The Association Between Child Abuse, Trauma and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).


‘Character depends essentially on whether a person is given love, protection, tenderness and understanding during the formative years or is exposed to rejection, coldness, indifference and cruelty.’

Alice Miller.


Many research studies have shown that individuals who have suffered childhood abuse, trauma and/or neglect are very considerably more likely to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) as adults than those who were fortunate enough to have experienced a relatively stable childhood.

it is thought marilyn munroe suffered from BPD

It is thought Marilyn Monroe suffered from BPD

Kurt Cobain bpd
Did Kurt Cobain Suffer From BPD?




BPD sufferers experience a range of symptoms which are split into 9 categories. These are:

1) Extreme swings in emotions
2) Explosive anger
3) Intense fear of rejection/abandonment sometimes leading to frantic efforts to maintain a relationship
4) Impulsiveness
5) Self-harm
6) Unstable self-concept (not really knowing ‘who one is’)
7) Chronic feelings of ’emptiness’ (often leading to excessive drinking/eating etc ‘to fill the vacuum’)
8) Dissociation ( a feeling of being ‘disconnected from reality’)
9) Intense and highly volatile relationships

For a diagnosis of BPD to be given, the individual needs to suffer from at least 5 of the above.

frequently rejected in childhood, BPD sufferers live in terror of abandoment

frequently rejected in childhood, BPD sufferers live in terror of abandonment

A person’s childhood experiences has an enormous effect on his/her mental health in adult life. How parents treat their children is, therefore, of paramount importance.

BPD is an even more likely outcome, if, as well as suffering trauma through invidious parenting, the individual also has a BIOLOGICAL VULNERABILITY.

In relation to an individual’s childhood, research suggests that the 3 major risk factors are:

– trauma/abuse
– damaging parenting styles
– early separation or loss (eg due to parental divorce or the death of the parent/s)

Of course, more than one of these can befall the child. Indeed, in my own case, I was unlucky enough to be affected by all three. And, given my mother was highly unstable, it is very likely I also inherited a biological/genetic vulnerability.




1) Dysfunctional and disorganized – this can occur when there is a high level of marital discord or conflict. It is important, here, to point out that even if parents attempt to hide their disharmony, children are still likely to be adversely affected as they tend to pick up on subtle signs of tension.

Chaotic environments can also impact very badly on children. Examples are:

– constant house moves
– parental alcoholism/illicit drug use
– parental mental illness and instability/verbal aggression


2) Emotional invalidation. Examples include:

– a parent telling their child they wish he/she could be more like his/her brother/sister/cousin etc.
– a parent telling the child he is ‘just like his father’ (meant disparagingly). This invalidates the child’s unique identity.
– telling a child s/he shouldn’t be upset/crying over something, therefore invalidating the child’s reaction and implying the child’s having such feelings is inappropriate.
– telling the child he/she is exaggerating about how bad something is. Again, this invalidates the child’s perception of how something is adversely affecting him/her.
– a parent telling a child to stop feeling sorry for him/herself and think about good things instead. Again, this invalidates the child’s sadness and encourages him/her to suppress emotions.

Invalidation of a child’s emotions, and undermining the authenticity of their feelings, can lead the child to start demonstrating his/her emotions in a very extreme way in order to gain the recognition he/she previously failed to elicit.


3) Child trauma and child abuse – people with BPD have very frequently been abused. However, not all children who are abused develop BPD due to having a biological/genetic RESILIENCE and/or having good emotional support and validation in other areas of their lives (eg at school or through a counselor).

Trauma inflicted by a family member has been shown by research to have a greater adverse impact on the child than abuse by a stranger. Also, as would be expected, the longer the traumatic situation lasts, the more likely it is that the child will develop BPD in adult life.


4) Separation and loss – here, the trauma is caused, in large part, due to the child’s bonding process development being disrupted. Children who suffer this are much more likely to become anxious and develop ATTACHMENT DISORDERS as adults which can disrupt adult relationships and cause the sufferer to have an intense fear of abandonment in adult life. They may, too, become very ‘clingy’, fearful of relationships, or a distressing mixture of the two.

