Do childhood trauma and a chaotic family environment cause adult borderline personality disorder (BPD)? Common clinical wisdom says yes, but new results are leading some researchers to insist that it’s more complicated than that.
Investigators from the Minnesota Twin Family Study, first begun in 1983, collected data about childhood abuse and adult personality from 1,382 pairs of same-sex twins, followed over time from ages 11 to 24. By examining differences in abuse exposure and genetic overlap (whether the twins were identical and thus had the same DNA, or fraternal, and thus had only about 50 percent genetic overlap), the authors, led by Marina Bornovalova of the University of South Florida, concluded that childhood abuse in itself isn’t a direct cause of adult BPD traits. But since childhood abuse is seen so frequently in individuals with BPD (some studies suggest in as much as 90 percent of cases) why the overlap? According to the study, common genetic factors contribute to both childhood abuse and BPD.
The researchers suggest two possible genetically influenced reasons for the connection between childhood abuse and adult BPD. In the first model, called “passive genetic mediation,” children not only inherit genes from their parents, but are raised in an environment that’s an expression of the parents’ own genetic influences. In this model, children inherit genetic tendencies toward aggression, impulsivity, and emotional dysregulation from their parents and are raised by parents who are themselves aggressive, impulsive, and dysregulated. Abuse and BPD are thus different manifestations of the same emotionally dysregulating factors.
In a second, more controversial scenario, known as “evocative genetic mediation,” children who inherit difficult genetic temperaments from their parents tend to behave as moody or impulsive children. Emotionally intense and difficult to raise, these children strain their parents’ own genetically limited coping resources, contributing to parenting failures characterized by childhood abuse and neglect.
If the second scenario sounds like blaming the victim, the authors are quick to point out that their results “don’t support the idea that [childhood abuse] is inevitable, justified, or without harm.” However, their work raises possibly provocative questions about the causes and effects of childhood abuse and adult borderline personality disorder, once again putting science at odds with facile, politically correct perspectives on complex psychological phenomena.
What Causes Borderline Personality Disorder? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, doi: 10.1037/a0028328.
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Welcome to Men and Intimacy: Overcoming “Commitment Phobia”. In this series, leading innovators in the field will delve into the latest research on gender differences and discuss practical ways to make therapy more inviting and helpful for male clients.
In this first session with couples and family specialist Pat Love, you’ll discover how to work with men in therapy by appealing to their logical side with fact-based, practical approaches. You’ll learn how applying brain science to gender differences can open up resistant male clients, and help opposite-sex partners better understand each other’s world.
Learn how to get through to resistant male clients by avoiding the potential pitfalls of therapeutic neutrality. Renowned family therapist Terry Real, the founder of the Relational Life Institute, explores how to deal with male clients by highlighting the negative consequences of their resistance, and challenging them to change their behavior by “joining through the truth.”
Discover why men avoid emotional confrontations because of their inherent fear of shame. David Wexler, who specializes in the treatment of relationships in conflict, describes how to develop a therapeutic relationship based on straightforward guidance and “guy talk,” rather than ambiguous “therapy-speak.”
Explore the poorly understood world of male sexuality by challenging some of the pervasive myths about men and their “nonrelational” attitude toward sex. Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity and specialist in sexuality and couples relationships, ascribes practical tools for helping men examine their own sexual blueprint.
Learn how to open men up to intimacy through a mind/body/heart approach. Psychologist and qigong teacher Patrick Dougherty teaches how to connect therapeutically with men and to challenge them to find the value of and capacity for intimate relationships.
Discover the different ways men and woman experience depression, with psychologist and co-director of the Cambridge Center for Gender Relations, Holly Sweet. Learn how to use a more task-oriented, coaching approach to work with men who are unwilling to ask for help with their depression, accept medications, or express vulnerable emotions.
By Rich Simon There are certain movies that you just never forget and that somehow become part of your inner life. Andre Gregory’s My Dinner with Andre, starring himself and his real-life friend, playwright Wallace Shawn, was one such movie for many therapists, including me. Conceived by Andre as he was coming out of a long mid-life crisis, the movie is essentially a long dinner conversation in a posh Read more …
Do you or your client want to lead lives that are more joyous, connected, and empowered? Join Mary Pipher as she helps therapists discover how to face challenges and open up to the wider world without being overwhelmed.