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Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms and Aggression: A Within-Person Process Model

NCJ Number
Journal of Abnormal Psychology Volume: 126 Issue: 4 Dated: 2017 Pages: 429-440
Lori N. Scott; Aidan G. Wright; Joseph Beeney; Sophie A. Lazarus; Paul A. Pilkonis; Stephanie D. Stepp
Date Published
12 pages
Using intensive repeated measures, this study examined a within-person process model in which perceived rejection predicts increases in aggressive urges and behaviors via increases in negative affect (indirect effect) and in which symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD) symptoms exacerbate this process (moderated mediation).
Theoretical and empirical work suggests that aggression in those with borderline personality disorder (BPD) occurs primarily in the context of emotional reactivity, especially anger and shame, in response to perceived rejection. Participants in the current study were 117 emerging adult women (ages 18-24) with recent histories of aggressive behavior who were recruited from a community-based longitudinal study of at-risk youth. Personality disorder symptoms were assessed by semi-structured clinical interview; and aggressive urges, threats, and behaviors were measured in daily life during a 3-week ecological momentary assessment protocol. Multilevel path models revealed that within-person increases in perceived rejection predicted increases in negative affect, especially in women with greater BPD symptoms. In turn, increases in negative affect predicted increased likelihood of aggressive urges or behaviors. Further analysis revealed that BPD symptoms predicted greater anger and shame reactivity to perceived rejection, but not to criticism or insult. Additionally, only anger was associated with increases in aggression after controlling for other negative emotions. Whereas BPD symptoms exacerbated the link between perceived rejection and aggression via increases in negative affect (particularly anger), this process was attenuated in women with greater antisocial personality disorder symptoms. These findings suggest that anger reactivity to perceived rejection is one unique pathway, distinct from antisocial personality disorder, by which BPD symptoms increase risk for aggression. (Publisher abstract modified)