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BPD And Impaired Ability To Send And Receive Social Signals.

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We have already seen from many other articles published on this site that severe and protracted childhood trauma dramatically increases the probability that the individual will go on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) in later life. We have also seen that one of the major symptoms of BPD is chronic difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships with others. Recent research suggests that one of the important reasons that BPD sufferers experience such interpersonal difficulties is due to an impaired ability to send both receive and send social signals  (also referred to as SOCIAL COGNITION).

In terms of RECEIVING social signals from others, research has consistently shown that sufferers of BPD are liable to dysfunctionally and inaccurately infer the mental state of others (by, for example, interpreting the social signals these others are sending out are hostile when, in objective terms, they are not ; in other words, often, when BPD sufferers are trying to work out how others feel about them in social situations. they tend towards paranoid-style thinking styles – although usually not to such extreme levels that would qualify as being indicative of flagrant psychosis [it should be noted, though, that sufferers of BPD can occasionally suffer brief periods of psychosis, usually in response to particularly severe stress]).


In terms of the social signals that BPD sufferers SEND / GIVE OUT to others, recent research also suggests that they may also have an impaired ability to do this, too. It has been noted, for example, that BPD sufferers are more likely to send out ‘mixed’ social signals and also to express their emotions in more opaque and ‘hard to read’ ways than is the social norm.

In connection with the above, it is important to note that social signals can be sent and received on BOTH a conscious level AND on an unconscious level. And, although much of the research on the deficits BPD sufferers experience in relation to this is still at an early stage,  it is becoming increasingly apparent that such deficits in social cognition may be at the very heart of the myriad interpersonal difficulties those with BPD frequently face.

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



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

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

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