Personality disorders in children and adolescents are hard to define. They are known as ‘personality’ disorders because they are enduring and pervasive in nature – so we tend to think of them as being part of a person’s ‘personality’ rather than a set of symptoms.
What are personality disorders?
Our personalities are still developing when we are teenagers, which is why the diagnosis of BPD hasn’t been without its contentions. Some experts say it isn’t helpful to ‘label’ a child when their personality isn’t fully developed, whilst other experts would say that a diagnosis allows for the correct treatment and interventions to be put in place.
There are several ‘clusters’ of personality disorders, which are categorised based on their defining characteristics. The most common personality disorder is borderline personality disorder – which falls in Cluster B.
What is Emerging borderline personality disorder?
Emerging borderline personality disorder is a concept designed to convey the fact that BPD should only be diagnosed in children and adolescents in those rare and relatively unusual cases where the features of BPD are pervasive, persistent, and unlikely to be limited to a particular phase of the young person’s life.
It also conveys the idea that the features of BPD may often not persist into adult life. Where present, EBPD is a severe mental health condition, that usually starts developing around mid-teens. Someone who has EBPD will have difficulties in the following areas of their life:
- Interpersonal relationships
- Impulsive behaviour
EBPD often becomes apparent in how the individual relates to others, it may be that your teen has ‘fiery’ friendships that are ‘all or nothing’. They may find disappointment very hard to bear and it’s common for those with emerging borderline personality disorders to self-harm or even make attempts on their lives.
Symptoms of emerging borderline personality disorder
The symptoms used to diagnose EBPD in teenagers are the same as those used for adults and include:
- Frantic efforts to avoid real, or imagined, abandonment by others
- Intense relationships with others – shifting from idealising to detesting.
- Unstable sense of self
- Impulsive behaviour (overspending, promiscuity, binge eating, reckless driving)
- Self-harming / suicide attempts or threats
- Intense moods – anxiety, depression, or irritability
- Feeling empty and worthless
- Intense and inappropriate anger and outbursts
- Brief episodes of paranoid thoughts and dissociation
Diagnosing emerging borderline personality disorder
Regardless of the reason why your child or teenager may be behaving the way they are, if your child is harming themselves, acting dangerously or recklessly and suffers from anxiety, depression, or low self-esteem, it is important to get some help for them as early as possible.
Only a psychiatrist who has experience of working with personality disorders will be able to diagnose and recommend the most effective treatment options for your child. They will also look to ascertain whether your child has another mental health conditions like depression or anxiety which could explain their symptoms.
Treating emerging borderline personality disorder
Adolescence is a time of developmental transitions – learning more about yourself, how to build and maintain relationships and building a sense of who you are as a person. These factors, teamed with ‘meltdowns or strong emotions are frequently dismissed as being due to hormones, teenagers who have a personality disorder often go untreated.
Treatment options for EBPD include primarily talking therapies.
Medication can be useful for some disorders that frequently accompany BPD, such as anxiety and depressive disorders.
Talking therapies like MBT-A and DBT-A are usually recommended. These therapies have added benefits, not only in dealing with the immediate issues but also supporting your child or teenager to develop a healthier and fuller sense of self. They will also learn invaluable coping mechanisms and skills that will last a lifetime.
Talk with a qualified professional
A free, confidential call could quickly put you on the path to regaining control. All calls are answered by a trained assistant psychologist who will listen and ask questions, before suggesting the most appropriate treatment.