In the title of this article I used the word “damage”. This word is a good description of how children that grew up in Borderline Families feel inside – damaged. Let’s go into details, what kind of emotions, feelings and actions are hidden behind this word. Many people in counseling who were raised by a borderline parent end up struggling with anxiety, low self-esteem, issues with trust and intimacy and difficulties being vulnerable with others.
Children of BPD parents routinely become overly sensitive to the moods and needs of others. They needed to adjust to their mothers mood and predict how she would react. Many grew up being afraid of their mother. They are constantly doing “risk assessment” monitoring their mother’s moods so they can manage the situations and protect themselves from anger and drama. In adult relationships they are responding to these invisible demands from other people. The problem is many times they are adjusting to something that other (healthy) person doesn’t expect them to. The “secret” demand is not really there like it was in their childhood. It is really difficult for them to go out of this mode and trust that nothing bad will happen if they don’t please the other. The realization that we are all adults, responsible for ourselves doesn’t come “naturally” to them.
Are my emotions real?
It is extremely hard not to doubt their perception for the children of BPD parent. Their perception was always questioned and their emotions were invalidated. This may lead to children who deny or question their emotions and emotional responses. If you are constantly told that what you are experiencing is not real you star doubting your feelings and your views of reality.
Children have a very difficult time expressing their feelings because they can rarely distinguish between their feelings and their mother’s feelings. This doubt is also shown in the perception of their childhood. Did it really happen? A part of them doesn’t believe it fully because it was always denied by their Mothers who never took the responsibility. Furthermore in calm periods, when the parent is behaving better they begin doubting whether the bad things actually happened. In adulthood this can be triggered every time someone is disagreeing with you. If you are not a 100% sure into what you wish to say you rather pull back and doubt your truth. More over even if you are a 100% convinced that what you are seeing is a red picture, you can become convince you may be seeing it wrongly, perhaps it is orange after all. You need a constant reassurance from others that what you are feeling and thinking is valid and right.
- “I’d been so entrenched in that fog throughout my childhood and early adult life that I was unable to see clearly the reality around me.”
- “When I found out, in 2006, that she’d drained my trust fund, I was horrified. But on some level, I was also relieved: so much of the nightmare of my relationship with my mother had happened in secret that I struggled to know if it was even real. But now I knew it was. Now, I had proof, and I could finally leave her, with a clean conscience.”
Hard to leave
Children of BPD parents have a really difficult time to physically or/and emotionally move away from their parents. Because they were hearing how bad of a child they were when they wanted to be independent they have trouble moving away or cutting their mothers off. This guilt is binding them to their mothers and it is really hard to cut it off for good. In my practice I mostly see emotional bond that is the hardest to let go. They feel obligation to visit their Mom, speak to her, make sure that she is O.K. Although it is apparent that they are not doing this because they want to but because it is expected from them.
They act and feel like they are never good enough. Lack of self-esteem is very common with them. They are really hard on themselves and at times even brutal. It’s like they internalized their Mothers criticism and now they are treating themselves the same way.
- “I grew up hating myself and relying on my mother for all of my self-worth.”
Illusion of love
The adult children of borderlines struggle with the illusion that they were loved when they weren’t. They feel lack of love towards their parent but they blame them selves for that. This loop is created because a Borderline parent gave them the constant feeling that they are not loving towards them because they are a bad, ungrateful children. They often ask “I must be crazy if I feel like this about my mother right” or “maybe I’m not a good enough child, if only I try harder, she will love me” not realizing they will never measure up in their mother’s eyes.
- “I feel like a horrible daughter for having bad feelings towards my mother. Sometimes I even think it would be easier if she was just dead. I try to explain my feelings to my boyfriend or a friend and everyone seems to think she is the nicest person ever. She manipulates everyone. They all think I am just being dramatic.”
Many escape to fantasy world during the childhood and if they don’t resolve what was happening to them while growing up also in adulthood. It is very common that they fantasize the death of a parent. Only children who were severely physically or/and emotionally abused have these types of fantasies. The fantasy is the only way to get out of the toxic environment.
- “I escaped my childhood like most traumatized children do, by disassociating from reality and fleeing into fantasy. There were window ledges and shade trees that called to me, closets and woods—places I could get away to dream.”
