Category: Personality Disorders


Borderline Personality Symptoms Relate to Heightened Emotional Reactions to Couples Conflict

Saturday, November 18
10:15 AM - 11:45 AM
Location: Indigo Ballroom B, Level 2, Indigo Level

Keywords: Borderline Personality Disorder | Ecological Momentary Assessment | Couples / Close Relationships
Presentation Type: Symposium

Heightened emotional reactivity has been theoretically linked to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and subsequently supported in lab-based experiments. It is less clear, however, if and how emotional reactivity occurs in real-life situations, particularly in romantic relationships, a key area of impairment among individuals with BPD. This study examined whether BPD symptoms were associated with heightened emotional reactions to naturally occurring romantic relationship conflict.

We recruited 168 participants (n=84 cohabitating couples) from the community for a 3-week daily diary study. At baseline, participants reported their BPD symptoms (PAI-BOR, with 4 symptom domain subscales). Each day, participants reported their own emotions and conflict behaviors, as well as the conflict behaviors they perceived in their partners.

Multilevel models examined whether BPD symptoms interacted with daily partner conflict behaviors to predict daily emotions. Significant findings were found in the BPD subscale of affective lability. Across participant- and partner-reported conflict behaviors, individuals high in affective lability had greater increases in anger, sadness, and anxiety than those with lower affective lability. For instance, in those with high affective lability, greater increases in sadness were found on days when participants reported their partners were mean to them and greater increases in anger were found on days when participants’ partners reported criticizing or yelling at them. We also examined the interaction between participants’ affective lability and their own conflict behaviors predicting their partners’ emotions. Higher participant affective lability was related to lower increases in partner anger, sadness, and anxiety on days when the participant engaged in conflict behaviors.

Using a highly ecologically-valid method, these findings support theory and research suggesting that individuals with BPD have stronger emotional reactivity in response to interpersonal conflict. Also, our finding that higher affective lability is related to lower reactivity in romantic partners has important implications for couples therapy and interpersonal research in BPD.


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Borderline Personality Symptoms Relate to Heightened Emotional Reactions to Couples Conflict

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