Over the past two decades, social media has become one of the main ways that young people interact with one another. Young people use social media to stay in touch with friends, chat, follow each other’s posts, share certain experiences, and even meet new people. Social media opens up new doors and avenues for social interaction that may be easier for some people than meeting in person – but it also comes with dangers.
For young people with borderline personality disorder, interpersonal relations can present some of the biggest challenges. Unstable relationships and interpersonal difficulties are key symptoms of the disorder and may both lead to significant emotional distress.
As with any social medium, young people with BPD – or those who exhibit BPD features -use social media a bit differently than others. This blog explores these differences and considers how social media may help people living with the condition form interpersonal relations, while also posing certain risks.
What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline personality disorder is a type of personality disorder that affects the way young people view themselves and the world around them. Young people with BPD experience thoughts, feelings, and behaviours towards themselves and/or others that make daily life difficult.
BPD can manifest very differently from one young person to another. People with BPD may experience:
- An unstable, changing sense of self
- Fear of abandonment
- Difficulty trusting others
- Unstable relationships
- Patterns of overinvolvement/withdrawal or idealisation/devaluation in relationships
- Chronic feelings of emptiness
While BPD is a serious mental health disorder, there is plenty of help and support available to help young people manage symptoms and build stable, fulfilling relationships and live a vibrant life.
What Are Borderline Personality Disorder Features?
As a clinical diagnosis, BPD only affects around 2-4% of the population. Research suggests, however, that individuals without a BPD diagnosis – who nevertheless exhibit high levels of BPD features – may also have significant difficulties in interpersonal relationships and in connecting with others.
As a result, it’s useful to explore not only how young people with a BPD diagnosis use social media, but also those with features of the condition. This research may provide greater insight into the behaviours of those with a clinical diagnosis while helping mental health professionals, parents, community members, and others to support a wider range of young people.
How Do People with BPD Traits Use Social Media?
As our use of social media has increased, the ways that borderline personality disorder features manifest online have become ever more important. In 2020, a group of researchers published a study exploring the way that the interpersonal difficulties associated with BPD features were expressed on social media. Their results offer valuable insight into the possible benefits of social media for young people with BPD traits, as well as the potential risks.
Greater Engagement in Social Media
Individuals with higher BPD features reported using social media more than those with fewer features. While the reasons underlying this pattern are not clear, it may be rooted in the difficulties those with BPD traits have with in-person relationships. Lacking satisfying connections with others in the real world, they may turn to social media as a way to reach out to others.
More Frequent Regret Posting
People with BPD traits were more like to regret making posts on social media. Regret posting fits in with the tendency of people with BPD to fluctuate between seeking closeness with others and avoiding interactions. These fluctuations may be rooted in or exacerbated by experiences of rejection from people close to them, causing them to pre-empt or avoid abandonment by withdrawing from others. Such behaviours may also be related to other features of BPD, such as impulsivity, a lack of self-worth and clear identity, or a propensity towards experiencing low self-esteem and feelings of guilt and shame.
More Frequent Unfriending and Blocking
Individuals with higher BPD traits experienced more unstable online relationships, mirroring real-life characteristics of the condition. People with high BPD features were more likely to unfriend and block other people on social media platforms, in the same way that they might cut people off in in-person interactions. At the same time, the propensity of people with BPD to fall into abusive or unhealthy relationships may also underlie these patterns, drawing them into relationships that they must leave for their own well-being.
More Followers on Twitter
Despite the tendency of people with BPD traits to block and unfriend other social media users, they appear to have as many friends as other users on Facebook. On Twitter, people with higher BPD features had more followers than others, and on Instagram, they followed more accounts.
While the causes of these relationships are not clear, it’s possible that social media platforms facilitate reconciliation more than real-life interactions, allowing people to easily re-friend or re-follow people they may have cut off. Alternatively, social media platforms may offer a simpler way to make new friendships than in-person scenarios, offering a new avenue for people with BPD traits to fulfil their needs for connection with others.
Borderline Personality Disorder and Online Self-Disclosure
Online self-disclosure describes the way that people, including teenagers and adolescents, share information about themselves with others online. Some young people may find it easier to share personal or intimate information over social media than in person, helping them to develop close relationships with others.
However, self-disclosure comes with risks, especially when it involves sensitive information. Disclosing too much information in inappropriate contexts may leave young people vulnerable to manipulation, exploitation, and other harmful behaviours.
Some researchers think that young people with borderline personality disorder may find it more difficult to judge when, what, and to which people they should disclose information. A study of 235 young people with a clinical BPD diagnosis found that they were more likely to regret sharing information with others online. This ineffective self-disclosure may suggest that they are at a greater risk of over-sharing personal information, leading to difficulties forming and maintaining relationships, and increasing the risks of online interactions.
While online self-disclosure comes with risks, it may also offer new and important pathways for young people’s mental health support. Some experts have suggested that social media may be a useful tool for identifying mental health issues among users, who often share their emotions, thoughts, and feelings through online posts.
They propose that, by analysing information shared by users, we may be able to ascertain whether their posts are rooted in specific mental health conditions, such as BPD, depression, or anxiety. In this way, social media may be able to help identify people who are living with disorders and pave the way for their treatment, support, and, ultimately, their recovery.
The Wave Clinic: Transformative Recovery Programs for Young People
At The Wave Clinic, we understand how hard it is for young people living with borderline personality disorder and other mental health conditions. Through our transformative recovery programs, specifically tailored to the needs of teenagers and adolescents, we support young people not only to overcome their struggles but to plan and build the fulfilling futures they deserve.
Our treatment programs combine exceptional clinical care with education, community building, and a gap year experience, offering young people the chance to explore new, inspiring avenues, rediscover their dreams, and develop the skills to follow them.
We emphasise building confidence and self-esteem, supporting young people to develop coping mechanisms to overcome difficult situations and look towards a brighter future. Our centre offers a safe haven, full of care and sensitivity, where young people have the space to grow and succeed.
If your child is living with BPD, an eating disorder, or another mental health disorder, we’re here to help. Whether you have questions to ask or would like to start the admissions process, we’re ready to offer you the support you need.