This site examines possible therapeutic interventions for BPD and ways the BPD sufferer can help himself or herself to reduce BPD symptoms.



David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Why Is Physical Illness More Common In PTSD Sufferers?

If we have suffered from significant childhood trauma leading to the development of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in our adult lives this also puts us at increased risk of developing various unpleasant physical symptoms. This is because the trauma has had chemical effects in our brain (leading to our PTSD) which can have knock-on adverse effects upon our body. I provide examples of the kind of symptoms that may result below :


  • increased rate of heartbeat
  • stomach / digestive problems
  • rapid and shallow breathing (often referred to as hyperventilation)
  • shaking / trembling / tremors / localized muscle spasms
  • feeling faint / light-headedness
  • sweating


A positive correlation exists between the incidence of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a population and the incidence of certain physical diseases and disorders (shown below) in that same population. However, further research needs to be conducted in order to ascertain whether having post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increases one’s risk of suffering these conditions or whether having such conditions makes one more vulnerable to developing post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some of the diseases and disorders associated with PTSD are as follows :

  • cardiovascular disease
  • increased probability of suffering from heart attacks
  • IBS (irritable bowel syndrome)
  • headaches
  • certain autoimmune disorders (eg those causing problems with the skin)
  • pregnancy complications
  • miscarriage
  • preterm contractions
  • obesity


Above : PTSD physically, biologically and chemically alters the brain – these changes may lead to physical symptoms, diseases and disorders in some sufferers, on top of the immense psychological pain and suffering it causes all who are unfortunate enough to have the condition.


Why Do Such Links Between PTSD And These Disorders Exist?

Various theories have been put forward in an attempt to explain why such links between PTSD and physical disorders such as those listed above exist.

  1. Increases in stress hormones such as cortisol over time have an adverse physical effect upon the heart and cardiovascular system.
  2. PTSD can lead to unhealthy ways of trying to cope with mental pain and suffering such as excessive drinking, excessive smoking and the ingestion of dangerous narcotics and overeating (so-called ‘comfort eating’) all of which, in turn, can lead to declining physical health.
  3. PTSD sufferers tend also to be seriously depressed and therefore lethargic – this can mean that PTSD sufferers take very little physical exercise leading to a greater likelihood of developing physical health problems.
  4. PTSD causes a change in the balance of chemicals in the brain and these changes, in turn, may cause yet further changes adversely affecting the immune system and various bodily organs.
  5. Changes in certain chemicals that negatively affect the mind also adversely affect the stomach.


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2 Opposite Ways The Child Responds To Stress : Hyperarousal And Dissociation

When, as children, we are subjected to trauma, stress, fear and even terror, our nervous systems may respond in two, diametrically, opposed ways. Both these responses, however, have evolved to serve the same purposes : THOSE OF SELF – PROTECTION AND SELF – PRESERVATION.

Both, too, involve biochemical changes in the brain (in particular the regions of the AMYGDALA, the HYPOTHALAMUS and the BRAIN STEM) and physiological changes in the body that, in turn, alter how we think, feel and behave (or, to put it in more psychological terms, they affect us on a cognitive, emotional and behavioural level).

To what degree the child responds to stress will depend upon the severity of the stress and its duration – the more severe and long-lasting, the more extreme the child’s hyperaroused or dissociatiated reaction is likely to be.

