Poor self-control and harsh punishment in childhood prospectively predict borderline personality symptoms in adolescent girls

J Abnorm Psychol. 2015 Aug;124(3):549-64. doi: 10.1037/abn0000058.


Developmental theories of borderline personality disorder (BPD) propose that harsh, invalidating parenting of a child with poor self-control and heightened negative emotionality often leads to a coercive cycle of parent-child transactions that increase risk for BPD symptoms such as emotion dysregulation. Although parenting practices and child temperament have previously been linked with BPD, less is known about the prospective influences of caregiver and child characteristics. Using annual longitudinal data from the Pittsburgh Girls Study (n = 2,450), our study examined how reciprocal influences among harsh parenting, self-control, and negative emotionality between ages 5 and 14 predicted the development of BPD symptoms in adolescent girls ages 14 to 17. Consistent with developmental theories, we found that harsh punishment, poor self-control, and negative emotionality predicted BPD symptom severity at age 14. Only worsening self-control between ages 12 and 14, however, predicted growth in BPD symptoms from 14 to 17. Furthermore, the effects of harsh punishment and poor self-control on age 14 BPD symptoms were partially mediated by their earlier reciprocal effects on each other between ages 5 and 14. Our findings underscore the need to address both child and parental contributions to dysfunctional transactions in order to stem the development of BPD symptoms. Moreover, problems with self-regulation in early adolescence may indicate heightened risk for subsequent BPD. Altogether, these results increase our understanding of developmental trajectories associated with BPD symptoms in adolescent girls.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Borderline Personality Disorder / psychology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parenting / psychology*
  • Parents / psychology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Punishment / psychology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Self-Control*
  • Symptom Assessment