Causes: Can BPD happen without childhood abuse and trauma?

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So we keep hearing about BPD being a function of childhood trauma and abuse, having a rotten childhood and bad parents. But what about the people who seem not to have had that?

I almost wanted to post this on the "parents of kids with BPD" board, although I know that wouldn't be appropriate, because I partly wanted to ask, "Is your kid BPD because you gave them a lousy home life, or do some of them just come out that way no matter how good a parent you are?"

I've run into a couple of cases now where everyone involved, including siblings, other people who live with the family, etc. all agree that there is not a parenting or abuse or abandonment problem, and everyone else in the family is a psychologically solid person who is bewildered by the kid who showed BPD stuff from a young age. How often does this happen? And would it suggest a form of BPD that is less environmental and more brain-chemistry?

I'm thinking of at least one situation - BPD girl had solid non-abusive parents and grandparents, born on grandparents' farm where GPs sprayed so much pesticide that they eventually both died of cancer. BPD girl also had host of autoimmune trouble not shared by anyone else in the family. Next two kids were born off the farm, and have neither BPD nor the physical ailments, are solid, and confirm that "she was just always really weird behaving". Yeah, yeah, I know, people cover up and believe what they want to believe, but it rang true to me when I talked to them all. (BPD-girl's children all have the autoimmune stuff, and 1 is also BPD. Other siblings' kids don't have any of that.) Could this be chemically caused? One wonders.

I don't mean to downplay abusive situations - gods, no, I know better than that - but what are the experiences of people with it "just happening" to someone without the family markers?

Thank you,


Up and Down:
This goes back to the nature versus nurture argument. It seems possible for some people that have grown up in healthy environments to develop BPD, based on their genetic predisposition to it.

It is also possible that the BPD person was abused as a young child by someone outside of the immediate family (teacher, counselor, neighbor, etc) who either didn't have access to the siblings or for some reason (age, gender, whatever) was only focused on this one child. The immediate family might never have known that it happened.

Also, a young child with chronic serious health problems might interpret the pain/illness as traumatic because they don't understand what is going on. They might not understand why the parents that seem to love them (and perhaps do) aren't doing anything to stop the pain, and are taking them for painful or invasive medical treatment. A child can experience trauma in circumstances that an adult who understands the cause and reason for the pain would not see as traumatic.

And if a child is abused and internalizes the idea that they deserve to suffer, and then develops a chronic debilitating or painful illness, they could see that as deserved punishment or proof of the abuser's power over them. The illness can provide ongoing re-traumatization.

They say it is the genetic predisposition plus INVALIDATION... an invalidating environment is not necessarily an abusive one.  It is the inborn highly sensitive nature of the BPD combined with an invalidating environment.  The parents may be of a very different nature from the child, a poor fit.  Or the parents may be going through difficult times during the child's infancy or early years.

I think stressful events during a child's infancy often do not receive the credit they deserve.  A postpartum depression, any serious illness of the mother or the immediate family, chaotic events, also heavy drinking, drug use, divorce, etc., can interrupt the bonding process and produce a core feeling of abandonment.  And, as RavenK has noted, an illness in the child can also have the same effect.

I wouldn't think BPD is chemically caused, except in that if exposure to chemicals caused the child to be so different that a normally validating environment was incapable of being validating for her.

This is from  It basically recapitulates what others have said.  There may be a genetic component but most, although certainly not all, with BPD suffered abuse.

The development of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is complex; there are likely a variety of borderline personality disorder causes. Most experts believe that BPD develops as a result of biological, genetic and environmental factors. The factors that may cause BPD are discussed below. However, it is important to keep in mind that the exact causes of BPD are not known yet. Right now these are theories that have some research support but are by no means conclusive. More research is needed to determine how and why the factors discussed below are related to BPD.

Environmental Borderline Personality Disorder Causes
There is strong evidence to support a link between distressing childhood experiences, particularly involving caregivers, and BPD. The types of experiences that may be associated with BPD include, but are not limited to, physical and sexual abuse, early separation from caregivers, emotional or physical neglect, emotional abuse, and parental insensitivity. Marsha Linehan, the developer of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for BPD, believes that BPD is caused by an interaction between biological factors and an "emotionally invalidating" childhood environment (or an environment where the child's emotional needs are not met).

It is important to remember, however, that not everyone who has BPD has had these types of childhood experiences (although a large number have). Further, even if a person does have these types of experiences, it does not mean that they will have BPD.

Genetic and Biological Borderline Personality Disorder Causes
While early studies showed that BPD does tend to run in families, for some time it was not known whether this was because of environmental influences or because of genetics. There is now some evidence that in addition to environment, genetics plays a significant role.

In particular, studies have shown that a variation in a gene which controls the way the brain uses serotonin (a natural chemical in the brain) may be related to BPD. It appears that individuals who have this specific variation of the serotonin gene may be more likely to develop BPD if they also experience difficult childhood events (e.g., separation from supportive caregivers). One study found that monkeys with the serotonin gene variation developed symptoms that looked similar to BPD, but only when they were taken from their mothers and raised in less nurturing environments. Monkeys with the gene variation who were raised by nurturing mothers were much less likely to develop BPD-like symptoms.

In addition, a number of studies have shown that people with BPD have differences in both the structure of their brain and in brain function. BPD has been associated with excessive activity in parts of the brain that control the experience and expression of emotion. For example, people with BPD have more activation of the limbic system, an area in the brain that controls fear, anger, and aggression, than people without BPD. This may be related to the emotional instability symptoms of BPD.


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