The psychological researcher, Sperry, has put forward an ascending scale showing different symptoms of HYPERAROUSAL and DISSOCIATION. I represent this scale below :


  • a sense of detachment
  • a sense of being numb (shut down of feelings/emotions)
  • compliance
  • lowering of rate of heart beat
  • distorted perception of time  (time may be perceived as ‘standing still).
  • a sense of being ‘detached from reality’ (the psychological term for this is ‘derealization’)
  • transient, discrete and ephemeral periods of psychosis (Sperry uses the term ‘mini-psychoses’)
  • fainting


  • constant feelings of being under threat and continuously being on the lookout for threats (unconsciously and consciously) ; the psychological term for this is hypervigilence
  • anxiety
  • reactivity
  • alarm
  • speeding up of heart beat, increased blood pressure, shallower / increased rate of breathing (the psychological term for this is hyperventilation), increase in amount of glucose released into blood stream and consequently delivered to the muscles (collectively, this group of physiological responses is frequently referred to as the fight/flight response).
  • fear
  • panic
  • terror

Significant stress giving rise to neurological changes that is repeated throughout childhood can, sadly, lead to long-term damage being done to the brain’s physical development (which can be learned about by clicking here).

Image result for dissociation psychology

Dissociation can be seen as avoidance strategy (although the ‘strategy’ forms automatically and on an unconscious level), involving a withdrawal from the ‘real world’ (as this ‘real world’ generates intolerable mental pain) into an ‘inner world’ (perhaps a ‘fantasy world’ of considerable complexity in which the child makes-believe s/he is ‘all-powerful’ or in which s/he is completely protected and safe : the short – term gains for the child, won by withdrawing into such a phantastical place of psychological refuge, hardly necessitates further elucidation.

During a period of significant trauma the child may (unconsciously) adopt one or both forms of psychological protection. In the case of the latter, when the biological and emotional demands of the hyperaroused response cease to be sustainable, s/he may switch to the dissociatiated form of self-protection (again, this entire process is unconsciously orchestrated).



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CPTSD – Why Is It Becoming More Common?

We have seen from numerous other articles that I have published on this site that severe and prolonged childhood trauma can lead to the development of complex post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) in adulthood (to learn about the difference between post traumatic stress disorder [PTSD] and complex post traumatic stress disorder [CPTSD] read my previously published article here).

And the incidence of CPTSD is increasing. What are the possible reasons for this increase in the prevalence of this very serious psychiatric disorder?

First, it is possible that as the general population and clinicians become more aware of the existence of the disorder and its link to childhood trauma it is becoming increasingly reported and diagnosed. However, there are several other possible explanations and I examine these briefly below :


1) Growing up in unstable environments :

More and more young people are growing up in unstable environments. Increasing rates of divorce and separation means that a higher and higher number of children and adolescents are growing up in single parent households (to read my article about the possible effects of divorce upon the child, click here).

2) Reduction in social support systems :

Research shows that a lack of social support makes individuals much more vulnerable to the adverse effects of stress. And, today, children tend to have less access to others who could provide them with emotional support than has been the case in the past due to, for example :

  • communities that are not as close-knit as in the past
  • less contact with wider family (eg aunts, uncles, grandparents) than in the past as wider family members are becoming more geographically dispersed than in past

3) Increase in number of working mothers :

This can lead to infants having inconsistent early care as they me be shuttled around from day-care to nursery care to babysitters and so on possibly leading to a variation in quality of care and less opportunity for the infant to develop his/her bond with the mother

4) Parental preoccupation with their careers :

In a ‘go-getting’ society, in which status and wealth are of fundamental importance to many people, individuals are becoming very driven, even obsessively driven, in connection with their careers, sometimes leading to workaholism; this leaves such persons with less time to interact in any really meaningful way with their offspring or leads to such exhaustion that they simply do not have enough energy left over for such meaningful interactions.

5) Unhelpful effects of media :

Young people are becoming increasingly obsessed with media, such as computer games and so on, which leaves them with less time for psychologically nourishing face-to-face interaction with friends and family.

6) Unhelpful effects of living in  consumer society :

Society has become increasingly obsessed with acquiring consumer goods and the accumulation of these is often linked in people’s minds to their ‘status’ and ‘worth as a human being.‘ Such attitudes may lead young people to develop false values which in turn may aggravate psychological problems.


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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BPD Sufferers May Have Subtle Learning Difficulties

Research suggests that individuals who suffer from borderline personality disorder (BPD) may have mild to moderate dysfunctions in certain areas of cognitive processing, in particular in the area of learning and memory that involves the processing of complex information.

