Child Abuse, Sensitivity to Rejection Linked to Borderline Personality Disorder

Child Abuse, Sensitivity to Rejection Linked to Borderline Personality Disorder

Recent findings from a team of American researchers indicate that people affected by child abuse or an unusual sensitivity to rejection may have increased chances of developing borderline personality disorder.

Mental health researchers have identified a number of underlying factors that could help explain the onset of borderline personality disorder (BPD), a serious illness known for its ability to trigger highly emotional, unstable behavior. In a study published in January 2015 in the journal Psychopathology, researchers from Columbia University assessed the potential connection between the onset of BPD and a personal history of child abuse and/or high sensitivity to rejection by others. The researchers concluded that both of these factors may help explain the presence of at least some cases of the disorder.

Child Abuse

Child abuse is also commonly known as child mistreatment. Both terms apply to a broad range of behaviors that intentionally or unintentionally result in damage to a child’s physical, sexual or emotional well-being. In cases of physical abuse, a parent or some other responsible figure engages in such activities as kicking, hitting, punching, slapping, burning, choking or beating a child. In cases of sexual abuse, a parent or some other responsible figure rapes or fondles a child, exposes himself or herself to a child, exposes a child to adult sexual situations or forces a child to participate in sexual activity or the making of sexual imagery. In cases of emotional/psychological abuse, a parent or some other responsible figure uses rejection, belittling, criticism, threats or other non-physical behaviors to damage a child’s sense of mental well-being. A fourth form of child maltreatment, called neglect, occurs whenever a parent or some other responsible figure abandons a child or fails to minimally meet a child’s medical, physical, emotional or educational needs.

Doctors and researchers know that exposure to child maltreatment can have a long-term impact on any individual’s physical or mental health. Examples of known problems for survivors of child abuse or child neglect include delayed brain development, an impaired ability to process emotions and increased risks for adult involvement in substance use/abuse.

Rejection Sensitivity

Humans are inherently social creatures. As a rule, we rely on some form of social interaction for virtually all aspects of our large-scale health and well-being. Unfortunately, humans don’t always communicate well with each other, and many social interactions come with a risk of rejection. Most people who experience rejection learn how to adapt and move forward without developing significant problems. However, some people are unusually sensitive to rejection and may therefore encounter serious rejection-related issues in their personal, social, academic or work lives. Psychologists and psychiatrists can assess any given person’s level of rejection sensitivity with screening tools that include the Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire.

Impact on Borderline Personality Disorder Risks

In the study published in Psychopathology, the Columbia University researchers used data collected from 85 adults to help explore the impact that child maltreatment and rejection sensitivity have on the odds of developing borderline personality disorder. All of these adults had a previous or current history of a mood disorder (the term used for all forms of depression-related illness and bipolar disorder). The researchers asked each participant to complete a screening tool called the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire, as well as the Rejection Sensitivity Questionnaire. In addition, the researchers assessed each participant for diagnosable symptoms of borderline personality disorder.

After completing a statistical analysis of the questionnaire results and the BPD diagnoses, the researchers concluded that rejection sensitivity and a history of child maltreatment had a combined impact on the odds that a study participant would meet the criteria used to identify borderline personality disorder. They also concluded that the severity of a child’s maltreatment was a determining factor in the strength of the association between BPD and rejection sensitivity. Specifically, rejection sensitivity played a relatively large role in the development of borderline personality disorder in people not heavily affected by child maltreatment; conversely, it played a relatively small role in BPD development in people with extensive child maltreatment histories.

Based on their findings, the study’s authors believe that rejection sensitivity and child maltreatment are significant contributors to overall BPD risks, at least in people also affected by a diagnosable mood disorder. They also believe their findings may point toward the importance of the combined BPD-related impact of environmental factors and inborn personality traits.

On May 20th, 2015, posted in: Borderline Personality Disorder Research by Tags: