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Identity Disturbance And Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)


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BPD And Identity Disturbance :

One of the defining symptoms of borderline personality disorder (a condition strongly associated with childhood trauma) is identity disturbance. In other words, many individuals with BPD have an unstable self-image and no firm sense of their identity; they may sum up such issues by using expressions such as: ‘I don’t know who I am.

Indeed, it may be that identity disturbance is the central feature of BPD (Gad et al., 2019)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) defines IDENTITY DISTURBANCE as: markedly and persistently unstable self-image

Individuals suffering from identity disturbance may or sense of self.

Those who suffer from the disorder may:

  • have an unstable self-image that frequently oscillates between two extremes and an inconsistent view of self over time
  • become obsessed with their appearance, even to the extent that they develop conditions such as body dysmorphic disorder and anorexia nervosa.
  • lose touch with reality (dissociation)
  • experience feelings of derealization and/or depersonalization
  • attempt to develop an unrealistic, idealized self (e.g. trying to adopt the image of a famous movie star) only to feel empty and deficient when this inevitably fails
  • act as ‘social chameleons‘ (find that, because of their weak and uncertain sense of their own identity, they mimic the behaviors, values, and attitudes of those they happen to be associating with at any given time)
  • live by inconsistent and contradictory standards, principles, beliefs, and values
  • have an inconsistent view of the world and their place in it
  • lack commitment
  • constantly feel empty

These problems can have a significantly negative effect upon an individual’s life, such as his/her career and relationships (Zandersen et al., 2018)

Categories Of Identity Disturbance :

Some psychologists break identity disorder associated with BPD into four categories; these are as follows :


Let’s look at each of these four categories in a little more detail :


This involves individuals with an intrinsically weak sense of their own identity desperately attempting to create one by defining themselves through a particular role or cause. This may involve adopting a different name and radically altering their world view, values and belief system. Such individuals are vulnerable to being lured into cults whereby they may completely subjugate any sense of their own identity and, instead, overlay it with the identity into which the cult leader inculcates and indoctrinates them. Such individuals are obviously at high risk of being exploited by unscrupulous others.


Those who fall into this category constantly experience a distressing sense of emptiness. 


Individuals in this category are prone to changing their values, attitudes and opinions according to the people they happen to be associating with at any given time and, because of this, are sometimes referred to as ‘social chameleons’, as referred to above.


Lack of commitment can manifest itself in relation to many important areas of life including education (e.g. frequently changing courses but never completing any); career (frequently changing jobs); geographic location (frequently moving home); relationships (e.g. inability to maintain relationships with friends/partners/spouses); interests/hobbies.


Treatments for BPD may be effective for treating identity disturbance, including dialectical behavior therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy.



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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).



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