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How intense are BPD emotions?

People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) experience emotions in a very intense way. Their emotions tend to be extreme, change rapidly, and are hard to control. This emotional intensity and volatility is considered one of the core features of BPD.

What causes the emotional intensity in BPD?

There are a few key factors that contribute to the emotional intensity seen in BPD:

  • Brain differences – Studies show people with BPD have differences in brain regions that regulate emotions compared to people without BPD. This includes areas like the amygdala and prefrontal cortex.
  • High sensitivity – People with BPD tend to be very emotionally sensitive and reactive to emotional stimuli in their environment. Small triggers can lead to very intense emotional reactions.
  • Poor emotional regulation – People with BPD often have difficulties regulating their emotions effectively once they have been triggered. This leads to emotions spiraling out of control.
  • Black-and-white thinking – People with BPD tend to perceive events and people in extremes, either very positively or very negatively. This polarized thinking amplifies emotional reactions.
  • Unstable sense of self – People with BPD often have a poor sense of who they are and lack a stable self-identity. This makes their emotions feel confusing and uncontrollable.

The combination of these biological, psychological and social factors underlies the emotional rollercoaster commonly seen in BPD.

What do the intense emotions of BPD feel like?

For people with BPD, emotions are often experienced as sudden, intense surges that are hard to cope with. Some examples of what these emotions may feel like include:

  • Anger – explosive rage, feeling extremely irritable, having difficulty calming down
  • Anxiety – overwhelming nervousness, feeling constantly tense, panicking frequently
  • Sadness – deep despair, profound grief, hopeless feelings
  • Emptiness – heavy numbness, void of emotion, disconnected
  • Shame – intense self-loathing, feeling flawed, self-disgust

These emotions are often in response to perceived abandonment, rejection, criticism or failure. The intensity of the emotions is usually disproportionate to the triggering event.

How long do the intense emotions last in BPD?

One of the hallmarks of BPD is just how quickly the emotional highs and lows shift. Intense emotions in BPD tend to surge and recede very rapidly, often within a few hours. Some characteristics of the emotional rollercoaster of BPD include:

  • Emotional reactions reach peak intensity very quickly, within minutes or hours
  • The emotions shift back and forth very quickly between extremes like rage and euphoria
  • Even positive emotions tend to be short-lived
  • Feelings of emptiness may occur in between the emotional highs and lows

This makes the emotions in BPD very unstable, compared to more persistent emotional states seen in depression or bipolar disorder. However, people with BPD often describe emotions that can last for days at a time during high-stress situations.

How are BPD emotions different from typical emotions?

While everyone experiences strong emotions at times, the emotions seen in BPD are distinctly different in several ways:

BPD Emotions Typical Emotions
Much more intense and feel out-of-control May be strong but still feel manageable
Very rapid shifts between emotional extremes More stable and longer lasting
Often in response to minor triggers Proportional emotional reactions
Others often describe them as over-reactions Reactions seem appropriate to others
Leads to unstable relationships and difficulty coping Doesn’t severely disrupt relationships or functioning

The intensity and instability of BPD emotions is what most clearly separates them from the emotions experienced by most people on a regular basis.

What triggers the intense emotions in BPD?

People with BPD tend to have very strong emotional reactions to interpersonal interactions or perceived slights. Some examples of triggers for intense emotions in BPD include:

  • Perceived abandonment or rejection by loved ones
  • Feeling criticized, judged or shamed by others
  • Experiencing betrayal or failure in intimate relationships
  • Picking up on subtle signs the other person is angry or dislikes you
  • Feeling like people are not as invested in the relationship
  • Isolation and feeling disconnected from others

Because people with BPD yearn for close relationships but also fear abandonment, their emotions tend to go from 0 to 100 based on small relationship cues. Even a loved one being a few minutes late can trigger intense emotions like rage, dread, or despair.

When do BPD emotions reach their peak intensity?

For people with BPD, emotions seem to peak in intensity most frequently in the following situations:

  • During arguments, conflicts or breakups in intimate relationships
  • When feeling rejected or abandoned by the other person
  • When feeling criticized or mistreated by others
  • During perceived failures or times they feel ashamed
  • When they feel trapped in a situation they can’t escape
  • When emotions have built up over time without relief

The most explosive emotional reactions tend to occur during high-stress relational crises or after emotions have been bottled up over time. The intensity of the emotions drives a sense of urgency and needing immediate relief at all costs.

What are signs of emotional intensity in BPD?

There are many observable signs that can indicate someone is experiencing very intense emotions. Signs of emotional intensity in someone with BPD may include:

  • Extreme irritability over minor frustrations
  • Frequent angry outbursts that seem out of proportion
  • Intense mood swings over short periods of time
  • Panic reactions to perceived abandonment
  • Impulsive behaviors like spending, sex, substance use
  • Self-harm behaviors to deal with emotional pain
  • Dissociation during emotional distress

These signs of emotion dysregulation point to inner emotions so intense that they lead to outward behavioral dyscontrol as well.

How are BPD emotions displayed?

People with BPD may display their intense emotions outwardly in various ways, including:

  • Anger – yelling, shouting, throwing things, threatening others
  • Distress – crying, pleading, self-harming
  • Fear – panicking, clinging to others, refusing to be alone
  • Emptiness – isolation, withdrawal, feeling numb and dazed
  • Impulsivity – reckless behaviors, substance abuse, binge eating

The intense inner emotional experience often translates into desperate attempts to avoid abandonment, manage distress, or regain a sense of control. The displays of emotion may seem overdramatic but feel life-or-death in the moment.

What damage can BPD emotions cause?

The fallout from ongoing emotional intensity in BPD can be quite severe and wide-ranging, including:

  • Relationship conflict – arguments, breakups, hostility from loved ones
  • Sabotaging success – school issues, job loss, financial instability
  • Mental health – anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress
  • Physical health – sleep issues, ulcers, migraines, obesity
  • Risky coping – drug abuse, promiscuity, gambling, self-harm
  • Social isolation – loneliness, lack of support, stigma

The inability to regulate emotions effectively takes a toll both internally and externally over time. The fallout further exacerbates emotional dysfunction, leading to a vicious cycle.

How are intense BPD emotions managed?

There are many strategies that can help people with BPD better cope with intense emotions, including:

  • DBT – Dialectical behavior therapy with distress tolerance skills
  • CBT – Cognitive behavioral therapy to change thought patterns
  • Mindfulness – Practices to build emotional awareness
  • Distraction – Redirecting focus away from emotional trigger
  • Self-soothing – Using senses to calm like music, nature, massage
  • Support system – Having anchors like friends, family, pets

A combination of therapy, lifestyle changes, social support, and daily coping strategies are needed to better endure the emotional storm inside BPD.


In summary, people with BPD live with a level of emotional intensity and instability that goes beyond normal emotional fluctuations. Their emotions seem to show up as extremes, shift very rapidly, arise without much provocation, and create significant life disruption. With professional help and daily self-care, it is possible for those with BPD to gain more control over these turbulent emotions and lessen their destructive impact.