Tag Archives: Causes Of Bpd

Explaining BPD In Terms Of The Diathesis-Stress Model

BPD, diathesis stress model

What Does ‘Diathesis’ Mean?

The medical definition of ‘diathesis’ is ‘a heriditary or constitutional predisposition to a disease or other disorder.‘ (The word ‘diathesis’ itself derives from the Greek word for ‘disposition).

What Is The Diathesis-Stress Model?

The diathesis-stress model is a psychological theory that proposes that a psychiatric disorder is caused not by heriditary factors (i.e. predispositional vulnerability) alone, NOR by psychologically stressful experiences alone, but by the way in which the two factors interact with one another.

Explaining Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) In Terms Of The Diathesis-Stress Model :

The diathesis-stress model is an appropriate model with which to explain how borderline personality disorder (BPD) develops in the individual. It is appropriate because research suggests that BPD does not occur in a person solely because of his/her traumatic and stressful childhood experiences nor solely because of an unfortunate genetic inheritance. What is vital in determining whether or not a person ‘succumbs’ to BPD is  how their genes and childhood experiences combine and interact.

In other words, a person who is genetically vulnerable to developing BPD and experiences severe, protracted trauma during childhood may well go on to suffer from BPD in adulthood (see equation 1, below)

However, another individual who has low genetic vulnerability to the disorder and suffers a similarly traumatic childhood (although, of course, the ‘amount’ of trauma a person experiences is impossible to quantify – each case is utterly unique) may well avoid developing it (see equation 2, below)

So, we could represent the above with the following equations :



And, of course, it naturally follows that :



More About Genetic Vulnerabilty To BPD :

In terms of genetic inheritance, what will make a person more susceptible to developing BPD?

The main consideration here is the person’s innate temperament. In particular, those who have naturally impulsive and emotionally labile personalities will, in general, be more predisposed to developing BPD if they also experience protracted and significant trauma during their childhoods compared to those more naturally inclined towards stoicism and timidity.

A Third Factor : Culture / Society :

However, the stress-diathesis model is not the whole story when we are considering the multiple, inter-relating causes that can lead to someone developing BPD. There is also the question of the culture / society in which the individual exists.

To learn more about this, you may wish to read my article entitled : Childhood Trauma, BPD, Genes And Culture.


eBook :

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

Borderline Personality Disorder – The Role of Childhood Trauma and Other Factors


Biological Factors :

Several of my articles have already examined, in some detail, environmental factors in childhood which put the individual at risk of developing borderline personality disorder (BPD) as an adult (however, for those of you who are not familiar with them, I will summarize them at the end of this article).

Before I do that, however, I wish to look at other factors which research suggests may be linked to the development, in adulthood, of BPD. These are :


– Neurobiology

– Genetics

NEUROTRANSMITTERS : Neurotransmitters are chemicals which exist in the brain and have the function of sending messages between neurons (brain cells). In individuals with BPD, research has shown that three groups of neurotransmitters, in particular, have often been disrupted; these are :

a) SEROTONIN : this neurotransmitter is linked to destructive urges, aggressive behavior and depression

b) DOPAMINE : this neurotransmitter is linked to emotional lability (instability)

c) NORADRENALINE : as above

NB It should be noted that these neurotransmitters may well have been adversely affected as a result of childhood trauma (click here for an explanation as to how this may occur)

images      images2

Above : 2 visual representations of neurotransmitters.


NEUROBIOLOGY : Brain scan technology has revealed that those who suffer from BPD frequently have brain abnormalities relating to both the brain’s structure and its functioning. Three parts of the brain, in particular, are frequently found to have been damaged ; these are :

a) THE HIPPOCAMPUS : this brain region is involved in regulating our behavior (self-control)

b) ORBITOFRONTAL CORTEX : this brain region is involved in decision making skills and planning

c) AMYGDALA : this brain region is involved in regulating (controlling) our behavior, especially anger, aggression, violent impulses, fear and anxiety

The idea has been put forward that the damage to these brain regions, and the consequent emotional and behavioral problems, go quite some considerable way to explaining why it is that those who suffer from BPD so frequently have very significant difficulties in forming stable relationships.

