How Does Borderline Personality Develop in Adolescence?

How Does Borderline Personality Develop in Adolescence?Researchers have determined that certain childhood personality traits may indicate the development of borderline personality disorder symptoms in adolescence. 

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a complex mental health condition that centers on a diverse range of individual symptoms and groups of symptoms. The condition often begins to appear in young people who have not yet reached their 18th birthdays; however, doctors typically delay an official diagnosis until this threshold of adulthood is reached. In a study published in December 2014 in the journal Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotional Dysregulation, researchers from three U.S. universities used information from a long-term project called the Pittsburgh Girls Study to explore the ways in which borderline personality disorder commonly develops during adolescence and in earlier phases of childhood.

 Borderline Personality Disorder

Under criteria established by the American Psychiatric Association, there are nine possible symptoms of borderline personality disorder. These symptoms include repeated involvement in highly impulsive behavior, a pronounced fear of being abandoned (whether or not that fear has a basis in fact), lack of a consistently applied sense of self, repeated involvement in volatile and unstable relationships, the development of paranoia or mental/emotional detachment in stressful circumstances, recurring feelings of pointlessness or emptiness, bouts of extreme and inappropriate anger, a generally unstable mood and repeated problems with non-suicidal self-injury (“cutting,” etc.) and/or suicidal thinking, planning and action.

In order to receive a diagnosis, an affected individual must have at least five of the nine symptoms of BPD. Since the condition has such a diverse range of possible symptoms, this means that individual cases of borderline personality disorder can be highly dissimilar and have widely varying real-world effects. To complicate the picture even further, BPD often appears in combination with other serious mental health issues, including two other types of personality disorder (narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder), major depression, another depressive illness called persistent depressive disorder or dysthymia, bipolar disorder, substance use disorder and anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders.

Adolescent Development

Adolescence is a critical transitional phase between early childhood and adulthood. Preteens and teenagers are further along in their mental/emotional development than younger children, but not as far along as adults. Specifically, children in this transitional phase have yet to fully develop the areas of their brains responsible for such essential functions as impulse control, logical thinking, the effective regulation of mood changes, the ability to make appropriate decisions and the ability to make and carry out long-term plans. In addition, they have yet to fully develop the range of traits and characteristics that combine to create an enduring personality. Still, teenagers do have notable emerging personality traits, which are more likely to appear in fixed form as later adolescence approaches.

How Does BPD Develop?

In the study published in Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotional Dysregulation, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, the University of Chicago and the University of Minnesota used data from the 2,450 participants in the Pittsburgh Girls Study to examine the ways in which borderline personality disorder can develop in early childhood and adolescence. At the beginning of this long-term project, when the participating girls were between the ages of 5 and 8, parents and teachers made basic assessments of each individual’s general mental/emotional disposition. When they were between ages of 14 and 19, the girls self-reported the presence of any symptoms that could indicate the presence of borderline personality disorder.

The researchers concluded that certain personality traits observed by parents and teachers in early childhood acted as rough predictors of the development of BPD in adolescence. Examples of these traits include being emotionally “high-strung,” having relatively little regard for social conformity and being unusually physically active. Conversely, they concluded that participating girls who were shy in early childhood had relatively low chances of developing borderline personality disorder during adolescence. Overall, the researchers found that temperament in early childhood is a major factor in the onset and seriousness of teenage girls’ BPD symptoms.

Interestingly, the study’s authors found that the borderline personality disorder symptoms in the participating girls typically reached their maximum intensity around age 15 (i.e. at an age when doctors don’t typically diagnose BPD or any other form of personality disorder). The girls generally experienced lowered levels of BPD symptoms between the ages of 15 and 18, then reached a plateau of symptoms at age 18 and 19. The authors believe their findings underscore the BPD-related relevance of the particulars of young children’s mental/emotional disposition.

On June 1st, 2015, posted in: Borderline Personality Disorder Research by Tags: