Objective: The aim of this meta-analysis was to better understand the magnitude and consistency of the association between childhood adversity and borderline personality disorder (BPD) across case-control, epidemiological and prospective cohort studies.
Method: Following the review protocol (reference: CRD42017075179), search terms pertaining to adversity and BPD, were entered into three search engines. Random effects meta-analysis synthesised the size and consistency of the effects.
Results: 97 studies compared BPD to non-clinical (k = 40) and clinical (k = 70) controls. Meta-analysis of case control studies indicated that individuals with BPD are 13.91 (95% CI 11.11-17.43) times more likely to report childhood adversity than non-clinical controls. This effect was smaller when considering retrospective cohort (OR: 2.59; 95% CI .93-7.30) and epidemiological (OR: 2.56, 95% CI 1.24-5.30) studies. Findings were significant across adversity subtypes with emotional abuse (OR: 38.11, 95% CI: 25.99-55.88) and neglect (OR: 17.73, 95% CI=13.01-24.17) demonstrating the largest effects. Individuals with BPD were 3.15 (95% CI 2.62-3.79) times more likely to report childhood adversity than other psychiatric groups.
Conclusions: This meta-analysis corroborates theoretical proposals that exposure to adverse life experiences is associated with BPD. It highlights the importance of considering childhood adversity when treating people diagnosed with BPD.