What is the role of family systems in the etiology of borderline personality disorder (BPD)?

Updated: Nov 05, 2018
  • Author: Roy H Lubit, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
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Several researchers have proposed an etiology for borderline personality that derives from a family systems perspective. [16] In this view, the significant etiologic variables stem from the concepts of faulty family boundaries, the unpredictable proximity among family members, and the lack of an appropriate hierarchical structure.

Although the borderline condition in childhood is not necessarily a precursor to BPD in adulthood, evidence suggests that both have strikingly similar risk factors, which might indicate a common etiology. These factors include family environments characterized by trauma, neglect, and/or separation; exposure to sexual and physical abuse; and serious parental psychopathology, such as substance abuse and antisocial personality disorder.

The theory developed by Linehan et al states that borderline pathology results from the interaction between a biologic emotional vulnerability and a pervasively invalidating environment. [1, 2] More research involving developmental psychopathology, neurobiology, and family systems theory is necessary to explain how, when, and in what combinations these various factors might exert a pathologic effect on development.

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