Subtypes of Borderline Personality Disorder

Friday, January 13 2012 Becky Oberg

According to Wikipedia, psychologist Theodore Millon identified four subtypes of borderline personality disorder (BPD). They are:

  1. discouraged borderline--includes avoidant, depressive or dependent behaviors
  2. impulsive borderline--includes antisocial or approval-seeking behaviors
  3. petulant borderline--includes passive-aggressive behaviors
  4. self-destructive borderline--includes depressive or self-destructive behaviors

A person with BPD may have none, one, or more than one of these subtypes. I believe I fall under the discouraged and self-destructive subtypes.

Discouraged borderline

Subtypes of Borderline Personality DisorderThis is a person who believes that no matter what, they just can't win. Consequently, he or she may avoid people, believing they will not want to be around him/her. The other extreme is he or she may be overly dependent on other people, hoping to find some sense of self-worth from them. This person may also suffer from symptoms of depression.

This person is operating in an Abandoned Child mode. He or she believes that he or she is unworthy of love and affection. He or she believes no one will want anything to do with him/her, and behaves accordingly. This may include frantic efforts to avoid the end of or disturbance of any relationship, black-and-white thinking, or unstable sense of self.

Impulsive borderline

I've dealt with this kind of person before, and it's not a pleasant experience. This is what mental health professionals usually mean when they say "borderline". This type of person is in constant conflict with society. Bouts of violence are not uncommon. This person does not think before acting, and the result is chaos for everyone involved. This person may have antisocial personality disorder as a co-occurring diagnosis.

This person is operating in an Abandoned Child mode--a plea for attention, any attention--as well as an Angry Child mode. The Angry Child believes that other people deserve to be punished for his/her pain, and behaves accordingly. This type of person with BPD may have poor impulse control, abuse substances, or self-harm.

On the other extreme, he or she may seek approval at any cost. In a way this is just as damaging as bouts of self-injurious behavior. He or she may not care about himself/herself; it's all about what the other person thinks. This often results in extreme efforts to avoid disapproval and abandonment.

Petulant borderline

This is a passive-aggressive person. He or she will injure himself or herself--either physically or emotionally--in an attempt to get needs met. This person has an unstable sense of self, a frantic fear of abandonment, and inability to express his or her needs.

This person operates in an Angry Child mode. He or she is angry and will hurt friends and family as a result. He or she often does not recognize the anger--the world is the problem, not him/her. He or she does not know how to express his/her needs in a healthy way, so relationships seem to be a game of "If you really loved me" or "You should know what I want".

Self-destructive borderline

This is the popular cultural image of a person with BPD; "Goth" or "emo". This person often suffers from depression as a co-occurring diagnosis and is a self-injurer. Oftentimes, just these two criteria--emotional instability and self-injurious behavior--are enough to merit a diagnosis of BPD (in spite of the DSM-IV mandating a diagnosis of BPD if five of nine criteria are met). This is a person who feels that no one cares, and reacts by not caring about himself or herself.

This person operates in an Abandoned Child mode. Since he or she does not feel loved, he or she reacts in self-destructive ways in an attempt to feel something instead of nothing. He or she lives in terror of abandonment, is self-loathing, and has no idea who he or she is inside. Thoughts of self-injury--or actions--are a given in this type.

The good news about BPD

The good news is there is hope. BPD is treatable. However, it is useful to know if you fall into a subtype in order to better communicate with your mental health professional. You may not know where you fall, and you may not fall into one of those categories--that's okay. What's important is that you understand your diagnosis, in order to improve the outcome of treatment. There is hope--even if you feel like you're the worst insert-subtype in the history of psychiatry.

