Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Adult Child in Crisis with Personality Disorder Parents

How can two highly self-absorbed parents with personality disorders who raised two children with such dysfunction, carelessness, and disregard be expected to effectively help their adult son who is now in critical and desperate need? The answer is simple. They can't. And it's very intriguing how they chose to help him. Let me tell you about it.

First, let me catch up those of you who are just jumping into my blog at this point:
  • Understanding My Borderline Mother: my mother has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which is a serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image, and behavior. This instability often disrupts family and work life, long-term planning, and the individuals sense of self-identity. Additionally, the BPD suffers from a disorder of emotion regulation with unstable pattern of social relationships and impulsive behaviors.
  • My Dad, the Narcissistic King: my Dad is the prototypical narcissist (NPD), which is a personality disorder characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy. The NPD is described as turning inward for gratification (self-centered) rather than depending on others and as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, and prestige.
Now back to my brother-- he is in a very bad spot in his life. He has progressively gotten worse and worse over the years, with challenges starting when he was just a child. My parents recognized his behavior problems but didn't do much about it other than telling him what he should and shouldn't do. So, he didn't get any therapy, medical treatment, or professional behavior modification.

When my parents' divorce hit when he was around 10 years old, the problems grew worse, and by the time he was a teenager, he was out of control. He was a delinquent, using drugs & alcohol, skipping school, and getting into all sorts of trouble. Again, my parents didn't get him consistent medical treatment with a psychiatrist, but he did have two stints in drug & alcohol rehab.The places he went were simply insurance sucking shams, if you ask me. He was still getting drugs while in these places. Plus he made new contacts for when he got out, getting him into further trouble.

By the time he was an adult at 18 years old, he was a high school drop-out with no place to live. He entered the Navy but went AWOL after taking pre-paid salary with him (he was on subs which pay the salary prior to going out to sea). He followed a band for years, meeting a girl & having several kids. They got in trouble for welfare fraud somewhere along the way but got married and seemed to do well for a short period. That's until he lost his job and got a divorce.

Pretty much since then he hasn't had a steady job, and he's been living off of the kindness of other people-- which has been the last SEVEN years. He has been severely depressed and unmotivated. He has no life plan, can't hold down a job, and lies about everything. He hasn't been able to keep up with his financial obligations (namely child support) which has landed him in jail twice. He just got out from a 3 month stay, and he's the worst I have ever seen him.

Within the last two years or so, my brother has been crying on the phone to me as he wants to know why he does the things he does: lies to everyone about practically everything, clinically depressed, can't hold down a job, has no life plan, doesn't adhere to societal standards, and is so impulsive. Our conversations typically went down the path of how our childhood was so tough, how he didn't have a good bond with his mother & how his father basically pushed him aside for his new wife, and how understanding & accepting the past will help him to move to the future. BUT, as time went on and he kept digging a bigger & bigger hole, and he started talking suicide, I started to seek more answers.

I went to my Lawson book and started reading about the 'all bad' child and the 'lost child'. Then, I started thinking about my mother being BPD and my Dad being NPD and the effects that could have on a child genetically (my birth father is different than my brother's). Then, I started thinking about how he was as a child; how he was so bored all the time, how he needed extra stimulation to peak his interest, how he was so angry. Then a light bulb went off, and I thought of the Sociopath Personality. I plugged the name into Google. As I scrolled down and found the DSM-IV Definition of Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), I found a list of diagnostic criteria that matches my brother's symptoms perfectly. I went on to further research APD and the more I read, the more I knew I found something very important.

Now, how could it be that my mother is BPD, my Dad NPD, AND my brother is APD!?!? Am I proving that my entire family that I grew up with has personality disorders? How could this be? Well, I went to research more, and lo & behold, I found out something that truly was the icing on the cake-- all three of the personality disorders are the same type. All three personality disorders are DRAMATIC and ERRATIC. Finding this out was an eye opener, as the disorders are all linked, and they all stem from the same root: Cluster B Personality Disorders are evidenced by dramatic, erratic behaviors and include Histrionic, Narcissistic, Antisocial and Borderline Personality Disorders. WOW!

