In this series of articles I won’t talk about BPD but I will focus on the dynamic that is created when you are raised by someone who is struggling with BPD. Until now there was a belief that more women than man suffer from BPD. That’s why I will talk about mothers in this articles. But lately there have been studies that have shown misdiagnosis in male population. It is now believed that percentage between man and women with BPD is close to equal.
From the birth on, the connection between you and your child is very important. It is crucial for physical survival but equally important for psychological well-being of the child. Unfortunately not everyone is having luck with their parents which can lead to serious mental disorder.
Most people would not believe what goes on in Borderline families. The dynamics are intense, destructive, subtle and not readily apparent to the casual observer. BPD is fragile and unpredictable personality. They can be very successful but they struggle with interpersonal relationships. These may be associated with episodes of impulsive aggression, self-injury, and drug or alcohol abuse.
People with BPD are often described as a child in an adult’s body. These individuals can be incredibly immature and seem to be stuck at an early age of psychological and emotional development. Consequently BPD parents frequently parentify their children-meaning they make them responsible for their emotional and physical needs which is a form of a child abuse. While a person with depression or bipolar disorder typically endures the same mood for weeks, a person with BPD may experience intense bouts of anger, depression and anxiety that may last only hours, or a day at most.
A mother with personality disorder often lacks empathy, feels entitled, rejects personal responsibility for her behavior, engages in bullying and intimidation, is dishonest, has the relative morality of a small child, has chaotic and extremely dysfunctional relationships, has no sense of fair play and is completely self-obsessed. The borderline parent lacks insight and believes that she is the fine parent of an ungrateful child and goes to any length to prove that this is the case. But how is it to be on the other side? On the side of a child?
What dynamic is in BPD Family?
No space for you
Children of BPD learn to sacrifice their true selves because they need to be focused on her BPD parent in order to survive. They are emotionally or physically abused if they feel differently as their mothers. If they reject her offering (advice, suggestion, emotion) they are portrayed as a bad, ungrateful, disloyal children. Because of the attachment issues borderline mothers tend to smother their children and treat them as small extensions of themselves. Child learns quickly that it is best to get along otherwise there will be a conflict or the emotional cut-off. For a child who is dependent on their mother there is no other way then to sacrifice his identity and go along with her. The child interacts out of obligation. Autonomy, the freedom of self-direction and self-expression, is not welcome. The following examples shows how every situation turns out to be about her:
- Teenager child is telling her Mom that he feels depressed. Her response: “What do you have to feel depressed about? You know what I was going through when I was your age”. The feelings and potentially serious condition of a adolescent are ignored and denied. “Mom, I cannot make it to dinner tonight, I don’t feel well.” Mother: “You don’t feel well? I am still suffering from the Cesarean Section they gave me so that you could be born.”
- “Even when trying to confront the issue, any issue, it gets made all about her pain.”
Common defense mechanism of BPD is splitting. Which means that a person splits off the good and the bad in themselves and projects bad onto others. This can also be a reason why your mom is denying all the bad she has done and has chosen to see only the good in her.
In families splitting often occurs by having a good and a bad child. Borderline mother forced teams with the good child whom is required to behave like her. The all good child often feels guilty that they survived the abuse especially relative to a no-good child. This dynamic causes a toxic, estranged relationship between siblings. The lack of closeness is creating isolation, every member of the family is on it’s own.
The splitting also occurs by being good one moment (idealized) and being completely bad the next.
- “In our family my brother was always priced by my mum. He could get away with everything. Everything that was wrong felt on me and my sister. We were taking her emotional abuse. But to think about his relationship with our mom. He needed to be there for her in every moment, listening to her, defending her and sleeping in her bed till early teens.”
- “My Mom always priced me when I brought home the good note. She couldn’t stop giving me the compliments. How smart I am, how she admires my determination and motivation for school. The moment I brought home a bad note, well it wasn’t really bad, but it was not the best, I needed to sit and listen how lazy I am, how I will never become anything.”
- “I sometimes wonder if she will ever be able to have a conversation with me without saying something along the lines of, “You’ve hated me since you were a little girl.” And then she just calls up one day and all is well, as though she hadn’t just threatened to end our relationship a day before. Usually, I get split back to the light side (as I call it) when she needs something that she knows I can provide. Then I’m back to being a good person.”
She loves to help
With borderline dynamic there are three kinds of things connected to help.
1. She is often a valid member of a community. Willing to help everyone and give all she has to them. Sometimes she can literally give your things to somebody else in a name of help.
