Category: Personality Disorders
Research is mixed on what emotion regulation (ER) strategies individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) or BPD features employ most and which of the strategies are most effective in this population. Further muddying the waters is the limited generalizability of findings offered in laboratory conditions that test these hypotheses. Experience sampling from individuals’ daily life helps bridge the gap between highly controlled, artificial experiments and naturalistic observation. As ER strategies vary based upon several highly individualistic factors, ecological momentary assessment (EMA) is one way to capture snapshots of daily life that inform researchers on participants’ state affect and measures they take to regulate those emotions.
Community dwelling adults (N=79, 65% female, Mage= 30.78, SD = 1.44) completed a measure of BPD (Personality Assessment Inventory-Borderline Subscale) and a 7-day EMA protocol. During this protocol, current and hourly peak negative affect (NA) (sad, nervous, upset, angry, frustrated, stressed affects), and adaptive (reappraisal, problem-solving, and distraction) and maladaptive (rumination and suppression) ER strategies during current and peak NA were ascertained 5 times daily.
Multi-level models revealed that peak NA ratings were significantly affected by the presence of BPD symptoms, (b = .08, p< .001) compared to the overall sample. For adaptive strategies, distraction changed NA ratings (b= .35, p < .05), while problem solving and reappraisal were insignificant.For maladaptive strategies, rumination lowered NA (b = .66, p < .05) but suppression did not lower NA ratings. In contrast, when individuals with higher BPD symptoms used reappraisal after peak NA ratings, there was a trend effect (b = -.03, p = .07) but distraction was more robust (b = -.03, p < .05) for decreasing NA, while problem-solving was insignificant. Conversely, when rumination was employed, individuals with BPD symptoms rated that they felt significantly worse for longer than individuals without BPD symptoms, (b = .06, p < .05) while suppression remained insignificant.
These findings indicate that individuals with BPD symptoms may fare best when deploying an ER strategy that refocuses their attention, like distraction. Additionally, the effect of rumination appears to be particularly potent in this population, which confirms findings of contemporary models of BPD. Results suggest anything that interferes with the ruminative process and disrupts the cycle, like distraction, may be beneficial. The implications are hopeful, as they suggest that current efforts that target maladaptive ER strategies and address skill deficits will increase the efficacy of interpersonal regulation efforts for people with BPD.