Subtypes of Borderline Personality Disorder

jc
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I am borderline...i fit in each subtype you stated....and i fail to see the gain by placing yet another label on people. If the person has been diagnosed prperly as having this disorder he or she is more than likely in therapy. Hopefully the therapist sees character traits based on the individual and surely doesnt need to further label the patient. I find ones who get lost in labeling, cant see the forest for the trees.
Augusto
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
At times, I think labels can be good, at least to search for specific recipes by which to improve. I think I am a discouraged borderline, because I am quite a procrastinator, unmotivated, but not quite agressive towards people, but my therapist never tells me of a DSM IV diagnosis for me to search for ways of improvement.
Stephanie
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I'm glad that some theorists are considering various subtypes of personality disorders. I have noticed that with Borderline in particular, there is so much stigma, and it is often assumed that all individuals who have this diagnosis or traits of it are more in line with the "impulsive" and "petulant" type described above --- resulting in individuals who are are not necessarily like this (the "discouraged") being assumed to have a tendency to be explosive or to lash out at people.

I agree with "jc" above that we don't need more labels; however, the stigma attached to personality disorders is something that bothers me very much, and I like that Millon is one of the few who has actually given some thought to the varying ways in which people with Borderline PD (or other PD's) behave/feel/perceive.
Flo
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
Hi. I fit in each subtype you stated, a little bit of everything.. I self harm, did drugs, can be impulsive, etc, but at the moment (I'm 30 now) I'm dealing with depression, fear and mood swings (depression, anger, emptiness and strong fears). Is it possible to be some sort of "passive borderline" type? I was diagnosed with BPD a few years ago when I was out of control, but now I isolated and I hate acting on my emotions, so I'm more like "passive" and I hide my feelings a lot too. I have like 7 out of the 9 symptoms of BPD but I find this disorder really difficult to explain.
Becky Oberg
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I don't know, but it sounds like a reasonable possibility.
Susan Patterson
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
Being someone who has struggled with having some of the features of Borderline Personality Disorder, I understand how anxiety provoking a "label" is for those of us who sense that there is something that feel/looks like BPD in us but dread the thought of this label.I would guess for those of us who have been given a diagnosis of BPD,the label might be equally anxiety provoking. One of the reasons why I have been so squeamish about allowing myself to accept that this is what is going on is the image of a BPD that is seen in movies. Glen Close in Fatal Attraction for example, scares the heck out of me. I have gone through therapy with a social worker who has assured me that I don't appear to have BPD but "exibit some features" of the illness. I wonder now when evaluating his diagnosis if he considered that there are subtypes of BPD. It feels like the subtype idea is a fairly new recognition on the part of psychiatrists and there is some disagreement as to whether there are actual subtypes. This is confusing for those of us who have suspected that there is something more that just abandonment fears and depression going on but don't fit the typical BPD diagnosis standards. I think that many people who think of BPD and the symptoms of it imagine a nearly violent personality which based on the subtype theory is not always the case. While I realize that "labeling" might be helpful to those doing the diagnosing, it seems that the parimeters of these labels are too confining which can lead to misdiagnosis. People are all unique and each of us is wired differently so it is difficult to make clear evaluations at times so I think it is a beneficial approach on the part of psychiatrists to allow for subtypes. The good news is that there are many medications which can be tremendously helpful as well as many capable and caring therapists.
Dizzysqueaks
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I fit all four types but am also a "quiet" type Borderline, I "act in" more often than "act out" meaning than my anger is usually directed at myself in the manner of SH. This doesn't mean that I don't rage against others or situations but it's me primarily, the self-doubt, my past and my fear of human kind have created a sense of self- loathing that I turn my anger and hatred to
K
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I have a problem with all the labels assuming that we have "unstable identities".
Bdp is such a diverse experience (only 5 out of nine symptoms need be met) and not everyone who meets bpd criteria experiences identity disturbances. I don't. And I'm sick of "unstable sense of self" being applied to ALL people with this vague-ass diagnosis.
That being said, I see aspects of myself in all of the subtypes listed except for impulsive.

