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Borderline Personality Disorder & Criminal Behavior

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I have a B.A. in social and criminal justice and a master's in psychology.

How can we prevent so many who suffer from borderline personality disorder from becoming another number within our prisons?

How can we prevent so many who suffer from borderline personality disorder from becoming another number within our prisons?

Addressing a Prison Epidemic

Borderline personality disorder has been reported as one of the top disorders prison inmates are diagnosed, linking the disorder with criminal behavior (Sansone 2009). Between 25% to 50% of inmates in prison suffer from borderline personality disorder, mostly shown in females (Sansone 2009). So what is borderline personality? What causes someone to develop the disorder? Why is it linked to so many within our criminal justice system? How can we prevent so many who suffer from borderline personality disorder from becoming another number within our prisons?

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is “a serious mental health disorder [that is] characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image, and behavior” (RAINN 2009). If left untreated, the disorder can disrupt a person’s family life, career, any long-term goals, and a person’s self-identity (RAINN 2009). Someone with BPD tends to push others away from them. This could stem from their fear of being abandoned so they push people away as a defense mechanism to avoid the person leaving them (Mayo Clinic 2012). Adults that have BPD suffer from intense anger, impulsive actions, and frequent mood swings (Mayo Clinic 2012).

How to Tell if Someone Has Borderline Personality Disorder

When being diagnosed by a professional to have borderline personality disorder, there are some distinct signs that will tell the doctor that you do have the disorder (Mayo Clinic 2012):

  • a pattern of impulsive and risky behavior
  • being aware that you act in destructive ways but seem to be unable to change
  • extreme mood swings
  • short intensive spurts of depression and/or anxiety
  • intense episodes of anger that can escalate quickly into physical fights
  • difficulty controlling emotions or impulse desires; suicidal behavior
  • feeling like you are misunderstood, alone, neglected; fear of being alone or abandoned
  • hating yourself or being very critical of yourself

Borderline personality disorder affects how one feels about themselves, how they relate to others, and how one behaves (Mayo Clinic 2012). This leads people with borderline personality disorder to suffer from insecurities and to end relationships because they see things very black and white and tend to ignore grey areas (Mayo Clinic 2012).

A person can develop borderline personality disorder in adulthood because they were already predisposed to have it based on genetics (someone in their family, such as a parent, was diagnosed with it) (Mayo Clinic 2012). But environmental situations such as abuse, neglect, and separation during the young ages of childhood can cause the disorder to develop later in life (Mayo Clinic 2012).

Most of the time, a person who suffers from borderline personality disorder in adulthood is because while they were a child, they were physically or sexually abused or experienced neglect (RAINN 2009 & Mayo Clinic 2012). Because of this fact, people with borderline personality disorder can become violent people. Compared to those that have antisocial personality disorder, those with borderline personality disorder tend to commit more violent crimes (Sansone 2009) because they suffer from impulsivity, instability, aggression, and antisocial behavior (Sansone 2009). Prisons are over-represented with people with borderline personality disorder ranging from people that commit domestic violence offenses and those that commit murders (Sansone 2009).

How Is Borderline Personality Disorder Treated?

In order to prevent someone from committing a crime because of borderline personality disorder, it needs to be diagnosed early and continually treated (RAINN 2009). There are two types of treatment under psychotherapy that most doctors have seen as effective: dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) and transference-focused psychotherapy (TFP). With DBT, counseling sessions (individual, group, or phone) are used to help develop skills to help the individual control their emotions and tolerate distress in order to improve the relationships they enter into (RAINN 2009). With TFP, the counseling is centered on the patient/therapist relationship where the therapist helps that patient understand his emotions and the difficulties that can arise when in a relationship with someone (RAINN 2009).

There are no medications that can cure borderline personality disorder. Patients that do suffer from the disorder though are sometimes treated with medications for specific aspects of the disorder. For example, people with borderline personality disorder tend to suffer from anxiety and depression that can lead to suicidal thoughts and actions. Therefore, a doctor may prescribe the patient an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication to help with that aspect (RAINN 2009). Although it doesn’t treat the whole disorder, it helps lower some of the symptoms of the disorder.

