Viewing borderline personality disorder (BPD) as a form of neurodivergence may help you embrace your natural strengths and find new ways to approach your diagnosis.
The term “neurodivergent” was coined in the
As an autistic person herself, Singer hoped to change the way people thought about neurodevelopmental conditions like autism.
Over time, the concept of neurodiversity
Some have also suggested that borderline personality disorder (BPD) may also fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity. BPD is a mental health condition marked by abrupt shifts in mood, difficulty regulating emotions, dissociation, intense fears of abandonment, or a distorted and changeable sense of self.
Currently, experts don’t formally recognize BPD as a neurodivergent condition, but that could change in the future.
Research continues to delve into the neurological underpinnings in BPD.
“BPD is not yet officially classified as a neurodivergent condition, according to published research, but evidence suggests it should be considered a neurodivergent disorder,” says Jeanette Lorandini, a licensed clinical social worker in New York City and director of Suffolk DBT.
For instance, one 2022 review explored the high prevalence of overlapping symptoms, such as impulsivity and difficulties with emotions, in BPD and ADHD. ADHD is a recognized neurodivergent condition. Review authors found both conditions involved changes in the same two regions of the brain.
Neurodiversity in BPD may not be limited to neurological function, either. In a 2019 review, experts found that people with BPD may experience changes in brain structure as well as brain function.
People with BPD may have underlying neurological differences compared with those who don’t have the condition. These differences could factor into their experiences of intense emotions and difficulty with regulating emotions, Lorandini explains.
Those differences in brain structure and function may also play a part in certain traits and behaviors common with both BPD and recognized neurodivergent conditions.
Stimming refers to repetitive, self-soothing actions, such as:
- tapping your fingertips together
- pen clicking
- humming or making other sounds
- rubbing a patch of your skin or clothes
While people often associate stimming with autism and other neurodevelopmental diagnoses, anyone can express stimming behaviors.
If you live with BPD and catch yourself performing small repetitive actions when stressed or deep in concentration — such as biting your nails, twirling your hair, or tapping your pencil on the side of your leg — these may serve as your form of self-stimulation.
Stimming isn’t a bad thing. It offers a way to cope with stress or discomfort and can provide sensory relief when you need it most.
All the same, recognizing stimming patterns can help you identify times when you might benefit from other forms of stress relief. If you catch yourself rocking back and forth in an uncomfortable social setting, for example, you might find it calming to step outside for a few moments.
Many autistic people and people with other neurodivergent conditions experience some level of sensory overload on occasion.
Lorandini says you might also notice a heightened sensitivity to environmental factors, such as sounds
or smells, if you have BPD, and find it difficult to cope with these stimuli.
Managing sensory overload can feel challenging, especially if you already feel stressed and on edge. But keep in mind that it’s always OK to take some space if the world suddenly feels like too much to handle.
You can use those moments to better understand your sensory threshold, which can make it easier to take a break before you feel overwhelmed in the future.
Systemizing describes a need to organize the world around you into an analytical or practical system.
Everyday examples of systemizing might include:
- following a rigid schedule and having a hard time when plans change
- devoting your time to a few very specific interests
- needing to keep your belongings in exactly the same place
- wearing a specific piece of clothing on a certain day of the week
Authors of a
The researchers noted that systemizing could simply be an aspect of BPD. They also posed the idea that systemizing traits may develop as a way to balance out, or make up for, difficult-to-manage emotions.
In short, when you find it difficult to predict or control your mood and emotions, you may find it reassuring to know you have a sense of control over your daily routine and other aspects of your life.
Plus, sticking to a fixed system or schedule may do more than comfort you. It might also work to your advantage at school or your job.
A number of neurodevelopmental conditions, including autism and ADHD, involve difficulty regulating emotions — a hallmark feature of BPD.
Emotional dysregulation can mean you’re more likely to experience outbursts, impulsivity, and abrupt mood shifts. It can also play a part in self-harm.
When you experience a rush of emotions, though, you can take the opportunity to transform them into personal growth with exercises like journaling and mindfulness.
You can also try opposite action, or practicing behaviors that counter your emotions. For instance, you might take slow breaths and sit still to suggest a calm mindset when you really feel tense and keyed up.
Differences in executive function
Cognitive differences may also be a sign of neurodivergence in BPD, Lorandini says.
For example, many people with BPD also have trouble with working memory and processing speed, which can contribute to difficulty making decisions or regulating behavior, she says.
People process information in different ways, and a little experimentation can help you find the method that works best for you. This might include using notes and other reminders to help you remember things.
You might also retain information more through hands-on learning or watching videos, compared with reading or having someone explain to you.
Just know that thinking outside of the box doesn’t mean there’s anything “wrong” with your brain.
While many experts consider BPD a type of neurodiversity, others remain uncertain.
More research may help uncover how commonly these neurological features appear with BPD and offer more supporting evidence.
Experts have mapped and identified clear neurological differences for neurodevelopmental conditions like ADHD and autism. But they have yet to discover the same for BPD — or
Approaching BPD as a type of neurodivergence can mark a helpful first step in shifting your perspective — and that of others — when receiving a diagnosis.
There’s a lot of stigma around BPD, and facing negative attitudes from others can sometimes trigger feelings of shame or a fear of judgment — both of which can make it harder to talk about your symptoms or seek support.
Yet viewing BPD through the lens of neurodiversity could help to reframe the public’s perception of people with BPD as well as provide a more compassionate and understanding approach to treatment, Lorandini points out.
There’s no cure for BPD, but support from a mental health professional can make a major difference in your quality of life, relationships, and day-to-day function.
If you have BPD, your therapist may recommend trying dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) specifically designed to help people with BPD.
DBT focuses on helping you learn to tolerate distress and accept and regulate difficult emotions productively.
Medication can’t treat BPD specifically.
That said, if you experience severe anxiety or depression, your therapist may refer you to a psychiatrist who can prescribe medication to help manage these symptoms.
Check out your options for online therapy and psychiatry services.
BPD tends to involve ongoing challenges related to interpersonal relationships, emotional regulation, and your sense of self.
While experts have yet to officially recognize BPD as a neurodivergent condition, a growing body of research suggests it may fit that definition.
Reframing BPD as a form of neurodivergence — along with seeking professional support for any symptoms that affect your daily life and relationships — could be the key to finding new, positive ways to adapt to the condition.