The emergence of brain scanning technology has opened up a wide new field of research into the unique neurological functions involved in psychiatric disorders like Borderline Personality Disorder. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI scans) and single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT scans) are revealing abnormal brain activity and structural differences that could help explain symptoms like impulsivity; quick, intense affective responses; and the low mood that many people with BPD experience on a daily basis and which interferes with their quality of life.
Reductions in gray matter in areas of the limbic system including the amygdala and hippocampus may correlate with a variety of symptoms, but it is not only the structural differences that are highlighted in Borderline Personality, it is also the way these structures behave in the BPD brain.
“With a limbic system that has increased activation compared to controls, we can see how emotional disruptions, memory disruptions, and other limbic functions would be impacted by these abnormalities.”
2. Inhibited frontal lobe
At the same time that the limbic system is overactive, and especially in response to emotional situations, the frontal lobe is shown in brain scans to be inhibited, leading to difficulties in processing, higher-order thoughts, filtering speech, and controlling behavior. With this combination of a hyperactive limbic system and an under-active frontal lobe, the “perfect storm” of neurology is created for some of the main Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms to emerge.
But, there is good news…
While these brain abnormalities may explain some of the symptoms and struggles of those who struggle with Borderline, we can still exert a large measure of influence over our brains and the way they operate. Neuroplasticity allows us to make astonishing changes in our brain functioning and behavior, and is an essential part of the recovery process for those seeking to overcome their symptoms and the havoc they wreak on the quality of life for those with this diagnosis.
“Neuroplasticity allows us to make astonishing changes in our brain functioning and behavior, and is an essential part of the recovery process”
Besides building new habits and new ways of thinking and behaving, there are also medications that can help regulate maladaptive activity in the brain and make it easier to gain control over symptoms and behavioral changes. Combining medical treatments with behavioral techniques like Dialectical Behavior Therapy can increase the chances for brain-changing success.
As research continues to emerge and we learn more of the organic components of diagnoses like Borderline Personality Disorder, it is likely that the treatment techniques will also continue to adapt to the needs of this unique neurological system to better serve those who are suffering. And, as society continues to grow in its knowledge of the body, the brain, and mental health, it is also anticipated that stigma against those who have BPD and the symptoms they can display will be reduced and we will begin to view psychiatric illnesses in a medical model that relies on scientific evidence rather than judgement.
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