Session Abstract: Previous research offers mixed support for the hypothesis that stressful life events moderate the relationship between borderline personality and other mental health outcomes. The current study seeks to extend this literature by examining multiple different types of stressful life events (unemployment, the end of a romantic relationship, and combat-related trauma) and conceptualizing borderline personality in terms similar to the DSM-5 Alternative Model for Personality Disorders. The current analyses represent secondary data analysis of two samples of National Guard Soldiers who provided longitudinal data pre- and post-deployment. Borderline personality was measured using three of the MMPI-2-RF PSY-5 scales: Negative Emotionality/Neuroticism (NEGE-r), Psychoticism (PSYC-r), and Disconstraint (DISC-r). Depressive symptoms were assessed pre-deployment and at up to three waves of data collection post-deployment, alongside stressful life events that occurred during the intervening period. We will run hierarchical linear models predicting residualized change in depressive symptoms from borderline personality traits, stressful life events, and their interactions. We hypothesize that all three types of stressful life events will strengthen the relationship between Negative Emotionality and increases in depressive symptoms at follow-up. These findings will help clarify ambiguities in the previous literature by breaking down the heterogenous borderline personality construct into underlying personality traits and examining different types of stressful life events. This study will also lay the groundwork for future research to examine whether stability in certain life domains provides a healing context for these individuals.

Background and Purpose: Previous research has observed the potential for stable environments, such as employment or a romantic relationship, to support recovery for individuals with borderline personality features (Paris, 2003). Stressful life transitions in these domains may therefore present a double peril to individuals with borderline personality features, who may exhibit greater stress reactivity in the context of the events themselves in addition to the loss of any benefits of a stable environment. Research on normal-range personality has suggested that stressful life events may not moderate the relationship between personality traits and mental and physical health outcomes (Mitchell, Zmora, Finlay, Jutkowitz, & Gaugler, 2020). However, there is evidence that borderline personality features do show an interaction with stressful life transitions, at least regarding unemployment (Cruitt, Boudreaux, Jackson, & Oltmanns, 2018; Cruitt & Oltmanns, 2019). The current analyses extend these previous findings by examining whether multiple types of stressful life events (unemployment, end of a romantic relationship, and combat-related trauma) moderate the relationship between borderline personality traits and depressive symptoms.
Subjects: The current study will conduct secondary analyses of existing longitudinal data from two samples of National Guard soldiers participating in the Readiness and Resilience in National Guard Soldiers (RINGS) studies. The first sample (RINGS-1) was recruited from a National Guard Brigade prior to deployment to Iraq from March 2006 to July 2007 (Polusny, Erbes, Murdoch, Arbisi, Thuras, & Rath, 2011). Data were collected 1 month prior to deployment and 2-3 months, 1 year, and 2 years post-deployment. The second sample (RINGS-2) was recruited prior to deployment to Kuwait and Iraq from 2011 to 2012 (Erbes, Kramer, Arbisi, DeGarmo, & Polusny, 2017). Soldiers completed self-report measures 2-5 months prior to deployment, during deployment, 2-3 months post-deployment and approximately 5 years post-deployment.
Methods and Materials: In both RINGS datasets, participants completed PSY-5 scales prior to deployment. RINGS-1 used abbreviated versions of the MMPI-2 PSY-5 scales, whereas RINGS-2 used the full MMPI-2-RF PSY-5 scales, excluding Psychoticism. Negative Emotionality, Disconstraint, and Psychoticism have exhibited empirical overlap with borderline personality features in previous research and resemble the dimensions associated with borderline personality in the Alternative Model for Personality Disorders found in Section III of the DSM-5 (Bagby, Sellbom, Costa, & Widiger, 2008; Finn, Arbisi, Erbes, Polusny, & Thuras, 2014).
Depressive symptoms were measured using the Beck Depression Inventory-II in RINGS-1 and the Patient Health Quesitonnaire-8 in RINGS-2 (Beck, Steer, & Brown, 1996; Kroenke & Spitzer, 2002). Stressful life events were assessed using items from the Deployment Risk and Resilience Inventory (King, King, Voght, Knight, & Samper, 2006).
Analyses: We will run hierarchical linear models predicting residualized change in depressive symptoms at follow-up from the three borderline personality traits, stressful life events, and their interactions. Separate models will be run for each of the stressful life events and each personality trait in the two samples.
Results: We hypothesize that stressful life events will strengthen the relationship between Negative Emotionality and residualized change in depressive symptoms. We do not make specific hypotheses regarding the interactions of stressful life events with Psychoticism and Disconstraint and will explore these interactions in an exploratory manner.
Conclusions: These analyses will help clarify which borderline personality traits contribute to increased stress reactivity and the degree to which the type of event matters. A major limitation of the current analyses is that they will be unable to determine whether the moderating effect of stressful life events is due to the loss of the benefits of a stable environment or due to the stress of the transition itself. Future research should examine the potential role of employment/relationship stability in providing a supportive, healing context for individuals with borderline personality traits.

Corresponding Author: Patrick Cruitt | Minneapolis VA Health Care System

Presentation 1 Title: Do Stressful Life Events Moderate the Relationship between Borderline Personality Traits and Depressive Symptoms?

Presenters: 

Patrick Cruitt, MA | Minneapolis VA Health Care System

Jacob Finn PhD | Minneapolis VA Health Care System

Paul Arbisi PhD | Minneapolis VA Health Care System

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