The Temporal Interplay of Self-Esteem Instability and Affective Instability in Borderline Personality Disorder Patients’ Everyday Lives

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Abstract

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is defined by a pervasive pattern of instability. Although there is ample empirical evidence that unstable self-esteem is associated with a myriad of BPD-like symptoms, self-esteem instability and its temporal dynamics have received little empirical attention in patients with BPD. Even worse, the temporal interplay of affective instability and self-esteem instability has been neglected completely, although it has been hypothesized recently that the lack of specificity of affective instability in association with BPD might be explained by the highly intertwined temporal relationship between affective and self-esteem instability. To investigate self-esteem instability, its temporal interplay with affective instability, and its association with psychopathology, 60 patients with BPD and 60 healthy controls (HCs) completed electronic diaries for 4 consecutive days during their everyday lives. Participants reported their current self-esteem, valence, and tense arousal levels 12 times a day in approximately one-hr intervals. We used multiple state-of-the-art statistical techniques and graphical approaches to reveal patterns of instability, clarify group differences, and examine the temporal interplay of self-esteem instability and affective instability. As hypothesized, instability in both self-esteem and affect was clearly elevated in the patients with BPD. In addition, self-esteem instability and affective instability were highly correlated. Both types of instability were related to general psychopathology. Because self-esteem instability could not fully explain affective instability and vice versa and neither affective instability nor self-esteem instability was able to explain psychopathology completely, our findings suggest that these types of instability represent unique facets of BPD.

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