However, such problems tend to be subtle and are therefore difficult for doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists and other clinicians to detect.

Notwithstanding this difficulty of detection, brain abnormalities have shown up in EEGs of borderline personality disorder (BPD) sufferers that are consistent with the learning/memory problem hypothesis.

In particular, the difficulties in cognitive processing appear to be associated with both visual and verbal memory (including, it is currently thought, both the encoding and retrieval of information) in which complex information is involved.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Sufferers Frequently Seem Incapable Of Learning From Experience – Is This Why?

These findings have given rise to the hypothesis that these subtle problems relating to learning and memory may help to explain why those suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) so frequently seem to make the same mistakes over and over again, seemingly incapable of learning from their social and interpersonal experiences.

Why May These Subtle Memory And Learning Problems Exist In Borderline Personality Disotder (BPD) Sufferers?

Many people who suffer from borderline personality disorder (BPD) experience periods of dissociation ( you can read about my article on dissociation by clicking here), particularly when under severe stress, and this state is clearly likely to seriously impair their memory functioning and, it follows, their ability to learn.

Also, the majority of individuals who go on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) as adults have suffered significant childhood trauma due to abusive parenting and it is known that this can lead to damage being done to the vulnerable, highly plastic, developing physical brain (to read my article about how childhood trauma can damage the developing brain on an organic level click here).

Further, severe clinical depression frequently co-morbidly exists alongside borderline personality disorder (BPD) which itself can impair both memory and learning.

Finally, it should be noted that research into this area is still at an early stage so more research needs to be conducted in order to confirm or shred further light upon the above theories.


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Self-Soothing : Three Categories Of Techniques

If we experienced significant childhood trauma, particularly if we have gone on to develop conditions such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) or complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) as a result, we may frequently find ourselves caught up in painful thought processes, negative introspection and distressing emotions. On top of this, our ability to calm, comfort and soothe ourselves, especially when experiencing emotions like intense anger, fear and anxiety, may have been seriously compromised by our stressful childhood experiences.

Unfortunately, if we have not learned how to sooth ourselves in healthy ways, we may have been relying on dysfunctional ways of calming and comforting ourselves which are self-destructive in the long-term such as heavy smoking, excessive drinking, narcotics, gambling.

Therapists treating such individuals often encourage their patients to gradually replace their ultimately self-destructive coping techniques by cultivating positive, alternative and healthy self-soothing techniques that help them to refocus their attention away from their disturbing thoughts and feelings (for example, the teaching of self-soothing techniques forms part of dialectical behaviour therapy).

These self-soothing techniques fall into three broad categories : a) very simple techniques that require no equipment; b) simple techniques that require only minimal equipment; c) techniques that require an investment of considerable time and effort.

Below, I provide examples of self-soothing techniques which fall into each of these three categories:

a) Very simple self-soothing techniques that require no equipment :

Examples include :

– systematic tensing, followed by systematic relaxing. of each of the major muscle groups in turn

– deep, slow breathing (the opposite is shallow, fast breathing which is both results from  anxiety and  aggravates it, thus creating a vicious cycle; at its extreme it is referred to as hyperventilation which itself is a symptom of panic attacks).

– self-affirmations (either thinking them or saying them out loud if by oneself)

– counting (eg counting down from 100 in threes either in one’s mind or out loud if on one’s own – this is sometimes called ‘thought blocking’ and can be used to temporarily ‘block out’ distressing thoughts)

– recalling pleasant memories

– imagining oneself in a very safe, secure and comforting place (see note at the end of this article)


b)  Simple self-soothing techniques that require only minimal equipment :

Examples include :

– reading

– writing (eg creative writing or writing a diary)

– listening to cathartic music

– skipping rope

– work / academic studies

c) Self-soothing techniques that require an investment of considerable time and effort :

Examples include :

– training for a sport

– learning a musical instrument

– learning to paint / draw

Another way of categorizing self-soothing techniques, concentrating upon PHYSICAL techniques that sooth the mind by soothing the body, is by organizing them in groups which correspond to our five physical senses, namely :

  1. TOUCH
  2. TASTE
  3. SIGHT
  5. SMELL

Again, I provide examples of self-soothing techniques that fall into each of these five categories below:

1) TOUCH :

For example, stroking a pet, taking a warm bath, using a foot spa, cuddling a soft toy.

