Printer Friendly

Crossing the 'borderline' of child abuse.

Crossing the 'borderline' of child abuse

Boston researchers report that child abuse often lurks in the background of adults with borderline personality disorder, a controversial diagnosis applied to about 20 percent of hospitalized psychiatric patients and people seeking psychotherapy.

Child abuse alone does not cause borderline personality disorder, say psychiatrist Judith L. Herman and her colleagues at Harvard Medical School, but it appears to play an influential role in many cases.

"Borderlines" are characterized by intense and unstable relationships, self-destructive and impulsive behavior (such as drug abuse), fears of abandonment, suicide attempts aimed at manipulating others, feelings of emptiness, and rage alternating with a childish dependency on others. Many borderlines slip into a temporary psychosis under stress or the influence of drugs.

Herman and her co-workers conducted intensive interviews with 21 individuals meeting diagnostic criteria for borderline personality disorder, 11 falling short of the diagnosis but possessing several "borderline traits" and 23 with related diagnoses such as antisocial personality disorder (persistent violence and lawbreaking).

The great majority of the borderlines--17 of 21 -- reported a history of trauma before age 18, including physical abuse, sexual abuse and witnessing serious domestic violence. Childhood trauma was reported by 8 of 11 individuals with borderline traits and 12 fo 23 subjects with related disorders, the researchers note, but their abusive experiences were less frequent and less severe than those of the borderlines.

Multiple episodes of abuse before age 6 were almost exclusively reported by subjects with borderline personality disorder, the scientists say.

The psychological vulnerability imposed by child abuse may help explain why women borderlines outnumber men 2.5 to 1, they maintain. Girls are at far greater risk for sexual abuse than boys, and their sexual abuse apparently is more common and longer in duration than the physical abuse boys are more likely to experience.

The findings have significant treatment implications, the researchers conclude in the April AMERICAN JOURNAL OF PSYCHIATRY. Many borderline patients may need to confront traumatic memories and explore the intense emotions surrounding childhood abuse before they can develop rewarding relations with others.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Science Service, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Bower, B.
Publication:Science News
Date:Apr 22, 1989
Previous Article:Allergy-triggering receptor made en masse.
Next Article:Path to hepatitis C yields test, clues.

Related Articles
Charting the aftermath of child abuse.
Deceptive veneer of child abuse.
Growing up in harm's way: child victimization develops into a scientific challenge.
The Educator's Role In Reporting the Emotional Abuse of Children.
Borderline Personality Disorder.
Does Stress Damage the Brain? Understanding Trauma-Related Disorders from a Mind-Body Perspective.
Trauma reenactment: rethinking borderline personality disorder when diagnosing sexual abuse survivors.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters