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What is Impulsivity?
Impulsivity & BPD - Genetic Reasons
More about Impulsivity


IMPULSIVITY     by Kristalyn Salters-Pedneault, PhD

Are you someone who tends to take action without thinking through the consequences? Do hasty decisions often get you into trouble? Do you often act based on your feelings in the moment rather than on a long-term plan? You may be struggling with impulsive behavior, one of the symptoms of BPD.

Impulsivity can be a very troubling aspect of BPD. Impulsive behavior can lead to problems with relationships, physical health, and finances, as well as legal issues. Learning more about impulsive behavior and treatments that target it can help reduce the impact of impulsivity in your life.

What is Impulsivity?

Impulsivity is a tendency to act quickly without thinking about the consequences of your actions. Impulsive behavior usually occurs in reaction to some event that has caused you to have some kind of emotional response.

For example, imagine you are waiting in line at the bank and someone cuts in front of you. If you were to act on an impulse, you might immediately behave aggressively toward that person (e.g., yelling, or even becoming violent), without thinking about the consequence of this kind of behavior (e.g., being escorted out of the bank or even arrested).

It is important to note that occasional impulsive behavior is not necessarily indicative of a diagnosis of BPD. Everyone acts impulsively from time to time. Only when this type of behavior becomes either frequent or serious (e.g., dangerous), is it considered problematic.

What are Some Examples of Impulsive Behaviors?

Some examples of impulsive behaviors include:

  • Going on spending sprees
  • Driving recklessly
  • Promiscuous sex
  • Binge eating
  • Yelling, shouting, or screaming at others
  • Threatening to harm others
  • Destroying property
  • Shoplifting
  • Getting in physical fights with people

Can Impulsivity Be Treated?

Yes. Many treatments for BPD have components that target impulsivity. For example, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) focuses on building skills that will help you to reduce your impulsive behaviors.

Mindfulness, which is a skill taught in DBT, can help you to stay more aware of your actions so that you can take time to consider consequences. Mindfulness can help you to make healthier decisions about how to respond to events around you.

Medications may also help with impulsivity, but are probably most effective when used in conjunction with psychotherapy. These medications in this link DO NOT help specifically with impulsivity.

If you are struggling with impulsivity, learn more about treatments for BPD that may help you get impulsive behavior under control.


Citings for Reasons for Impulsivity in BPD's   
from    (10-30-09)

Abnormalities Related to Impulsivity - Patients with BPD or APD show reduced blood flow in the right lateral temporal cortex and the right prefrontal cortex. These areas of the brain have been linked to impulsivity.

Serotonin Transporter Gene 5-HTT - Research has strongly implicated the serotonin transporter gene 5-HTT in development of BPD. Shorter alleles (pair of genes) have been associated with lower levels of serotonin and greater impulsive aggression.


(Excerpt from)    "Affect Regulation, Mentalization, and the Development
of the Self"   
  By Peter Fonagy


Compulsions    from website by AJ Mahari
Borderlines speak out on their compulsive behaviors

ugh! Exasperated noise! I wish i could quit pulling out my hair! It totally feels compulsive. When i'm not pulling, i just yearn to be pulling.

Then I pull, and i feel better for a hundredth of a second, and then i want to pull again. This behavior also makes me feel out of control, gross, dirty. And, of course I worry that i am going to get bald spots. I do have one now. I have been doing it since i was 11 years old, now i am 32. The last 5 years have gotten worse again, i'm not sure why.

Purpose? I think it eases my anxiety some. I notice when i drink coffee, it is worse. Or when i don't exercise it's worse. But like all my OCD stuff, i think it's root is in fear. Like i'm afraid to sit quietly with myself. If i'm counting, or spelling, or pulling out my hair, i feel like i'm controlling part of my environment.

The longest i've stopped for (in the past five years) was six days. It was so hard, i had withdrawal symptoms, it felt like I was like withdrawing from a drug.

I am so sick of it. Sometimes at home i wear a hat and that helps.   Sarah

Compulsive behavior, Oh Yeah I have compulsive behavior. I have a variety of compulsive behaviors that are all related to my emotional needs. I use compulsive behaviors to numb my feelings and to fill up my emptiness in my heart. I overeat or binge eat to deal with anger(Chewy foods) and to fill up the empty feeling inside of myself(Sweets, chocolate, breads). I feel better while I am stuffing my mouth with food but the feeling quickley turns to self-hatred for not controling myself . I also go shopping to help to fill my emptiness inside. When I buy a new book, shirt, nail polish, or whatever the empty feeling subsides for a while until the guilt sets in. Then I feel more self hatred for being selfish and purchasing somethinig for myself. I also sometimes hurt myself and have a compulsive need to hurt myself as a way to punish myself or to numb painful feelings. When I cut myself, it numbs or takes away the inner pain that eats away at my heart and soul. It can also serve as a punishment for myself for being bad. I realize that this is all distorted thinking but it is unfortunately the only way that I can cope at this point with my painful feelings. The pain is like a weight that sits on my chest and makes it heard for me to breathe. The pain also sits in my head and torments me with depressed thoughts and is like an everpresent monster in myu mind. I know that this pain will not go away until I dewal with it; but, I do not know how to deal with this pain.   Rutland

One definition of compulsion is "an irresistible impulse to perform an irrational act." One compulsion that has plagued me for the past few years relates to attributing human feelings to inanimate objects.

