Pathological personality traits in negative affectivity

  1. Emotional liability – Emotions that are easily aroused, intense, and/or out of proportion to events and circumstances.

                One of the traits of Borderline Personality Disorder is emotion sensitivity. This super sensitivity is thought to have biological origins and to be present from early life.  It consists of a heightened emotional reaction to environmental stimuli, including emotions of others.

                Along these lines, Carlson, Egeland, and Sroufe[1] conducted a longitudinal study of 162 individuals diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. They discovered that negative emotionality influenced by emotional sensitivity in early childhood and adolescence predicted later BPD symptoms. This included self-injurious behavior, dissociative symptoms, drug use, and violence in intimate relationships. They also discovered that most people with BPD did not receive appropriate (and oft time even harmful) treatment.  They also found correlations with negative temperament and attachment disorganization. In other words, it appears we people with BPD are wired with a brain that is very sensitive to sensations from the environment, therefore, a genetic predisposition for BPD.

                This leads us to a study by Greenough and others[2] on the role of the environment. They concluded that studies in neurology consistently confirm that there is a neural basis of experience-dependent learning. During childhood, as super sensitive children, we are very vulnerable to what’s happening around us. We are very aware of all negative stimulus and we create thousands of synaptic connections each day in response to these events. This information is stored in our expanding neural mind states.These mind states then become our thinking and behavior patterns that will guide us for the rest of our lives. These experiences form our implicit memories and thought and behavior patterns. In other words, childhood is a “critical” or “sensitive” period.

                However, the good news is that the human brain also has a great deal of plasticity. We can refire and rewire our brain patterns by making conscious decisions with our adult minds, thus altering our thought patterns, and our behavior patterns. The old patterns are loaded with a lot of negative energy from the amygdala that is buried in our subconscious mind; however, we do not have to dig these memories up again. We can simply rewire them. We can do this by taking the buried feeling attached to the present incident and rewiring those feelings through the nucleus acumens and the other areas of the frontal cortex what we know as the pleasure center of the brain. We can access these through positive patterns like appreciation and gratitude. We can also take a moment to find humor in the situation and learn to laugh at our ridiculous behavior.

[1]  Carlson, EA; Egeland, B.; and Sroufe LA. A prospective investigation of the development of borderline personality symptoms. Dev Psychopathology, 2009.

[2]  Greenough, WT; Black, JE; and Wallace CS.  Experience and brain development. Child Dev. 1987