Cascades of Emotion: The Emergence of Borderline Personality Disorder From Emotional and Behavioral Dysregulation

Edward A. Selby, Thomas E. Joiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

279 Scopus citations


Theories of borderline personality disorder (BPD) have often considered it a disorder involving both emotional and behavioral dysregulation (Linehan, 1993), yet the connection between these phenomena has been elusive. The following paper proposes the Emotional Cascade Model, a model that attempts to establish a clear relationship between emotional dysregulation and the wide array of dysregulated behaviors found in BPD. In this model, subsequent to an emotional stimulus, ruminative processes result in a positive feedback loop that increases emotional intensity, and this emotional intensity leads to ensuing behavioral dysregulation. These behaviors then provide negative feedback, in the form of distraction, which induces temporary reduction of negative emotion and thus relief. The model is presented in a framework in which BPD is considered an emergent phenomenon (Lewin, 1992), in which the disorder arises from the total interactions of a network containing emotional cascades and other important factors. The model is then evaluated in light of various theories and therapeutic traditions, including both cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic, indicating that it is a model that may transcend traditional theoretical and therapeutic doctrines.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-229
Number of pages11
JournalReview of General Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Psychology(all)


  • borderline personality disorder
  • dialectical behavior therapy
  • emotion dysregulation
  • nonsuicidal self-injury
  • rumination


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