We need to start talking about borderline personality disorder for what it really is: a complex response to trauma. While traumatic experiences don’t necessarily trigger signs of a borderline personality, up to 60% of people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder have co-occuring PTSD. It is understood as a combination of genetic factors and early childhood experiences that influence attachment styles, coping mechanisms, and interpersonal relationships. Reframing Borderline Personality Disorder as Childhood Trauma helps psychologists understand underlying causes and frees teens from the label of fundamental problems with their personality.
Defining Characteristics of a Borderline Personality:
- Unstable self-image
- Instability in relationships
- Fear of abandonment
- Intense emotions
- Impulsive behaviors
One of the reasons Borderline traits are considered a personality issue is that most people diagnosed with the disorder do not respond to medication, which suggests that it is more environmental than biological in nature. While Borderline traits persist over an extended period of time, they tend to intensify when triggered by stress or traumatic events.
The relationship between traumatic events and Borderline is unclear. While Borderline may be a response to trauma, people with these traits are also more vulnerable to abuse. Between 40 and 86 percent of BPD sufferers report sexual abuse, up to 75 percent say they were emotionally abused, up to 73 percent report physical abuse, and between 17 and 25 percent experienced severe emotional neglect. Following these experiences, they have developed belief systems about their self-worth and an unstable view of relationships based on hurt and manipulation.
The similarities between complex PTSD and BPD are numerous. Patients with both conditions have difficulty regulating their emotions; they experience persistent feelings of emptiness, shame, and guilt; and they have a significantly elevated risk of suicide. In some ways, some signs of borderline mimic signs of autism in relation to inconsistent social skills and reactions to an intense world.
When you take away judgments of character associated with a borderline personality, the disorder is characterized by:
- History of developmental trauma or reactive attachment
- Rigid processing
- Sensory sensitivity
- Slower nonverbal processing
Problems with a Personality Disorder Label
Labeling people with BPD as having a personality disorder can escalate their poor self-esteem. “Personality disorder” translates in many people’s minds as a personality flaw, and this can lead to or intensify an ingrained sense of worthlessness and self-loathing.
This means people with BPD may view themselves more negatively, but can also lead other people – including those closest to them – to do the same.
Taking a Trauma-Informed Approach
When reframed as childhood trauma, psychologists are better prepared to address underlying issues and come up with concrete solutions. The “personality label” reinforces learned helplessness and treatment-resistance. Using a trauma-informed approach, psychologists look at teens’ individual strengths and needs to find a way to connect with them. The goal of treatment becomes learning how to establish healthy relationships based on personal values and fears.
Solstice East Can Help
Solstice East is a residential treatment center for teen girls ages 14-18 struggling with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, trauma, and addictive behaviors. Many of the girls we work with have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and have internalized hopelessness in relationships based on this diagnosis. Our relationship-based program focuses on helping young women heal unhealthy relationships, cope with emotions, and effectively communicate. Solstice East gives young women the skills and confidence they need to lead happy and healthy lives.
Contact us at (855) 672-7058 to learn more about borderline personality disorder. We can help your family today!