Young woman lying on a blanket in a park writing

Like many mental health conditions, it’s thought that a number of factors play a part in borderline personality disorder (BPD).

  • Genetic factors

While there is no evidence that a specific gene causes BPD, it’s thought that someone might be more vulnerable to the condition if a close family member has it such as a parent or sibling.

  • Biological factors

People living with BPD appear to have differences with the neurotransmitters in their brain, particularly serotonin. Altered levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, aggression and difficulty controlling destructive urges although it’s not yet clear as to how this works with BPD.

  • Developmental factors

A number of reliable studies have indicated that three parts of the brain are either smaller than expected or are associated with unusual levels of activity in people living with BPD.

  • The amygdala plays an important role in regulating emotions, especially fear, aggression and anxiety.
  • The hippocampus is important in helping regulate impulsivity.
  • The orbitofrontal cortex is partly responsible for planning and decision making.

Because the development of these three parts of the brain is affected by your early upbringing, it might be that experiences of neglect and abuse in childhood contribute to the differences.

  • Environmental factors

A number of environmental factors seem to be common and widespread amongst people living with BPD including:

  • Experience of emotional, physical or sexual abuse as a child
  • Neglect as a child by one or both parents
  • Exposure to ongoing domestic abuse as a child
  • Growing up with another family member who had a serious mental health condition such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia
  • Living in an environment where the adults had a substance misuse problem.

This is of course not to say that all people who have experienced traumatic childhoods develop BPD, only that they may be at a higher risk of developing the condition.

Where to get help if you think you might have BPD

If you’re concerned that you might have BPD, your GP is the best place to start. He or she will ask about your symptoms and how they’re affecting your quality of life including your work, your relationships, and your overall wellbeing.

Your GP will also want to rule out other more common mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, and make sure there’s no underlying physical cause for your symptoms. If your GP thinks that you might have BPD, it’s likely that you’ll be referred to a specialist service for a more in-depth assessment.

Understanding borderline personality disorder (BPD)

Treatments for borderline personality disorder (BPD)