Loneliness, Social Networks, and Social Functioning in Borderline Personality Disorder

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Persistent loneliness is often reported by patients with borderline personality disorder (BPD). However, empirical studies investigating this aspect of BPD psychopathology are sparse. Studies from social psychology revealed that social isolation and low social functioning contribute to loneliness, that is, the subjective feeling of being alone. The aim of the present study was to contribute to the understanding of loneliness in BPD by investigating its relation to social isolation and functioning in different domains of life. Subjective experience of loneliness was measured in 80 women (40 BPD patients, 40 healthy controls) with the UCLA Loneliness Scale. Social isolation and social functioning were assessed with the Social Network Inventory and the Social Functioning Scale. In addition, we assessed global functioning with the Global Assessment of Functioning. BPD patients reported stronger feelings of loneliness compared to healthy participants. In general, the level of loneliness was linked to network size, social engagement, and prosocial behavior. Diversity of social networks and functioning in the domain of interpersonal communication were associated with the level of loneliness only in BPD. A reduced variety of roles in social life together with impairments in interpersonal communication were particularly relevant for the experience of loneliness in BPD, suggesting an indirect path to target this psychopathological feature in therapeutic interventions. However, both social isolation and social functioning were not sufficient to explain the severely increased loneliness experienced by these patients, stressing the need for further investigation of determinants of loneliness in this clinical population.

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