Borderline personality disorder, or BPD, is a complex form of mental illness characterized by an intense fear of abandonment, impulsivity, self-destructive behavior, frequent mood swings and a pattern of unstable relationships. Once emotions are out of control, a person with BPD has difficulty returning to a stable baseline.
The exact cause of this condition isn’t clear. Some factors that may play a role in the development of BPD include genetics, brain function or structure, and social, environmental and cultural factors.
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Trauma and Environmental Factors
It’s not uncommon for people with BPD to have a history of traumatic experiences. Children depend on their caregivers to provide a safe and loving home, and when that doesn’t happen, there may be consequences that are long-term. Examples of trauma may include:
- Being sexually or physically abused
- Being abandoned or neglected
- Having harsh or invalidating relationships
- Being separated from parents
The relationship children have with their parents has a strong effect on how they view the world and other people, and it can be very devastating for children to grow up in an unstable and unpredictable environment. A home life that includes conflict, violence, hostility, mental illness or substance abuse may increase the risk of developing BPD or other forms of mental illness.
The Role of Genetics
It appears that genetics does play a role in the development of BPD, and some studies done on families and twins seem to support this theory. A specific gene or gene profile that causes BPD hasn’t yet been identified, but it does appear that when a close relative such as a parent or sibling has BPD, your risk of developing this disorder increases.
It isn’t completely clear whether the family link is primarily because of heredity or because ways of thinking, behaving and coping are learned from those around you. Not all children who grow up in troubled environments experience mental health challenges, and not all people with BPD have experienced trauma or abuse.
Changes in the Structure and Function of the Brain
There may be a neurological basis for some of the symptoms of BPD. The parts of the brain that are involved in controlling aggression and managing fear appear to work differently in people with this disorder compared to those without it. Research suggests distinctive patterns in immune system and hormone levels in those that have this disorder.
Certain areas of the brain function differently in a person with BPD. Regions in the frontal part of the brain that may help control emotional reactions are underactive, and an area called the insula that determines how intensely emotions are felt is overactive. Ongoing research appears to reveal dysfunction of interconnected pathways that work together to process emotions.
Despite a family history of BPD, or having a history of trauma or the brain changes that go along with BPD, having BPD doesn’t mean you’ll always have to live with unmanageable symptoms. BPD is treatable, mainly with psychotherapy. If you have BPD, your symptoms aren’t indications that you’re a weak person or deliberately failing to practice self-control. You have a complex condition that can be treated, and BPD treatment can help you feel better about yourself.
While there are theories surrounding the cause of BPD, more research is needed for doctors to thoroughly understand this condition. It’s likely that it’s caused by a combination of many factors. Treatment can help you to learn to change patterns of thinking and behaving that are causing difficulties in your life. It’s important for you to get treatment if you have BPD and to stick with the recommended treatment plan so you can learn to manage and cope with borderline personality disorder.
If you or a loved one are struggling with borderline personality disorder or another mental health concern, please contact us at (855) 409-0204 or submit the form below and a treatment specialist will contact you.