Are BPD And Complex PTSD Equally Linked To Childhood Trauma

It is known that borderline personality disorder (BPD) is strongly associated with childhood trauma (although it continues to be argued about to what degree) but, unlike complex PTSD, the fact that it is linked to trauma is not explicit in its name. Instead, the label borderline personality disorder implies (insultingly) that it is not a mental illness as such but, rather, a profound and fundamental deficit lying at the heart of the person’s personality. It is little wonder, therefore, that so many BPD sufferers feel that the name of their condition increases further their feelings of shame and stigmatization.

Whilst studies frequently show that the majority of those with borderline personality disorder (BPD) have suffered protracted and serious childhood trauma (be it due to verbal abuse, psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, emotional neglect, or any number of horrible combinations of these – physical, verbal and psychological abuse will often occur simultaneously, for example) why should it be that some (according to their therapists or the particular researchers interviewing them for a study) with borderline personality disorder (BPD) do not report having experienced childhood trauma?

It seems to me there are various possible explanations for this. First, they really have had a happy and stable childhood free of abuse (this seems to me unlikely). Secondly, they have forgotten their abuse due to repression (although I acknowledge that we have to be careful about such suggestions, particularly as it is known overzealous therapists can sometimes inadvertently plant the idea into their patient’s head that s/he has been abused when, in fact, s/he hasn’t). Thirdly, they have been abused but are in a profound state of denial about it. Fourthly, they have been abused but their abuser has brainwashed them into believing that the abuse they were subjected to was ‘not really abuse at all,’ fifthly, the abused individual is so ashamed of the abuse s/he has suffered (and feelings of completely unwarranted shame are a hallmark symptom of borderline personality disorder) that s/he feels compelled to keep it a secret at all costs. Or, finally, the borderline personality disorder (BPD) sufferer has been threatened by his/her abuser and there will be dire consequences should s/he ever tell anyone about it.

I felt compelled to write this post because I have read so many studies on borderline personality disorder where it is stated that X% of the BPD sufferers had not experienced childhood trauma but it is rarely if ever, stated, in the discussion of the study’s limitations (if there is one) that the figure may not be reliable.

It is known that even today when much more is known about borderline personality disorder (BPD), many clinicians do their level best to avoid coming into professional (or should that be ‘non-professional’?) contact with people with BPD because they are (according to such clinicians) ‘difficult’ and ‘manipulative’. Could this attitude be linked to the dubious theory that some BPD sufferes have suffered no childhood trauma? I think it could. After all, it is easier for such clinicians to turn their back on patients if they don’t believe their condition to be the result of terrible abuse but, instead, a kind of terrible flaw in their character and fundamental being, as the term borderline personality disorder’ so cruelly implies.