Childhood Trauma and Increased Risk of Personality Disorders


I have already written extensively about the association between childhood trauma and the later development of borderline personality disorder (BPD) – click here to read one of my articles on this. However, the experience of childhood trauma can also contribute to many other personality disorders; the main personality disorders are listed in the left hand column of the table below:


The chart below shows that about FIVE MILLION people in the UK suffer from a personality disorder and approximately one hundred thousand of those are, at any one time, caught up in the criminal justice system (eg on bail, on probation, undertaking community service – click here to read my article about links between mental health and the criminal justice system). Also, we can see from the chart that, at any one time, about 50,000 of those suffering from a personality disorder are in jail. It is also shown that 1,000 individuals have a personality disorder which warrants detainment in a mental health institution and that 3,000 have a serious personality disorder making them a very high risk to the welfare of others.




It is difficult to precisely define personality; this is because the way we feel and behave often varies across different situations. For example, we may behave one way at work, another way with friends, and yet another way with family. However, by about the early twenties, most people have developed a core set of characteristics/personality traits in relation to how s/he thinks, feels and behaves. These attributes and qualities remain fairly consistent over time and can be said to form the basis of personality. If the personality is relatively healthy, it will enable the person to function at least reasonably well in relation to his interaction with others and with the world in general.


Unfortunately, however, some people, due to adverse childhood experiences and other factors (such as having a poor social support network) do not develop a healthy personality; the most severely affected of these will, instead, develop a personality disorder. In essence, this means they will have aspects of their personalities which, without therapy, they find extremely difficult to overcome, even when they repeatedly experience these personality characteristics causing significant problems in their own lives as well as in the lives of those with whom they interact.


Often, the person who goes on to develop a personality disorder will start to show significant problems relating to how they feel and behave around the beginning of puberty (it is very important to remember, however, that this is a time of life when many young people experience emotional turmoil so it is necessary to exercise extreme caution when making formal diagnoses in relation to a person’s mental health at this age – an expertly trained professional is called for if such diagnoses are to be considered). These problems are likely to involve severe difficulties with forming and maintaining relationships at school, within the family and in social situations. Also, it is likely, as time goes on, that the individual will repeatedly get into trouble, seemingly unable to listen to advice or to learn from experience. There will, too, be a general inability to control feelings (this is sometimes referred to as emotional dysregulation) or behaviour (the individual may well be highly impulsive and prone to dangerous risk taking). The person may frequently be extremely aggressive, often have temper tantrums and be constantly disobedient. Underneath these displays of problematic behaviour, the person is very likely to be in a state of deep unhappiness and emotional distress, for which therapy is vital.

Once a personality disorder is established and ingrained, it can lead to a vicious downward spiral which becomes, essentially, out of control (click here to read my article about the process that underlies such a downward spiraling) and may lead the individual to turn to alcohol and drugs in an attempt to dull the pain of his/her chaotic and perpetually problematic existence. This,of course, will invariably make things even worse.

There are five main types of personality disorder, and I have provided a summary of them in an article you may read by clicking here.

As I’ve already alluded to, adverse childhood experiences tend very much to play a very significant role in the development of personality disorders; these include physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect, having parents/carers who misuse substances and growing up in a household where a parent/carer has a significant mental health problem.

Indeed, if a child’s upbringing is extremely stressful, his/her brain development can be harmed leading to the kinds of emotional and behavioural problems that may precede the development of a full-blown personality disorder (click here to read my article about how severe stress in early life can adversely affect neurological development).


Research shows that stress can very significantly worsen the symptoms of personality disorder. Stresses which should, as far as possible, be avoided include :

– financial worries

– stressful interpersonal relationships (especially if these involve family or partners)

– situations that give rise to significant anxiety


Until relatively recently, personality disorders were poorly understood and little effective treatment was available. Now, however, it has been established that many of those with a personality disorder can be given therapies that are potentially highly effective. These include dialectical behaviour therapy (click here to read my article on this) and cognitive behavioural therapy (click here to read my article on this).

To read my article on how effectively borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be treated, click here. 


Above eBook now available from Amazon for instant download. $4.99. CLICK HERE. Other titles by David Hosier also available.


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







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About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

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