Stress Reactivity is Unique in Borderline Personality Disorder

The way in which a person reacts to stress can reveal a lot about their psychological state. Some theories exist that suggest that people with borderline personality (BPD) have an impaired reaction to stress, resulting in hyperactivity to stress and longer time to recover from stressful events. To test this theory, Lori N. Scott of the Department of Psychology at Pennsylvania State University led a study comparing stress reactivity in a group of female participants with BPD, traits similar to BPD (TM), and non-BPD traits (NTM). She measured the cortisol levels and the negative or positive affect of the women before and after they were exposed to stressors.

Scott found that the BPD women reacted less severely to stressors than the TM and NTM women. Although this finding was in contrast to some existing research, Scott believes there is a valid explanation for it. The BPD women had higher levels of stress, based on cortisol levels, and higher negative affect at baseline than the other women. Therefore, because their stress levels were elevated prior to being exposed to a stressor, their reaction to stress is less extreme than those with low baseline stress. Also, negative affect can dampen any reaction and weaken hyperactive stress responses.

When Scott looked at recovery time, she found that all the groups had similar rates of recovery from stress. Even though the BPD women experienced stress increases that were smaller in scale compared to the reactions of the other women, the time it took them to return to their elevated baseline stress levels was equal to that of the other women, whose stress increases were much steeper. “Our results provide some support for the high emotional intensity aspect, but not hyperreactivity and impaired recovery aspects, of current clinical theories of affective dysregulation in BPD,” said Scott. However, this study did not account for medication or comorbid conditions such as PTSD and substance use, all of which could influence stress reactivity in women with and without BPD. Future work may consider these issues when exploring the full range of reactions in women with BPD.

Scott, L. N., Levy, K. N., and Granger, D. A. (2012). Biobehavioral reactivity to social evaluative stress in women with borderline personality disorder. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030117

© Copyright 2013 All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Leia

    January 6th, 2013 at 5:21 AM

    But basically, no matter how you outwardly react to stress, there is still no doubt that it can be quite detrimental to our overall health and must learn to be dealt with in an effective manner no matter who you are or how healthy you are. I don’t think that I have ever read too much that talks about how beneficial lots of stress and an inability to cope with it can be on you.

  • Jessica

    January 6th, 2013 at 6:53 PM

    I agree completely, and think stress undoubtedly antagonizes symptoms, but perhaps borderlines and maybe even other personality disorders are better able to handle it than severe and persistent mental illnesses, and to blend.

  • ron

    January 7th, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    stress reactivity could vary for the same person depending on various factors.seeing that those with borderline personality disorder have longer recovery times after being exposed to stress,it could also mean that they have lower susceptibility to a change in stress levels.maybe the same holds true for the increase in stress and hence the lower spikes?

  • cece

    January 7th, 2013 at 4:01 AM

    I wonder if those with BPD are for the most part also being treated for stress disorder and whether this helps to alleviate the symptoms of the bpd once this secondary symptom os addressed?

  • Chase

    January 7th, 2013 at 7:58 AM

    ugh…wish they’d say what the stressor is it would be very helpful to know this.

  • Nutmeg

    January 7th, 2013 at 8:04 AM

    Interesting that the rates of recovery from stressors were the same. I would have thought someone with a diagnosed mental health issue would take much longer to recover from stress that someone who is “normal.” Maybe not looking at whether or not the person was medicated was a bit of a mistake here? Medication could play an enormous roll when determining how long is takes someone to recover from a stressful event.

  • Carol

    January 7th, 2013 at 8:06 AM

    Nutmeg, I am similarly surprised at not looking at medication as well as substance abuse. If someone is “chilled out” on a substance, they are obviously not going to take as long to bounce back from being stressed out.

  • Ginna

    January 7th, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    Stressors for people with BPD are no joke. So glad to see studies being done on this.

  • Judith

    January 7th, 2013 at 8:12 AM

    I have BPD and BP. I am surprised by the findings. Stress for me is horrible!! I do not deal with it well at all.

  • Nik

    August 10th, 2017 at 6:26 AM

    I developed ptsd, bpd, and bp, and depression, anxiety at only 16, Stress is horrible for those with bpd. I have yet to see a doctor about my health because of stress, its gotten so poor. But still fighting to be alive 🤘

  • Michelle A.

    August 14th, 2017 at 4:02 AM

    Boredom is a nightmare for me. I stress over everything if I’m feeling a certain way nothing helps me. I feel like I need something to instantly t ease the intense feelings. I don’t take meds anymore I do drugs either

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of's Terms and Conditions of Use.


* Indicates required field.

GoodTherapy uses cookies to personalize content and ads to provide better services for our users and to analyze our traffic. By continuing to use this site you consent to our cookies.