health disorders.
So, if you’re wondering whether you have BPD or anxiety, it’s a good idea to examine your family history. Consider how your parents acted and if their actions ever aligned with the symptoms of BPD or symptoms of anxiety.
Since mental health awareness has changed, it’s possible that your parents suffered from the same issues you are currently dealing with and they were never diagnosed.
If your parents were diagnosed with BPD or anxiety, that’s a great place to start when talking to a mental health professional about your possible diagnosis. The key to effective treatment is accurately diagnosing the mental illness that is causing all of your discomfort and pain.
5. BPD can cause self-destructive behaviors whereas anxiety leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms
Both BPD and anxiety can cause self-destructive behaviors because both personality disorders and anxiety disorders are painful. Mental health issues can alter your sense of reality.
It may be BPD, suddenly, telling you that your partner is inferior and disgusting or it’s anxiety telling you they hate you and will leave you. Either way, you’re living through a painful experience. It’s natural for people to turn to self-destructive behaviors.
This happens both as a result of believing what their mental illnesses say as well as the fact that their own brain is against them. People with BPD engage in self-destructive behaviors because of their deep-seated fear of abandonment.
That fear, combined with impulsivity and lack of emotion regulation, easily can lead to someone making unhealthy, poor decisions in the moment they will later regret.
For people with anxiety, self-destructive behaviors take the form of substance abuse and avoidance. They will choose to cope with their anxiety by avoiding sources of anxiety, which is both unhealthy and impossible.
6. BPD can cause people to be impulsive whereas people with anxiety tend to be indecisive
When identifying whether you may have BPD or anxiety, one of the biggest indicators is how you make decisions. For BPD, you likely are impulsive and increasingly impulsive depending on how you are feeling.
Your impulsive behaviors increase when you are emotionally dysregulated, though you tend to be impulsive all the time. This impulsivity comes from the fear of abandonment and earlier trauma that caused you to feel unsafe.
At some point, you learned it wasn’t safe to share your emotions, which made it hard to regulate your emotions and led to your impulsivity. People with anxiety tend to be on the other side of the spectrum and struggle to make decisions.
The fear of rejection is often a strong motivator for people with anxiety. So, instead of making the wrong decision, they hesitate to make one at all.
This makes it easier to avoid the stress of making the wrong decision and typically manifests in people with anxiety to some degree. It’s less obvious in some people because they are too numb to truly feel any emotion, which is another symptom of anxiety when not properly managed.
7. BPD leads to an intense fear of abandonment whereas anxiety leads to the fear of rejection
The fear of abandonment and the fear of rejection are similar. It’s possible to have both fears. But, we need to distinguish between how these fears motivate BPD and anxiety differently.
BPD is motivated by the desire to avoid abandonment at all costs, even abandoning the person before they can abandon you. This means that someone with BPD will become impulsive, experience intense emotions of sadness or anger, and lose all sense of their identity.
All of these BPD symptoms arise to keep people from abandoning the person with BPD, whether that means they leave first or develop an intense disgust or hatred for the person in a matter of seconds.
As quickly as these beliefs and feelings arise, the scariest part about them is that the person with BPD will truly believe they’re real and accurate while the BPD episode is taking place. Anxiety, on the other hand, needs validation and reassurance.
The worst-case scenario for someone with anxiety is rejection, especially if they are nervous about becoming vulnerable in the first place. This will lead to all types of spiraling thoughts that confirm the anxious thoughts they had before they were rejected.
While anxiety is a complicated disorder, it can become the most painful and debilitating when any of those anxious thoughts are confirmed by an outside source.
8. BPD can lead to suicidal thoughts whereas anxiety has no direction connection to suicidal ideation
In people with BPD, suicidal ideation looks different than other mood disorders. For example, when someone is clinically depressed, they may experience suicidal ideation during the lowest of their moods. However, once they are in remission after treatment, they are no longer suicidal.
People with BPD, on the other hand, appear to experience suicidal ideation for months or years before they reach remission. Their thoughts of suicide simply get worse or better depending on the stressful events in their life.
What this means is, first of all, people with BPD are less likely to commit suicide and their suicide attempts are less likely to be fatal. Unfortunately, this doesn’t change how draining and painful it is for someone with BPD to experience suicidal thoughts.
These thoughts typically come from the desire to escape and release some of the tension they feel from struggling to regulate their emotions. Keep in mind that suicidal behavior and suicidal ideation can manifest as dangerous behaviors in addition to self-harming behavior.
For example, someone might engage in reckless driving. Anxiety does not have any direct connection to suicidal ideation, which is another huge point of departure between the two disorders.
9. BPD is characterized by unstable relationships whereas anxiety is primarily future-focused with possible effects on relationships
One of the keys to diagnosing BPD is unstable relationships. The combination of emotional instability and impulsive behaviour does not provide a strong foundation for people with BPD to find success in long-term relationships.
Common symptoms of BPD like splitting make it difficult for people to create meaningful relationships in which they can avoid hurting people they care about.
When the other person in the relationship is not educated about BPD, it can be difficult to understand why someone would suddenly treat you so differently in the blink of an eye.
People with anxiety, on the other hand, do not often deal with relationship issues outside of the impact of coping mechanisms. Inherently, anxiety is focused on the future and it is internal, regardless of how much it can be triggered by external factors.
So, it does not inherently cause issues within relationships. The problem arises when people with anxiety cope in unhealthy ways or avoid coping with their anxiety at all.
Perhaps they are constantly on edge or they develop a substance use disorder. In these cases, it would be hard to date or befriend those who randomly yelled at you or needed to use substances to function.