Therapies — 10 May 2012

Certain personality traits seem to offer young teenagers in abusive environments some protection against developing BPD and ASPD, according to a new Australian study.

The same study found a separate personality trait was associated with a higher risk of developing the disorders in adolescents who reported no abuse.

Presenting the findings at the APA annual meeting, lead researcher and associate medical director at Orygen Youth Health, Associate Professor Andrew Chanen said that while abuse was a key risk factor, “temperament may be a particularly good candidate for moderating the effects of abuse and predicting a trajectory for personality disorders.”

The first prospective, longitudinal (though yet to be peer-reviewed) study to analyse early adolescence and personality disorders recruited 415 “high risk” 10-12 year olds from a cohort of over 2,400 randomly selected children using an early adolescent temperament questionnaire (EATQ).

After a two-year follow-up, the Melbourne-based team noticed “high capacity for self-regulation and interpersonal affiliation appeared to offer some resilience against developing personality
disorders for children in abusive environments”, Professor Chanen, who is also the President of the International Society for the Study of Personality Disorders, told Psychiatry Update.

Surprisingly, adolescents who reported no abuse but possessed “high negative affectivity” had heightened levels of BPD and ASPD symptoms at follow up, he said.

“The likely explanation for this is in high abuse environments the abuse overwhelms whatever temperamental vulnerability or resilience you might have,” Dr Chanen said.

“But in low abuse environments, being high in negative affectivity sensitises you to low levels of abuse. These are the kids that can’t brush things off the way other kids can,” he added.

The findings prompted Professor Chanen to warn clinicians against going on a “witch hunt” looking for abuse to explain their patients’ personality disorder.

“Therapists need to do a comprehensive evaluation and listen to their patients. If they say there’s no abuse they need to look for other aetiological factors,” he said.

As first appeared on Psychiatry Update,  10 May 2012

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