Exploring the causal link between childhood sexual abuse, contextual factors, and borderline personality disorder: a path analytical model

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Virginia Tech


The purpose of this research is to clarify the relationship between childhood sexual abuse and borderline personality disorder. A path-analytic model was developed and tested to explore a causal link between childhood sexual abuse and borderline personality disorder. This model was developed by integrating theories and empirical findings with regard to childhood sexual abuse and borderline personality disorder. The model is consistent with the concept of developmental psychopathology in that childhood sexual abuse is viewed as contributing to one possible pathway of several toward the outcome of borderline personality disorder and borderline personality disorder as one of several possible outcomes of childhood sexual abuse. The model predicted that childhood sexual abuse contributes to the development of borderline personality disorder if the abuse is chronic and severe and occurs compounded with other types of abuse or trauma and within the context of dysfunctional family characteristics.

Subjects were 41 adult females with a history of childhood sexual abuse who were recruited from outpatient mental health clinics and one psychiatric hospital. The borderline portion of the Personality Disorder Examination, the Structured Clinical Interview for the DSM-III-R, and Finkelhor’s Family Experiences Survey were administered in addition to two self-report questionnaires on family dynamics and coping with sexual abuse. A path analysis was conducted on the data. The path model predicted that borderline personality disorder would be present with greater risk factors, greater family dysfunction, a higher severity of sexual abuse, utilization of cognitive rumination to cope with the abuse, and lower perceived parental support. None of the path coefficients in the path model were statistically significant. A discussion of reasons for the lack of significant findings follows the analyses.