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Attach Hum Dev. 2007 Mar;9(1):1-16.

A controlled study of Hostile-Helpless states of mind among borderline and dysthymic women.

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Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, USA.


The aim of this study was to determine whether women with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are more likely than those with dysthymia to manifest contradictory Hostile-Helpless (HH) states of mind. A reliable rater blind to diagnosis evaluated features of such mental representations in transcripts of Adult Attachment Interviews from 12 women with BPD and 11 women with dysthymia of similar socioeconomic status (SES), all awaiting psychotherapy. In keeping with three hierarchical (non-independent) a priori predictions regarding the mental representations of women with BPD, the results were that (a) all those with BPD, compared with half the group with dysthymia, displayed HH states of mind; (b) those with BPD manifested a significantly higher frequency of globally devaluing representations; and (c) they exhibited a strong trend toward identifying with the devalued hostile caregiver (58% BPD vs. 18% dysthymic). In addition, significantly more BPD than dysthymic patients made reference to controlling behavior towards attachment figures in childhood. These findings offer fresh insights into the nature of BPD and extend previous evidence concerning affected individuals' patterns of thinking and feeling about childhood attachment figures.

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