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The Course of BPD over the Life Span



There has, unfortunately, been little research on what those who suffer from borderline personality disorder (BPD) as adults were like, in terms of their personalities and character traits, as children; however, there is a fair amount of anecdotal evidence, much of which has come from these individuals’ parents. Whilst we must be wary of setting too much store by these verbal reports, I thought some of them worth recording in this article – the findings can be refined, of course, as more research is conducted into this area in the future.



Some parents have said that their offspring who developed BPD as adults were already displaying unusual behaviours in their first year of life; the parents reported that the babies :

– did not seem to ever show much sign of pleasure

– were particularly prone to bouts of crying/distress

– became easily upset by changes made to their routines

– had poor quality sleep

– were difficult to soothe when upset/distressed


In the case of young children who went on to develop BPD as adults, the anecdotal evidence from parents gives the following picture :

– they were particularly demanding and attention-seeking

– prone to excessive worrying/anxiety

– prone to extended periods of sadness

– became excessively upset in response to changes made to plans/routines

– often displayed signs of separation anxiety when departing home for school

– became easily frustrated

– frequently displayed excessive temper-tantrums

– displayed abnormal sleep patterns

– had a tendency to develop physical complaints in response to stress (eg headaches, stomach aches)


Because adolescence is a period of marked behaviour change and emotional upheaval anyway, it is necessary to exercise extreme caution when diagnosing mental illness in this age group. However, a potential in the individual to develop BPD may be suspected when there are significant problems in the following areas of behaviour :

– frequent displays of extreme emotions which the individual has great difficulty controlling (also known as emotional dysregulation)

– poor impulse control with dangerous outcomes (eg violence, excessive risk-taking)

– suicidal threats, gestures, attempts

– frequent displays of extreme temper

– impairments relating to thinking and reasoning


If an individual develops full-blown BPD, this most usually occurs in the late teens/early adulthood. It is very important to seek treatment as the symptoms of BPD can get worse as the illness progresses.

Symptoms of BPD are triggered by stress, in particular, by interpersonal stress. Naturally, it follows that the more stress the BPD sufferer is exposed to, the more frequently, and the more severely, his/her symptoms will emerge. 

As the BPD sufferer approaches middle-age, symptoms such as impulsivity may diminish somewhat; however, symptoms such as the inability to control emotions and suicidal ideation can maintain a more tenacious grip upon the individual in the absence of effective treatment.





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





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