The most up-to-date research into the causes of borderline personality disorder (BPD) indicates that the following two factors are especially likely to put an young person at risk of developing BPD in later life. These are :
1) Biparental dysfunction – in essence, this means that their is an enduring, seriously problematic relationship between the young person and both his/her parents; in particular, those who go on to develop BPD are most likely to have had :
a) a mother who was emotionally distant or, secondly, was overprotective, or, thirdly, a mother with whom the relationship involved a high level of conflict
b) a father who was emotionally distant and generally uninvolved in the young person’s life (click here to read my article on the effects of uninvolved parents)
2) The painful experiences of the individual who goes on to develop BPD have been invalidated by his parents/caregivers (ie dismissed, ignored, denied or minimized).
Furthermore, it is frequently found in those who go on to develop BPD that :
– had a member of their family who had problems relating to drugs and/or alcohol
– had a member of the family who had a mood disorder
– were neglected
– had minimal supervision (again, my article on uninvolved parents is relevant here)
RESEARCH IN SUPPORT OF THE ABOVE :
A very powerfully supporting research study of the above was conducted by Zanarini. He found that 84% of those who had been diagnosed with BPD reported that they had experienced seriously problematic/dysfunctional relationships with both parents, and emotional abuse, before they reached the age of eighteen years.
Also, he also found a very significant proportion of BPD sufferers had had their distressing emotional experiences invalidated by their parents or caregivers. For example, if, as a result of his/her painful experiences, the young person developed problematic behaviours, this would tend to be attributed to the young person’s ‘badness’ rather than to the psychological damage done to him/her by the abuse s/he had suffered or to the dysfunctional relationship with the parents. In effect, then, the young person is made ill and then blamed for the symptoms of that illness by the very people (his/her parents or caregivers) who contributed to it and were supposed to protect him/her.
THE EXTREMELY DAMAGING EFFECT OF INVALIDATION :
This invalidation, by the parents or caregivers, of the deeply painful experiences the young person has suffered and of their effects may, according to recent research carried out by Horwitz, be even more damaging to the psychological well-being of the individual who experienced the childhood trauma than even the effects of the trauma itself.
In other words, parents/caregivers who significantly emotionally damage their children, and then deny they have done so, are especially likely to find these children go on to develop BPD in later life.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)