Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Jenny Macfie

Committee Members

Deborah Welsh, Kristina Coop-Gordon, Hillary Fouts


Individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) experience severe and pervasive disturbances in the development of attachment relationships, identity, and emotion regulation. Given these deficits, there is an important need to understand the unique challenges mothers diagnosed with BPD are likely to face in parenting their children, as well as identify contextual variables that might be associated with maternal functioning and parenting outcomes. The current study used a low socioeconomic sample of children aged 4-7 of mothers with BPD, and a comparison group of children of mothers without BPD, to examine associations between maternal BPD, maternal borderline features, social support, and emotional availability. Results of the study found that social support played a mediating role on the relationship between (1) affective instability and maternal emotional availability, (2) identity problems and maternal emotional availability, (3) self-harm/impulsivity and maternal emotional availability, and (4) self-harm/impulsivity and child emotional availability. Contrary to hypothesis, the moderating effects of social support were strongest for mothers with low levels of borderline features; social support did not seem to buffer the effects of higher levels of borderline features on emotional availability. Results of cluster analysis also revealed 4 unique patterns of both optimal and nonoptimal mother-child emotional availability, labeled (1) High Functioning—Sensitive, (2) Low Functioning—Intrusively Hostile, (3) Low Functioning—Passive/Disengaged, and (4) Low-Functioning—Inconsistent. Mothers in Cluster 1 reported the highest levels of social support and the lowest levels of borderline features, while mothers in Cluster 2 reported the lowest levels of social support and highest levels of borderline features; furthermore, mothers in Cluster 2 endorsed significantly more problems with Negative Relationships when compared to mothers in Cluster 1. Mothers in Clusters 3 and 4 reported levels of borderline features and social support that were similar to the overall group mean. The results of the study are discussed in terms of developmental precursors to BPD, clinical implications for parent-child interventions, directions for future research, and strengths and limitations.

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