- “I remember playing Tom and Jerry cartoon nonstop in my head before going to bad. This way the only way I could calm down and fall asleep.”
Unadorned the guilt, doubt, feelings of unworthiness bring to a lot of anger towards Borderline Parent and their Childhood. They find it unfair (and it is) that they had childhood like that and all the problems that are coming from it. They feel angry that they need to go through the therapy while their Mother is not taking the responsibility. They feel angry that they need to face the pain while somebody else was the one who FUCKED UP.
- “I’m angry that I didn’t have a childhood, that I witnessed horrible things, was abused in many ways, and that my relationship with my siblings took a toll. I’m just pissed. But more than anything, I’m angry that my mother will never really “get it.” She’ll never see or understand the pain she has inflicted. Really all I want is an acknowledgment of what she has done and the amount of work I’ve had to do to dig myself out of this bottomless pit she dug for me. I want an apology. And then I want to be left alone. I’ve had to try to come to terms with the fact that I will probably not get that from her. Which just fuels my anger. Ugh. ”
Fear of becoming like Mother
The fear of becoming just like your parent can increase with age. Some even deny their wish to become a parent because this fear is running so high. They are trying to prevent the pain that they were feeling when growing up. Maybe comparison to you parent is not that obvious at first but it can occur in small everyday stuff like “I am not drinking coffee like my Mom did.” To overcome comparison and realize that same or similar features don’t make you your parent is really challenging.
- “I resigned to spend my life proving that I was not her. I’d place a mental check mark in the “not-my-mom box” when I hit a milestone. Attain a college degree. Check that box! Still speaking to my dad after age 21. Check! Not addicted to alcohol or painkillers. Check. In retrospect, being on constant red alert for mom-like tendencies was concerning.”
Children of BPD parents have trouble with interpersonal relationships. It is very often that they develop codependent tendencies. They can also use manipulation to maintain relationships or over pleasing behavior. It is not uncommon that they find themselves in destructive relationships which bring them pain. They are being unable to create a true intimacy. They are preventing it through constant fighting, distance (emotional or physical), manipulation, codependency etc. Because they were often told that the World is a bad place and they have trouble to trust people. Also to trust that they are worthy of love.
- “I just realized why all my relationships (platonic and romantic) are superficial and hence not long-lasting. I have constructed an invisible armor around me for protection. If they don’t get too close, they won’t hurt me.”
- “I have a hard time voicing my opinion and saying when I think I’m right. I’ve been in a relationship for 4 years and I’ve changed a lot during therapy. At the beginning of this relationship, I was pretty submissive and didn’t want to cause any conflict. I am now becoming more confident in myself and feel okay with a little bit of conflict.”
Perhaps the most difficult thing to accept is that Borderline mother is not capable of insight and will never truly understand why her child avoids her or sets boundaries with her. She is not taking responsibilities for her actions and is making you feel like you are overreacting or she was doing you a favor. It is really hard to accept that your mother will never acknowledge your feelings or agree with you when she is in the wrong. Yet alone apologize .
- “Why do you act guarded around me?” Child “Because you have hurt me in the past and I don’t want to be hurt again” “I hurt you! I don’t remember that. When?” Child “You used to hit me with a belt when I was a child”
- “I don’t remember that. You are making it up. You lousy shit”.
- “My mother could not apologize. She could not take criticism. When it came to discipline and power struggles, she had to win.”
What the future holds?
Unfortunately being raised in BPD Family makes you prone to the development of psychological disorders like depression, anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Narcissistic Personality Disorder and also Borderline Personality Disorder. Recovery from being raised by a borderline parent is often a lifelong process. Although it really gets better with time if you work on yourself. Being psycho-educated about what is going on is important first step towards understanding. You can only work on what you’re aware of.
I would recommend working with the therapies to help you deal with all the emotions, pain and feelings and give you the corrective experience. With time and many positive experiences you will be able to move away from the toxic dynamic. On that note it is also important to say that Borderline parents suffer as well. They have their own past traumas. That being said, parents are not off the hook for abusing their children. As an adult it is your responsibility that you take care of your own wounds before you become a parent. And it is very important that you start to take care of your childhood wounds, to stop the destructive cycle.