Reducing Risk Of Intergenerational Transmission Of BPD

A study conducted by Stepp et al. (2012) adds further evidence in support of the theory that children of mothers with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are at increased risk of developing their own psychosocial problems (i.e. impaired mental health and difficulties relating to social interaction).

The authors of the study acknowledge that, to some extent, genetics may play a part in this. Although there is not a gene for BPD, children of BPD mothers may be at increased risk of inheriting problematic characteristics such as d difficult temperament, a predisposition towards behaving impulsively, and emotional dysregulation((the experiencing of intense emotions which the individual finds extremely difficult to keep under control), Such inherited characteristics may make the child at higher than average risk of developing BPD.

However, the researchers also stress the importance of environmental factors on the child’s psychosocial development, particularly parenting skills or lack thereof. They point to other research showing that BPD mothers are prone to oscillating between the extreme idealization of others and intense devaluation of them (which, as I have said in other posts on this site, is an accurate description of how my mother interacted with me, culminating in her finally throwing me out of the house when I was thirteen years old, then, not being one who could ever be accused of doing things by halves, telling anyone who would listen that I’d ‘chosen’ to go and live with my father as I was a snob and he lived in a bigger house than she did). The authors go on to say that if mothers behave in this way towards their children (i.e. fluctuating between the extreme idealization of them and the intense devaluation of them) this is likely to have a significantly injurious effect upon their (i.e. the children’s) psychosocial development.

Furthermore, it is pointed out by those who ran the study that previous research has also shown that those suffering from BPD often swing between behaving in a very hostile and controlling way towards others and behaving with passivity/coldness towards them.  Again, it is observed that, if mothers behave with similar inconsistency towards their children, this too is likely to grossly impair their psychosocial development.

BPD mothers, too, may be prone to behaviours that frighten the child.

Such mothers may also have a marked tendency to invalidate the  child’s emotions (for example, in my own case, when I was very young my mother would behave in a verbally sadistic way towards me, then mock me if I became visibly upset as if I was ‘over-reacting’ or being ‘too sensitive.’

Sadly, the above list of examples of dysfunctional behaviour exhibited towards children by PDD mothers is far from exhaustive.

Effects On Child :

Evidence exists to suggest that children of BPD mothers are at increased risk of anxiety, depression, interpersonal difficulties, problems with authority. problems relating to identity, and various other psychological difficulties.

Possible Interventions Which May Help To Reduce The Likelihood Of Intergenerational Transmission Of BPD And BPD-Type Symptoms:

  • Attachment-based interventions
  • Psychoeducational interventions
  • Skills to promote consistency in scheduling and monitoring
  • Skills to promote consistency in warmth and nurturing
  • Mindfulness-based parenting skills to facilitate behavioural and emotional consistency


Stephanie D. Stepp et al., (2011) Children of Mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder: Identifying Parenting Behaviors as Potential Targets for Intervention. Personal Disord. 2011 Jan; 3(1): 76–91. doi: 10.1037/a0023081PMCID: PMC3268672NIHMSID: NIHMS311263PMID: 22299065

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE). is reader-supported. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission.

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