Identity Crisis: Finding Yourself When You Have Borderline Personality Disorder

According to the DSM (Diagnostical Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Criteria for Diagnosing Borderline Personality Disorder), one of the 5 or more out of 9 symptoms that one must meet to be considered as having BPD is:

"Identity disturbance: Markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self."

In some of my earlier posts, you can see that this was one of my most obvious symptoms that led my psychiatrist (and mental health team during my intensive partial hospitalization) to diagnose me with BPD.

I've written about it in the following ways that you may relate to and find helpful:

Can you relate to any of these?

One of the most helpful DBT skills I've found with regards to finding my identity is the section on Wise Mind Values and Priorities in the Emotion Regulation module.  In this section, we are given worksheets to help us discover what we hold true to be our values. 

Often times we take on others' values without realizing it. Here's a minor example that illustrates this.  My doctor told the group that there was a woman who told her that, in order to feel at peace and without anxiety, she absolutely needed to keep her house spotless at all times.  When prompted to think about whether she, personally, really felt the need to keep the house that way, the woman realizes that the high standards she set for herself were values she adopted from someone else (her mother). She felt such a relief to let that go and to keep her house tidy, without the expectation of perfection.

Sorting out our values can help us discover what is important to us, so we can begin practicing behaving in ways that are in accordance. This is a major piece in the identity puzzle. 

I've also observed that learning the Emotion Regulation and Distress Tolerance skills have helped me to begin separating who I am from what I am feeling.  We are not our emotions. We are the observers and experiencers of our emotions.  This may sound strange at first, but as I got deeper and deeper into my DBT practice, it made more sense.

In the beginning of my DBT path, I would jot down any little thing that I really felt that I identified with, such as "I like the color purple," "I like Indian food," and "I love to sing."  These were also pieces of the puzzle that I continue to put together.

What are some things that you know are part of who you are?
What is your experience with Identity Disturbance?

Thanks for reading.
More Soon.


  1. Hi Debbie, thanks for another helpful post.I really struggle with Identity and spend a lot of time on my own as it is less stressful than feeling over-influenced by others and 'pulled in all directions'. I have done dbt but we didnt cover 'Wise Mind Values and Priorities in the Emotion Regulation module', maybe because they do it slightly different in the UK. I just wondered if you had any worksheets on this that you could post please as it sounds like it would be very useful. Thank you.

    1. Hello there. I understand the move of isolation to avoid being pulled in all directions. That's a great way to describe it. You are not the only person to ask for those worksheets. I can email them to you -- please send me an email from the Contact page. ♥

  2. Identity disturbance is and always has been an issue from as far back as learning to walk and talk. I really don't know of a time where I had my own identity. I have always took on the persona of whoever I was with including my children. Now I find I am all over the place trying to discover who I am and really not sure if this is a good thing and feel lost most of the time.

    I am grateful for your blog as it is a great addition to my DBT group. thank you

    1. Hi Jane. Thanks for sharing how you relate to this post. Please keep hope that between group and resources like this, you are on your path to figuring out the REAL you. Hugs. ♥

  3. Hi Debbie, I'm so glad I found your blog.

    I guess I'm just starting to know little crumbs of who I am, here and there. It's been hard in my relationships because I've been starting to assert myself more, and friends can have a hard time accepting that I don't see the world the same way as they do, that I have different values. I probably still do try to take on the persona of the person I'm with... or also swing the other way and be the opposite, which can be aggressive and pushing away.

    I'm trying more to interact with the sense that we're two different people and it's ok. I realize now that taking on the person's persona was a way to escape the *terror* of the feeling of emptiness, of not existing, of not mattering, of being a body but no soul, desperation to just attatch to someone in order to feel real. :( I feel sad to think back on how I spend almost every moment of my days in this hell (Things are sad, lonely, constantly frustrating but also lighter, freer, happier even).

    My heart goes out to all of you here because I know that you have been in hell too. It's like a non-BPD's hell multiplied by a thousand because there's no sense of self to fall back on.

    I also do the jotting down of little things when I feel spun off my feet into the air and can't touch ground... it helps

    "I like Indian food"
    "Dream analysis is interesting"
    "I like the tv series Twin Peaks"

  4. HI everyone, I can totally relate to this. I find I agree with people, as I always want to fit in. I was thinking the other day about what my favourite movie is, and all I could think of was what everyone else I talk to would think. I have been unstable in work and at home, never meeting my own expectations. I always start doing something, get really into it, then it sort of fades and I lose interest



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