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BPD Causes

Updated on October 22, 2014

Cause of Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline Personality Disorder is a very complicated mental illness and it's causes aren't 100% known. However, studies have shown that 75% of BPD patients have experienced recurrent psychotraumatic events during their childhood. These events were traumatic enough to literally rewire the pathways in the brain. I am one of those 75% of people who suffered through many, many psychotraumatic events as a child.

In fact, I'm a textbook case. I was abused mentally, emotionally and physically. I was neglected. I experienced losses which made it impossible for me to trust anyone.

Here is my story.

My biological mother

My first loss

My mother, whom I call my Debbie-Mom, never wanted me. She got pregnant with me because she knew my Dad was going to leave her. When he told her he was still going to leave her, she tried to abort me, but because of the laws in England, she couldn't. When I was born, her first words to me were "Get it away. It's not mine".

For the first few months, I slept in a dresser drawer. My Dad had to put nails in the drawer to keep it open because when I cried, she would just close the drawer. I suspect she refused to change my diaper because I've had over a hundred scars on my butt for as long as I can remember (I suspect from extreme diaper rash).

As a toddler, she stepped it up a bit. She would lock me and my older sister, Lisa, in a closet. My Dad said he used to have to come home from work to let us out so Lisa could go to school. I suspect this is where my extreme fear of the dark comes from. She also liked to pit me and Lisa against each other. She would give me a fly swatter and tell me I would get a cookie if I would go hit my sister (or vice versa). I'm sure, being only children, we gladly swatted each other for a cookie.

I don't know when she started hitting us herself. My Grandma says she used to complain because we bled too easily.

At the age of 5, my Dad finally left her. He said she could have anything she wanted as long as he got us. She ended up trading us for a doublewide and a truck. Oddly enough, my very first memory is of the day she moved out. After she got her doublewide, she decided to take my Dad to court for custody. She didn't even show up for the first hearing. And at the second, she told the judge she didn't want to see us until we were 18. I saw her sporadically for the next 5 years. Those memories aren't exactly pleasant either. After a while, she just stopped the visits so I only saw her when I was visiting my Grandma.

During that time my Debbie-Mom had two more kids, Dusty and Leivon. My little brother, Leivon, was born with a genetic disease, Tuberous Sclerosis. It almost killed him and my Debbie-Mom spent years battling not only the effects of this disease, but also the numerous side effects from the drugs he had to take. I think having to deal with this disease is what calmed my Debbie-Mom down and made her a good mother for Dusty and Leivon.

However, it didn't change her feelings towards me. At the age of 10, she took my brother and sister and disappeared. It took me 8 years to find them.

My Step-Mother


My Dad remarried within a couple months of divorcing my Debbie-Mom. Lisa and I didn't meet his new wife or her kids until after they were married. But I didn't care. She was the nicest woman in the world. I couldn't have asked for a better mother. But it was temporary.

When I was 7, everything changed. I suspect it's because that's when my Dad started cheating on her. I still remember the first time she "flipped". Without going into too many details, she ended up making Lisa strip in front of the picture window while me and my step sisters watched. Why? Because Lisa had walked to the gas station and bought a candy bar with her allowance money. This started happening on a regular basis, with it progressing from stripping to actual slapping and punching. Lisa would get severely punished for almost no reason at all. And we were made to watch every time. Within a couple months, she started in on me. She would accuse me of stuff I hadn't done and punish me. This only got worse when she and my Dad separated because for some reason, we stayed with her.

Later that year, she was upset with me. She ran my bathwater using using completely hot water. The water was so hot that when I put a rinsing glass down in it, the glass shattered and instantly cut my hand almost completely in half. The only thing keeping it attached was a one inch piece of skin right above my wrist. I ran to the living room, squirting blood all over everything. My last view before we left for the hospital was the walls and the carpet covered in my blood. I never went back to that house. My Dad picked me up from the hospital and I moved in with him and his girlfriend that night. All that did was make me feel tremendously responsible for what I knew my sister was going through. I couldn't really do anything about it so I just focused on my surgery and the physical therapy needed to gain the use of my hand again.

A couple months later, I piled a bunch of toilet paper on my bed and set it on fire. All I remember feeling was extreme fear for Lisa and anger at the world. This made Patti and Dad move back in together. But it didn't make the abuse stop. In fact, it kind of made it worse.

