The Distinguishing Characteristics of Narrative Identity in Adults with Features of Borderline Personality Disorder: an Empirical Investigation

Jonathan M. Adler, Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering

© 2012 Guilford Press. This article was published in The Journal of Personality Disorders, vol. 26, iss. 4, p. 498-512, and can be found here.


While identity disturbance has long been considered one of the defining features of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the present study marks only the third empirical investigation to assess it and the first to do so from the perspective of research on narrative identity. Drawing on the rich tradition of studying narrative identity, the present study examined identity disturbance in a group of 40 mid-life adults, 20 with features of BPD and a matched sample of 20 without BPD. Extensive life story interviews were analyzed for a variety of narrative elements and the themes of agency, communion fulfillment (but not communion), and narrative coherence significantly distinguished the stories of those people with features of BPD from those without the disorder. In addition, associations between the theme of agency and psychopathology were evident six and twelve months following the life story interview. This study seeks to bridge the mutually-informative fields of research on personality disorders and normal identity processes.