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  • Writer's pictureSu Chaw (Su)

The role of personality in Borderline Personality Disorder

Have you ever taken a personality quiz? Most people have and one of the most popular ones is called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI - free test). However, this post is not about that type of personality test, it is about another type of personality test that mental health professionals or psychologists use in order to help diagnose clients. It is often called the Big Five and it looks at the five dimensions of personality as listen below:

Openness to Experience





Notice that list up there can be simply remembered as OCEAN. This is an acronym you can use to remember the five factors above.

Openness to experience

If your score is high on this dimension, you are more than likely to be creative, imaginative, adventurous, inventive and easy to get along with. However, you are also more likely to be prone to depression, addictions and non-conformity. For example, you might be more willing to go snowboarding on a whim or try a new restaurant in an unknown city whereas someone low on on this factor would want to know what the reviews are, the pros and cons of skateboarding etc. before deciding on where to go.


If your score is high on this dimension, you are more than likely to be a planner, dependable, organized and achievement focused. Spontaneous behaviour might be difficult for you to imagine as it would mean a lack of self-discipline in some cases. A sentence that you might relate to is "I like keeping to schedules and I pay close attention to detail" or " I am always prepared."However, if you score low on this dimension, you might relate to being more laid back in your work attitude, pay less attention to detail (big picture), less orderly and unhurried. Generally, those who have low conscientiousness scores tend to procrastinate more often.


If your score is high on this dimension, you are more likely to be outgoing, sociable, energetic, assertive, and positive. You might seek stimulation from others around you and enjoy being around people. A sentence you might relate to is " I feel comfortable around others", or " I don't mind being the centre of attention."However, if you score low on this dimension, you might be more comfortable in smaller groups or one-on-one interactions, less outgoing and not seek as much stimulation from others. You are independent and may not need a lot of external validation from others in order to feel content.


If your score is high on this dimension, you are more likely to be friendly, compassionate, pleasant, cooperative, and seen as kind. You might also be more even-tempered than most people and relate to sentences such as "I take time to help others," or "I have a lot of sympathy for others." However, if you score low on this dimension, you might be less open to changes in plan and would rather not be inconvenienced when asked to help someone out.


If your score is high on this dimension, you are more likely to be prone to feeling anxious, irritated, angry, sad and especially sensitive to comments that feel personal. You might relate to statements such as "I am more anxious than other people," "I get irritated easily," or " I get upset more easily than others." This is hypothesized to be due to having difficulty managing emotions that arise due to both internal and external cues. For example, if your boss sends you an email asking you to come in for a meeting, you are more likely than not to interpret the meaning of the situation to be harmful or threatening. This may lead into rumination and high emotional states.

The role of the maladaptive personality trait

The key to understanding all this information is to think about how some of these traits can become maladaptive and eventually lead to issues. Let's look at an example.

Mary is annoyed with her kids. They have been behaving badly at school and they are getting bad grades. She speaks to them in an annoyed tone and she is also curt with them. When Mary's manager calls her in for a performance review, she uses the same annoyed tone and curtness that she used with her kids. This leads to conflict with her manager and Mary is eventually let go.

It is important to note here that Mary is simply not aware that this is the way she is speaking to her boss. She does not realize that she needs to change her agreeableness setting to high when she is talking to her boss. Her personality trait is now becoming a roadblock for her when it comes to building relationships that are healthy. Mary is probably unaware of what happened in that situation and is likely to repeat that cycle in her next job.

Those with BPD also tend to be quite emotionally unstable and score high on neuroticism.

Trauma lens

With the trauma lens, we acknowledge that you may have a disordered personality trait. However, unlike other approaches, we believe that some of the symptoms you are experiencing are not only due to personality, but also due to the story of what happened to you. This is because it is most likely the reason that you have this issue in the first place. For example, being "neurotic" does not mean that it is just a personality trait, it can be due to pain from past traumas- the raw emotions that come up as you navigate a difficult world.

Simply put, hypervigilance is the more likely cause of high neuroticism in those who have trauma in their backgrounds. Therefore, learning to finding safety and regulating your emotions is probably the best way to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma.

Emotional regulation

One of the ways that we can learn to regulate our emotions is to learn emotional regulation skills. This is done through individual and group therapy.

Dialetical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is one of the best approaches out there to help you learn these skills. At The Therapy Nest, we offer online mini DBT skills classes that you can join throughout the year. They are offered by Melanie who is a licensed counselling therapist (C) and has over eight years of experience in the field of psychotherapy.

Here is a video of Melanie explaining what the next DBT class is going to be like.

If you would like to book, please use this link.

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