I do, however, like the idea of bpd being "split"(haha no pun intended) into several seep rate categories. The diagnosis is so vague as is and I feel like shrinks offer a one-size-fits all treatment approach when the symptoms experienced can be so wildly different (for example, two people with only one symptom in common sitting in the same dbt skills class). For myself, I honestly feel so disconnected from the diagnostic label. I see almost more aspects on that list of nine that I DON'T identify with that ones that I do.
Cathy Wyman
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I can be all these sub-types. Its one disorder and these are all the characteristics of having this disorder. One of the things of this disorder I can't seem to help is the lack of not knowing who I am, what I like, what are my passions....I am just empty inside.
KK333
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I see myself in all the subtypes. I am 41 and just experienced one of my episodes. Which has not happened in a long time so I was under the impression I was cured. However being diagnosed at 19 and living through this my entire life I guess I should have known better. Right now I just want to disappear. The feelings of isolation and that no one cares about me is stronger than ever. With self harm and suicide being at its highest ever. I am doing everything my therapy has taught me and I am hoping that I can shake this. Having young children ages 7 and 13 keeps me in the try mode, I'm definitely frightened of myself at this moment tho.
Shoulderdeep
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I cycle through each of these and sometimes all at once...things have calmed down since I became grounded, learned about ego and made the decision to stay out of jail. Now I'm advocating more, public speeches, volunteering which I never thought I'd do because of the anxiety. I have a twin brother who now needs help or, one of the other options await: prison, death.
jb
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
Kk333,
I love you. I'm a 42 year old mother of two also, though mine are 24 & 17, both female and both with some level of my own personality quirk. I have gone through some counselling in my lifetime but not a whole lot. I'm coming out of about ten years of massive disassociation. I'm starting to recreate a timeline and reintegrate my "faces"... For the first time I'm aware of how intense this has been for my family.
I just wanted to show some solidarity, to let you know that we're walking with you.
I found this today. It might help: <a href="http://thefightwithinus.com/2013/02/dr-karyn-hall-on-borderline-personality-disorder-recovery/" rel="nofollow">
jb
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
And then I laugh because this is typical... The link is to this website. I guess this is why "the blind leading the blind" is a bit limited.

Let me then wish you peace. This is the best I can do. Peace, in whatever you are, whenever you are.
jb
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
http://thefightwithinus.com/2013/02/dr-karyn-hall-on-borderline-personality-disorder-recovery/
Gabriel
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I found this very interesting and informative. I think I may be a discouraged and self-destructive type. I am trying to raise bpd awareness and this has helped a lot. Thank you.
Mars
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I love this thread, i havnt yet seen any worthy literature on the subtypes. I quit self harm in the obvious ways a few years ago, then i began to just not take care of myself and really let it go as they say. i get my crap together when i know i will be around people, i've learnt the bad way that looking like the internal mess that you are internally doesnt get you many friends.

