Abuse and neglect in childhood: relationship to personality disorder diagnoses

Linda M Bierer, Rachel Yehuda, James Schmeidler, Vivian Mitropoulou, Antonia S New, Jeremy M Silverman, Larry J Siever
CNS Spectrums 2003, 8 (10): 737-54

BACKGROUND: Childhood history of abuse and neglect has been associated with personality disorders and has been observed in subjects with lifetime histories of suicidality and self-injury. Most of these findings have been generated from inpatient clinical samples.

METHODS: This study evaluated self-rated indices of sustained childhood abuse and neglect in an outpatient sample of well-characterized personality disorder subjects (n=182) to determine the relative associations of childhood trauma indices to specific personality disorder diagnoses or clusters and to lifetime history of suicide attempts or gestures. Subjects met criteria for ~2.5 Axis II diagnoses and 24% reported past suicide attempts. The Childhood Trauma Questionnaire was administered to assess five dimensions of childhood trauma exposure (emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, and emotional and physical neglect). Logistic regression was employed to evaluate salient predictors among the trauma measures for each cluster, personality disorder, and history of attempted suicide and self-harm. All analyses controlled for gender distribution.

RESULTS: Seventy-eight percent of subjects met dichotomous criteria for some form of childhood trauma; a majority reported emotional abuse and neglect. The dichotomized criterion for global trauma severity was predictive of cluster B, borderline, and antisocial personality disorder diagnoses. Trauma scores were positively associated with cluster A, negatively with cluster C, but were not significantly associated with cluster B diagnoses. Among the specific diagnoses comprising cluster A, paranoid disorder alone was predicted by sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. Within cluster B, only antisocial personality disorder showed significant associations with trauma scores, with specific prediction by sexual and physical abuse. For borderline personality disorder, there were gender interactions for individual predictors, with emotional abuse being the only significant trauma predictor, and only in men. History of suicide gestures was associated with emotional abuse in the entire sample and in women only; self-mutilatory behavior was associated with emotional abuse in men.

CONCLUSION: These results suggest that childhood emotional abuse and neglect are broadly represented among personality disorders, and associated with indices of clinical severity among patients with borderline personality disorder. Childhood sexual and physical abuse are highlighted as predictors of both paranoid and antisocial personality disorders. These results help qualify prior observations of the association of childhood sexual abuse with borderline personality disorder.

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