Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Jenny Macfie

Committee Members

Paula Fite, Heather Hirschfeld, Michael Nash


Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by significant disruptions in development, including but not limited to the development of attachment representations and a capacity to reflect on mental states of self and other. For the individual with BPD, these disruptions may greatly impact the development of her offspring, including an increased risk of the child developing borderline psychopathology. Examining the attachment representations and the reflective capacity of the offspring of women with BPD can add to the understanding of developmental pathways to pathology and resilience. In particular, assessing for BPD-related patterns in attachment representations, narrative coherence, and reflective functioning in adolescent offspring may be especially illuminating as it is in adolescence that BPD can first be diagnosed. It is also in adolescence when attachment representations can begin to be measured most directly given the cognitive capacities gained by this developmental period. The body of parent-offspring attachment research that exists to date has focused primarily upon infant-parent relationships. Minimal research has explored adolescent-parent relationships. The current study examines a low socioeconomic status sample of 20 adolescents and their mothers where the mothers are diagnosed with BPD and a sample of 19 matched comparison adolescents and their mothers on: adult/adolescent attachment representations, the capacity for reflective functioning, and coherence in discourse regarding early attachment-related experiences. Measures utilized include: the Adult Attachment Interview (AAI), which measures attachment representations of adults and adolescents, and the Reflective Functioning (RF) coding system, which measures the capacity to understand self and others in terms of mental states. Results demonstrated no significant relationships between BPD and comparison groups on two-way or four-way attachment classification for mothers or their adolescent offspring. A marginally significant difference was found between groups of mothers on the capacity for RF. No such difference was detected between groups for adolescents. Narrative coherence as measured by the AAI was not found to be correlated between mothers and adolescents. Finally, affect instability, a main feature of BPD, was not found to be correlated with RF capacity. The implications of these findings, the methods used, and suggested future directions for research are discussed.

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