cPTSD vs. BPD: Everything You Need to Know

It’s not uncommon for people to confuse complex post-traumatic disorder (cPTSD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD). After all, the two disorders share some common symptoms and characteristics.

But there are key differences between cPTSD vs. BPD, which is important to understand to tell these disorders apart. Let’s take a closer look.

Key Points

  • What is cPTSD?
  • Similarities between cPTSD and BPD
  • cPTSD vs. BPD: What’s the Difference?
    • Causes
    • Symptoms
    • Relationships
    • Emotions
    • Self-Identity
    • Treatment
  • Our Takeaway

What Is cPTSD?

Also known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder or complex PTSD, cPTSD is a condition that can develop after a traumatic event. While this definition might sound the same as PTSD, there’s a slight difference between them.

PTSD usually occurs after a single event. However, cPTSD typically results from prolonged exposure to trauma. This might include physical or emotional abuse, being held captive, or serving in combat.

Similarities Between cPTSD and BPD

cPTSD and BPD are often misdiagnosed by therapists and health professionals because of their similarities.

Both mental health conditions suffer from emotional anguish and triggers, such as suicidal thoughts, detachment, flashbacks, anxiety, and sadness, to name a few. 

In both disorders, it might be challenging to control your emotions, avoid feelings of emptiness, and have suicidal thoughts.

cPTSD vs. BPD: What’s The Difference?

Now that you are aware of complex PTSD and BPD’s similarities, it’s time to explore what differentiates these two disorders.

Causes

The first difference between these two mental health conditions is their cause. As mentioned earlier, cPTSD causes include continued exposure to traumatic events. 

On the other hand, BPD is thought to be caused by numerous factors, involving:

  • Being abused emotionally, physically, or sexually
  • Being subjected to long-term trauma in your childhood
  • Being ignored and neglected by one or both parents
  • Growing up with family members who have a major mental disorder or suffer from substance abuse

Symptoms

Although there are many common factors between these two disorders, cPTSD symptoms are related to their environment, while BPD is more rooted in oneself.

People with cPTSD might experience:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Avoidance of people or places that remind them of the trauma
  • Negative changes in thought and belief
  • Feeling disconnected from others

On the other hand, people that are diagnosed with BPD are more likely to experience the following symptoms:

  • Fears of abandonment
  • Unmanageable emotions
  • Impulsivity
  • Self-harming behaviors
  • Suicidal attempts

Relationships

BPD and cPTSD can both take a toll on relationships. People with cPTSD might avoid intimacy out of fear of being hurt again or developing unhealthy relationships. They might also have difficulty trusting others.

As opposed to cPTSD, people with BPD might have tumultuous, intense, and short-lived relationships due to their impulsivity, drastic emotions, and extreme switch from adoration or idealization to hate.

Emotions

It’s true that cPTSD and BPD can both cause intense and extreme emotions. Living with complex PTSD makes it challenging to regulate your feelings—this can lead to feeling stuck in a certain emotional state. 

On the other hand, people with BPD are more likely to experience rapid mood changes—from feelings of emptiness to intense anger and anxiety.

If you’re unsure whether certain issues are more related to mood disorders, you can read a full overview of mood disorder vs. personality disorder.

Self-Identity

cPTSD and BPD can both cause changes in self-identity. People with cPTSD might dissociate from their sense of self to cope with the pain of their trauma. However, this can lead to feeling numb or disconnected from others.

People diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder might also have an unstable sense of self. They might see themselves as good one minute and bad the next. On top of that, they can show incoherent behaviors and beliefs and overidentify with groups or roles.

Treatment

Both cPTSD and BPD require professional treatment. A combination of therapy and medication is always recommended when dealing with mental health conditions.

While dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is arguably the most effective treatment for borderline personality disorder, cognitive therapy is often used alongside exposure therapy in cPTSD.

However, many skills taught in dialectical behavior therapy, such as emotion regulation, can also be a great help in reducing trauma.

cPTSD vs. BPD: Our Takeaway

There’s no doubt PTSD and BPD are both severe mental conditions that need the immediate attention of qualified professionals. 

In any case, each diagnosis is important and can have major consequences if not appropriately treated. For example, it’s equally crucial that medical practitioners begin recognizing signs of complex PTSD rather than misdiagnosing someone with borderline personality disorder.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is BPD caused by trauma?

It’s true that BPD is primarily caused by trauma experienced in childhood. People that suffered abuse and neglect by parents are more likely to develop borderline personality disorder than those who have not. In fact, BPD seems to be connected with these reasons 30% to 90% of the time, which is a much higher percentage than in other personality disorders.

What causes cPTSD?

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a condition that can develop after a person experiences prolonged or repeated trauma. This type of trauma can include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, human trafficking, living in a war zone, or witnessing a natural disaster.

Can you have BPD and complex PTSD?

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are both mental health conditions that can lead to a great deal of suffering.

Now that you know the comparison between cPTSD vs. BPD, we can say that, unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for people to experience both conditions at the same time.