There's no clear reason why some people develop BPD. More women are diagnosed with BPD than men, but it can affect people of all genders and backgrounds. However, most researchers think that BPD is caused by a combination of factors, such as:
- difficult childhood and teenage experiences
- genetic factors
- your personality in general
Also, if you already experience some BPD symptoms, then going through a stressful time as an adult could make your symptoms worse. (See our pages on how to manage stress for tips on coping with stress.)
How could childhood experiences cause BPD?
It's not clear what causes BPD, but if you get this diagnosis you're more likely than most people to have had very difficult or traumatic experiences growing up, such as:
- chronic fear or distress
- family instability, such as living with a parent who is an alcoholic, or who struggles to manage a mental health problem
- sexual or physical abuse
- losing a parent
If you had difficult childhood experiences like these, you might have developed certain beliefs about how people think and how relationships work, and developed certain strategies for coping, which aren't helpful in your adult life. You might also still be struggling with feelings of anger, fear or sadness.
Because I don't have so many memories or examples of healthy emotional behaviour or healthy relationships [in childhood] I feel totally at sea dealing with these things myself [...] So when I get let down, it just reinforces my belief that the world is full of bad people who won't be kind to you – like my parents weren't kind to me.
Can children and young people get BPD?
It's very hard to diagnose BPD in children and young people because your personality is still developing as you grow up. However, a psychiatrist could diagnose you with BPD while you are still a teenager if they are confident that your symptoms have gone on for long enough that there can't be another cause.
Could BPD be genetic?
Some evidence suggests that there might be a genetic cause of BPD, because if someone in your close family has a mental health problem you might be more likely to get this diagnosis.
However, because most people grow up with one or both of their biological parents, it's very hard to know if symptoms of BPD – like problems with relationships or coping with strong emotions – are inherited from your parents' genes or picked up from their behaviour. Children tend to learn how to behave by observing the people around them, so if you grew up around a parent with BPD, you might have learned some unhelpful ways of acting and feeling from them.
Nobody taught me to regulate my emotions. I saw my parents and family members regularly behave in out of control ways and I thought that was normal.
This information was published in May 2015. We will revise it in 2018.