Im ready alot of stuff about self compassion, something which i lack severely. Its oddly enlightening and highly recommendable.
Grrrrreg
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I'm my own unique category, same as you. The label is my container for understanding, after being fed the bread crumbs of partial diagnosis over several years of therapy. I'm enjoying re-framing memories of chaos from this unified field theory (BPD label). Check out Sofia Amargi's presentation on Abandonment on YouTube - great work! For me, borderline just means you didn't fit into the really bad catagories of nuerosis or psychosis. - Could actually be a good thing if you don't snuff out your volcanic nature. I see myself as something of a hero despite burning in the flames of my fears. Having objectivity about your flight path and your weakness puts you on the survivor side of the equation. Just as we thought CERN's invention of the internet would provide transparency in politics and expose our PD leaders, abolishing selfishness and the slavery of debt, we have to ACCEPT our groundhog day emotional roller coaster ride as an abomination of what's broken with humanity and be grateful for what little insight and compassion we have. Things are really stacked against you when you are your own worst enemy. My joy is in knowing I am whole by observing.
Jamie clarke
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I had therapy for 3 years and the outcome was a diagnosis for clinical depression and identity disorder. I went back to the doctor and saw a psychotherapist who said I had sociopathic PD, narcissism, had psycopathic PD and BPD. I never went back. It cured my depression just because I formed the opinion that these are just labels, and they are vaguely applied. The more you search into personality the more you will find. I live with my issues which is exhausting: temper/rage but I'm not violent to people, charming/ dishonest, destructive in my relationships but then build people back up. It's hard work but I'm able to see what I'm doing, step back, and have the capability of learning. I'm highly successful but have a drink issue. I'm not sure therapy is always all it's cracked up to be. And sometimes it's not worth the agony of scraping through childhood. It's life and I personally deal with things as they hit me and try to snap out of it. People used to tell me to do that with depression, and I used to think, 'they don't know what they're saying - you can't just snap out of it'; but I've found it works for me.
SE
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I have a strong suspicion that my ex suffers from bpd. He matches most of the criteria from the dsm-iv chart and I have done a LOT of reading around the subject over the last 3 years. I don't know whether he has ever been diagnosed or whether he even knows that he may be suffering from personality disorders. My question is: Would it be helpful to him if I brought this to his attention so that he can get help for it or would it be detrimental to his well-being now and in the future in terms of his self-image and how he believes others view him. My belief is that you can only get help for something once you know that it exists and what it is. I'd really appreciate your views. (Please state whether you are a sufferer yourself and/or how you came to your answer). Thank you so much!
Lmm
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I suffer from this and I don't recommend telling that person. They have to be able to notice it themselves and want to begin to help themselves. I was told brute force many times over and couldn't see it until I got older. I'm struggling badly but I can now see what I'm doing and why. I have to force myself to notice and to change my responses. It's so much much more complicated than that but this is how it is....and I'm tired of apologizing of who I am how I am. I've been abused as well by family I'm tired ofbeing blamed for that too.I'm tired of being silent about it.
Sylvia
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I just found out that I suffer from this disorder. I'm both relieved and terrified.
An ex-boyfriend that I hurt badly has been very supportive and understanding. Just that makes me want to get this under control.
My behavior cuts across all four sub-types listed above, some more than others.
I'm practicing mindfulness and trying to learn from my past mistakes :)
harry
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I was diagnosed borderline no 4 ot thereabout does anyone know what this means it was quite a while back
harry
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I was diagnosed borderline no 4 or thereabout at no 9 I would have to be hospitalised I never found what no 4 means any ideas as I'm still searching but can't find any answers
Kathy
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
My daughter was diagnosed with BPD at 18 after developing a myriad of mental health issues from the age of 8, i.e. severe cutting, suicide attempts, multiple hospitalizations. When she was in grade school I was so puzzled by her behavior and tried to control her with physical restraint which was totally ineffective. Without thought or premeditation, I developed a communication style with her that periodically had a calming effect and kept my family intact with my 3 kids and my Dad.

After she graduated from high school - she tried college for a year and was miserable - back and forth to the hospital and finally arrested when she began destroying things in my home. She spent a night in jail and received diversion. A few weeks later she crawled into my bed at 2am and told me she wanted to check into Menninger's.

This was the beginning of a 15 month treatment program - 3 months at Menninger and 12 months in a program in Calif - Optimum Performance Institute. Both of these organizations helped my daughter create a life for herself. She has graduated from college has a job and best of all I can talk with her about most things without triggering a BPD anger episode. Her BPD created a very strained relationships with her sister---which has now been mended. The only med she takes is for sleeping so she sees a psychiatrist and a therapist trained in DBT occasionally. It took about 15 years, but I feel she is as cured as she can be and has developed the skills to deal with her disorder.

My message is that you have to connect with people who understand BPD and who can treat and support you for a significant period of time. It was essential that my daughter was involved in 15 months of residential treatment. 10 stupid days with an abundance of meds in a psychiatric hospital was exactly the wrong treatment. Much of this was precipitated on my daughter because psychiatrists are reluctant to diagnose BPD in kids - this was a real disservice to my daughter.