2. When it comes to helping you it often comes with a high price. The problem is the help is not being offered for truly altruistic reasons, but rather it is being offered to support the mother’s desired image of being a good mother. In case you reject her help it can be taken as an offense. Once you ask for help they can control you with that and try to win a fight with throwing it at you even years after. “oh, you can’t do this for me but I could help you get a job during collage.” The child quickly learns not to ask for help and tries to avoid his/her mom helping them because they know they will have to pay for it at some point or they will be paying for it forever.
- “Besides the fact that she’s done this so many times it’s turned into crying wolf at this point, her method of asking for help “with a knife to my throat” also takes away any of the warm feeling that I might get from helping her.”
3. She expects of her children to help her or better said save her from every emotional or physical problem she is having. They often play “I am your mother” card. “oh, you don’t want to do this for me but I am your mother. You should take care of your parents.”
Physical and emotional neglect is very often in Borderline families. People with BPD can be so absorbed in their own pain that they are incapable of taking care of their child. They can also escape to substance abuse or other addictions while leaving the child to take care of him/herself.
- “My mom locked herself in her room for days. I was very afraid that she will do something to herself. I was forced to take care of myself and younger siblings and also spending my energy to convince her to come out of the room.”
- “She rarely showed affection. She would also get onto my brother and me if we said, “I love you”, as she would scold us and say to only say that phrase if you REALLY mean it. She would never come to you and show affection. We would go to her for hugs and kisses. I remember trying to hold her hand in the movie theater and her pulling her hand away, looking at me funny.”
Rage outbursts are very common in BPD families.
- “Once my father moved out and I became a preteen, something changed. My mother and I started fighting. We fought the way I remembered my parents fighting: brutal, out-of-control arguments that would last for hours. I couldn’t tell if this was normal or not.
- “My mother would fly into rages, telling me how awful I was for hours, and then, moments later, would coolly ask me what I wanted for dinner, appearing to not even remember that it had happened. She acted like I was crazy, and so I assumed that I was. She took me to a child psychologist to deal with whatever supposed defects I had that led to us fighting so often. Then she pulled me out of therapy after a few sessions, when she got into a screaming fight with the receptionist.”
- “My mother could turn her rages and sadistic behavior on and off like a light switch. She would instantly become “normal” the moment another person entered the room. My mother could be nasty as a snake to my brother and me and then turn it off and be sticky sweet to whoever is at the door or on the phone. Even at a young age, this behavior made me sick.”
Mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder often put-downs, insults and criticize their children.
- “This is a woman who criticizes everything about me. From my “boring, plain, unadventurous” taste in clothes (not boring, just not enough like her), to my “annoying, inconvenient” pescetarian diet, to my need for a spiritual life (“religion is for weak, stupid people who need a crutch to get through life”). Although I am gifted with artistic talents that have won awards and put me on famous stages, nothing I do is ever done without a touch of criticism on my performance.”
- “I became keenly observant of her methods, never questioned her authority, and strived to be the best at everything, because anything less was a massive disappointment in her eyes.”
But on the other hand they are unable to accept the criticism. They can even go against the law of physics if necessary.
- “She didn’t see reason to change course if her direction conflicted with the instruction manual, or, say, the natural laws of physics.”
- “In college, I finally grew brave enough to tell her she had a drinking problem, but after three pointless attempts at an intervention, my efforts seemed futile. Her reality, no matter how factually incorrect or emotionally unjust, was all she could see.”
Blame and guilt
BPD parent can use guilt tripping for many different occasions to achieve what they want. Often they use it because they are afraid of the separation and are making their child feel bad every time s/he wants to do or go somewhere on their own. They of course don’t forget to mention “how alone they feel and how bad of a child you are because you are not spending more time with her”. Although the time that is spend with her is mostly in conflict.
Consequently you grow up blaming yourself for everything-for your mothers mood, for unsuccessful relationships that you are having, for wanting to have time for yourself, for eating too much, for eating too little, for not being “more” successful, for…
- “I proceeded to ask her why she always has to twist things to make me feel bad, and she proceeded to tell me that I should be ashamed of the way I treat her, and blamed me for making her feel bad. The meeting ended with her throwing her Christmas present, a check for the wedding (which she initially refused to contribute to in any way, and wanted me to invite about 5 of her personal friends) and some of my stuff through the window of my car, and tell me that she’s done.”
- “Out of the blue my mom asks me what I think about my new Mother in Law. I tell her that I’m very happy with her, and that she is a kind, patient, gentle woman, who listens and gives good advice, and always roots for me. Well, I might as well have crashed the car at that point, because my mother’s reaction was horrific, and completely manipulative. She said, “Oh good. You must be so happy to finally have a mother that cares for you.”
