Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder May Be Attainable

Recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) may be possible, and the roots lie in understanding the biosocial model. This model originated with Marsha Linehan’s theory, arguing that there are both social and biological reasons that BPD develops.

borderline personality disorder is often considered one of the most difficult diagnoses with which to work. But in my many years of experience working with individuals with BPD, I found that there are reasons behind their actions that, when understood, can help lead to empathy, acceptance, and ultimately change.

According to the biosocial model, people with BPD frequently have differences in their neurotransmitter and neurological functioning. Research has shown that they many have neurotransmitter issues that make them more emotional, aggressive, or reactive to stimuli – making them more prone to emotionally intense experiences.

People with BPD have usually been invalidated throughout life, leading to emotional sensitivity. For example, imagine a child who is hungry or frustrated and is trying to communicate this to his or her parents but being told that their feelings don’t matter over and over again. The feelings may be cast aside with statements such as “there’s nothing to cry about”, or through cultural stereotypes such as “little girls don’t get angry”, or “big boys don’t cry”. And environments of emotional, psychological, and physical abuse are extremely invalidating.

Invalidation serves to demonstrate to children that their feelings are wrong and that somehow they need to look externally, to other people, to know what they are feeling and if their feelings have value. Being told their emotions were wrong led them to believe that emotions were bad things, to be avoided whenever possible. This creates a chronic, internal tension where the person feels that they have to live up to others’ expectations and not experience negative feelings. Yet they also feel anger and worthlessness for having those unavoidable negative feelings, or on a deeper level, for not being able to authentically express themselves.

This tension builds up and causes an emotional explosion. In fact, the individual who has had their emotions invalidated repeatedly growing up will feel that if they don’t demonstrate their emotions through large displays, that no one will believe them. They believe that their emotions are not worthy of being considered, so may in fact subconsciously overemphasize their emotional expression in order to ensure that other people “believe” that what they are feeling is real.

This is one reason BPD results in so many emotional outbursts. People with BPD have been invalidated for so long that they don’t trust what they feel unless their feelings are overflowing and taking over the room. It’s only then that the individual with BPD can relax and say, “see, I told you I was upset”.

Having emotions ignored by others for so long also leads to black and white behaviors and beliefs. For someone with BPD, behaviors may swing like a pendulum from distancing themselves from their emotions and other people to feeling needy and dependent on someone else. Although the individual looks for love and approval from others, they have difficulty accepting that love due to the low regard they have for themselves. Chronic invalidation has caused them to feel overwhelmed by distressing emotions. Sometimes their behavior becomes self-sabotaging and self-destructive when they can’t cope with these emotions. Frequently, social relationships merely reinforce these negative patterns.

As children, people with BPD learned these skills to survive in their dysfunctional environment. But these skills no longer serve them. Many people with BPD find the notion of “change” to be invalidating in itself because it implies that there is something wrong with them that needs to be purged. This is why the most successful and well-researched therapy for BPD, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), focuses on balancing radical acceptance and non-judgment of oneself while recognizing the need for change.

The biosocial model reveals keys to recovery from borderline personality disorder and tells us that this diagnosis does not have to be the horrible life-sentence that many people and medical professionals make it out to be. Marsha Linehan, the inventor of DBT, revealed in a 2011 New York Times article that she had BPD when she was younger. Yet, she’s found ways to cope with and grow from the issues that at one point institutionalized her. If she can get through it, anyone can.


Carey, B. (2011). Expert on Mental Illness Reveals Her Own Fight. New York Times. New York.

Crowell SE, Beauchaine TP, & Linehan MM (2009). A biosocial developmental model of borderline personality: Elaborating and extending Linehan’s theory. Psychological bulletin, 135 (3), 495-510 PMID: 19379027

Linehan, M. M. (1993).  Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York:  Guilford Press.

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford Press.

Image via Marijus Auruskevicius / Shutterstock.

  • Gary Orford

    Thank you, thank, thank you!

    I now have what is perhaps the most intelligent, eloquent, concise, easy to understand and compassionate article I have ever read about BPD. Finally, something I can hand to a friend, loved one, or aquaintance who shows interest in who I am, what I have been through and how a made it out of the living hell that is the BPD existence to now, at age 52 enjoying “A Life Worth Living”.

