Although recovery from borderline personality disorder (BPD) is common, not all individuals improve over time. This study sought to examine the features that contribute to response or non-response for individuals at different stages of recovery from BPD over a longitudinal follow-up. Participants were individuals with a diagnosis of BPD that were followed up after 1 year of receiving psychological treatment. There were no significant differences between participants at intake across key indices; however, at 1-year follow-up, two groups were distinguishable as either ‘functioning well’ (n = 23) or ‘functioning poorly’ (n = 25) based on symptomatology and functional impairment. Participant qualitative responses were analysed thematically and via Leximancer content analysis. Thematic analysis indicated three key themes: (1) love of self and others, (2) making a contribution through work and study and (3) stability in daily life. Participants who were ‘functioning well’ described meaningful relationships with others, enjoyment in vocation, and described less frequent or manageable life crises. The ‘functioning poorly’ group described relationship conflicts, vocational challenges, feelings of aimlessness and purposelessness, instability in daily living and frequent crises. Leximancer content analysis visually depicted these divergent thematic nomological networks. Corroborating quantitative analyses indicated significant differences between these groups for social, occupational and symptom profiles. These findings highlight the centrality of achieving the capacity to ‘love and work’ in fostering a sense of personal recovery. Treatments may need specific focus on these factors, as they appeared to reinforce symptomatic trajectories of either improvement or poor non-response to therapy.