Borderline Personality Disorder,  Celebrities,  Impulsiveness

Does Britney Spears have Borderline Personality Disorder?

It was widely reported in the press after Britney Spear’s “breakdown” and stand-off with the police over the return of her children that she has “a bipolar disorder.” See this excerpt from

TMZ reported that Spears’ friends “have known for a while that Britney has a very serious mental condition — likely a bipolar disorder that is now in the red zone.”

I think the language here is quite important. Borderline Personality Disorder is so maligned that not a single celebrity has come out and stated that they have the disorder. Bipolar disorder, on the other hand, is not considered just the result of “bad behavior” – it is considered biological in nature – and therefore many celebrities have come out and admitted they have bipolar disorder. Bipolar is an Axis I disorder, BPD an Axis II.

Unfortunately, this distinction is a fallacy. Experts are considering changing the name of BPD to Emotional Regulation Disorder (or emotional dysregulation disorder) and making it Axis I. Why? Because clearly a large part of BPD is biological.

britney2big3101_154x100.jpgOne of the main differences between bipolar and BPD is the length of the mood swings. In the case of Bipolar Disorder the length of the manic and depressive episodes (and mixed episodes) usually lasts days or weeks, if not longer. There is the case of Bipolar II in which a person may experience hypomania – which is possibly why the media has reported Britney to  have “a” bipolar disorder, rather than just “bipolar disorder” (although some of the media has removed the “a” from in front of the reported disorder). Substance abuse and suicide are both common with Bipolar Disorder and it effects about one half to 1 and one half of a percent of the population.

Borderline Personality Disorder is actually more common than bipolar disorder – some estimates say that it is up to 5% of women and about 2% of the population at large. It is characterized by wildly swinging emotions – not moods. Although many want to classify it as a subclass of mood disorders (like Cyclothymia), it is more a dysregulation of the emotional system. Emotions are immediate and the behaviors, impulsiveness, rage, “moods”, etc. only last for HOURS, not days or weeks. The DSM-IV says this about BPD:

Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).

Substance abuse is so common with BPD sufferers that most estimates say it is co-morbid in over 75%. Also, self-destructive impulses are common (like cutting, over-eating, eating disorders, shopping, shoplifting, sexual deviance or inappropriateness) with BPD. As are suicidal gestures and thoughts, but these are usually impulsive. Impulsivity is a major problem with BPD and here is what the DSM-IV says about that:

Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).

While I am not a doctor and not knowledgeable enough to diagnose Britney, I suspect that she may have BPD (or bipolar II) and, if she does have BPD, I would hope that she could be the first celebrity to come out and say so. It’s not her fault. It’s not just “bad behavior”. It is a serious mental illness and should be taken care of immediately. What I don’t understand is why she doesn’t get herself a “helper” to aid her in the regulation of her obviously dysregulated and impulsive behavior.



  • Jada

    I have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, adn have read numerous books surrounding the subject. As soon as I started learning what was happening in Britney’s life it made me think immediately that she has the same disorder that I do.

  • Mia

    Get herself a “helper”? Are you kidding? I have borderline also, but you must know that although we do realize that we have issues with impulsivity, asking for help to some of us represents the ultimate failure. It takes a very self-aware person suffering from this and an ability to really accept that you can’t handle your life to do that…very difficult for us.

  • noname

    It is estimated that around 70% or people with BPD have been victims of sexual abuse and although it is against current medical oppinion i believe BPD is not caused by biological factors but is an environmental response when this evidence is considered. That being said it is a serious mental illness and requires treatment.
    i think Britney does suffer from one of the two illnesses discussed. there were reports in the media that something serious happened to Britney 5 years ago but no mention of what this event was. perhaps this was abuse of some sort (not necessarily sexual). as a celebrity i imagine her bringing an issue like this to the medias attention would be even more traumatic and difficult than for someone not under the spotlight. So it is understandable that she has kept some things private. however, i think the stigma surrounding illness needs to be addressd and a celebrity would be a brilliant way of reducing the publics fear regarding such matters.
    Either way i think Britney is back on track for the moment. so good luck to her. i hope she overcomes her demons

  • Just some corrections

    1. Overeating is not counted as one of the self-destructive behaviors in BPD. (Almost everyone “overeats” frequently.) Binge eating is what you’re talking about.

    2. Your prevalence numbers aren’t consistent. If the general population estimate is 2%, then the 5% number for women can’t be right. It would have to be less than 4%.

    3. Sexual deviance or inappropriateness aren’t what they mean by self-destructive sexual behaviors (they’re talking more unprotected sex).

    4. I’d be skeptical of both bipolar or BPD diagnoses in the context of serious drug and alcohol abuse.

  • Bon Dobbs

    Ok, first of all….

    1. Eating for emotional comfort and binge eating are self-destructive. Each is an adaptation to emotional pain. Emotional pain is the hallmark of BPD.

    2. Some experts say that up to 5% of women have a form of the disorder. Some say 2% of the total population. 75% of BPs are women. I’m not going to “do the math” because those stats are citing two separate sources – one that says it is more common in women than we previously thought.

    3. You have to be kidding me.

    4. Drug and alcohol abuse is common with Borderlines.

    I can’t believe you bothered to comment on this story in that way and didn’t bother to leave a real email address.

  • Babette

    When the stories about Britney Spears’ behavior started to surface in the news and the media began their “what was she thinking” hype, my thoughts went out to her. I am 32 and was diagnosed with BPD 2 years ago. After being consumed by particular demons for a long period of time and making an unmentionable amount of mistakes (i.e. self-destructiveness, substances, relational issues out the ying-yang, rage, you name it….)….relating to someone even so far from my world of reality as a common housewife isn’t difficult at all.

    I recently viewed her newest video, “Womanizer”. In my opinion, the girl has at least scratched the surface as to where her demons lie. She is facing them with quite an inner strength, as her song / video accurately portray to theose who truly understand the disorder. I can’t describe accurately enough the connection I felt in the underlying issues she is singing about and demostrating in the video. As a BPD suffer / fighter, all I can say is…..look out world. You’ve got one strong girl you’re messing with. And she’s got your game.

  • well

    Well It may be

    But I think it’s more likely that Britney first suffered from postpartum depression, and has since gotten delusional and psychotic

  • t

    why is there so much stigma attached to bpd any way. people realy dont understand how difficult it is to live with the illness. im not running down any other mental illness. because they are all a challenge in them selves. how ever some mental illneses come and go in episodes or sometimes dont reoccure and can be treated with the right medication. all though im taking in to acount that with some forms of skitsofrenia and other mental illness such as some forms of bipolar this is not the case comparably bpd is a chronic debilitating and serious illness and should be classed on the same level as skitsofrenia, bipolar ect. there is no cure for bpd. how ever there is the option of cbt, dbt ect which are forms of therapy that arent a quick fix by any means! bpd sufferers literaly have to learn a whole new way of thinking and how to better handle their emotions, this takes years. allthough some antidepresants do make a slight differance. my doctor once explained to me that bpd is a result of faulty brain wiring occuring as a child and or adolesent once youre brain has formed in any way theres no going back, you have to learn your way out of it. i admire britters alot. she has dealt with the critisim remarkably and im proud that shes finaly making a come back. go brits!

  • Darrell Vial

    The reference concerning Britney Spears caught my eye. Recently I’ve become a big devotee and can not get too much gossip or comments about her media coverage. Be it head trimming, muddy videos, marriage failures or just another pop single there is a lot going on about Britney. Pity about the youngsters involvement but I guess the money will assist them. The internet age is her opportunity for money but will it be her ruin with too much reporting and exposure. In fact I imagine that this posting and my comment are part of the selfsame exposure I commented about.

  • Mister Borderline

    I think the Borderline personalities are just the natural talented artists. Doctors measure it out but can only observe. They have no clue what it really is or why it’s there.
    I can guarantee you that 99% of the Hollywood people are Borderline ,bipolar or plain psychopathic.

    I have doctors that noticed a discrepancy in my WAIS
    IQ test and didn’t have a clue why that was.
    That’s the problem with most doctors – they just follow the studies of others more specialized than themselves and when they meet somebody that doesn’t fit their categories they are left with their hand in their hair.

