Personality Disorders

When Borderline Personality Disorder Becomes Stalking

Dangers of intense “neediness” in romantic or close relationships.

Posted Oct 26, 2020

People often talk about someone being “borderline” but what does that mean clinically, and what are the diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder? Is it true or a myth that people with the disorder are more likely to engage in stalking behaviour? Separate myths from facts by understanding the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) criteria that indicate that a person with borderline personality disorder has five or more symptoms from nine possible symptoms:

1. A person with borderline personality disorder tends to anxiously avoid being separated from or abandoned by people they care about. They might go to extreme lengths such as stalking people they care about through tracking their phone or following them. Research suggests that 45 percent of people who engage in stalking behaviour have borderline personality disorder although the proportion among people convicted of stalking crimes is lower at 4 to 15 percent [1]. People with borderline personality behaviour may also prefer not to be alone and they might come across as “needy” or demanding in the time, amount of communication or attention that they want from their spouse, family, or friends. They might bombard people they care about with messages and want to spend most of their time with them, making their loved ones feel monitored or suffocated.

2. A person with borderline personality disorder tends to have a pattern of intense or unstable romantic relationships, friendships, or connections with family members or work colleagues. They might start by idealising someone in putting them on a pedestal and treating them with awe, but they may then switch to devaluing the person and treating them quite badly such as being passive-aggressive or hostile. This can make spouses, friends, or family feel like they are walking on eggshells or expected to meet impossibly high standards.

3. A person with borderline personality disorder tends to have a distorted or unstable sense of identity; how they view themselves can change quite drastically or be distorted from reality. For example, they can feel confused or unknowing about their goals in life, values, or beliefs such as being easily influenced to change their belief system or political outlook without having a deep opinion about it.

4. A person with borderline personality disorder tends to be impulsive in a way that can damage them or others. They are impulsive in two or more areas of their life but that excludes suicidal behaviour. For example, they might engage in compulsive buying, gambling, substance use, dangerous driving or make drastic life decisions such as ending a good relationship, quitting a job that was going well, or spending a large amount of money on something.

5. A person with borderline personality disorder can tend to experience repeated thoughts about killing themselves, or repeatedly threaten to commit suicide or engage in self-harm such as cutting themselves, self-mutilating, or burning their skin with matches. This can lead to long-lasting damage to their body. The symptom might be manifest in situations relating to other symptoms such as the fear of abandonment. For example, they might threaten to self-mutilate or commit suicide if someone they are dating wants to end the relationship, or they might bombard an ex-partner with messages threatening to kill themselves if the ex-partner does not return.

6. A person with borderline personality disorder tends to have a highly reactive mood that can swing from one intense emotion to another. Shifting from being intensely angry to being intensely anxious or happy can make them seem emotionally disturbed. It can make their spouse, family, friends or work colleagues feel like they have to be careful about what they say or do in case it upsets them and makes them feel insecure because they are afraid of the mood swings.

7. A person with borderline personality disorder can feel continually empty in not finding experiences, achievements, interactions, or emotions deep or meaningful. They might make romantic partners, family, or friends feel like nothing makes them happy. They may also seem not to find happiness in any job, activity, or hobby. Some symptoms might help people with the disorder fill that sense of emptiness. For example, an intense romantic relationship that involves bombarding a partner with messages might reduce the sense of emptiness that they feel about other aspects of life.

8. A person with borderline personality disorder can become inappropriately angry or find it very difficult to control anger. They may often lose their temper, be angry or argumentative in situations where the reaction is disproportionate. A relationship or friendship with someone with the disorder might be marked by a lot of drama caused by anger, arguments, and outbursts of rage through physical fights, slamming doors, or hitting things. In cases where stalking behaviour is present, people might feel quite fearful and concerned for their personal safety.

9. When they are stressed, a person with borderline personality disorder can become paranoid, such as believing that people are plotting against them or talking about them behind their back. They may also show dissociative symptoms that involve feeling unreal or disconnected to reality in periods of high stress.

The symptoms can occur in any order and some symptoms might be more prominent than others. Beware of myths, do not assume that anyone who acts “needy” in a relationship or engages in stalking has borderline personality disorder. Do not try and diagnose yourself or other people with borderline personality disorder; only someone who is clinically trained has the expertise to diagnose a mental disorder.

Borderline personality disorder traits tend to begin in early adulthood therefore parents and families need to spot changes in their children or siblings that might be signs of the disorder. Seeking help from a trained therapist can help you, or someone you care about, become aware of the symptoms and treatment options. Treatment can include talk therapy, medication, or hospitalisation. Beware of signs of self-harm or impulsive behaviour that poses a danger to life or other people’s well-being (e.g. stalking) and encourage someone you suspect of having borderline personality disorder to seek help.

Nearly half of people who engage in stalking behaviour have borderline personality disorder although more research is needed about the prevalence among convicted stalkers [1]. Seeking help could prevent symptoms of the disorder (e.g. anxieties about being abandoned and intense “neediness” in romantic or close relationships) developing into stalking.

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[1] Sansone, RA & Sansone, LA (2010). Fatal attraction syndrome:  stalking behavior and borderline personality disorder. Psychiatry, 7(5), 42-46.