Mood Lability and Borderline Personality Disorder

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People with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are often described as having mood lability. Mood lability is an emotional response that is irregular or out of proportion to the situation at hand. It is associated with severe mood swings, intense reactions, and dramatic changes in opinions and feelings.

Understanding the Scope of Mood Lability

Mood lability is often evidenced by destructive or harmful behaviors. Those actions can include angry tantrums or screaming, destroying objects, aggression or violence towards others, and self-harm. The responses can occur seemingly out of nowhere, triggered in seconds.

Mood lability is present in people with various mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and BPD. Because of how disruptive mood lability can be, it can inhibit daily life and functioning. This may include harming interpersonal relationships and careers.

Symptoms of Mood Lability With BPD

Many of the symptoms of BPD involve difficulties in managing or regulating emotions. This highlights the role of mood lability in BPD. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, 5th edition — the reference manual mental health professionals use — BPD's criteria outlines several difficulties with emotions, including:

  • Emotional Lability: Those with BPD experience unstable emotions and frequent mood swings. Emotions are easily triggered and are typically inappropriate or disproportionate to the circumstances.
  • Anxiety: People with BPD may display symptoms of intense anxiety, even seeing things in a distorted light. For instance, they may think they're going to fail or mess up even when they are well prepared. This can lead to serious paranoia and stress.
  • Insecurity: Often, those with BPD are insecure in interpersonal relationships. They regularly assume that other people will leave them or reject them, leading to constant worrying and the need for reassurance.
  • Impulsiveness: In response to some sort of stimulus, people with BPD often respond erratically and may engage in dangerous behaviors. This can even include self-harm when confronted with times of stress.

Many people with BPD cycle between emotions rapidly. In the morning, they may be happy, full of energy, and optimistic. As the day progresses, they can become despondent, depressed, and express feelings of hopelessness.

Particularly in the case of mood lability in people with BPD, the effects of the outbursts can last much longer than in other people. That's because those with BPD tend to have heightened emotional states, to begin with. This longer-lasting effect can make managing mood lability all the more difficult.


The heavy mood swings associated with mood lability and BPD can be extremely disruptive. It may keep people from being able to manage their daily routines. Routine functions can become more difficult, requiring intervention.

However, BPD and mood lability can be treated. If you have BPD, it's important to look for a therapist or healthcare professional who specializes in emotional regulation and personality disorders. Engaging in psychotherapy will help you learn how to manage your emotions and urges in a healthy way. From learning new coping skills to better understanding your emotional triggers, you will be prepared to handle all aspects of your mood lability.

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Article Sources
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  1. American Psychiatric Association. Borderline Personality Disorder. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses, 5th edition (DSM-5). 2013.

  2. Johnson A, Gentile J, Correll T. Accurately Diagnosing and Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. Psychiatry, 2010;7(4):21-30.

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