Early Warning Signs of Personality Disorders Among Teens

Are you worried that your teen is exhibiting signs of a mental health problem? Here is how you can recognize Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in your teen.

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What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is defined as a mental disorder that causes instability in:

  1. Thinking
  2. Action
  3. Outlook

People of any age can suffer from this type of disorder, including teenagers. Parents, teachers, relatives and others who associate with teens should be aware of the more common signs of a Borderline Personality Disorder so that they can intervene early on. Personality disorders typically begin with signs that can be explained as normal symptoms of adolescence, understanding these symptoms makes it easier to realize what may be happening and seek professional help.

How can you recognize signs of Borderline Personality Disorder in teens? What can you do to help a teenager with BPD? Continue reading to learn more, and feel free to send us your questions via the designated section at the bottom of the page.

7 signs of Borderline Personality Disorder in teenagers

1. A change in sleep patterns.

Has your teen begun to sleep a lot more or perhaps started to have trouble sleeping? A change in sleep patterns is a sure sign something is wrong. The origin could be physical or it could be that the teen is undergoing an emotional or mental change that’s not for the better. Talking with a doctor about the sleep issue makes it possible to run tests and determine what type of treatment will help.

2. Fluctuation in relationships.

A teen who is developing a personality disorder might love you one moment and not be able to stand the sight of you the next. The change in demeanor may occur for no apparent reason. For example, something as simple as overhearing an offhand remark and has nothing to do with the teen may set them off. Or not getting invited to go somewhere with a loved one might make them feel betrayed. The reaction that follows overlaps with a general fear of being abandoned and left out of life in general.

3. A lack of self-restraint.

Well-adjusted teens will always test limits set by adults while still having limits that they impost on themselves. However, a teen who is developing a personality disorder usually is impulsive and has little to no self-restraint. This impulsiveness causes them to partake in risky behaviors that could endanger themselves of others around them. From unprotected sex to creating physically dangerous situations, the teen will seem to not care what happens or who the events affect.

4. Withdrawing from social activities.

At one time, the teen loved to go to school, hang out with friends, and spend time with the family. As the personality disorder begins to manifest, that is likely to change. Those old friends will no longer be of any interest and spending any time with the family holds no appeal at all.

At best, the teen may seek out others who seem to be viewing life through the same lens. Those new associated leave no room for anyone who used to be so important.

5. Taking a defensive posture.

The sense that everyone is against the teen feeds the knee-jerk reaction of being defensive about everything. This goes back to the feeling that everyone is against the teen and looking for ways to make the person feel small and unwanted. Attempts at constructive criticism could trigger:

  • disdain
  • harsh language
  • verbal attacks

For example, a family member might ask if anyone knows where the television remote is and the teen, feeling as though they are being blamed, might jump in to claim they know nothing about it.

6. Chronic depression.

No matter what others do, their efforts are never good enough. The meal is tasteless and wasn’t what the teen wanted anyway. What others choose to wear is lame. That TV show is a waste of time, and those birthday presents were nothing but jokes. It seems as if there isn’t a single thing in the teen’s life that is going as it should. Even when the teen does make the effort to get involved in something, the activity does not bring any pleasure.

  • Spending time with friends isn’t fun like it used to be.
  • Foods that used to be special treats really don’t cause any excitement.
  • Sports or other activities that were once something to look forward to are not interesting at all. Life seems to be one long dull ride with nothing worth watching or doing.

Borderline teens suffer from a constant feeling of worthlessness. BPD can even lead to suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.

7. Distrust of the motives of others.

A teen with an emerging personality disorder is not just critical of others. There is a good chance that suspicion about their motives will become more and more common. Even when others attempt to be kind or offer to do something for the teen, the questions in his or her mind are why the offer is made and what does the other person have to gain? The lack of trust goes hand in hand with the fear of letting anyone get too close lest they abandon the teen.

What you should do if you notice these signs in your teen

While each of these symptoms can be associated with other emotional and physical issues, noticing several of them occurring in a teenager is cause for alarm.

NO NOT just assume the teen is going through a phase and will grow out of it in a few months or a couple of years. It’s important to seek professional help if you notice these signs of bipolar disorder in your teen and to get a proper diagnosis. Once your teen has a mental health diagnosis, you can discuss treatment options to help the teen regain an emotional balance and enjoy life once again.

BPD in teens: Your questions

Do you recognize these signs of borderline personality in your child, grandchild, or student? If you have any questions that you might want to learn the answers to, please post them in the comments section below.

We appreciate your feedback and try to respond personally and promptly to all legitimate inquiries. In case we don’t know the answer to your questions, we will gladly refer you to professionals who can help.

About the author
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY17766), a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist and a Certified Youth Residential Treatment Administrator. Dr. Nalin is the Founder and Clinical Director of Paradigm Malibu and Paradigm San Francisco Adolescent Treatment Centers. He has been responsible for the direct care of young people at multiple institutions of learning including; The Los Angeles Unified School District, the University of California at San Diego, Santa Monica College, and Pacific University. He was instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.


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  1. Im worried about my 13year old son, he has many if not all the symptoms above an seems to be falling deeper into chaos as i type this. He went thru some serious things as a small child an i believe he is suffering from something serious i dont know how to help. Please please help me help him. I cant stand the idea of him suffering alone, but my fear is what if he is just an angry child that isnt gettn his way an he is treating people the way he is bcuz of that. Please help me!
    One lost Mommy

    1. Hi Joanna. I suggest that you consult with a doctor to evaluate your son’s psychological state.

  2. Any information on bpd diagnosis when the child has severe cognitive disabilities? How might one assess a student with such marked intellectual challenges?

  3. I am reading this in Awe because my 13 yr old son has all of these symptoms and I have to seek professional help immediately! This is scary

  4. My daughter is displaying many of the above signs and has recently been to the dr who prescribed her with depression, since then she has been much worse. All she wants to do is be alone in her room and anything we suggest is not right. She also says she doesn’t care if she gets better and is refusing to go to counselling, which was the drs suggestion. She is spending less time with friends and actively pushing everyone, including her family, away. She has had an eating disorder in the past too and uses this to control situations. We really are st a loss and would appreciate any advice.

    1. Hi Fiona. Some teens accept therapy as an option, but other don’t. Your daughter is one of those who are showing resistance. However, know that there are still ways you can help her. Some of the experts advise parents to show compassion and understanding by saying:

      “I know you’re having a hard time, and I would like you to let me spend some time with you. When you feel ready to talk, let me know. I’m here for you.”
      “If you have any suggestions on how I might be able to help you.” – see what your daughter will say.

      In case she tells you to back off, do not push her. Give her time to reach out for help to you. Whatever you do, let her know that you love her, support her and are there for her in every struggle.

      When she expresses readiness for help, hear her out before you tell your suggestions. Let her tell you what makes her feel better. Experts also note that is important to know that if one therapy does not work, look for alternative ones.

  5. My 24 year old is showing signs of Histrionic Personality Disorder. There is very little information on the treatment of this type. Her Aunt has it and she’s become a recluse due to her constant sabotaging of all relationships. I’m feeling hopeless

I am ready to call
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