Psychological Factors: Origins of Borderline Personality Disorder

Some of this information is a bit repeat-o from things I’ve mentioned previously, but I feel it’s important to provide the findings of various experts on the subject of BPD as it is all relevant and useful. So continuing on with the theories of John G. Gunderson M.D…. 
Psychological Factors

Like most other mental illnesses, Borderline Personality Disorder does not appear to originate during a specific, discrete phase of development. Recent studies have suggested that pre-borderline children fail to learn accurate ways to identify feelings or to accurately attribute motives in themselves and others (often called failures of “mentalization”). Such children fail to develop basic mental capacities that constitute a stable sense of self and make themselves or others understandable or predictable. 

One important theory has emphasized the critical role of an invalidating environment. This occurs when a child is led to believe that his or her feelings, thoughts and perceptions are not real or do not matter. About 70% of people with BPD report a history of physical and/or sexual abuse. Childhood traumas may contribute to symptoms such as alienation, the desperate search for protective relationships, and the eruption of intense feelings that characterize BPD. Still, since relatively few people who are physically or sexually abused develop the borderline disorder (or any other psychiatric disorder), it is essential to consider temperamental disposition. Since BPD can develop without such experiences, these traumas are not sufficient or enough by themselves to explain the illness. Still, sexual or other abuse can be the “ultimate” invalidating environment. Indeed, when the abuser is a caretaker, the child may need to engage in splitting (denying feelings of hatred and revulsion in order to preserve the idea of being loved). Approximately 30% of people with BPD have experienced early parental loss or prolonged separation from t heir parents, experiences believed to contribute to the Borderline patient’s fears of abandonment.

People with BPD frequently report feeling neglected during their childhood. Sometimes the sources for this sense of neglect are not obvious and might be due toa  sense of not being sufficiently understood. Patients often report feeling alienated or disconnected from their families. Often they attribute the difficulties in communication to their parents. However, the BPD individual’s impaired ability to describe and communicate feelings or needs, or resistance to self-disclosure may be a significant cause of the feelings of neglect and alienation.

Persons who have been adopted are statistically more likely to develop BPD than the general population. Adopted children often fantasize that their “real” biological parents could have and would have protected them from the frustrations and hurts they have experienced. Indeed, the hope and belief that if only such idealized and nurturing caregivers could be found, then life’s problems would be solved, is central to what BPD patients (whether adopted or not) pursue in relationships with others.
I can NOT attest to physical or sexual abuse when I was a child. But as mentioned in this post I have very strong, distinct memories of having my feelings and accomplishments invalidated. Also the ‘traumatic’ experience of thinking my mother abandoned me when she was in the hospital giving birth to my brother. For many years following this though, I didn’t see my mother much. My parents believed that one of them should ALWAYS be home with us so my dad worked days, and my mom worked nights. Subsequently when my mom was home, she’d be asleep, and when she would wake up it would then be time for me to go to bed. So I didn’t get to see her very much until high school and I had a greater attachment to my father, who was not the most adept with an emotionally challenged daughter. I was often expected to respond like a boy would respond; no emotions, no crying, suck it up, deal. With my mom so often being absent during my weekdays, I didn’t really have a chance to learn to express or deal with my emotions properly. I felt the need to suppress part of myself, couldn’t relate to myself, or my dad. I definitely don’t think he understood what I needed. Hell, I still don’t think he understands what I need emotionally, but I’ve since given up trying.

My problems with this may have started with my parents, but they relationships and friendships I developed when I became older certainly did not help. My splitting developed in much stronger ways once I was older. Probably starting around the time I was 13, and amplifying steadily through high school and especially over the last few years.
I’m intrigued by the adoption theory. I can easily see how this would manifest in adopted children. Especially when I was a teenager I used to WISH that I was adopted. I had these same fantasies that I might be adopted and my real parents might actually understand me, might actually care enough to fix me, could actually save me from myself. Of course this wasn’t the case. I’m not adopted. What’s more? I actively refused help and pushed away anyone prohibiting the possibility that someone might understand me.
It’s odd writing about this some days. I have these very clear memories, but writing them down, writing about them, seems so clinical. Like it wasn’t me that went through this, I just watched someone else that looked like me go through it all.  Recording objectively. 

2 comments on “Psychological Factors: Origins of Borderline Personality Disorder

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