Another important facet of my daughter's continuing recovery is that she is a "planner" and always sets goals for herself. Early in her treatment the psychiatrist at Menninger's told me this was a very hopeful sign. When she was 10 she was scheming about some new pet, goat, horse idea and I joked with her by asking "could you just stop dreaming up things for 24 hours.?"! She replied in the most serious tone - 'I'm always happiest when I'm planning new things." Little did I know that this thought process of her would pull her through so many very dark days.
bổ phế thủy
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
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web site, I have read all that, so now me also commenting at this place.
Dyla
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
Hi, I fit into the subtypes, the thing is it seems like you are copying your in for rather than knowing wjatvyoubare talking about. I'm just saying this because for petulant subtype you said "if you love me you should know" and something like hurting themselves to get their needs met, this is a form of communication.... And you are writing it as if it is a form of manipulation. I have hurt myself to get my needs met, but not because I wanted pitty or was just hurting myself to get attention or for fun, I seriously needed help and nybwords were not listened to, I would say I have to leave I can't be trapped here anymore, but I was literally forced to be at home.... just saying anyone put into such a situation would feel deep dispair, people with BPD are justbreally good at not being listened to and very good at putting themselves into such a place.
Gina
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
this is so incorrect
Stina
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I hope people do more research then just this article. It's wrong in so many ways.
CentrifugalMuse
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
Wow. Reading your comment as an avoidant borderline, I felt touched by your story. Thanks for the extra hope I'm now feeling.
Balshaw
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
Has she ever been to an endocrinologist for thyroid tests...not the kind from a primary care office but an endocrinologist? If not please encourage it.. they often coexist.
Heather
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
Agree, the stigmatization continues in the worst way
Ryan
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I don't see that it's inaccurate this article. Seems extremely accurate. There are other Borderline subtypes not listed here but these are the main four subtypes of BPD. The person who posted this article has BPD. It's not stigmatization to describe a person's behavior in an article if it's accurately descriptive of that person with that subtype of BPD. I'm guessing the people saying it's stigmatizing are making an attempt to avoid some kind of personal responsibility because they are likely either the Petulant type or the Impulsive type and have significant pathological narcissism. You won't get better avoiding responsibility.
Ryan
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
Discouraged BPD most likely.
4SeasonsBPD
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
It's accurate and sums me up to a T.
Melissa
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
Reading articles like these really annoy me. They are so stereotypical. I am not an attention seeker and I hide my BPD from most people, even those closest. I was raped when I was 8 years old and it all stemmed from there. I've been in and out of hospital several times. Self harmed and find that I love others more than myself. However, we need to stop trying to put our diagnosis in a box because enough people do that. I haven't a clue what number bpd I have and I don't really give a damn. I am who I am and my bpd only makes me a stronger person. I struggle with close relationship's and I think they will abandon me, but if I assume things about my partner, then that is my responsibility. It is my problem and not theirs. I am the one who has to keep my bpd in control because at the end of the day, it's my illness and I only have myself to be responsible to. Does that make sense?
Jason
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I totally get where you're coming from about the pigeonholing. In my experience, it was like parts of every one of those "subtypes", yet so much more that wasn't even mentioned as part of any of them.

Committing to and following through with an effective treatment to completion, such as DBT, and traversing this journey through recovery from BPD and recovery from whatever trauma may have caused or contributed to it, will indeed make us a much stronger person for it--much stronger than if we had never even had a need for the journey in the first place!

And at the end of that journey (and even throughout the journey at times), the quality of our lives and relationships with those we hold dearest reaches formerly unimaginable potential, functionality and constancy in fulfillment, which, if instead was left untreated, would have seemed unreachable and even impossible before the journey ever started.
Claire
says:
May, 21 2018 at 11:36 pm
I think you guys have to understand that BPD is a very complicated mental illness. People who have it may not necessarily fall into one category entirely. This article isnt innacurate or stigmatizing BPD. I just dont think it touches on the fact that people with BPD may not always fall under one subtype, since the illness is so complex.

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