Occasionally, some individuals who suffer from borderline personality disorder (BPD) may develop transient (short-lasting) psychotic symptoms ; these are also sometimes referred to as : psychotic episodes, psychotic experiences or ‘breaks from reality.’
What is Psychosis?
Psychosis can involve :
– seeing things which are not there (visual hallucinations)
– hearing things which are not there eg the sufferer might believe they can hear voices telling them to harm, or even kill, themselves
– having the feeling of touching things which are not there (somatic hallucinations)
– smelling things which are not there (olfactory hallucinations)
– derealization (a change of perception in which the world seems ‘unreal’)
– depersonaliztion (a change of perception in which one’s own self seems unreal).
Note : Both derealization and depersonalization are what are known as ‘dissociative’ symptoms – click here to read my article about dissociation.
– holding on to extremely odd and unusual beliefs that others cannot dissuade the sufferer from believing, especially paranoid beliefs, such as their family, or strangers, are trying to kill them ; believing they are irredeemably evil ; believing they don’t exist ; believing the government is going to kill them and they are being pursued by MI5 (UK) or the CIA (US) ; believing aliens have placed an implant in their brains which broadcasts all their thoughts. Sometimes, too, the bizarre belief may be a delusion of grandeur, such as ‘they are god’.
Whilst such experiences can sometimes be severe, most frequently they are not long-lived. However, such symptoms are also a sign that the illness (BPD) is worsening, and, therefore, a person who has psychotic symptoms should always seek expert help as quickly as possible.
If a BPD sufferer is unlucky enough to experience a psychotic episode, when is it most likely to occur, and how can that person minimize their risk?
Sufferers of BPD are at greatest risk of experiencing a psychotic episode following a significant stressor. Such experiences are sometimes referred to as ‘reactive psychosis.’ It follows from this, of course, that those with BPD should avoid stress as far as it is possible.
The depression which accompanies BPD can become so acute that it leads to psychotic symptoms. Extended dysphoria (the word ‘dysphoria’ refers to a highly distressing state in which the sufferer feels extreme emotional pain, restlessness, emptiness and agitation) can tip over into psychotic experiences ;These may include : feelings of extreme, irrational guilt and false beliefs about being responsible for things that they are, in fact, in no way responsible for (such as the abuse they suffered).
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)
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