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Psychobiology and treatment of borderline personality disorder

  • C. Robert Cloninger (a1)


Borderline personality disorder can be characterized in terms of a profile of abnormal deviations on multiple personality dimensions using the temperament and character inventory (TCI). Borderline patients show poor character development, including low TCI self-directedness (irresponsible, blaming) and low TCI cooperativeness (hostile, intolerant). Their temperament is explosive or unstable due to a combination of high TCI harm avoidance (anxious, shy), high TCI novelty seeking (impulsive, quick-tempered), and low reward dependence (cold, aloof). Consequently they are usually dysthymic with an admixture of anxiety and anger, and regulate their social problems and intense emotions in immature ways. Genetic and psychobiological studies have led to identification of biological correlates of each of the TCI dimensions of personality, including individual differences in regional brain activity, psychophysiological variables, neuroendocrine abnormalities and specific gene polymorphisms. Each dimension of personality involves complex non-linear interaction of multiple genetic and environmental factors and, in turn, each personality dimension interacts with the others in influencing the way an individual directs and adapts to his or her life experiences. Systematic clinical trials have shown that these personality variables predict the response to pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatments. For example, high harm avoidance and low self-directedness predict slower response and more rapid relapse with both antidepressants and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Treatment with drugs and/or psychotherapy can be individually matched to the patient's profile of temperament and character traits, rather than treating a heterogeneous group of patients as if they had a discrete, homogeneous illness. Fundamental change in cognitive schemas depends on attention to all aspects of character, especially self-transcendence, which has previously been neglected in cognitive-behavioral therapy. Personality integration requires non-resistance to our natural intuitive awareness, rather than intensified intellectual and emotional defenses.


Corresponding author

Department of Psychiatry, Washington University School of Medicine, Campus Box 8134, 660 South Euclid, St Louis, MO 63110. USA. Tel.: 314 362 7005; E-mail:


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