Exploring the potential causes of Borderline Personality Disorder

If you or a person close to you has a borderline personality disorder (BPD), you may be asking yourself what triggered it or if you are the one to blame.

The development of BPD is complex, and there is likely a variety of causes for it. However, you can be sure that neither you nor anyone else is at fault.

The majority of experts believe that it manifests as a result of genetic, biological, and environmental factors. Nevertheless, It is crucially important to be aware that the exact causes for BPD are still unknown. At present, these are theories that have some support but are by no means conclusive.

Further research is needed to make conclusions as to why the factors we will discuss below are related to the disorder.

Potential Environmental BPD Causes

There is powerful evidence to support a connection between stressful childhood experiences, particularly involving parents, and BPD. The experiences that could be associated with BPD are:

  • Early separation from parents
  • Sexual and physical abuse
  • Neglect in any shape or form
  • Parental carelessness

It is believed that interplay between biological factors and invalidating childhood experiences (an experience in which a child’s emotional needs are not satisfied) may work together in setting up a person to develop BPD.

This kind of environment is not always evident to people who have gone through it or to others around them. These harmful experiences can be hidden and even dressed up as praise.

It is crucial to keep in mind, however, that not all people with BPD have had these types of childhood experiences (although many of them have). Moreover, even if someone does have them, it does not necessarily mean that they will develop BPD. Once again, it is believed to be a combination of factors, rather than one cause responsible for the majority of BPD cases.

Possible Genetic and Biological BPD Causes

Despite early studies showing that the disorder does tend to run in families, for a while, it was unknown whether environmental influences or genetics played a role. Research shows that in addition to the environment, genetics also play a major role.

Studies have indicated that a gene variation which is responsible for the brain’s use of serotonin may be closely related to BPD. It seems that people who have this specific variation of the serotonin gene may be at higher risk of developing BPD if they have also gone through difficult childhood events (for instance, separation from caregivers).

A study found that monkeys with the serotonin gene variation suffered from symptoms that looked highly similar to BPT, but only when they were removed from their mothers and raised in less nurturing environments. Those who had the gene variation and were cared for by nurturing mothers were much less prone to developing BPD-symptoms.

Furthermore, other research has shown that people with BPD have differences in brain structure and function. The disorder has been linked to excessive activity in areas that control the experience and expression of emotions. For instance, BPD sufferers have more activation of the limbic system, a part of the brain responsible for anger, fear, and aggression control, than people without BPD. 

This may be connected to the emotional instability symptoms of BPD. More recent studies have found that there are connections between the oxytocin hormone and the development of BPD.

Closing Notes On The Causes Of Borderline Personality Disorder

As mentioned above, there is plenty more to be learned about the causes of BPD, and it is very likely that it is a combination of factors rather than any single specific finding which can lead to the disorder. New studies are currently underway and progress will hopefully be made in the near future.

Being aware of the causes may help people to prevent the triggering of the disorder, specifically in those who have a biological or genetic predisposition to BPD.

An invalidating environment is deeply harmful to a child whether or not it raises the risk of BPD in the future, and it is vitally important for therapists and parents to be alert for this setting in children.

As an invalidating environment can be concealed, with many comments appearing to be praising on the outside, emotions can easily be mistaken as an extreme sensitivity on the part of the child rather than a lack of sensitivity coming from the parent. It is crucial for adults who themselves have gone through emotional invalidation as a child to understand how to recognize the difference between validating and invalidating remarks from other people in order to protect themselves from further harm.

Sources: Brune, M. On the Role of Oxytocin in Borderline Personality Disorder. British Journal of Clinical Psychology. 2016. 55(3):287-304. Ruocco, A., and D. Carcone. A Neurobiological Model of Borderline Personality Disorder: Systematic and Integrative Review. Harvard Review of Psychiatry. 2016. 24(5):311-29.

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