Another type of treatment that doctors will encourage their patients to do is a change in lifestyle. It is encouraged that one who suffers from borderline personality disorder take good care of their physical well-being by getting enough rest (six to seven hours of sleep, same time every day); eating a balanced diet; exercising regularly; avoiding making situations that can cause them to be anxious, angry, or irritable; and avoid alcohol or drugs or any mind-altering substances that a doctor has not prescribed to them (RAINN 2009).

Importance in Criminal Justice

Understanding borderline personality disorder seems to be important to the criminal justice system since so many criminals seem to be diagnosed with it. If caught early and treated, we may be able to prevent someone from becoming a criminal in the first place or prevent someone from becoming a career criminal.


Mayo Clinic. (2012). “Borderline Personality Disorder.” Retrieved from

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Read More From Healthproadvice

RAINN. (2009). “Borderline Personality Disorder.” Retrieved from

Sansone, R. & L. (2009). “Borderline Personality Disorder.” Psychiatry, MMC. Retrieved from

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2013 Amber


kelly on August 04, 2014:

i have borderline, and i find deplin ( l-methylfolate) to help a lot with my traits.

John 999999 on January 17, 2014:

My point: antidepressants do not work. This fact is shown from the summary of many many studies.

What does: mood stabilizers and low dose atypical antipsychotics.

Check that review article for the solid information culled from hundeds of controlled studies.

Amber (author) from Winter Park on January 16, 2014:

I wasn't saying that I thought antipsychotics were the right choice. I was just stating what others were saying worked. If you go back and read, it was taken from one of my sources - not something I came up with. Also, everyone has there own opinion about what works and doesn't work. And from my experience, not everything works for everyone. Somethings may work for one person but not for another. Thanks for your idea of what works.

John 999999 on January 14, 2014:

The article below is a great review article on meds for borderine sufferers

Your statement that antidepressants are helpful is inaccurate. This review of hunderds of research study results indicated they are not. Mood stabilizers and atypical anticpsychotics in lower than ususual doses are most helpful

Check Dr. Robert Friedel, "Borderline Personality Demystified", he is an expert.

Google :

Pharmacotherapy for borderline personality disorder: Cochrane systematic review of randomised trials

The British Journal of Psychiatry (2010) 196: 4-12

doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.108.062984

Ryan from Australia on May 01, 2013:

With the present epidemic of mental illness in men and women, I cannot help but feel there is something seriously flawed in our social system. Whilst we should endeavour to treat mental illness and remove the social stigma from it, I do feel that we need to pay attention to and address the causes as well. Too often society seems to have a knee jerk bandaid reaction to mental illness and other problems in society, rather than actually attempting to change the conditions that produced such illness or problems in the first place. Excellent article, useful and informative.

Amber (author) from Winter Park on April 30, 2013:

It is not a disease. It is a disorder that affects the brain hence the title Borderline Personality Disorder. Yes, a lot of women do have it, but it is not ignored. It is actually over-represented in our criminal/prison population.

Darkproxy from Ohio on April 30, 2013:

No actually it is a disease but largely in women and mostly ignored

Amber (author) from Winter Park on April 30, 2013:

Ummm.... you are very off with this comment Mr. Darkproxy! This is an actual mental illness that is very serious and it seems that you are making very light of it which is very offensive.

Darkproxy from Ohio on April 30, 2013:

men who have this are crested women who have it are propped up with "you go girl" and is treated as female empowerment.

Amber (author) from Winter Park on April 30, 2013:

I am glad this was helpful for you. I actually wrote this paper because of two reasons: 1. it was a requirement for a class and 2. I suffer from abandonment issues and have suspicion that I may also suffer from this as well although I haven't been diagnosed with it by a doctor. I saw a lot of things when I was younger because of my mother's lifestyle choices. When I was 4, my theropist said she didn't think I had been abused sexually as was thought, but she did believe that I had come very close to having been. So it could be that your daughter took on your emotional aspect of the abuse and that is why she later in life developed BPD. Again, i am not a doctor and that wold just be my personal thoughts.

LaDena Campbell from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz... on April 29, 2013:

Great information for people dealing with this disorder...especially ones who know very little about it. My daughter was recently diagnosed with far as I know she was never abused as a child, either physically or sexually...she did observe her father physically abuse me, though. She now has a young daughter and I worry about her...

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