A recent study carried out at Manchester University analyzed data obtained from a number of previous studies (42 studies in all involving over 5000 participants) on how childhood trauma affects mental health (this type of study is known as a meta-analysis).
The study found that:
71.1 %of individuals who had received a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD) had suffered one or more adverse childhood experiences.
Individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are 13 times to report that they experienced childhood trauma than were mentally healthy individuals.
The data revealed also that borderline personality disorder was the most common mental disorder associated with childhood trauma (more so than mood disorders, other personality disorders, and psychosis).
What Are The Most Common Types Of Childhood Adverse Experiences Linked With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
According to the study, the most common adverse childhood experience linked to BPD was found to be PHYSICAL NEGLECT. (48.9% of those with BPD reported having suffered from physical neglect as children; this compared to 25.3% who had experienced emotional neglect).
In terms of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional), EMOTIONAL ABUSE during childhood was found to be most closely associated with the development of BPD in later life (42.5% of those with borderline personality disorder reported having suffered from emotional abuse as children compared to 36.4% who had suffered physical abuse and 32.1% who had suffered sexual abuse).
The Particular Impact Of Emotional Abuse:
The study then suggests that out of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, emotional abuse is the most damaging with regards to putting an individual at risk of developing BPD and it is becoming increasingly acknowledged by psychologists how emotional/psychological abuse by parents can be especially damaging.
Why Psychological Abuse By Parents Can Cause Greater Psychopathology In Children Than Extreme Poverty Or War
Silvano Arieti, in his classic book Interpretations Of Schizophrenia, emphasized the view that it is childhood adverse experiences, such as psychological and emotional abuse by the parents that cause anxiety which hurts the ‘inner self’ are the ones which are most likely to lead to severe mental illness in the individual whereas traumatic experiences that many might consider worse, such as war or severe poverty, may well NOT lead the child to develop severe mental illness if they do not lead to the aforementioned damage to the ‘inner self’.
- What Is Meant By The ‘Inner Self’?
This can be defined as one’s personal sense of identity, self-concept, and integrated personality.
- We Are Most Vulnerable To Psychological Harm From Those With Whom We Have A Strong Emotional Bond:
Arieti stresses that children are at the most risk of being psychologically damaged by being maltreated by those with whom they have a strong emotional bond (most commonly, of course, their parents). He also believed that a major cause of schizophrenia was a childhood during which the individual’s sense of self was seriously undermined by one, or both, parents. The Scottish psychiatrist, R.D. Laing, who wrote the famous book entitled The Divided Self, thought along similar lines, stressing the importance of the family environment as a cause of schizophrenia.
In essence, when we are betrayed, or significantly mistreated over a protracted period of time, by the very people who are supposed to love us, care for us and protect us, we are thrown into a state of extreme psychological torment, confusion, and conflict, the effect of which is uniquely pervasive and perfidious; as a result, our sense of inner self may be shattered and our personality may disintegrate.
This idea is encapsulated by the trauma model of mental disorders which contends that early life psychological trauma is a very major cause of several different adult psychiatric disorders.
Proponents of this view include Sigmund Freud (as illustrated by his psychoanalytic theories) and John Bowlby (as illustrated by his attachment theory).
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).