At this point, I knew I needed to talk to my brother about my findings so that he can get a professional diagnosis and therapy. BUT right around this time is when he had a court hearing (he has them every 6 months for child support arrearage payments) and he ended up going to jail for not keeping current with his financial obligations. While he was in jail, I wrote him a detail synopsis of APD, including the disorder's origination, how the disease manifests itself before the age of 15, diagnosis criteria, and complications from the disorder. He said that the entire description fit him and that he would take the letter to a psychiatrist as soon as possible to help with his diagnosis: Antisocial Personality Disorder: Letter to my Brother

Since then, he has finished his 3 months in jail, and my mother who hasn't seen him but twice in twenty years went up to meet him getting out of jail. In the past, my brother has depended on my Dad for support (both financially and emotionally however limited it may have been) but since my Dad is now 'over it' and 'tapped', my brother decided to lean on his mother. I warned him about the repercussions of this decision, but he thinks he can't manage life on his own and decided to use her.

My mother, on the other hand, is using him just the same. And when these two personalities get together, the results are tumultuous. Anyway, I believe my mother is not up there to help out my brother in the purest sense. I think she has ulterior motives, one of which is to meet her grandchildren for the 1st time (three are teens, one is younger). She went up there under the pretense of helping my brother but where the heck has she been for the last TEN years (they spoke during 1999 briefly), or the TEN years prior to that? I find it rather disturbing that she thinks she can waltz back into his life after the neglect and carelessness exhibited in the past TWENTY YEARS. And the further disturbing part is that my brother is allowing this to happen because he can't manage life on his own.

Now, what BOTH parents are failing to recognize is that my brother's troubles are NOT because he doesn't have a job or that he can't adhere to his court ordered financial obligations. THESE ARE SYMPTOMS of the overlying problem. He has a MENTAL ILLNESS-- and until that is properly diagnosed and managed, he will continue to not be a productive member of our society. My brother will continue to lie, con, land in jail, not hold down a job, and be depressed.

At the end of 2008, I asked my Dad to go up to see my brother when my brother was claiming he was going to kill himself. I told my Dad that the situation was dire and that my brother needs serious help-- fast. My Dad's solution was a several day trip where he took the grandchildren out shopping, bought my brother some fancy shoes, and made a list for my brother to accomplish. AHEM. If a list was all my brother needed to snap his life into some semblance of order, DON'T YOU THINK HE WOULD HAVE DONE THIS A LONG TIME AGO!?

Now it's 2009, my brother is getting out of jail and my mother is there to pick him up from the clink. HER solution is to get him on disability so he won't owe the child support and to help him get a job. AGAIN, they just DO NOT GET IT. He CLEARLY is mentally ill. Just talk to him ONE TIME and you can hear how depressed he is and how illogical & dysfunctional is thinking is. BUT forget about even talking with him: LOOK AT HIS LIFE. Simply looking at the facts surrounding his life, and you will distinctively see all of the toxic mess, poor decisions he's made, and the dysfunction. The man has not held down a steady job in SEVEN YEARS. He is tens of thousands of dollars behind in arrearages with the court system. He lied about paying his rent, the electric bill, and more. He lost his fiance due to taking advantage of her and lying to her. Getting him on disability is not going to take care of what got him into this mess in the first place. Getting him a job during the week that my mother is visiting is not going to take care of the underlying problem of why he hasn't worked steadily in seven years-- he will simply quit the job as soon as my mother leaves.

What is very interesting is if you look at the decisions that my parents have made in order to 'help' my brother:
  • My Dad (who is a self absorbed narcissist and all about the country club life & appearances) had the approach of a short visit, spending money, and making a list. He couldn't give of himself, and he did what he know how to do best-- give money not himself.
  • My BPD mother, on the other hand, is consumed with her own personal health. "... all borderlines are prone to hysterical reactions and feel particularly threatened by illness. Family members may be unable to distinguish minor injuries from major emergencies. The overreaction to pain or illness is a consequence of the inability to sooth and comfort herself. The all-good child often comforts, serving the role of parentified child" (Lawson). She has had declining health for the last decade and doesn't take care of herself (overweight, doesn't exercise, eats poorly)-- and she uses her health as a way of getting sympathy and attention, as well as to justify not working, staying reclusive at home, and not taking care of herself. So, her approach with my brother is focused on his physical health and getting him disability which AGAIN doesn't handle the overlying problem-- mental illness.
Each parent's solution mirrors their own dysfunction: my Dad with selfishness, money, and quick fixes, and my mother with focusing on physical health. Another ironic point is that my mother is educated in psychology and youth counseling-- rhetorically speaking, why isn't she seeing what my brother really needs? And if she does see it, why isn't she doing something about it?

