Many studies have investigated the childhood experiences of patients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and have revealed that physical and sexual abuse, early separation, inconsistent treatment of a caretaker, and neglect are all parts of the etiology of BPD.
A study of Mary C. Zanarini and others (1997) investigated pathological childhood experience in patients with BPD and compare the results to those of patients suffering from other Personality Disorders. In this study, out of the 358 patients with BPD, 91% reported having been abused (emotionally, sexually or physically) and 92% reported neglect before the age of 18.
More specifically, between 10% and 73% of borderline patients reported having been physically abused by either caretaker or another adult.
Another 16% to 71% reported having been sexually abused, usually by noncaretaker (Zanarini M., 1997). Since such an overwhelming percentage of patients meeting the criteria for BPD have also been abused, it may be hypothesized that they also suffer some chronic form of posttraumatic stress disorder (Herman J. L., 1987). It was also revealed that it was much more common for BPD patients to report some type of abuse in childhood than patients with other Personality disorders.
Probably the most striking difference in the study between Borderline patients and other Personality disorder patients was observed when sexual abuse was considered.
61.5% of borderline patients reported sexual abuse versus 32.1% of patient suffering other personality disorders. However, it was observed that sexual abuse did not occur isolated from other forms of abuse or neglect. On the contrary, it was often just another part of an already disrupted family atmosphere of chaos, where series of traumatic events were part of the child’s everyday life (Zanarini M., 1997).
As a result of the studies of Borderline patients, four variables were clearly distinguished as correlated with BPD diagnosis: female gender, male noncaretaker sexual abuse, male caretaker’s neglect and denial of a patient’s feelings, and female caretaker’s inconsistent treatment (Zanarini M., 1997).
The fact that most individuals with Borderline diagnoses are women is probably related to the fact that most victims of sexual abuse as children are females as well. Therefore, there must be some correlation between such stress provoking experiences in early childhood and Borderline Personality adults that is imbedded in stress and neurotransmitter dysregulation (Halgin R., Whitbourne S., 2003).
While scientists and researchers still actively explore the relationship between maltreatment and life-long, personality-altering effects, the existing data already points to the devastating nature of childhood traumatization. Along with developing and improving the effectiveness of treatment methods for post-traumatic and personality disorders, all efforts should also be made to promote effective parenting and preventative child monitoring.