Understanding Childhood Stress and Attachment in BPD

Understanding Childhood Stress and Attachment in BPD

Please Note: The ideas contained in this FAQ are the opinions of the writer and are communicated without reference to supporting documentation in most cases. Other inspiration and influence for the writing came through consultation with other mental health professionals but the writer “Peter Quintano” is also fully qualified in DBT making him qualified to talk about the things discussed in this article.

To master Borderline Personality Disorder, you need to know yourself thoroughly. This includes gaining a basic understanding of the world you grew up in and the potential mental health ramifications of living in that world. Since I anticipate most people who access this presentation come from an industrialized/modernized part of the world, and because that is the only type of experience I have to relate, that is how I will talk about stress and attachment issues in childhood.

The modern world in many ways does not support healthy brain development, and therefore, contributes to the onset of Borderline Personality Disorder. When a person is raised in an environment that includes modern elements, there can be unhealthy stresses and a lack of attachment opportunities for children with parents. If growth and attachment opportunities with parents are lacking, a child may not learn how to process and regulate emotions effectively, and therefore also have difficulty distinguishing real from perceived danger.

If there is to be healthy brain development, a child needs to have a stable/secure attachment with at least one parent. The child needs consistency, availability, constructive attention, loving attention, and many opportunities to explore the world and then return to safety. Unfortunately, children are often in situations where parents are overly preoccupied with tasks of daily living, working schedules, hobbies, technology and sometimes have their own health and relationship issues. A parent’s preoccupation and lack of availability interfere with a child’s opportunity to gain a sense of inner security.

My own experience with my parents was sad and unfortunate as they divorced when I was young (about age 10), and before that had many issues and conflicts that diverted a great deal of their energy away from parenting opportunities. I witnessed physical and verbal abuse between family members, and there was much uncertainty about when conflicts would arise and when they would be no more.

Our family didn’t move around much, and as far as I know, there wasn’t any alcohol or drug abuse. But without a doubt, we were a fragmented (partially broken) family and had many relational stresses that were toxic in nature. Oh yeah, and since mom was a religious fanatic – meaning that much of her thinking and emotional energy went to church interests – her primary goal became “saving me” rather than parenting me. I have had strong feelings of resentment towards my mother and religion since having that experience. Dad did the best he could to navigate the eventual divorce with my mum and then did his best to be a single parent for both myself and two older siblings.

Understanding Childhood Stress and Attachment in BPD

For much of my childhood I didn’t witness healthy dialogues between adults, and therefore, I didn’t learn much about healthy communication and the proper management of thoughts and emotions that is required for healthy communication. There were family traditions and gatherings that took place, although these were more often when people would wear their “best masks” (be their best false selves) rather be real with each other. As is the case in many families, the emotional parts of ourselves were mostly avoided and neglected because of lack of emotional skill.

Being raised in Dad’s house, I recall sometimes experiencing attachment stress when Dad would go out to his evening bowling or pipe-band activities. It was like I didn’t know if he would ever be returning, and so I guess I believed I was being abandoned. Thinking I was abandoned (even though I wasn’t) would amount to prolonged activation of my stress response system until I heard Dad’s car pull up in the driveway. I could eventually settle my anxiety down after Dad got home, but it took some time. These intense abandonment fears were not addressed with anyone else assigned to watch over me when Dad went out, perhaps because I believed there was no point in trying.

Other toxic stress moments included mom showing up for unscheduled visits and parents fighting verbally/physically. I remember screaming and being unable to pull myself together in the midst of all this drama. Again, the feeling aspects of what I was experiencing were not attended to properly, and I did not learn how to regulate my emotions or understand what was going on inside of me. All of these moments, I believe, contributed to a disturbed brain and emotional development that would eventually turn into Borderline Personality Disorder.

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