A borderline personality may develop in response to multiple traumatic experiences to which an individual was subjected as a child in the form of emotional, sexual, or physical abuse. Experiencing childhood traumas impair one’s ability to organize and synthesize information logically, impeding the development and maturation of cognitive functions involved in emotional self-regulation. Such individuals have difficulty symbolizing, fantasizing, and sublimating psychological skills necessary for coping with the small injuries of daily life. Instead, they develop a hyperarousal to emotional and sensory stimuli that interferes significantly with their ability to work through ordinary, day-to-day conflicts and prevents them from accumulating restitutive and gratifying experiences. They may experience intrusive recollections (e.g., flashbacks, nightmares), partial reenactments of situations reminiscent of early traumas, and an overwhelming sense of anxiety and vulnerability. As a result, they continue to live in the emotional environment of their childhood traumas, as if they were occuring today, and remain terrified of people, all of whom are perceived as potential aggressors.
Dr. Mervin Smucker is an international trauma consultant and author of numerous articles and books on trauma and cognitive-behavioural therapy interventions.