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Causes of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder can be thought of as a state of extreme psychological insecurity. Many of the core features of this disorder have to do with the constant fear and expectation of loss and abandonment, as well as the desperate reactions in response to those fears.

The vast majority of individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder were victims of childhood abuse or neglect, or were raised in very chaotic and unstable households [ref]. These kinds of early traumatic experiences undermine a person's ability to develop a sense of safety in the world, basic trust that others are caring and dependable, and confidence in one's capacity to meet life's challenges.

Several of the core symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder, including the impulsivity, identity disturbances, suicidal and self-injurious behaviors, emotional instability, and dissociative symptoms, are all symptoms that have been associated with childhood trauma [ref, ref]. It has thus been suggested that Borderline Personality Disorder may share many features in common with Complex PTSD [ref].

According to Attachment Theory, a child requires a secure bond with their parents where they can learn to expect that in times of need their parents will be available to help in sensitive and appropriate ways. These experiences will lay the foundation for a healthy psychological development, where the child will grow up knowing that they can manage stressful events and also feel comfortable in intimate relationships.

A hallmark of Borderline Personality Disorder is a very insecure or even disorganized form at attachment bond with one's parents or caregivers [ref]. Such individuals will have significant difficulties being in intimate relationships, as they will tend to be at the same time very mistrustful of their partners while also expecting to receive, in a childlike way, the kind of unconditional, endless love and support that they lacked growing up. When these somewhat impossible hopes and needs are not met, they will tend to become overwhelmed by intense emotions of despair, rage and panic, and to direct a lot of aggression towards others and themselves. This situation is made more complicated by the fact that individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder will often seek out partners who are themselves emotionally unstable or abusive, thus repeating their experiences of being mistreated and neglected [ref].

Given these difficulties, individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder who become parents will have a hard time fostering a sense of security, stability and emotional sensitivity for their children [ref]. In this way, this condition may be transmitted from one generation to the next.

Of course, not all people who endured traumatic childhood experiences or who had insecure attachment bonds with their parents end up developing Borderline Personality Disorder. It is thought that there are genetic factors that predispose people to develop this disorder by making them more vulnerable to the effects of these early life adversities [ref]. However, the precise nature of these genetic factors has not yet been clarified.

 

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