    DBT saved my life!

    Thank You So Much…


  • Thank you for this article – we need all the encouragement and positivity we can get to fight against the stigma and misinformation which is out there about BPD.

    It’s absolutely possible to recover fully from BPD. I was diagnosed with it 10 years ago, but for the last three years have had zero out of nine borderline (DSM) symptoms, and have been enjoying a mainly happy life. I work full-time, have good relationships in love and friendship, and can manage my feelings in a way completely different than during my borderline years. I invite you to read about how I did it on my WordPress site, bpdtransformation dot wordpress dot com

  • Mother Love

    Did I miss something here? So just by validating my daughter’s feelings she will recover? Wow, what a simplistic answer. As anyone who has loved a borderline knows that is not the answer. This is a genetic disease and until psychology embraces this there will be no “cure”. My coworker has two borderline daughters and a niece with borderline. When all of her’s and mine say the RXACT same catch words, react EXACTLY the same and so on, when all were raised with unconditional love then it is obvious this is a genetic disease. My daughter has a debilitating brain disease. Please start looking for medical answers. Help was achieved for depression. Stop looking at this like talk therapy is the answer.

    • Anonymous

      Please do at least your due diligence by researching DBT and talking to a trained therapist regarding the program. Of course it is not just a matter of validating your daughters feelings….and no one doubts that your struggle to love her through this is immense. As someone who was misdiagnosed, drugged, counselled, hospitalized, shocked and left without hope for over 20 years I am telling you that There Is Hope….and DBT does work….in fact it may very well be the cure you are seeking for your daughter. BTW…any reputable DBT program will include seperate training/education/support for families.

      Medication free and living a life worth living….out of the psychiatric system….


    • Anonymous

      Validating your daughter at the very least can help her feel safe while she learns DBT skills. Please don’t discard the advice. Lumping her in with other BPD daughters like that is within itself invalidating your daughter. People can develop BPD in unconditional loving environments too, all it takes is being emotionally “different” from the rest of your family. When your emotions are 20x stronger than your mother’s, her advice on how to calm down may not work or be appropriate for you, or you may need some extreme coaching to gain emotional intelligence and coping skills (DBT). In fact, her advice and inability to understand that you just feel things more strongly than her may be just enough invalidation to start distrusting yourself and feeling insecure enough to behave the way we BPDers behave before we learn coping skills that are tailored just for people like us.

    • Anonymous

      Also, Western society itself is invalidating of unwanted emotions in general. The biosocial theory is that you are biologically predisposed to being a highly emotional or sensitive person, who is then exposed to an invalidating environment for a prolonged period of time. Our K-12 system, bullying and teasing, is enough for some to learn that they are bad for having extreme emotions and are told to “calm down” but are not taught effective ways to calm down because a less emotionally sensitive person requires much less effort to slow the nervous system back down. I will also add that everyday sexism is also quite invalidating for many of us.

  • Faith

    DBT is a very good program, but what can someone whose diagnosis has been PTSD for years, then when I tried to appeal for better therapy and medications, my diagnosis changed and I have been put down by professional people, whom I thought would know better to treat someone like they have me.

    Thanks for your writings.

    • Anonymous

      There are a lot of people who think BPD is a more complex and severe variant of PTSD. Yes, professionals should know better, but if they went through training over 10 years ago, they were probably given a lot of bad information and lack enough empathy and compassion to be a good therapist anyway. Don’t give up! I tried 4 different therapists before I found one that worked for me. Just remember, you do not have to continue any therapy that is not effective for you.

  • Sabrina

    Great information. Every child has the right to express love, hurt pain and all other feelings. If raised in an environment where his or her opinion never matters,they may not be free to indulge with anyone.Individuals should show not only kids but also other people that their feelings have value. A child should never be told that being emotional is bad or wrong.

Ashley Brown, MA, PhD

Ashlee Brown, MA, PhD, worked for almost a decade as a therapist and is now a full time writer and researcher. She is adept at writing about research for general audiences, creating educational presentations and materials, writing about psychological concepts for self-help purposes, and writing, researching, and editing academic articles.

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