Borderline Personality Disorder, known as BPD, is one of many possible long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse. Research by the Psychiatric Clinics of North America indicates that 40-71% of BPD victims reported having been sexually abused when younger. i Adults with BPD are also considerably more likely to be the victim of violence, including rape and other crimes. ii

As defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, BPD “is a serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image, and behavior. This instability often disrupts family and work life, long-term planning, and the individual’s sense of self-identity.” iii

Diagnosis of BPD should be made only by a mental health professional. For someone to be diagnosed with any personality disorder, the symptoms must be severe and must go on long enough to cause significant emotional distress or problems functioning in relationships or at work. iv


While each individual’s experiences and reactions are unique, there are some common symptoms, including: v

  • Fear of abandonment
  • Dramatic and frequent mood swings
  • Depression or anxiety experienced in short bursts
  • Intense anger (sometimes escalating into physical confrontations)
  • Difficulty controlling emotions or impulses
  • Impulsive and risky behavior (e.g., substance abuse, unsafe sex, gambling, erratic driving)
  • Self harm
  • Suicidal thoughts
    • 8-10% of patients with BPD commit suicide. vi
  • Dysfunctional social relations


Experts at the Mayo Clinic outline the following areas for BPD treatment: vii


Psychotherapy is the core treatment for borderline personality disorder. Two types of psychotherapy that have been found effective are:

  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was designed specifically to treat borderline personality disorder. Generally done through individual, group and phone counseling, DBT uses a skills-based approach to teach you how to regulate your emotions, tolerate distress and improve relationships.
  • Transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP) centers on the relationship between you and your therapist — helping you understand the emotions and difficulties that develop in that relationship. You can then use what you have learned in other relationships.


Medications can not cure BPD, but they can help associated problems, such as depression, impulsivity and anxiety. Medications may include antidepressant, antipsychotic and anti-anxiety medications.


At times, you may need more intense treatment in a psychiatric hospital or clinic. Hospitalization can also keep you safe from self-injury.

In addition to receiving professional help, it’s important for persons with BPD to take good care of themselves:

  • Sleep between 6-7 hours every night; try to go to bed at the same time every night
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid making situations that could cause anxiety, anger or irritability
  • Avoid alcohol, illegal drugs and medication not prescribed

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, or is dealing with the side effects of sexual violence, including Borderline Personality Disorder, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE, or visit the Online Hotline.

Additional Resources

Mayo Clinic

National Institute of Mental Health

National Alliance on Mental Illness

i  Zanarini MC. Childhood experiences associated with the development of borderline personality disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 2000; 23(1): 89-101.

ii  “Borderline Personality Disorder,” National Institute of Mental Health, August 24, 2010:

iii  “Borderline Personality Disorder,” National Institute of Mental Health, August 24, 2010:

iv  “Borderline Personality Disorder,” Mayo Clinic, May 19 2010:

v  “Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms, “ Mayo Clinic, May 19 2010:

vi  “Borderline Personality Disorder,” National Alliance on Mental Illness:

vi  i“Borderline Personality Disorder Treatment and drugs,” Mayo Clinic, May 19 2010:

This product was supported by grant number 2009-d1-bx-k023 awarded by the office for victims of crime, office of justice programs, U.S. department of justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this product are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. department of justice.


Sections on this page have been adapted from: Rainn



By providing your email you agree to receive
periodic emails from the JCW Website