  • Sara

    I think the key thing here is that personality disorders are developmental disorders that demonstrate characteristic and maladaptive ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. Personality and personality disorders are believed to begin in childhood whereas Bipolar Disorder can be triggered in childhood, adolescence, adulthood and commonly post-pregnancy. Given the public impression of Britney prior to her “breakdown” as a normal together girl, it would seem relatively unlikely to me that she was suffering from any personality disorder that should technically have had negative impacts on her social and occupational functioning prior to the breakdown.

    Britney’s apparent difficulties began mainly in the post-pregnancy period, although behaviour consistent with hypomania, mania and/or substance abuse does occur around the 2003-2004 time. Giving birth to children in such a close time frame is generally not recommended by midwives, and for an individual who may have a genetic predisposition toward bipolar disorder or depression, doing so is likely to cause many problems.

    Based on the timeline of events, the behaviour would seem more consistent with a post-partum depression/psychosis or bipolar I disorder. Much of the observed behaviour was consistent with mania, as opposed to hypomania.

    Realistically though, this is based only on what I know of the situation and of abnormal psychology, which like everyone else who doesn’t know Britney personally and isn’t a mental health professional, is very little.

  • jane

    this article is rather absurd. i get that there are people w/bpd that want to associate with a celebrity but just don’t see any evidence she has it.

    you really have to rule out DRUGS. and if she was, or is bipolar. when someone is on drugs that will cause them to act erratically and you can’t really diagnose them until they are sober and stable.

    people should really refrain from all the speculation about celebrities and twisting the diagnostic criteria to fit what you think it is. if you’re not a professional, it’s way out of line and aslmost for sure incorrect since we’re operating on a very small amount of information.

  • Jasper

    I have Bipolar and Autism. And espessially Bipolar can look very simmilar to Borderline, but there are also differences.
    Especially my mixed episodes (what doesn’t happen that often) can look a lot like Borderline. Mixed Episodes in Bipolar mean that you have both hypomanic/manic and depressed symptoms at the same time. Those can be also a lot more dangerous for a person than just depressions. Because in a mixed episode you might feel suicidal and depressed BUT with a lot of energy and impulsivity. So this leeds very easily to selfdistructive behaviour. But this is just an episode in Bipolar Disorder.

    I believe Britney Spears is also Bipolar and that this diagnoses in her case is correct.
    So far I know is her child autistic. Bipolar and autism share the same genetic root. They are highly connected to each other. But Borderline and Autism are not.
    So the possibility just seing this fact is a lot highter that she is bipolar.

    Espessially Bipolar goes along with high creativity. Well Britneys music is not my favorite one, but she is definitly creative, there is no doupt in that.

    She has a bit of an alcoholproblem, but 70% of ppl with bipolar have a problems with drugs and alcohol. They “selfmedicate” them in that way.
    It’s not the smartest way to do that. I started taking lithium orotate (you don’t need a subscription for it), because I couldn’t get that fast lithium carbonate and it helped me a lot. Being bipolar means a lot of pressure for the person.

  • Richard S

    Angelina Jollie and other famous people have come out stating they suffer from BPD. A lack of empathy distinguishes BPD from Bi polar, among other things. This one key difference makes a world of difference to someone behaviour. Histrionic BPD has suffers desperate for attention, often acting overtly sexual. The main problem with BPD, is that suffers will not accept any label that does not make them appear good, so BPD suffers typically would not admit to it, and hence take steps to deal with it. So for all these reason, Britin is more likely BPD, the only bi polar attribute is the mania, but that is common in many aliments. Angelina admitting to BPD is very enlightened, and partly because she probably feels epic enough, secture enough to no precieve it to be a negative thing, as with her breast removal.I have studied BPD and other PD for many years now, we need to wise up to this.

  • A

    I’m rapid rapid cycling bipolar 2 and my moods has last for minutes – it’s called a mixed state. I’m defo not borderline…

  • Courtney

    I had to realize I couldn’t handle my disorder on my own. I never learned teamwork when I was younger. My life was a constant state of trauma and walking on eggshells and in turn, I projected that onto everyone else. I was so destructive in my life that I had to learn teamwork to keep myself alive. I had to find joy in teamwork but also knowing that people are here to help me because there are things I cannot do but there are things I am accountable for and I had to take away that defensiveness of “BPD doesn’t define me” because it clearly infiltrates my life and those of my family who are in a constant state of worry and I wonder if that’s what Brittney experiences.

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