The Terror

We had dogs. Bunches of dogs. And they weren't good dogs. No. These were dogs that ran away all the time. These were dogs that peed all over the floors all the time. They especially loved to pee on my bedroom floor. About once a year, we would have the carpets cleaned. When I was eight, our dogs Scruffy and Zippy got really bad. We had to clean the carpets 3 times that year. It's going to be your blood on those walls and I'm going to be the one to put it there The third time, Patti's friend Sandy came over to help. Sandy was Patti's best friend. Her makeup and hair were always perfect. Her clothes were always the latest style and her long nails were always polished and manicured. She was the type of person who didn't normally clean carpets. But for some reason, this time, she made an exception to that rule. Her and Patti cleaned those carpets for hours while Lisa and I sat upstairs. When they got done, Sandy came upstairs and pulled me away from Lisa. She took me to another room and I'll never forget what she said. "If those dogs ever pee on the floor again, there's going to be blood on the walls. It's not going to be Patti's blood. It's not going to be your Dad's blood. It's going to be your blood on those walls and I'm going to be the one to put it there". I sat there staring at her blood red nails that she was pointing at me, letting her words sink in. I truly thought I was going to die because there was no way I could stop the dog from peeing on the floors. I fainted and I didn't speak a word for two days.

This was one of those extremely psychotraumatic experiences in my childhood.

My Sister

My biggest loss

Lisa and I had always been close. She was my only full blood sister and we were the only ones that got abused, so we gave each other support. In truth, she was my best friend. One of my favorite things to do was to listen to her sing. She had such a pretty voice.

When I was 10, I lost Lisa. I can't recall the events of that night clearly but here's what I remember.

I've never known what started the fight. I was sitting in my room and I heard screaming. When I went to see what was going on I saw that Patti had Lisa down on the floor. She was on top of her punching her in the face and hitting her head against the cement. When I tried to pull Patti off Lisa, my stepsister grabbed me and pulled me from the room. I don't know what happened next, but I've been told there was a knife involved.

Two days later, my Dad told us to say our goodbyes because Lisa was going away. I can't explain the rush of emotions I felt. The loss of another sister (my Debbie-Mom had taken Dusty and Leivon just a couple months before. And two years before that, one of my step sisters had been sent away to Texas). The sadness of losing my best friend and my only emotional support. The fear of knowing I was the only one left for Patti to hurt.

Lisa left that night. She was adopted by an Uncle in Iowa. I didn't see her for probably 10 or 11 years and I've only seen her a few times since then.

I was right about being the only one left. Patti made it her mission to make my life a living hell. She loved to hit me and slam me into walls. Once she even hit me so hard that she sprained her wrist. Another time, when I was 13, she made me bleed so severely that my shirt was completely soaked in blood. I wore that shirt until my Dad came home, just knowing if he could actually see what was going on, he would put a stop to it. But he just looked at me and walked away. That's the day I gave up.

On My Own

The day my Dad walked away from the sight of me in my blood soaked shirt, I knew I was on my own. That's when I started running away all the time. I started drinking heavily and having sex. I started cutting myself and got a bunch of tattoos. I just didn't care. I would run away and a couple days later I would get picked up and be put into juvie before being sent home. After a quick shower and a change of clothes, I would run away again. I knew if I stayed home, Patti would get me.

My extended family knew it too. My great-aunt let me stay with her for a while (without telling my Dad). She gave me my own room and even bought me new clothes. But I didn't know how to act around her family. They said I love you and gave each other kisses and hugs. My family had never done any of that so I was extremely uncomfortable with it. After a couple weeks, I just couldn't handle it anymore so I left.

I believe I got picked up for running away 32 times that year. Finally, the judge sent me to a girls home. I was there for a year and I learned a lot. The problem was that when I was released, I had to go back to the same home environment. It was okay for a while. My Dad had bought a bar while I was gone so they were there most of the time. But when Patti came home, it was same old same old. My breaking point was the day she told me I should feel sorry for her because she had to put up with me. That's when I started running away again.

Sexual Abuse

Before I was sent to the girls home, I was kicked out of school for skipping too many days. When I was released from the girls home, they let me back into school solely because I had maintained straight A's even while I was skipping (I hadn't had a B since the fourth grade). Well, even after I started running away again, I still went to school. At school, there was this bully. He always called me names and he wiped butter on my suede jacket. Then one day he kicked my dog (Zippy always followed me to school and waited for me to get out). I admit I reacted stupidly when I pulled out a knife and tried to cut him. That little fiasco got me kicked out of the city school system (no joke. I had to go to another city to get my GED). The day it happened, I was too scared to go home, so I asked a friend if I could stay with him. Nick wasn't a close friend. We just hung out a lot because we both knew all the same people.

