What causes Borderline Personality Disorder?

One theory is presented by Dr. Linehan’s. Linehan has developed a comprehensive sociobiological theory which appears to be borne out by the successes found in controlled studies of her Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
Linehan theorizes that borderlines are born with an innate biological tendency to react more intensely to lower levels of stress than others and to take longer to recover. They peak “higher” emotionally on less provocation and take longer coming down. In addition, they were raised in environments in which their beliefs about themselves and their environment were continually devalued and invalidated. These factors combine to create adults who are uncertain of the truth of their own feelings and who are confronted by three basic dialectics they have failed to master (and thus rush frantically from pole to pole of):
– vulnerability vs. invalidation
– active passivity (tendency to be passive when confronted with a problem and actively seek a rescuer) vs. apparent competence (appearing to be capable when in reality internally things are falling apart)
 – unremitting crises vs. inhibited grief.

So it’s nature and nurture here, or nature and lack of nurture. So let’s see how this applies to me.
“Beliefs about the self were constantly devalued.” I hate to say this is true, because I was raised with incredibly loving parents in a very loving home where both my parents wanted the best for us, for us to be the best. My father however, was an art critic, our coach, our teacher… so everything we did was always capable of being improved upon, never good enough, always something wrong, always could be better. That’s not to say he never praised us, he often did, it was always followed by… “and now you could do this”, “that’s good but this is off, try doing this”, “but this could be improved in this way”, “watch out for this”. For me this translated as, if there’s something wrong with my work, there’s something wrong with me and I need to work harder, to the point of obsession, in order to be the right kind of person. If I’d get hurt or upset, about anything, I was often told to suck it up and deal like a grown up. Crying was not acceptable so I learned to hide my feelings. He didn’t mean to cause these feelings, but I guess being predisposed to this kind of thinking made his critiques all the more impactful.

One of my earliest memories was when I was 3 years old. I had a Little Shop of Horrors coloring book. I did an entire picture all in orange crayon. It was the very first time I had stayed completely in the lines and not messed up. I proudly showed my father. He said good job girl, took my crayon, and decided it was now a good time to show me how to shade my colors. On my current picture. He went outside of the lines. I was heartbroken with disappointment that my painstaking achievement wasn’t good enough and was now ruined. I thought I had done so well, but apparently I hadn’t done well enough. It may not seem like much, but to a 3 year old, it seemed like a big deal. That’s just one example, I could go on with a lifetime of me being pushed to be the best, pushing myself to be the best, but maybe another time.

I will say that as a result of a lifetime of this, it is difficult for me to ever believe that what I do is good enough, that I am good enough. I constantly question and second guess my own sense of self worth and often measure it by what people think of the things I do for them, be it cooking, baking, costuming, gifts, art, work, etc. In an odd twist, I also have a hard time believing people, believe they are telling the truth, unless they give me uneditted criticism. It’s so ingrained in my thinking that I can always improve things, that unless someone tells me how I can do things better the next time I doubt whether the thing that I’ve done was actually ok. So I set higher goals, harder goals, and work my ass off to prove to myself that what I do is valuable. That I am capable of doing things of value. I’ve never set a goal I haven’t accomplished beautifully, and yet, I always wait for someone to tell me how to improve.
Now do I think this is the only theory? or the best theory? No, but it’s interesting to explore.

Coming up next… Vulnerability vs. Invalidation


9 comments on “What causes Borderline Personality Disorder?

  1. wanted to delete that photo, for reasons prev explained – i was being dumb… can you delete it?you will find this an interesting read…basically you can blame your parents (but probably some genes need to be there too…)i do think comparisons with other primates raise very interesting questions about who we are. the study linked to above, and there's another one i remember showing the proportion of monkeys that (given the availability of it) become alcoholics, drink in moderation, and are teetotal, is pretty much the same proportions as for humans.most personality types are mostly genetic, but it would seem that BPD is largely upbringing.

  2. I'll have to read that when I get home (I'm @ work, bad girl) and I'll let you know what I think. Thank you for the resource.I've been doing a lot of medical study reading and it's very controversial. A lot of studies seem to agree that environment plays a big part but the person has to be biologically predisposed to certain tendencies for BPD to take hold. There are 3 basic temperments, at least one of which, is present for a person to develop BPD. I'll get more into in future blogs I'm sure.

  3. It's the first time i hear about Linehan but what he/she says strikes a chord. That first part seems to be describing a fundamental feature of HSP, which I definately know fits me. I've deliberated from this that HSP and BPD are perhaps very related. I must say I feel for you with regards to your dad. It seems he cared a lot about you but the pressure to be better all the time on such a young child won't be healthy for that type of person who naturally places pressure on themselves anyway. I was a high achiever at school and uni, I won academic prizes and was always naturally self-driven and enjoyed it. However, my mum wanted more from me, expected more when I was giving my all already, whilst my absent dad wasn't around to validate anything I did and when he was, he seemed totally indifferent. I learnt in my teens, to stop seeking his approval as it was hopeless. Whether I was good or bad, it was the same for him. (I was rarely bad but anyway). It was like I was expecting him to be proud of me since I was the perfect child, but never got any verbal approval, just criticism about irrelevant, demeaning things stemming from his strong patriarchal worldview. So, I feel for you totally. Invalidation of a child's emotions, abilities and worldview etc (as a feature of producing BPD) can be explicit or insidious. I think we were being invalidated or undermined in ways that were so inherent and unconscious at that, in our parent's own personalities. Would you consider yourself impressionable? I'd say that I was and still am in certain ways, and as such, I think we can find it hard to extricate ourselves from our parents, to consider ourselves as separate entities. Perhaps that is just me. After uni, I went from one kind of obsessive need for self-validation to another. I've rarely been able to let go and just be happy to be, without constantly placing goals and targets to hit. As for BPD and genes, I think I'm an exaggerated version of my mum, who is sensitive herself. And my dad is a bit narc-like. Thanks for pointing me to Linehan. Sounds interesting.

  4. I've been doing a lot of reading about various medical studies on BPD so I'll be getting into a lot of other theories too. I would say I was very impressionable back then. I needed my parents love and I learned anything I had to, to 'earn' it. I'm less impressionable now. Though I STILL work my butt off to do things I think my dad would be proud of. I know he meant well, but I don't think he realized just what that kind of pressure does. Both my grandmothers had mental illnesses but if I had to guess I'd say I follow my mom more. I'm not as emotionally sensitive as she is (I've been deadened pretty hard and I dissociate) but she has bad anxiety and lashes out with frustration at times. She was also the primary earner in our family so she wasn't around as much, I'm sure there's a host of abandonment issues stemming from that.

  5. @Res… so I read the article. Wow that was long, but anyways. I don't know. It seems to support the conclusion that genetic temperament AND environmental factors are key. "Environmental influences on genes make nature-nurture distinctions difficult. Psychosocial factors produce biological changes in the brain.".. but the predisposition for the impact of environment must already be in place. In conclusion, BPD is complicated, hah. I loved the primate comparison. It's really amazing that the kind of study done was even possible, but to see them displaying what are traditionally considered human behaviors, is fascinating. That separate species have such similar behavior clearly demonstrates that there is a genetic link that predisposes certain traits to be established.

  6. "clearly demonstrates that there is a genetic link that predisposes certain traits"be sure to distinguish between heritable traits and evolutionary successful strategies that are only successful at certain frequencies in the population. hmmm think i need to do a post on game theory sometime 🙂

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