A meta-analysis on the association between emotional awareness and borderline personality pathology

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34 Citations (Scopus)


Theories on borderline personality pathology (BPP) suggest that characteristic emotional dysregulation is due to low levels of emotional awareness or alexithymia. This study is the first meta-analysis to systematically review and analyze the evidence. A systematic search of the literature was performed using PsycInfo, Web of Science/MEDLINE, and Scopus. The term “borderline personality disorder” was searched for in conjunction with “emotional awareness,” “emotional self-awareness,” “emotion recognition,” “alexithymia,” “emotional processing,” “emotional granularity,” “emotional intelligence,” or “emotion regulation.” All references in the included studies were reviewed for additional relevant articles. Thirty-nine studies were then evaluated in a random effects meta-analysis to assess the association between BPP and emotional awareness. An overall moderate positive association between BPP and emotional awareness was significant (r = 0.359; 95% CI [0.283, 0.431]; Z = 8.678; p < 0.001) along with high heterogeneity (Q(38) = 456.7; p < .001; I2 = 91.7%). Studies comparing borderline personality disorder to healthy controls yielded a strong association (r = 0.518; 95% CI [0.411, 0.611]). No significant difference was found between studies using instruments for emotional awareness and those using alexithymia instruments. The strongest associations with regard to aspects of alexithymia were found for difficulties in identifying and describing emotions rather than externally oriented thinking. The results corroborate a moderate relationship between low emotional awareness and BPP. However, the mono-method self-report used in almost all studies is found problematic and precludes drawing definite conclusions. Since leading psychotherapeutic treatments strongly focus on increasing emotional awareness, future research should address this issue and further examine to what extent low levels of emotional awareness, particularly alexithymia, can be treated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)362-384
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of personality disorders
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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