That day I went home with him. Over the next 12 hours, he raped me 5 times.

I didn't go to the police. I didn't even tell my parents. The only person I told was my boyfriend. He was angry and we broke up because of it. He must have told someone because a couple days later 5 of Nicks friends jumped me and beat me up with a warning to not open my mouth again.

A couple months later I asked the judge to send me back to the girls home and he did. I was able to get the counseling I needed to deal with the rape and, this time, I was able to learn a lot more about responsible living and personal responsibility. I was supposed to be released into my Grandma's custody, so you can imagine my shock when my Dad was the one who showed up.

It was a long drive home. I used that time to tell my Dad what was going to happen when we got home. I informed him that I was going to get my GED. I was going to get a job. I was going to smoke and I would be responsible for buying and paying for my own cigarettes (Even though I was only 17). And I was going to hit Patti back if she ever touched me again.

He agreed.

If you look at the history of most BPD patients, you will see backgrounds very similar to mine. Sometimes their stories will be not as bad. Sometimes they will be a whole lot worse. Most involve cases of multiple forms of abuse, neglect, and loss of a loved one.

Other causes of Borderline Personality Disorder

Although 75% of Borderline personality disorder patients report a history of extreme abuse, there are still 25% who grew up in a "normal" household. There are a couple theories as to why they developed BPD.

Dr. Joseph Santoro, a leader in BPD research, thinks that those 25% may have suffered from a different disorder like ADD, Childhood Bipolar Disorder, a genetic defect or maternal substance abuse while in the womb. Having one of these disorders and then trying to deal with the stress of how that disorder disrupts normal family patterns, could lead to a development of BPD.

Otto F. Kernberg, another leader in BPD research, theorizes that those 25% failed to develop in childhood. He believes that failure to achieve the developmental task of psychic clarification of self and the failure to overcome splitting results in an increased risk to develop a borderline personality.

There also seems to be a genetic factor. Like with other mental illnesses, if a close relative has BPD, you are at a higher risk for developing it too.

Video about a BPD Brain

A normal persons brain is very different from a Borderline's brain. Our brains are wired differently. They react differently. They work differently.

I also want you to know that I'm not playing the blame game. I fully believe that both my Debbie-Mom and my stepmom have undiagnosed mental illnesses. I just can't believe that a mentally sound maternal figure could treat a child the way me and Lisa were treated. And, in that line of thinking, I can't blame them for something that isn't their fault.

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© 2011 Othercatt

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    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 5 years ago

      Hi -what a hard time you had but you have overcome. I often ask my doctor have I BPD but he tells me I should not self diagnose. Similar childhood to yourself but not as severe

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I'm so glad that you shared your story. I was diagnosed with bpd with oppositional defianct features when I was 15 and sitting in a youth facility for troubled teens. I am almost 36 years old now and I was sitting on my couch wondering why I was so different from everyone else, and why do i seem to have such a self destructive behavior toward me and in my relationships. It took me 22 years, but for some reason it just hit me while I was sitting here and I rememberd this diagnosis and I started doing research. I too experienced a severe childhood and some of my adult years as well. I am happily married now to a wonderful man and I don't want to lose him, he and my 15 year old son are so patient with me, and I now am extremely excited to share with them what I have learned so that I can start to heal myself. I'm so glad I have tomarrow off so that we can spend the evening learning together. I am sincerely in your debt, thank you.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Wow Cat....just wow!! There are things you will never get over, but you sure as heck got through them!!! Hats off to you! Thank you for sharing! (((hugs)))

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing. It's good to read that someone else experienced some of what I experienced and that may explain why I have Borderline. I did want to comment about the 25% of "normal" childhoods. It may be a misleading statistic. I was diagnosed at 15 after being in therapy since I was 8. I had such good parents, getting me treatment...

