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Borderline Personality Disorder and Memory

Are people with Borderline Personality Disorder really just lying when they claim that they don't remember their own (often abusive) behavior, or do they, in fact, have an actual memory loss concerning the behavior? Do they seriously expect other people to believe their sometimes hard-to-swallow revisions of events that were witnessed quite differently by others? Why do people with Borderline Personality Disorder claim so insistently that their version of events is the truth, even when it conflicts with others’ memories of the events; and why does that version always seem to cast them in the role of victim?

There is a vast amount of literature dealing with the above questions, from purely biological research concerning brain function, to theories on traumatic memory loss, to ethical speculations regarding the nature of such distortions of living experience. There is also controversy concerning these topics even among professionals, especially when human subjects are involved in the research, because everyone remembers the past in his/her own individual way. In addition, memory, such that it is, is faulty at best, and undependable when coming from a live subject.

The original psychological model of memory put forth by Sigmund Freud involved the “repression” of negative experiences or uncomfortable desires so that the functionality of the person's conscious identity, or ego (in Borderline Personality Disorder terms, the “authentic self”) could be maintained, which would otherwise be seriously threatened. According to Freud, this repressed matter does not entirely disappear, however. He believed that it expresses itself in the form of the psychological symptom. One of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder is that the person replaces his damaged authentic self with a false self, which is done unconsciously, having no conscious memory of the childhood events that caused him/her to do it in the first place.

Freud's original psychoanalytic method was based on his premise that memories could be retrieved from the patient's unconscious mind to his/her conscious mind by engaging in stream-of-consciousness discussions with a trained analyst. This was referred to as Freud's famous "talking cure." In other words, simply by talking, a person could retrieve previously “lost” (unconscious) memories.

Later theories of memory have rejected Freud's notion of repression. They offer models of specific cognitive (thought) mechanisms relating to memory, such as "minimization," "re-labeling," and "directed forgetting;" all of which combine to create the active forgetting of trauma, such as the trauma associated with a reliving of childhood experience that a person with Borderline Personality Disorder undergoes.

Current theories of memory, such as those put forth by Drs. Perry and Pollard, are more biologically-based models that look at the development of (and damage to) neural pathways that govern and store human experience. Others look at DNA-based research, concentrated on locating a specific inheritable genotype that would make some people more prone to memory problems than others.

This latest research goes a long way toward explaining why some children in a given family will develop Borderline Personality Disorder, and others will not. However, no biological research to date can answer the psychological questions of why people with Borderline Personality Disorder exhibit such negative, sometimes abusive, behavior, and why they seem to forget, or alter, their memories of those behaviors.

Whether it is due to repeated exposure or from an inherited disposition toward traumatic replaying of past memories, or both, some people dissociate when confronted with certain memories. In other words, they psychologically “turn off,” or mentally remove themselves from the scene. Theorists speculate that dissociation is the brain's way of coping with traumas, or memories of traumas, that the person with Borderline Personality Disorder interprets as posing a threat to their safety (whether it really is an actual threat or not).

Many researchers now view the repeated need to dissociate, as often observed in Borderline Personality Disorder, as a form of extended memory impairment. According to leading researchers Dr. Bessel van der Kolk and Dr. Judith Herman, the severe trauma overwhelms the brain, and the memories for currently-experienced events become fragmented and not accessible to one another, so the memory is not stored as a retrievably complete whole. This is a reasonable explanation as to why a person with Borderline Personality Disorder can give a quite different story of their memory of an event than someone else who was there; so, perhaps, it may be true that the persona with borderline personality disorder is not truly responsible for their gaps in memory storage and later recall – that they really are not lying.

About the Author

David Oliver is the founder of a one stop source of information on how to cope and deal with borderline personality disorder.

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