Application to Borderline Personality Disorder

The DSM-IV-TR states that people with Borderline Personality Disorder have a chronic pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, impulsivity, intense anger, suicidal attempts, and stress-related dissociative episodes. Borderline Personality Disorder has an early adult onset, and may occur three times more in females than males. On the surface, it appears that individuals with these features would not have much reproductive success. However, according to the DSM-IV-TR, its prevalence rate is about 2% in general populations throughout the world, 10% of all patients in outpatient settings, 20% among psychiatric inpa-tients, and 30% to 60% of all patients with a suspected personality disorder. Thus, it is a relatively common personality disorder despite this array of seemingly negative elements.

One reason for its persistence from an evolutionary perspective may be that, although Borderline Personality Disorder may be highly heritable, an adult onset in contemporary society might have meant that in the ancestral environment reproduction might have taken place at a much earlier age. Thus, this array of features may not have yet been present when that individual was selecting a mate or attempting to keep a mate. From this perspective, Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms may not have had any particular evolutionary value but they did not hinder reproduction because of their later adult onset in the ancestral environment. Indeed, this explanation might be true for most, if not all, of the personality disorders. Their adult onset might not have hindered early (e.g., adolescent) reproduction. However, the consistency of the cluster of symptoms in the Borderline Personality Disorder and other impulsive types appears to require another explanation.

One possibility for the general impulsivity in affectivity, cognition, and behavior in the Borderline Personality Disorder may reside in the nature of impulsivity itself: Impulsivity in the ancestral environment might have had some positive consequences (e.g., Jensen et al., 1997). Jensen et al. postulated that ancestral environments might have varied along several continua including safe versus not safe, resource-rich versus resource-impoverished, and time-optional versus time-critical. In environments that were unsafe, impoverished, and time-critical, they argued that humans' survival may have depended on hypervigilance, rapid-scanning, quickness to fight or flee, and motorically high activity (e.g., to forage or move to a warmer climate). Jensen et al. reasoned that not all environments may have been harsh and not all individuals would have needed these extreme symptoms. However, they hypothesized that in the harshest environments, traits that allowed some individuals to fight or flee quickly and to be "response-ready" may have ensured the survival of group members who were more docile or placid. Again, frequency-dependent selection might have allowed such "deviant" behavior but also placed an upper limit on its prevalence.

A seemingly tougher symptom to explain from an evolutionary perspective is suicidal behavior common among people with Borderline Personality Disorder. One proposed explanation is based on the supposition that depression and low self-esteem have some latent adaptive value. For example, when failing in an attempt to obtain a mate or resource through competition, individuals may temporarily suspend aggressive behaviors, allowing them to reevaluate their behavioral goals and strategies, perhaps resulting in greater success in later endeavors. This time-out period may also allow individuals to lower their expectations resulting in fewer disappointments and unsuccessful and dangerous challenges in the status hierarchy. Lowered expectations and a drop in the status hierarchy may also result in self-protection because that individual may be less likely to be perceived as a threat by more dominant individuals. Regarding actual suicidal behavior, Torgersen (1994) has suggested that suicidal acts among the extremely depressed, terminally ill, or some aged persons are a form of kin altruism—with their death, siblings, and close genetic relatives have more resources.

Getting to Know Anxiety

Getting to Know Anxiety

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