NB. Again, it seems these brain regions have been damaged in BPD sufferers when their brains were still developing and, therefore,highly vulnerable during childhood as a result of their traumatic experiences. The good news is, however, that such damage seems to be, at least in part, reversible (click here to read my article on this)


There is no evidence that there is a specific gene relating to the development of BPD. However, it has been suggested that certain personality traits (characteristics) might have been inherited from parents which put the individual at greater risk of developing BPD ; these include a propensity towards aggression and emotional instability. Presently, however, this is merely a hypothesis.




dysfunctional relationships with parent/s

– growing up in a household in which a member has significant problems relating to drugs and/or alcohol

– growing up in a household in which a member suffers from a serious psychiatric illness

– abuse (physical/emotional/sexual)

neglect by parent/s

– growing up in an environment which involves living in a frequently occurring or chronic state of fear/anxiety/distress

For more on this, click here.


N.B.  The risk of development of BPD as an adult is significantly increased if psychological issues relating to the above have not been addressed/resolved through therapy and, especially, if others (particularly the perpetrators) try to undermine, invalidate and/or discredit one’s perception of the impact one’s overwhelmingly stressful childhood experiences have had on one.



51Qg4LQa-aL._UY250_emotional abusebrain damage caused by childhood trauma

The above eBooks are now available for immediate download on Amazon. Click here for further details.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Highly Dysfunctional Families and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

borderline personality disorder and dysfunctional families

Those who go on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) almost invariably grew up as children in highly dysfunctional families in which the parent/s was/were emotionally unstable.

dysfunctional families and borderline personality disorder

I have written about BPD extensively in other articles on this site (to access them, simply type ‘BPD’ into the site’s search box) so I will only briefly recap upon some of the main symptoms from which the individual with BPD suffers :

– inability to control powerful emotions

– extremely chaotic interpersonal relationships

– extremely poor impulse control

– very poor sense of own identity (also sometimes referred to as ‘identity confusion’)

– sees others in terms of being either ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’ with no middle ground (this is also sometimes referred to as ‘black and white’ thinking or ‘dichotomous thinking)

– hypersensitivity, especiallly a tendency to interpret neutral, innocuous comments of others as personal slights

Overwhelmingly, the most important risk factors leading the child to go on to develop BPD are child abuse and child neglect. Indeed, these two risk factors easily outweigh the influence of biological and social factors.


The child who goes on to develop BPD as an adult is very likely to have grown up in a household in which he received ‘double messages’ from his/her parent/s – in other words, the child’s parent/s are very likely to have both felt and expressed EXTREME AMBIVALENCE towards the child. I describe how this ambivalence towards the child generally manifests itself below :


It is theorized that the parent holds, simultaneously, 2 attitudes towards being a parent which are contradictory and in direct opposition to each other. It is thought the 2 conflicting attitudes are :

ATTITUDE 1 : the parent/s believe their role as a parent is of great importance and central to their lives

ATTITUDE 2 (in direct opposition to the above but simultaneously held) the parent/s deeply resent having to fulfill a parental role and regard the child as an IRRITATING OBSTACLE PREVENTING THEM FROM PURSUING THINGS THAT WOULD LEAD TO THEIR PERSONAL FULFILLMENT.

Not infrequently, such ambivalent feelings will focus upon just one child, leaving his/her siblings relatively emotionally undamaged.


Unconsciously, the child has a deep need to keep the ambivalent parent/s as emotionally stable as possible (in Darwinian terms, this is clearly in the interests of his/her survival). The dilemma is, therefore, as follows :

On the one hand, s/he needs to remain of great importance to the ambivalent parent/s (in order to support attitude 1 (above)). On the other hand, however, s/he needs to allow them to justify, in their own minds, their hostility, anger and resentment towards him/her (in order to support attitude 2 (above)).

But how can this possibly be achieved?

Building upon an original idea of Melanie Kline, it has been theorized that, in order to maintain his/her parent’s/parents’ psychological equilibrium, the child must adopt what has been termed spoiler behaviour (this is NOT a conscious decision of the child’s – it is driven by unconscious forces).

‘Spoilier behaviour’ involves :

– in effect, refusing to grow up

– remaining dependent on the parent/s (as not able to function competently as an adult)

– rebelling against and severely denigrating the parent/s

Without therapy, such ‘spoiler behaviour’ may be maintained deep into the formerly abused child’s adulthood. Such behaviour is a way of INVALIDATING THE PARENT/S IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY AS THEY INVALIDATED HIM/HER AS A CHILD. In essence, s/he is ‘giving back as good as s/he got.’