2) TASTE :

For example, cooking a favourite meal and savouring it.

3) SIGHT :

For example, visiting a beauty spot


For example, soothing sounds in nature such as bird song, flowing water, breaking waves

5) SMELL :

For example, scented candles, aroma therapy

NOTE : Internal, mental visualization of a safe place, using self-hypnosis, can also be a very effective way of self-soothing. Click here for more information.


David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


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Overcoming Early Life Insecure Attachment

effects of insecure attachment

As we have seen in other posts that I have published on this site, some babies are prevented from forming a secure attachment (bond) with their mother and this can have disastrous effects upon their future mental health.

What Can Cause An Insecure Attachment To Develop Between The Mother And Baby?

There are numerous reasons why this failure in healthy bonding between the mother and baby may occur, including:

– the mother being an alcoholic/drug addict

– the mother suffering from clinical depression

– the mother being abusive

– neglect

– the baby being separated from the primary carer (eg due to divorce, hospitalization, death)

(The list provided above is not intended to be exhaustive).

The Adverse Effects Of The Development Of An Insecure Attachment Between The Mother And Baby:

Whether or not a secure attachment is created between the mother and her baby has very serious implications as the quality of the attachment effects how the baby’s brain physically develops.

If a secure attachment has not been achieved, the child is at risk of going on to develop poor self-esteem, difficulties forming and maintaining relationships with others, problems with trusting others, an inability to effectively ‘self-sooth’ and reduced ability to cope with stress / weakened resilience.

Compensatory / Alternative Attachments :

However, if the child has had a bad start in life and has not been able to form a secure attachment with the mother, s/he still has the possibility of forming compensatory /alternative attachments with:

  1. Other Individuals
  2. Institutions, clubs, societies, groups
  3. Pets
  4. ‘Site Attachments’

Let’s look at each of these in turn:

1) Other individuals :

Such as friends, members of extended family etc

2)  Institutions, clubs, societies, groups :

Such as sports clubs, political societies, social clubs etc

3) Pets :

Mammals like cats, dogs and rabbits have a need to bond as we do. Also, stroking a pet is soothing and can have beneficial physiological effects (such as reducing heart rate and lowering blood pressure). However, bonds with pets should not substitute completely for necessary human relationships. ) I myself have a rabbit (called Rambo) who hops around my flat and is currently in the process of gnawing his way through all my furniture

 4) ‘Site attachments’ (familiar/comforting/soothing places of perceived safety and security):

It is also possible to become attached to places (this is sometimes referred to by psychologists as ‘site attachment’).

Children tend to have special ‘safe-havens’ that they can retreat to in times of distress (such as a bedroom, ‘den’ or friend’s house).

Adults, too, may have their own preferred retreats (such as a garden shed or allotment).

It is also possible to retreat into ‘a place of safety’ in one’s imagination; a particularly powerful and effective way of achieving this is through the use of self-hypnosis and visualization.


If sufficient compensatory / alternative attachments are made and these are stable, reliable and of good quality, the individual can still move from insecure attachment to secure attachment.


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‘Primary Maternal Preoccupation’ And The Infant

The psychoanalyst Winnicott bealieved that the primary and most fundamental need of the human being is a close emotional and psychological bond with other people; and, as one might imagine, the baby’s bond with the mother is the most vital relationship of all.

The Third Trimester And Primary Maternal Preoccupation:

Winnicott stressed the enormous importance of the mother being sensitive and well attuned to the needs, both physical and psychological, of her baby. In relation to this, he theorized that, in her third trimester, through a natural process (that has evolved for its ‘survival value’), the mother becomes more intensely aware of, and concerned about, her baby; Winnicott referred to this acute awareness as ‘primary maternal preoccupation.’

According to Winnicott, this particularly intensive period of awareness of, and attunement and sensitivity to, the baby’s needs continues into the first few months of the newborn baby’s life.

Because of the mother’s extreme attentiveness to her baby at this time, the infant starts to feel that his/her every wish is fulfilled which gives him/her the impression of omnipotence; according to Winnicott, this is a very important part of the baby’s psychological development.

Problems That Can Occur During This Stage Of The Baby’s Development:

However, problems may develop at this time if the mother fails to be sensitive and responsive enough to the baby’s needs – in such a situation, according to Winnicott, the baby may develop a high anxiety state including feelings of helplessness and isolation.

On the other hand, however, Winnicott warned that if the mother becomes overzealous in her attempts to tend to her infant’s every whim during this period, and responds to him/her excessively, the baby can feel overwhelmed and intruded upon. This can be damaging as the baby relies upon the mother to protect him/her from being overwhelmed by his/her environment.

Winnicott goes on to suggest that if the mother fails to prevent the infant from being overwhelmed by his/her environment during this phase, and, indeed, actually adds to the problem by over-interacting with the baby and inappropriately intruding upon him/her then the infant may become ‘prematurely autonomous’ and develop a ‘false self’ which can lead to relationship problems in adulthood.

The ‘Good Enough’ Mother:

Winnicott stressed that the mother need not be perfect, but, rather, needs to be what he termed ‘good enough.’ However, this begs the question : ‘What is good enough’?  (particularly given that babies differ in temperament so that what is ‘good enough’ for one baby may not be for another.

Transitional Objects:

Winnicott also coined the term ‘transitional object.’ This is a comforting object the infant attaches him/herself to to provide a sense of security such as a soft toy or security blanket.

Winnicott stated that it is very important that the infant chooses this object him/herself as it represents the mother; the object is used by the child to provide a sense of safety as s/he navigates the transitional period between total dependence upon the mother and greater autonomy.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).




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Alleviating Depression With Self-Hypnosis.

hypnosis for depression

We have seen from many other articles that I have published on this site that those of us who have suffered significant childhood trauma are at increased risk of developing depression (as well as many other psychiatric conditions) in adulthood than those who had relatively happy and stable childhoods (all else being equal).

One method that can help to reduce feelings of depression, especially when used in conjunction with other therapies such as pharmacology and psychotherapy, is self-hypnosis.

One of the main prevailing theories of the cause of depression is that it arises due to imbalances in certain brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters), in particular serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine.


What Is The Function Of These Brain Chemicals?

 – Serotonin is thought to be involved with appetite, digestion, social behaviour, sexual desire, sexual function, sleep, memory and mood.

 – Norepinephrine is thought to be involved with the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response.

 – Dopamine is thought to play a very important role in internal reward-motivated behaviour (eg the pleasurable feelings generated by sex or a large gambling win).

In order to attempt to correct this chemical imbalance, and thus alleviate depressive symptoms, medications are frequently prescribed. Unfortunately, however, not everyone finds them effective.

Another way to alter the brain’s chemical balance in those suffering from depression, research has shown, is by self-suggestion, as used in self-hypnosis, and by altering a person’s level of expectancy regarding their recovery (which plays a major role, of course, in the placebo effect); both of these phenomena have their foundations in the well known phenomenon of  mind-body connection.

Indeed, self-hypnosis combined with psychotherapy and/or drug therapy may be a particularly effective way of alleviating depressive symptoms.

Depression can also be exacerbated by loneliness or due to poor relationships with significant others (an illustrative example of this is that, on average, married people are significantly less likely (some research suggests up to 70% less likely) to suffer from depression compared with their non-married counterparts; here, again, self-hypnosis can be of use in order to assist us to  improve our interpersonal relationships by, for example, helping to repair our disrupted unconscious processes, allowing us to be more able to give and receive love/affection, making us less withdrawn, and reducing tendencies to judge ourselves and others in an overly negative manner.

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