Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a psychological condition marked by impulsive behavior, mood swings, and emotional instability. The overall prevalence in the general adult population is somewhere between 0.7%-2.7%. [3]

While there is no single known cause of BPD, research suggests that genetic factors, along with environmental risk factors such as childhood trauma, play a significant role.

Can BPD be inherited?

BPD has a strong genetic component. Studies have consistently found the heritability of BPD to be around 40% or higher. [1] This means that roughly 40% of an individual’s risk for developing the disorder comes from genetics and 60% comes from environmental factors.

If you have an immediate family member with BPD, you have a five times greater risk of developing it yourself compared to the general population. [4] However, your chances of having BPD are still relatively low due to the low overall incidence of the disorder.

Other risk factors

Having a genetic predisposition for BDP does not guarantee that you will develop the disorder. Environmental factors also play a significant role. 

People with BPD tend to have an increased  emotional sensitivity than the general population, and may have been this way since childhood, meaning early experiences may have more of an impact on them. Negative or traumatic life events or experiences during childhood, such as neglect, mental or physical abuse, or divorce can increase the risk of developing the disorder. [4] Low socioeconomic status is also correlated with BPD. [3] 

Some of the most influential early experiences involve the family. Inconsistent, maladaptive parenting can increase the risk of the disorder. [2] This is a common pattern in parents who have BPD or other psychiatric disorders themselves.

Apart from an individual’s family life, there are other social risk factors that can have an impact. Negative experiences with peers, such as bullying, have been associated with an increased risk. [3] BPD is also associated with romantic or sexual abuse, or other unhealthy interpersonal relationships.

How to reduce the chance of inheriting BPD

Of all the personality disorders, borderline personality disorder is the most preventable if appropriate measures are taken early in life. [3] Parents of children who are predisposed to BPD can take certain steps to improve the child’s early experiences. Individuals can also take certain steps to reduce their own risk. 

If you believe your child may be genetically susceptible to BPD, it is important to create as supportive of a home environment as possible. Validating the child’s emotions is vital. [2] Educating yourself on emotional regulation may help you better care for your child’s needs.

If you are a parent suffering from BPD, there are ways you can help to reduce the chances of your child inheriting the disorder. By getting treatment to control your symptoms, you can create a more stable, safe, and supportive home environment. [2] Parenting skills training can also be beneficial. 

Other mental disorders, like ADHD, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse disorder, can also lead to maladaptive parenting. [2] Therefore, it’s essential to seek treatment for any disorders you may be suffering from.

If you believe you are personally predisposed to BPD, therapy can help you learn how to better regulate your emotions. If you find yourself in an unhealthy or unstable relationship, you should immediately seek help, as this can be a significant trigger of the disorder. [2]

While taking these steps can help, this disorder cannot be entirely prevented. However, early diagnosis and intervention can help an individual with BPD live a full, productive life. [4] If you begin to notice the signs and symptoms of BPD, schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist for an assessment.

Resources:

  1. Amad, A., Ramoz, N., Thomas, P., Jardri, R., & Gorwood, P. (2014). Genetics of borderline personality disorder: Systematic review and proposal of an integrative model. Neuroscience &Amp; Biobehavioral Reviews, 40, 6–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.01.003
  2. Bozzatello, P., Garbarini, C., Rocca, P., & Bellino, S. (2021). Borderline Personality Disorder: Risk Factors and Early Detection. Diagnostics (Basel, Switzerland), 11(11), 2142. https://doi.org/10.3390/diagnostics11112142
  3. Chanen, A., & McCutcheon, L. (2013). Prevention and early intervention for borderline personality disorder: Current status and recent evidence. British Journal of Psychiatry, 202(S54), S24-S29. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.112.119180
  4. National Alliance on Mental Health. (2015). Borderline personality disorder. Retrieved November 18, 2022 from https://www.nami.org/getattachment/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Fact-Sheet-Library/BPD-Fact-Sheet.pdf