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Borderline Personality Disorder And Childhood Trauma

borderline personality disorder and childhood trauma

Borderline Personality Disorder And Childhood Trauma :

We can say, with a very considerable degree of confidence indeed, that there exists a strong link between borderline personality disorder and childhood trauma; a large body of research has shown that individuals who have suffered childhood trauma and/or neglect are far 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?

Before we look at how borderline personality disorder and childhood trauma are linked, it is first useful to briefly describe the main symptoms of this most serious psychological disorder.


Borderline personality disorder 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

Above : Borderline Personality Disorder And Childhood Trauma – frequently rejected in childhood, BPD sufferers live their adult lives 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.

Borderline personality disorder is an even more likely outcome, if, as well as suffering trauma through dysfunctional 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 borderline personality disorder 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 borderline personality disorder 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 not only focuses upon the link between borderline personality disorder and childhood trauma, but, also, a wide range of related topics including complex posttraumatic stress disorder, neuroplasticity, therapies and self-help. The complete range of topics can be found in the main menu (above).

borderline personality disorder and childhood traums

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

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Copyright 2015 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

A Closer Look at the Link Between Childhood Experiences and BPD.

childhood trauma and bpd

BPD And Childhood Trauma

One of the things that frequently marks the childhood of individuals who later develop BPD is LOSS, especially when the loss has occurred as a result of death, divorce or serious illness (necessitating long periods in hospital). In one particular research study looking at this, it was found that three-quarters of those suffering from BPD had experienced such losses in childhood.

Abuse also plays a large part in the development of BPD. One study found that 75% of those suffering from BPD had experienced sexual abuse during their childhood compared to 33% of those who suffered from other psychiatric conditions.

However, it is not just obvious trauma in childhood that is linked to the later development of BPD. More subtle forms of problematic parenting also put the child at risk. Examples of this include:

– the parent/s emotionally withdrawing from the child
– inconsistent parenting (eg praise and punishment being distributed in an UNPREDICTABLE manner)
– parent/s discounting, belittling or ignoring the child’s feelings

Another form of problematic parenting which has been linked to the child later developing BPD include:

– the parent behaving too much like a friend rather than a responsible, caring figure
– turning the child into a CONFIDANT
– role reversal : treating the child like a parent


Parenting problems are so closely tied to putting the child at risk of later developing BPD because as illustrated, for example, by object relations theory, the way a parent brings up a child has a critical influence on the way the child develops, especially in relation to the following:

– how the child goes on to see him/herself (self-identity, self-concept)
– how the child goes on to view others
– how the child goes on to deal with relationships (functioning in this area often becomes deeply impaired).

The theory suggests, then, that problematic parenting can lead to the child developing identity problems later on together with problems of self-image (affected children will often later develop a view of themselves as ‘bad’, or, even, ‘evil’) with concordant effects upon behavior. Often, also, a feeling of profound HELPLESSNESS will develop.

In relation to how the affected child sees others, certain patterns have been found to emerge. For example, the child may develop into an adult who deeply mistrusts those in authority, viewing them as overwhelmingly vindictive, malicious and punitive. Interestingly, also, however, there can develop a tendency to IDEALIZE people of importance to him/her in the initial stages of knowing them; because, however, this is likely to lead to UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS of the one who has been idealized (especially in relation to them – the idealized one, that is – being able to protect and nurture them) when these high expectations are not lived up to the failure gives rise to feelings of having been BETRAYED in the one who had those expectations.

In conclusion, it should be pointed out that a very difficult childhood does not guarantee the later development of BPD, but risk is elevated if the individual also has a genetic disposition to developing emotional problems.

Above eBook now available on Amazon for immediate download. $4.99 each. CLICK HERE.

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

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery
Uncommon Practitioners TV