So at this point, I am sitting back highly frustrated: (1) knowing what possibly could be my brother's challenge (APD) and (2) KNOWING what he needs more than anything else in the whole world is intense, thorough, and long term psychiatric help. Without it, he will continue to con people, try to find free rides, lie, be depressed, and not have a life plan. I am VERY scared of the outcome if he doesn't get help as he's talking suicide to me again.


  1. My father has bpd so I understand some of what you are going through. It can be difficult for him to think of anyone but himself and he is constantly overreacting to everything. I actually learned alot about bpd and what he is going through at htp:// I have learned a lot from this website about how I can help him cope with his bpd.

  2. First, I have to thank you for all of your brave words, as a newly realized COB myself, I cannot tell you how heartening it was for me to read your posts when I was searching for info online.

    Second, Christine Lawton's book is amazing. I read it in three days, couldn't put it down. I finally found the validation I never had my entire life in those pages & was able to finally realize that I'm not the one who's crazy.

    Thirdly, as the "all-bad" child of a Borderline mother (who also has a degree in Psychology, ironically enough), my heart broke for your brother while reading this post. In my experience, my mother has tried to both make me insane & focus on my "mental illness" so that she doesn't have to focus on herself. I have discovered recently that what I had always been told was insane behavior is actually ptsd, in part from the gaslighting and emotional abuse I received growing up, which created a perfect psychological state for trauma to have a devastating effect on my fragile psyche as an adult.

    Finally, while your brother may indeed have a serious mental illness, he will NEVER be able to heal while your mother is still involved in his life. I have come to consider my mother to be a toxic person who tries to poison everyone around her with her sickness. While I have a lot of compassion for my mother and try not to blame her for behavior over which I feel she has very little control, I know that for my own health & safety, I cannot have her in my life. You may never be able to rescue your brother from your mother's influence, and trying would probably cause you more heartbreak then it's worth. I have had to accept that my two youngest siblings seem to have found some strange, parasitic satisfaction from receiving my mother's approval, something which I myself suffered from until only a few months ago. I do think it is a situation of brainwashing & I consider myself extremely lucky that I was able to dig myself out from under my mother's toxic spell. Now, I feel I can only live my life with integrity and hope that my siblings will follow suite. Anyway, I just wanted to share some of my own experiences so that maybe you can find a bit of peace through camaraderie in an uncontrollable situation. (I realize this post is quite old at this point & I hope your brother is doing better now.)

    1. "While your brother may indeed have a serious mental illness, he will NEVER be able to heal while your mother is still involved in his life." --> amen and agreed. My brother is worse than ever.

      "I know that for my own health & safety, I cannot have her in my life." --> I completely understand and agree in regard to my mother as well.

  3. I'm starting to get boring, I know, but truly, I am so very sorry.
    They make such a mess-everywhere they go. We (the kids) are neither the first nor the last casualty, the walking wounded.
    Yk, with suicidal ideation, I hang up the phone and call 911 in their area. Let them send the police car with siren/lights flashing, the firetruck (ditto the light/sound show) and ditto the ambulance. I don't care how well educated we are, how close we are to the individual, they need more than we can provide. Let the pros do an eval in the ER. Some CBs threaten suicide frequently as a manipulative measure-NO, I'm NOT saying this is the case with your brother at all, 'K?
    Ultimately, if people are determined to kill themselves, they *will* be successful-ask any shrink or Mental Health provider. I absolutely do not want the suicide of anyone-especially one of my loved ones-on my shoulders. I know my limitations.
    Gretel, this is waaayyy beyond your ability to truly do much more than something very important: Be his Enlightened Witness while doing what you can to intervene with the Pros. All the love in the world is not going to save someone who's pain has reduced their hope to ashes.