Borderline personality disorder and childhood trauma

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is complex.

Primarily, the onset of this disorder is caused by negative past experiences, trauma and even genetics. In places like Australia, up to four percent may be suffering from this disorder. In the United States, this figure rises to six percent

BPD is remarkably common, and more often than not, it is instigated as a response mechanism to severe trauma, including sexual assault, emotional abuse and parental neglect. 

Here’s what you need to know about the link between BPD and childhood trauma


First: What exactly is borderline personality disorder?

A borderline personality disorder is an extremely trying mental health condition that impacts every area of an individual’s life.

This disorder causes people to have difficulty with their emotional states, with maintaining focus, with managing relationships, and with a positive self-image.

Mental instability is oftentimes a common side effect of borderline personality disorder, which makes navigating a normal sense of life almost impossible. 

Unfortunately, BPD is highly stigmatised. Many people who experience this disorder often find themselves branded with a label that they struggle to escape from.

Misdiagnosis, then, can be disastrous. 

Below are a few facts about BPD:

  • Late adolescence or early adulthood is when symptoms usually first appear.
  • Women are more likely to be diagnosed.
  • The causes of BPD are not fully understood but are likely linked to biological factors. 
  • Most people with BPD recover after diagnosis and effective treatment.

The relationship between BPD and childhood trauma

children and emotions Camino Recovery Spain

Borderline personality disorder and childhood trauma are closely connected. In fact, a 2015 study published in The European Journal of Psychiatry discovered that 40 to 86 per cent of subjects interviewed with BPD reported being sexually abused as a child.

Of course, sexual abuse during adolescence, while extremely traumatic, is only one kind of trauma.

There are many other types of more passive abuse during childhood that can lead to the onset of BPD. For example:

  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Neglect by parents
  • Separation from parents (death or desertion)
  • Witnessing of abuse within the family

As we well know, children depend on their parents during adolescence to provide a safe, trusting and secure environment.

Without these staple environmental factors, a person’s childhood can be stressful, anxiety-inducing and traumatic. BPD, then, is often the result of a troubling upbringing, and the disorder works to ‘block-out’ past experiences that are too burdensome to carry forward into adulthood.

According to Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, a Scandinavian peer-reviewed medical journal containing original research, people with BPD were 13.91 times more likely to report childhood trauma than controls who did not have BPD. 

The link between childhood trauma and the emergence of borderline personality disorder is great, then, and to conquer this disorder, one must work to uncover these root traumas, excavating and releasing the past hardship that this disorder tries to shield.

Borderline Personality Disorder and Changes in Brain Structure and Functioning

There are many effects that BPD has on the brain structure.

Many people diagnosed with this disorder often show some common signs and symptoms, including: 

  • More extreme emotional responses to everyday experiences.
  • A loss of control of their emotions more frequently.
  • The inability to manage rage and anger with rationale.
  • A lack of empathy and the worst assumption about others.
  • Paranoia and severe fear in everyday scenarios.
  • Greater stress responses.

While childhood is a primary factor in the onset of borderline personality disorder, genetics also play a part.

Mixed with environmental factors, the brain of those suffering from this disorder often operate slightly differently, mostly due to impaired brain development as a result of trauma.

This genetic alteration in the brain is considered borderline personality disorder from a neurological standpoint, and many psychiatrists and clinicians will work to realign the brain function to a more neutral place, to a place considered ‘normal’.

For sufferers, the hardest step towards this is to face the negative past experiences head-on. 

Treating borderline personality disorder in rehab

BPD is not a lifetime disorder, and those experiencing it should rest assured that it is treatable, and it is something that can be overcome.

According to a study by the Comprehensive Psychiatry Journal, 92 per cent of those diagnosed with BPD no longer experienced it 27 years later and went on to lead normal, healthy and happy lives.

Borderline personality disorder is treatable.

In the right environment, and with the right experts to offer support and guidance, childhood trauma can be unlocked and relinquished forever, and a BPD sufferer can go on to fulfil lifetime dreams and live a happy life.

Of course, like anything, it requires a devotion to overcoming the hardship of past trauma, but in the right setting, treatment can be extremely successful. 


To find out how Camino Recovery can help you or a loved one overcome borderline personality disorder and resolve childhood trauma, contact our experts today.

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