Mechanisms Underlying Difficulties in Intimate Relationships in Borderline Personality Disorder: The Roles of Fear of Positive Evaluation and Fear of Abandonment
Rodman, Samantha Alison
Lejuez, Carl W
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Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a chronic and severe disorder, and leading researchers concur that difficulties within intimate relationships are a central problem within the disorder (e.g., Gunderson, 1996; Linehan, 1993). The focus of the proposed investigation is to uncover novel mechanisms that may underlie these difficulties. It was hypothesized that there would be a significant relationship between BPD symptomatology and difficulties with intimate relationships in an undergraduate sample. Further, it was hypothesized that this relationship would be mediated by the fear of positive evaluation (FPE), which was previously only studied in social anxiety disorder (e.g., Weeks, Heimberg, & Rodebaugh, 2008; Weeks, Heimberg, Rodebaugh, & Norton, 2008) and the fear of abandonment. Many aspects of the initial predictions were supported. Specifically, BPD symptoms, FPE, and fear of abandonment were all found to significantly predict difficulties within intimate relationships, as operationalized by fear of intimacy score, even when controlling for theoretically relevant variables (symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress; fear of negative evaluation; and social anxiety). These findings are important because they illustrate that, even at the sub-clinical level observed in this undergraduate sample, BPD symptoms are related to impaired intimate relationship functioning. Support was not found for the hypothesis that BPD symptoms would contribute uniquely to FPE. Instead, BPD symptoms were not found to impact FPE once social anxiety was taken into account, a finding that is in accordance with the strong association between social anxiety and FPE that has been documented in the literature (e.g., Weeks, Heimberg, & Rodebaugh, 2008; Weeks, Heimberg, et al., 2008). Therefore, it may be hypothesized that the link between fear of praise and BPD that has been observed in the theoretical literature may be primarily due to the high concordance rates between BPD and social anxiety. Further, it was found that fear of abandonment mediated the relationship between BPD symptoms and fear of intimacy. Thus, among individuals with heightened symptoms of BPD, the fear of possibly being abandoned may cause a more general fear of intimate relationships, leading to conflict within intimate relationships and avoidance of intimacy. Clinical implications of this finding are discussed.