Research by Otto et al., 2021) suggests that borderline personality disorder represents a fast ‘Pace-of-Life-Syndrome (PoLS). To explain what is meant by this, it is first necessary to explain ‘Life History Theory’ in relation to elucidating mental illness.
‘Life History Theory’ is an evolutionary theory that is increasingly being used to help explain symptoms of various mental illnesses by considering individual differences in ecological, psychological and biological factors. In other words, whether or not a person develops mental illness will depend in large part upon:
- ECOLOGICAL FACTORS i.e. relationships with others and physical environment
- PSYCHOLOGICAL FACTORS e.g. childhood trauma and early life exposure to toxic stress
- BIOLOGICAL FACTORS e.g. genetic predispositions
And, furthermore, the above 3 factors are influenced by an individual’s LIFE HISTORY.
Individuals whose constellation of the above three factors, due to his/her LIFE HISTORY, line up in such a way that places him/her at the ‘FAST’ end of PoLS:
- GROW FASTER
- HAVE A FASTER METABOLISM
- TAKE MORE RISKS
- DIE EARLIER
- HAVE HIGHER ALLOSTATIC LOADS IN ADULTHOOD (allostatic load refers to chronically increased or fluctuating endocrine and neural responses linked to chronic stress which, in turn, leads to increasing ‘wear and tear’ on the body).
Otto et al. (2021) hypothesize that CHILDHOOD TRAUMA (an overwhelmingly important part of LIFE HISTORY) LEADS TO FAST PACE-OF-LIFE-SYNDROME, due to its particular effects on the three critical factors (ecological, psychological and biological, see above) and their study broadly supported this idea. Otto and colleagues highlight the finding that those in the study (involving just under 100 females half of whom had BPD) in the BPD group, 80% of whom had suffered significant childhood trauma, scored more highly on characteristics commensurate with having PoLS compared to controls, including on aggression and contending with high levels of stress. (We also know, from other research referred to on this site, that those with BPD exhibit more risk-taking than the average person and also have significantly reduced life expectancy).
In evolutionary terms, an organism needs to grow fast (calling for an increased rate of metabolism) and reproduce as early in life as possible (which may involve higher risk-taking and aggression in relation to competing for mates) if its environment is extremely dangerous (in case it dies before it reproduces). However, this fast pace of development then puts a strain on the body, resulting in a higher allostatic load and more illness in later life as well as an earlier death.
So it follows that, in the case of those suffering from BPD, PoLS may be an evolutionary response to a perceived dangerous world, this perceived danger having developed from feelings of not being safe as a child/childhood trauma. Therefore, the fact that those with BPD have a shorter life expectancy than average, have a higher allostatic load, tend to be high-risk-takers, are often sexually promiscuous may be at least in part explained by PoLS linked to childhood trauma. And it is probably no coincidence that many people with BPD may describe themselves, at certain stages in life, living their life in the ‘fast-lane’).
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).