My Life With Crazy
A Place For Adult Children of Borderline Mothers to Share and Heal
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Borderline Mothers: Information on BPD

DSM-IV criteria

The DSM-IV gives these nine criteria; a diagnosis requires that the subject present with at least five of these. In I Hate You -- Don't Leave Me! Jerold Kriesman and Hal Straus refer to BPD as "emotional hemophilia; [a borderline] lacks the clotting mechanism needed to moderate his spurts of feeling. Stimulate a passion, and the borderline emotionally bleeds to death."

Traits involving emotions:

Quite frequently people with BPD have a very hard time controlling their emotions. They may feel ruled by them. One researcher (Marsha Linehan) said, "People with BPD are like people with third degree burns over 90% of their bodies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement."

1. Shifts in mood lasting only a few hours.

2. Anger that is inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable.

Traits involving behavior:

3. Self-destructive acts, such as self-mutilation or suicidal threats and gestures that happen more than once

4. Two potentially self-damaging impulsive behaviors. These could include alcohol and other drug abuse, compulsive spending, gambling, eating disorders, shoplifting, reckless driving, compulsive sexual behavior.

Traits involving identity

5. Marked, persistent identity disturbance shown by uncertainty in at least two areas. These areas can include self-image, sexual orientation, career choice or other long-term goals, friendships, values. People with BPD may not feel like they know who they are, or what they think, or what their opinions are, or what religion they should be. Instead, they may try to be what they think other people want them to be. Someone with BPD said, "I have a hard time figuring out my personality. I tend to be whomever I'm with."

6. Chronic feelings of emptiness or boredom. Someone with BPD said, "I remember describing the feeling of having a deep hole in my stomach. An emptiness that I didn't know how to fill. My therapist told me that was from almost a "lack of a life". The more things you get into your life, the more relationships you get involved in, all of that fills that hole. As a borderline, I had no life. There were times when I couldn't stay in the same room with other people. It almost felt like what I think a panic attack would feel like."

Traits involving relationships

7. Unstable, chaotic intense relationships characterized by splitting (see below).

8. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment 

  • Splitting: the self and others are viewed as "all good" or "all bad." Someone with BPD said, "One day I would think my doctor was the best and I loved her, but if she challenged me in any way I hated her. There was no middle ground as in like. In my world, people were either the best or the worst. I couldn't understand the concept of middle ground."
  • Alternating clinging and distancing behaviors (I Hate You, Don't Leave Me). Sometimes you want to be close to someone. But when you get close it feels TOO close and you feel like you have to get some space. This happens often.
  • Great difficulty trusting people and themselves. Early trust may have been shattered by people who were close to you.
  • Sensitivity to criticism or rejection.
  • Feeling of "needing" someone else to survive
  • Heavy need for affection and reassurance
  • Some people with BPD may have an unusually high degree of interpersonal sensitivity, insight and empathy

9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

This means feeling "out of it," or not being able to remember what you said or did. This mostly happens in times of severe stress

by Sarah Chana Radcliffe

What is a Borderline Mom?

Borderline mothers are people with Borderline Personality Disorder. This disorder is characterized by the following traits and symptoms:
  • an intense fear of abandonment
  • intense anger
  • alternating between seeing people as all wonderful or all evil
  • self-destructive behavior
  • unstable relationships
  • unstable self-image
  • may have suicidality
Many people with Borderline Personality Disorder were severely abused as children. Often, they were raised by parents who had the same disorder and were not able to parent in a reasonable, stable manner. Sometimes the Borderline adult has been the victim of sexual abuse, incest or other severe childhood traumas.

Living with a Borderline Mom

A mother with Borderline Personality Disorder can be very emotional and at times, quite out of control. A child's fairly normal misbehavior or mistake can trigger an intense temper tantrum. Verbal and physical abuse may replace appropriate discipline strategies. Drama, hysteria and crisis erupt where calm, thoughtful parenting should have prevailed. After episodes of abusive parenting, the Borderline mother may feel intense remorse and fear of losing the child's love. Acting more like a lost child than a parent, the mother may then beg the child for forgiveness or cry in front of the child about what a terrible parent she has been. 

The child who lives with a Borderline parent can become hypervigilant - always on guard for signs that Mom will become enraged. The child also becomes confused, never knowing whether he is a "good" or a "bad" boy because the mother's opinion swings wildly from one pole to the other. Because severe punishment can be meted out at any time for any infraction, the child may feel that he can never succeed in being good enough. The child may also end up parenting the mother, offering reassurances of love when the mother expresses fear of abandonment. 

A Life-long Struggle

Eventually children of borderline mothers grow up and leave home. However, the mother-child dynamic does not end. The grown up child still may feel insecure and may still try to please the mother or at least avoid upsetting the mother. The grown child may not yet realize that, in fact, his or her parent is ill. Instead, the child may still be engaged in frequent fighting, arguing, disconnecting and reconnecting for many years into adulthood or middle age before some therapist finally identifies the issue. 

It is important for people to realize that intense drama in interpersonal relationships and particularly the parent-child relationship, is never normal. Some sort of pathology is always at play. Instead of caring feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, guilt and anger, children of Borderlines can heal and find their own healthy centers. Usually professional assistance is required for this journey. However, once healing occurs, the relationship with the older Borderline parent can be renegotiated to protect the child better. Although the Borderline mother may never heal, the child certainly can. Seeking professional help is the quickest way to do so.

Borderline: Walking the Line

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