      Until I was 25 I told everyone I had a normal childhood, because I thought I had. My family had a lot of money. The physical abuse wasn't really that, everyone gets spanked with a belt and slapped. It was a boy at school, not a family member who raped me. I had a lot of "breaks" from the stress because my parents would leave me alone for weeks at a time. I was constantly manipulated and put down, but who gets along with their parents? Whenever something happened I was blamed or accused of making it up, because I was "mentally ill". So I told my doctors I was not abused and that I had a normal childhood. I am beginning to wonder if my story is not unique. At the age of 37, still in therapy, I still question how much of it was really "abuse" and how much of it was my fault.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      OMGoodness! you are a very forgiving, and strong person. I will keep you in my prayers. You are an inspiration for real. Thank you for writing this to keep everybody aware that there are others struggling with illness period and that we should have a a lot more patience with others. None of us knows what the other has been thru. Very inspired, thank you again.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      thank you for sharing, you struggled a lot...Im just starting to recognise that i do have this disorder. I believe mine was caused by my father getting ill when I was young, follwed by his death when I was nine, and being forced to take over responsabilities of the house hold at a young age..the sexual abuse began at age 7, but one brother remebers the other touching me much earlier. Most of my damage was at the hands of my mother, who wanted to destroy me following my fathers death. She even had an affair later with my now my current relationship is in jepordy..i decided to give him space to heal from a loss, and yet i just can't seem to give that space, i get really depressed if he doesn't answer the phone or text me back, i am struggling so much with this, was told back in 2002 that i might have BPD, but no one told me what that ment.

    • youndyd lm profile image

      youndyd lm 5 years ago

      It is so sad that you went through all those terrible stuff. But you should be very proud of yourself for being so brave to write this lens.

    • irminia profile image

      irminia 5 years ago

      I'm deeply moved by your story. It is so bad that so many bad things are happening to children, even now. I admire your strength.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I was intensely moved by your story. I felt your pain at every turn and pictured myself in your shoes. I even started welling up at points! This may be a cliché, but you're an inspiration. I very rarely leave a comment on articles I read... but I just had to tell you that I am glad you shared this with all of us and I have a ridiculous amount of respect for you. It takes a very strong individual to come out the other end of this. Best of wishes, we are all rooting for you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Wow you are so brave for pulling through ! I hope your life is so much better now to make up for the childhood you never got.

    • profile image

      aquarian_insight 5 years ago

      You are an amazing person, not only to have endured all that you have, but to share your story with others in the hope that something you say can help someone. *blessed*

    • NicoleLynn711 profile image

      Nicole 6 years ago from Bethel, CT

      @Othercatt: oh please don't apologize!!The facts of your story is what made me cry, and if anything I sensed "numbing" probably from you holding back on the emotion. Your children are very lucky to have a mother like you, and not all victims end up giving their children a happy life. Actually, most victims become abusers because of not knowing anything else. Probably what happened to your step-sister. Its just amazing how you can look at what happened to you and see positives, which I think is hard for even us readers to do.

      And counseling DV victims is something I miss, although it was emotioally draining. Its funny because I never thought to myself "ugh why do they keep going back to their abuser." If anything I completely understood why and would never counsel someone to leave because of the potential danger. Its easy to say "they hit you, so leave them," but that's not so easy. What I found from counseling women is that majority of them had experienced abuse-physical, emotional, sexual, as children. Rape is very common; and sexual abuse in the family is also very common. It is sad but awareness needs to be brought! Looks like you are doing a great job with that! Again, I aplaud you :)

    • Othercatt profile image

      Othercatt 6 years ago

      @NicoleLynn711: I'm sorry my story made you cry. I tried to write it with more facts and less emotion because I didn't want to effect anyone like that. This may sound crazy, but I'm glad I went through all this. You see, my step-sister never got abused and now she doesn't think twice about hitting her sons and treating them like crap. Because I know how it feels, I've never raised a hand to my kids and I try to always give them the respect every child deserves. I credit my horrible childhood for being the cause of my kids happy childhoods.

      So far I've been diagnosed with depression, BPD, OCPD and Mysophobia. With the events of my life, I wouldn't be surprised if I also had PTSD.

      I also want to thank you for counseling dv victims. I've been married to 2 abusers and although I rarely talk about it, I can imagine what it feels like to listen to someone talk about being beaten and then watch them go right back to the person who abused them. I guess if you have to deal with that every day, becoming desensitized is the only way to protect yourself.