I'm not sure how to explain the behavior but can offer an example. If I were to unwrap a piece of gum away from home, I might be reluctant to discard the wrapper right away but would wad it up and keep it in my pocket for awhile until I felt right about disposing of it (probably at home). I know this sounds irrational but my reason for not disposing of the wrapper is that I would feel sorry for the wrapper - alone, abandoned, scared in some strange place - even though I know that an object really doesn't have feelings like this.

Sometimes it doesn't bother me at all to throw something away and I don't hoard anything. The item can be tiny (like a fingernail clipping) or larger (like a cardboard drink tray from a fast food place). These compulsions seem to last for several days and then subside for awhile.

I haven't figured out what I get out of this compulsion except anxiety over having it. A psych doctor told me that it's because I'm lonely but that explanation does not satisfy me. Haven't figured out yet how to stop the behavior.    Cinda


Dear Cinda,

You have just reminded me of something i used to do in school when i was about 7 or 8. I would pick up all the little bits of rubbish, paper, staples etc that were on our class room floor and hide them under the carpet so that the teacher couldn't throw them out because i felt sorry for them. She caught me once- she probably thought i was crazy. I don't do it anymore- so i guess i just grew out of it and i haven't thought about it since. I know it's not really the same thing that you're tlaking about, but thought i'd share it with you anyway.    Jen

It was interesting to read about your compulsion. I think I have a similar thing, but it has to do more with plants and animals. I really have a hard time with anything that is alive. When my husband wants me to get rid of potted plants, it just cannot throw them away - its like killing. The same thing with animals. When I am away from home I worry about them and hope they are ok and worry about them being lonely and abandoned. I know this isnt exactly like inanimate objects, but I felt the same feelings you felt and feel an understanding with you (my husband just thinks I am looney), Thanks for sharing - it helped me get in touch with another one of my not so healthy behaviors. I am not sure I want to get over it.   vonnie

 One of the many abbreviations I was once labelled with before BPD was OCD. I accepted that for a brief time but since learning more about myself and about BPD, I see that a diagnosis of OCD is not appropriate. But I can certainly see how the doctor who gave it got the idea to do so.

My most obsessive-compulsive behavior is changing clothes. I change my clothes probably about 15 to 20 times a day. Socks and underwear too. I rarely ever go through an entire morning to night period with the same outfit on. Today I woke up and put on a thin yellow and blue dress my mother gave me about five years ago. About an hour later, I changed to a purple and white striped tshirt with my burgundy skirt. Then, I changed into my boxer shorts my fiancee bought for me about an hour after my second change. Then, Bill (my fiancee and I) went out briefly and I wore my blue overalls. When I got back home I changed again, into a yellow sweater and back to my boxer shorts. Then I showered around five and changed into a tank top and back to my skirt...and then this evening back to my shorts and yellow sweater and now I am wearing my nightshirt. I've gone through three pairs of undies, two pairs of socks and two bras today. All of this is now in the laundry hamper, and tomorrow an equal amount or more will join it there. You can guess my laundry hamper gets full quite fast, and yes, I use coin operated washing machines and dryers. It's very expensive, but I don't purposely do this as anyone here with obsessive-compulsive tendencies will understand.

This is one of the things I was doing when I was in the hospital during my teen years. Another (which I do much less now) is countings, usually with my fingers. So I wasn't surprised when that doctor chose OCD as a label for me. As for impulsive, like others here have written, my biggie there is buy, buy, buy and spend, spend, spend....but I don't know how much of that I attribute to being mentally questionable and how much is socialized ~ girls in this culture are conditioned to shop I think. I am not sure how it is for men, I am not male and don't understand most of my male friends   Lisa

This is a good topic. My compulsion is that everything has to be in it's place. If it's not, I don't know where it is and that makes me feel lost.

Also I do things a certain way and it is very difficult to sit back and let someone else do something for me. Like with my boyfriend. We have an agreement that if I cook, he washes the dishes and vice versa. You should see me fidget over this. If we lived together I think it would be easier but we don't so when he is at my house I have to hold myself in so I don't get nit picky at him.

This is also very difficult for me in a work situation. I am not what I would consider a good team player because I prefer to do things my own way. Just tell me what you want and I'll do it. Don't confuse me with a bunch of details I don't need. Too much input stresses me out and I have a hard time filtering the fluff. It's not that I don't place any merit in anyone else's method, it's just that I don't always understand their approach. I am way too anal about doing everything a certain way.   Bird