Genetic Causes and Environmental Risk Factors


A Foundation for Understanding


The Behavioral Dimensions of Borderline Disorder • Genetic Causes and Environmental Risk Factors • Co-Occurring Disorders


There are two main categories of risk factors for Borderline Disorder, genetic and environmental. Additionally, one must have the genetic risk factors to be diagnosed with Borderline. Research shows genetics play a 60-percent role in the incidence of Borderline. 


Because Borderline Disorder is highly heritable, having a family member with the Disorder is a risk factor for developing the illness. Studies also suggest that there are specific genetic predispositions to Borderline Disorder. Researchers believe that what is actually inherited is the genetic mutation that impairs normal functions of the neural systems that control the core behavioral dimensions of Borderline Disorder: reasoning and perception; impulse and control; regulation of emotion; and markedly disturbed relationships. These genetic mutations put individuals at risk for the development of Borderline Disorder.

Environmental Risk Factors

There are also environmental risk factors at play in the development of the Disorder. Environmental risk factors are events or circumstances in a person’s life that have a significant emotional impact. Environmental risk factors that were most often attributed to those with the Disorder include: trauma, early separation or loss, ineffective parenting, separations and adverse social customs that damage the relationship between parent and child. 

Some people who have been exposed to serious and long-term environmental traumas never develop Borderline Disorder and some people who have never been exposed to these environmental risk factor do develop Borderline Disorder, bolstering the conclusion that the genetic component must be present for individuals to develop Borderline. 

What is so important to remember about this information is that there is no shame or blame implied here. We cannot help our genetics. We are no more responsible for passing down the genes for a mental health disorder than we are for any other disease, like heart disease or diabetes. The environmental risk factors often come into play as a point of blame as well. There is a growing body of evidence that it takes a convergence of many factors, yet there still remains a stigma of blame that many feel. One family described the blame they felt as perpetuating myths, stating:

“I actually just recently read something that said it was earlier believed that the lack of mother’s nurturing as a young child was to blame… Also that anyone who has [BPD] had to have some sort of trauma … some sort of abuse, either physical or sexual abuse when they were younger. And I think people just automatically assume that that’s the given.”
Report to Congress on Borderline Personality Disorder, 2011. 

It is very important that you understand that genetic risk factors must be present for Borderline Disorder to develop in an individual. This is not the case for environmental risk factors. It has been estimated that approximately 50% of individuals who are exposed to the environmental factors most commonly associated with Borderline Disorder go on to develop the Disorder. The others do not. There are many loving, kind, nurturing parents who have never exposed their child with Borderline Disorder to the above traumas.

While it is important to address these risk factors with your clinical team and discuss openly any ongoing feelings of loss, separation, and/or trauma that the you may be feeling, it is also important to remember that these traumas may have been beyond your control or a matter of perception, and that many other factors come into play. It is important to look to the past for understanding, but not for blame—to inform, but not to shame. It should invite us into conversations, not paralyze us. We are forward thinking in this endeavor. Your therapist and treatment team can help you sort out any underlying issues that may still need to be addressed to help you on your journey to a happy, thriving life and stable relationships. 


Sources Cited:

  • Friedel, Robert O. “Borderline Personality Disorder Demystified |.” Borderline Personality Disorder Demystified, 10 Feb. 2018,
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Report to Congress on Borderline Personality Disorder.  May 2011.