• Sonia Neale

Borderline Personality Disorder and Getting Older

Research has suggested that people with BPD "grow out of their disorder with age." However, what has also been found is that suicide ideation and physical self-harm lessens as one grows older and mellows out, and feelings can become more measured and muted. People, once they get to a certain age (it varies from one to another of course) tend to be less reactive physically to stimuli (read ‘other people’) in their environment (be it invalidation, criticism or something else). Other research suggests that data from this subgroup of people with BPD is based on Emergency Department presentations and admissions. The older the person the less likely they are to present to Emergency Departments. Physical manifestations of BPD decrease with age.

But, according to the article attached: “Avoidance and living a solitary life are not considered healthy approaches to BPD but does play a role in decreasing symptom frequency. Older people with BPD were more likely to exhibit feelings of chronic emptiness and have higher degrees of social impairment.”

As an older person I’ve made my life work for me as best I can. I have passion (rather than anger) and I have filled my life with things that matter to me. Very simple pursuits. You can be living in a palace with all the money, prestige and power in the world, but are you content and fulfilled? Or are you seeking more of the same?

Getting older for me means:

  • Moving to the country and getting chickens and rabbits, fruit trees and vegie gardens (and all the work and headaches that go with them).

  • Writing a novel (I have two non-fiction books published previously) which fills me with deep fulfilment and regularly gets me in that “flow zone.” In the flow zone, all problems and issues fall silent and your brain has a chance to increase all those important connections between neurons enabling your brain to change where more solutions can be accessed by the pre-frontal cortex – the part that makes good decisions and controls impulses.

  • Avoiding a lot of social contact. I don’t need people as much as I did when I was younger. I still like people; I just don’t desperately need them like before.

  • Really enjoying my work as a therapist, especially with people with BPD and seeing the changes they make in their life.

  • Seeing my adult children and their partners for regular family dinners. We have dynamics rather than arguments and estrangements. Long story with extended family though.

  • A solitary life with self-reflection (admitting my mistakes and social transgressions without beating myself up) and sitting in nature which I consider very healthy. My husband also shares my love for solitude.

  • Not buying into anyone else’s stuff anymore.

  • Not feeling overwhelmed anymore.

  • Being able to sit in unpleasant feelings and feel them, knowing they will pass.

  • Being far less impulsive.

  • Not attaching stories or narrative to feelings.

  • Being able to say no (at last).

  • Letting things go (oh, so important).

  • Agreeing to disagree.

  • Being able to reflect rather than react.

  • Walking away from problems and crises.

  • Not lurching from one crisis to another.

  • Stopping blaming others for my problems.

  • Not being perfect (how I love not being perfect).

I didn’t realise how long that list was going to be! I could add more, but I will say I can still get angry, I can be irritable for a few days, I still want instant gratification, but they are down to manageable levels now. I’m happy with that – again, not being perfect.

I have a finite time left on this planet and I want to be at peace as much as I can. Getting older is not a lifestyle choice. Working with what you have rather than what you yearn for can be the key to (not happiness) but the absence of unhappiness.



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