Abandonment issues are at the core of borderline personality disorder. They view separation as betrayal. They can use many forms of manipulation to try to prevent it. One of the most common manipulations is playing a victim, making you feel guilty, threatening with suicide and having an angry outburst. Abandonment doesn’t have to be real it can be something completely normal for child’s development. Like having a sleep over at a friend.
There are also other ways that BPD mother tries to prevent abandonment. One of them is to make the child her best friend. They develop a relationship with a child that is preventing him/her to become an individual. She may look to this child for comfort and validation rather than the other way around. It’s difficult to tell where the boundaries are between the mother and the child. Both tend to cling to each other in fear that the other one will leave.
It can also take the form of infantilizing their children. The mother is unable to tolerate her child’s developmental growth toward healthy independence. They find it difficult to adjust their parenting strategies to match the developmental needs of their children. Oftentimes, children who are being infantilized may develop depression, anxiety, developmental delays and may even be misdiagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. In the extreme form infantilization can lead to Munchausen by Proxy.
- “My mother always had a problem with either my Dad leaving (business trips, trips to see his family, extracurricular athletics) or her present husband (my step-father) going away. She stays home all the time, and presently has little to no friends.”
- “There will usually be some kind of message or voicemail that doesn’t leave you the option of ignoring her, sometimes over-dramatizing what is going on to the point where it will make me panic, or at the very least, make it clear that I’m a horrible child if I don’t respond right away.”
A mother with BPD may not be able to tolerate a loving relationship between her kids and their father. It is not uncommon for these mothers to speak poorly about their dads in an attempt to turn their children against them. The child can be used as a weapon to carry out her push/pull relationship with the father.
- “Throughout my life, she looks for signs that I am “betraying” her with my Dad. She asks leading questions or comment about how I should or shouldn’t do something that might involve my Dad, testing me to see where I stand.”
- “When my Dad showed me attention or gave me money to buy something nice for myself. She always punished me for it by silence for days or not giving me lunch money: “because your father already give you some.”
Mother with BDP is often jealous of her own children and sees them as a competition for attention, love, admiration and resources. The possibility that her child may be smarter, more attractive or popular can be very threatening to her.
- “Even before that I could never bring anyone around my mom because she’d always find a way to make it seem like she was the perfect mom. The sickest part is that people would think she was this wonderful Christian women that could be the mom they never had. These people would confide in her and tell their deepest secrets and she’d share them with me. Trying to hurt me by showing me how much everyone loved her and wanted her.”
- “I understand jealousy all too well. My mother actually slept with my first boyfriend to break us up. And she had a hand in my marriage crumbling as well.”
There is a high need of control with BPD parents. They believe that they are entitled to unilateral control over the children. It is common that BPD mother sees the children as her property. She feels that everything that is going on in the family needs to go through her. In BPD families there are times with over-involvement, intrusive behavior and periods of withdrawn, avoidant behaviors. These behaviors may also manifest as oscillations between hostile control and coldness. It is quite common for parents with BPD to attempt to control their children’s behaviors, feelings, and actions to a degree that inhibits their child’s ability to develop independently.
- “I always thought I had a great and loving mother who only wanted the best for me until I recently went to college. I realized it was more about controlling my life than actually wanting to help me. She was practically living through me. Every time I tried to tell her that she needed help, she became the victim and talked about how horrible of a daughter I was and all the lies I create.”
- “I can’t make my own decisions because she always made them for me.”
- “She always told me what to do and how to do it. How I should dress, who I should visit, with whom should I be friends, how should I prepared the food. She always corrected me in every way possible.”
It is very common for BPD personality to find a way to distract themselves from reality of life. They turn to any kind of substance abuse and addictions, overspending, workaholism. Basically they can make every item their current obsession until they move on to a new one. They distract themselves from being left alone with their thoughts. It is very common that they struggle at nights when everything calms down.
- “My mother is a shopaholic, and buys incredible amounts of stuff. She has purchased hundreds of hat boxes but she doesn’t wear hats. She purchased hundreds of shoes but she rarely leaves the house. As far as the eating, she is very, very overweight and binges on food through the night. She stays up all night and sleeps all day.”
- “She also tends to really focus in on things that can distract her. When she was working, she obsessed with her work and left no time for any social life, and when she retired, she found new ways to stay constantly distracted”.
Center of attention
BPD personality demands attention at all times. They often creates high drama in order to get and keep the attention.
- “On my wedding day my mother make it all about her. How her daughter is leaving her. She wept so loudly that we needed to stop the ceremony in order to calm her down.”
In Part I we saw what kinds of dynamics can occur in Borderline Families. In the second article (Part II) we will take a look at what kind of psychological burden a child who was growing up in Borderline Family takes with him/her.