The now adult child will continue to try to keep his parent/s emotionally stable by (and I repeat, unconsciously) desperately trying to regulate their ambivalent emotions towards him/her :

– if they begin to feel too guilty (due to attitude 1, above), he will make them angry. However :

– if they become too angry (due to attitude 2, above) s/he will make them feel guilty

This is, I think, a very ingenious theory; however, it is very difficult to prove theories which are based in part upon ideas relating to unconscious mental processes.

If I could briefly indulge myself by suggesting a theory of my own : IF A CHILD KNOWS S/HE IS ESSENTIALLY DISLIKED BY HIS/HER PARENTS, IS IT NOT EASIER TO TOLERATE IF S/HE ACTS IN SUCH A WAY THAT HELPS THE PARENTS, IN THEIR OWN MINDS, TO JUSIFY THEIR DISLIKE, RATHER THAN TO TRY HARD TO GET ON WITH THE PARENTS, AND OBTAIN THEIR ADMIRATION, AND YET STILL BE DISLIKED? In the former case, the child can almost convince him/herself s/he wants to be disliked, and is only disliked due to his/her behaviour. Whereas, to be disliked whilst trying desperately to be liked by one’s parents could, potentially,  be psychologically catastrophic.



KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY – further information about dysfunctional families (CLICK HERE).



bpd ebook


Above  eBook available for immediate download on Amazon. $4.99 . CLICK HERE.


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


A Closer Look at the Link Between Childhood Experiences and BPD.

childhood trauma and bpd

BPD And Childhood Trauma

One of the things that frequently marks the childhood of individuals who later develop BPD is LOSS, especially when the loss has occurred as a result of death, divorce or serious illness (necessitating long periods in hospital). In one particular research study looking at this, it was found that three-quarters of those suffering from BPD had experienced such losses in childhood.

Abuse also plays a large part in the development of BPD. One study found that 75% of those suffering from BPD had experienced sexual abuse during their childhood compared to 33% of those who suffered from other psychiatric conditions.

However, it is not just obvious trauma in childhood that is linked to the later development of BPD. More subtle forms of problematic parenting also put the child at risk. Examples of this include:

– the parent/s emotionally withdrawing from the child
– inconsistent parenting (eg praise and punishment being distributed in an UNPREDICTABLE manner)
– parent/s discounting, belittling or ignoring the child’s feelings

Another form of problematic parenting which has been linked to the child later developing BPD include:

– the parent behaving too much like a friend rather than a responsible, caring figure
– turning the child into a CONFIDANT
– role reversal : treating the child like a parent


Parenting problems are so closely tied to putting the child at risk of later developing BPD because as illustrated, for example, by object relations theory, the way a parent brings up a child has a critical influence on the way the child develops, especially in relation to the following:

– how the child goes on to see him/herself (self-identity, self-concept)
– how the child goes on to view others
– how the child goes on to deal with relationships (functioning in this area often becomes deeply impaired).

The theory suggests, then, that problematic parenting can lead to the child developing identity problems later on together with problems of self-image (affected children will often later develop a view of themselves as ‘bad’, or, even, ‘evil’) with concordant effects upon behavior. Often, also, a feeling of profound HELPLESSNESS will develop.

In relation to how the affected child sees others, certain patterns have been found to emerge. For example, the child may develop into an adult who deeply mistrusts those in authority, viewing them as overwhelmingly vindictive, malicious and punitive. Interestingly, also, however, there can develop a tendency to IDEALIZE people of importance to him/her in the initial stages of knowing them; because, however, this is likely to lead to UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS of the one who has been idealized (especially in relation to them – the idealized one, that is – being able to protect and nurture them) when these high expectations are not lived up to the failure gives rise to feelings of having been BETRAYED in the one who had those expectations.

In conclusion, it should be pointed out that a very difficult childhood does not guarantee the later development of BPD, but risk is elevated if the individual also has a genetic disposition to developing emotional problems.

Above eBook now available on Amazon for immediate download. $4.99 each. CLICK HERE.

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