Pregnancy And The Development Of Personality Disorders

A study carried out in Finland, of more than 3000 women living close to Helsinki has suggested a link between pregnant mothers who experienced anxiety states during their pregnancies, and the subsequent development of personality disorders in their children.

The researchers suggest that children of women who experienced anxiety states and stress during their pregnancy are more likely to have babies that grow up to be children and adults  that develop personality disorders.

The Importance of Good Mental Health During Pregnancy

In the UK, the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have commented that the study highlights the importance of providing mental health and stress support to pregnant women both during the antenatal and postnatal period. 

The findings highlight the urgency of improving mental health services for expectant mothers.

What does a personality disorder mean?

It means that certain aspects of someone’s personality make life difficult for them and for other people.

People who are diagnosed with personality disorders can be overly anxious or emotionally unstable, they might become paranoid or anti-social – there are a wide range of types of personality disorders.

One in 20 people are thought to be affected by personality disorders.

People who are diagnosed with personality disorders are considered more likely to have other mental health problems, such as depression, or drug, alcohol and addiction problems.

Like other mental disorders, upbringing, problems with brain chemistry and function as well as our genes can play a part in the development of personality disorders.

Personality disorders and nature versus nurture

There have always been arguments about questions of nature versus nurture.  The Finnish research contributes to this and raises questions about how our genes and environmental experiences fit together to shape us and our personalities. 

These arguments and binary oppositions tend to leave little room to reflect on the dual interaction of environment and genes.  This study might be a breath of fresh air.

It is worth remembering that all ideas of some distinct separation between these points of nature versus nurture are somewhat artificial.  

There never was a time when your genetic material, the DNA from which you have been made, was not in an environment.  It was always part of your mother and father’s life before you.  I think it is more helpful to think in terms of the ongoing dynamic links between environmental and genetic factors.  This study fits with that.

Our cultural bias has tended to overlook these links

In nearly all cases when we refer to psychological problems, including personality disorders, we are referring to psychological problems that have been acquired as a response to events that have happened to us.  

We tend to develop problems as a consequence of life events, of things that have happened to us.  It is refreshing to see these links being made by the Finnish study.

  • Is it helpful to consider that your mothers’ pregnancy could have contributed to your personality?

Yes, because it helps you to understand more about your personal life story. The more we become clear about who we are, and the lives we have lived, the more we become clear about the link between how we feel today and the experiences we have lived through.  

When we make these links we gain insight and understanding into who we are, the kinds of emotional homes we have grown up in, how those things have shaped us.

Psychotherapy, nature versus nurture and personality disorders  

These ideas are not new to psychotherapy which has long seen the organic and dynamic links between our life experiences and our psychological experiences and moods. 

Babies and infants who acquire and internalise emotional stability may be more likely to develop into emotionally stable adolescents and adults.  

A certain number of people are referred to me with EUPD, emotionally unstable personality disorder (formally this was called borderline personality disorder – BPD).  In my experiences it can be unhelpful to describe this as a disorder.  

EUPD is usually something that has been acquired as a response to events.  To things that the sufferer has lived through.  Calling it a disorder makes it hard to see the personal dimension.  

When we refer to things as disorders we tend to create an unhelpful distance between the sufferer and their state of mind. 

Rather than helping them to see that this has developed organically as a result of experience, we make it sound like some alien condition.  We distance the person from their problem.  This is unhelpful.  Typically, a range of medication is prescribed, the efficacy of which is never particularly clear.  It is much more helpful when we understand the links ourselves.

Without linking your emotional experience and psychological states in the present, and the events you have lived through in the past, you are cut off from the reality of who you are.   Of how you have become you.

Considering a mother’s psychological state, and the implications of that state upon the prenatal child is a helpful perspective.  It adds another perspective or inclusion in thinking about the experiences that we all live through.

In psychotherapy, people often present their symptoms and unwanted emotional and psychological states as though they are illnesses that they want rid of.  They don’t have any sense that these states have developed and are a response to life experiences.  

On the whole, we don’t seem to be very good at thinking about our life stories, our autobiographies, and how our psychologies have developed from them, and in response to them. 

One of the key benefits of psychotherapy is that it can enable you to build up a clearer and more detailed understanding of yourself.  It can help you to make links between the events you have lived through and the person that you have become.  Grasping this is very helpful.  You become much better able to understand the moods and emotions you live through.  

  • You become better able to look after yourself  
  • You can make better choices about the kinds of partners you want in your life
  • You can become clearer about who you are
  • Culturally we tend to be drawn into quick-fix type solutions 

We are advised to take medication, try a brief therapy that will teach you how to focus on the future (CBT).  Focus on the life you want and stop dwelling on negative events from the past.  

These kinds of approaches often confuse things and make it harder for us to develop clarity about who we are. 

If we don’t make the links about how our personalities have developed, then we are likely to remain prisoners of our past.  

Cut off from the facts of our own lives we are more likely to fall back into unhappy and disordered psychological states without having a clear sense of why that happens to us.  

For many people, the Finnish study will help them to think about their life story and their emotional problems differently.  It will help them to think about where they have come from, and what kinds of lives, relationships, and homes they were conceived in.

How can Counselling Buckinghamshire help?

I have 20 years experience of working with people who are trying to understand more about how the events they have lived through, their key early relationships, may have had an impact on how their mental health has developed.

Working with Counselling Buckinghamshire may provide you with an opportunity to change the way old emotional issues and childhood experiences are hindering your adult mental health.

Contact me for a free telephone consultation to discuss how Counselling Buckinghamshire might be able to help you.