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Personal Disord. 2014 Jan;5(1):88-96. doi: 10.1037/per0000059.

Affective behavior during mother-daughter conflict and borderline personality disorder severity across adolescence.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh.
  • 2Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.


Developmental theories of borderline personality disorder (BPD) posit that transactions between child characteristics and adverse environments, especially those in the context of the parent-child relationship, shape and maintain symptoms of the disorder over time. However, very little empirical work has investigated the role of parenting and parent-child transactions that may predict BPD severity over time. We examined maternal and dyadic affective behaviors during a mother-adolescent conflict discussion task as predictors of the course of BPD severity scores across 3 years in a diverse, at-risk sample of girls (N = 74) oversampled for affective instability and their biological mothers. Adolescent girls completed a structured conflict discussion task with their mothers at age 16. Girls' self-reported BPD severity scores were assessed annually from ages 15 to 17. Mother-adolescent interactions were coded using a global rating system of maternal and dyadic affective behaviors. Results from multilevel linear mixed models indicated that positive maternal affective behavior (i.e., supportive/validating behavior, communication skills, autonomy-promoting behavior, and positive affect) and positive dyadic affective behaviors (i.e., satisfaction and positive escalation) were associated with decreases in girls' BPD severity scores over time. Dyadic negative escalation was associated with higher overall levels of BPD severity scores, but negative maternal affective behavior (i.e., negative affect, dominance, conflict, and denial) was not. These findings suggest that the mother-daughter context is an important protective factor in shaping the course of BPD severity scores during adolescence and may be valuable in assessment, intervention, and prevention efforts.

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