Borderline personality disorder: Trauma raises risk by 13-fold


A new meta-analysis of existing studies has revealed that people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are much more likely to report childhood adversity than those without the condition.

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Traumatic experiences in early life may significantly raise the risk of BPD.

Childhood trauma is also associated with BPD more than it is with other similar psychiatric conditions, according to the study.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, BPD is a mental health condition that affects around 1.4% of the population of the United States.

People with BPD may have trouble regulating their emotions, self-perceptions, and thoughts.

Impulsiveness and reckless behavior are also common characteristics of the condition, as is an inability to maintain stable relationships with other people. Self-harm and suicidal ideation are also common.

Some forms of psychotherapy and mood stabilizing medication have proven effective in treating and managing BPD, though there is currently no cure for the condition.

BPD symptoms tend to appear in early adulthood, peak in young adulthood, and improve with time.

The medical community does not yet know what causes BPD. As with most conditions, healthcare professionals believe that a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental influences plays a role.

Previous studies have found links between early-life trauma and the chance of developing BPD. Specifically, research has linked experiences of abuse, abandonment, extreme adversity, violence, or conflict in one’s family life to BPD.

However, new research in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia looks deeper into this link and finds that it may be stronger than researchers previously believed.

Over 71% of those with BPD had trauma

Researchers led by Filippo Varese, from the Division of Psychology and Mental Health at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, reviewed 97 existing studies.

In total, these studies involved 11,366 participants with BPD, 3,732 people with no psychiatric conditions, and 13,128 people with other psychiatric conditions.

Of these studies, 42 contained relevant statistical information that the researchers would use to study the link between childhood trauma and BPD.

The researchers’ analysis found that people with BPD were 13.91 times more likely to report childhood trauma than controls who did not have BPD. This effect diminished slightly when the team included epidemiological and retrospective cohort studies.

Compared with other psychiatric conditions — including mood disorders, psychosis, and other personality disorders — people with BPD were 3.15 times more likely to report traumatic experiences in their childhood.

More specificially, 48.9% of people with BPD reported physical neglect in their childhood, 42.5% reported a history of emotional abuse, 36.4% reported physical abuse, 32.1% reported sexual abuse, and 25.3% reported emotional neglect.

Overall, more than 71% of the people with BPD in the studies said that they had experienced at least one traumatic event during their childhood.

We found a strong link between childhood trauma and BPD, which is particularly large when emotional abuse and neglect was involved.”

Filippo Varese

“During childhood and adolescence,” he adds, “our brain is still undergoing considerable development and we are also refining strategies to deal with the challenges of everyday life, and the negative feelings that come with them.”

“In some people who have experienced chronic, overwhelming stress in childhood, it is likely that these responses do not develop in the same way. People can become more sensitive to ‘normal’ stress.”

“They are sometimes unable to deal with intense negative thoughts and feelings, and they might resort to dangerous or unhelpful measures to feel better, such as taking drugs or self-harming.”

“This can lead to various mental health difficulties, including the problems commonly seen in people who receive a diagnosis of BPD.”

“We hope,” Varese continues, “these findings underline the importance of trauma-informed care for people accessing mental health services, where prevalence rates of BPD are high.”

He concludes that “further research is needed to explore the complex factors also likely to be involved such as biology, experiences in later life, and psychological processes.”