    • NicoleLynn711 profile image

      Nicole 6 years ago from Bethel, CT

      I couldn't help crying while reading this. I haven't worked in 6 months (counseling majority women of domestic violence) and I realize I had become somewhat desensetized. I can only imagine all of this was very numbing for you. Thank you for sharing such personal stories and I am so glad you survived the abuse but not that you ever experienced it in the first place. You cant't pick your family. And I'm not a clinical therapist or anything but it sounds like you have more of PTSD than BPD, although like your lens is pointing out, it is a co-occuring disorder.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Again, beautifully written. It's so amazing that you were able to write all this and share it with the world. So inspiring.

    • CarolynPile profile image

      CarolynPile 6 years ago

      I admire you for forgiving your abusers. I hope your life is a lot better now.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Excellent Squidoo. I always love reading what others write. Chris

    • profile image

      Filmjunky 7 years ago

      I too want to thank you for sharing your story. I recently (a few months ago, in therapy) was diagnosed with BPD. My therapist one day, wrote those three letters down on a piece of paper and told me to go home and look it up on the computer. I did, and I was devastated on the one hand, yet, about 2 days later, when I got over the disturbing shock of it, I realized it at least explained a lot and and allowed me to understand many of my behaviors and attitudes about things, people and situations growing up, and even at the present time. I won't go into all the different things which led me up to this diagnosis, but I do have to say, this story brought me to tears, as it made me feel and realize...that I'm NOT alone in this world, A diagnosis like this can often make one feel alone, isolated, different and humiliated. But I'm determined to read and research as much as I can on this, and take it from there, especially since I have two young sons, who themselves have their own issues that they were born with, (ADHD and Aspergers), which makes my life that much more challenging, but I'm determined to be and stay as well as possible, for me and for them.

      Thank you.

    • sheriangell profile image

      sheriangell 7 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this story although I so wish you didn't have it to tell. I admire your ability to forgive those who hurt you.

    • Geekgurl profile image

      Kimberly Hiller 7 years ago from Chicago

      I can not believe the ordeal you have gone through. Just reading some of the excerpts made me start crying a little bit for the disgraceful things you have had to deal with in your life. It shows you though that in the darkest light, something wonderful will grow from it.

    • nebby profile image

      nebby 7 years ago from USA

      Thank you for sharing your story with us. I know that it must have been hard but it will help many people.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 7 years ago

      Hi Cat, I feel such love here just came back for a dose. When someone has been through what you've been through and come out the other side- folks are attracted to their presence.

    • Wednesday-Elf profile image

      Wednesday-Elf 7 years ago from Savannah, Georgia

      I was overwhelmed by your story! I've never heard of BPD before and appreciate you sharing your experiences so that others can understand. No child should have to go through what you went through!

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 7 years ago

      Heart wrenching story - and yes, it illustrates how deeply abuse hits kids, and causes them problems later on. Like Borderline and other mental illnesses. Sure, there are genetic issues too - it's a sort of baseline of what type of things you can handle without losing it, I think.

      Great lens.

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 7 years ago

      Well told and wrenching story. And yes, not unheard of in BPD. It was wonderful that you had the balance, which probably made recovery possible. That and most BPD don't think there is anything wrong with them.

      However, my duaghter's half sister is a BPD and she had a pampered life, being indulged, never told no and rarely criticized. So there is a spectrum here also although the commonality is poor parenting. She is also bipolar which complicates things.

      DBT or Dialectical Behavior Therapy is a great treatment for those who want treatment and even those who don't.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I'm speechless! And in tears for the pain you have suffered! I wish I could have been there to have wrapped you up in a great big hug and just taken you and Lisa away. Damn! Damn! Damn!

    • Othercatt profile image

      Othercatt 7 years ago

      @darciefrench lm: You are so right about people not understanding. My husband, who has read just as much about BPD as I have, still asks me why I do the things I do or why I think the things I think. He just doesn't understand how different our brains are.

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 7 years ago

      Beautiful recontextualization of how a mental illness comes to be. The 'hardwiring' of the brain by trauma is so key. Folks who've not experienced trauma as a child lack the frame of reference to understand what it's actually like to live with a thus-wired brain. I really appreciate your lack of judgmentalism and neutral perspective about the people involved in the traumatic events. Thank-you for pointing out that everyone involved was acting accordingly- none of the people involved were in a healthy mental state. I am so happy you transcended the story of it, and are able to experience life with happiness. Talk about turning diversity around. Much love to you and yours. Again, thank-you for sharing.


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