Monday, May 4, 2009

Borderline Personality Disorder | When Mom's an Emotional Terrorist

The following is a piece I just stumbled upon and found it so poignant, I thought I had to share it. My commentary is in blue throughout the piece:

Mother's Day and Borderline Personality Disorder: When Mom's an Emotional Terrorist

Terrorism had a face on September 11, 2001. It is also known as "9/11". The despicable act knows no boundaries. It is one-sided. It is disguised on its omnipotent goals. It is devoid of empathy and awareness of human feelings. It uses threats and suicide as its weapons. It is spurred by feelings of vindictiveness and vengefulness. For the terrorists, their actions are legitimate, justifiable and a response to an injustice. The terrorists become obsessed with a self-serving plan based on their distorted reality.

My commentary: the beginning segment's definition of terrorism so closely correlates with the definition of BPD it's incredible. Even though my mother and I have been estranged for 5 years now, she is still exhibiting no boundaries, is one sided, is devoid of empathy, and has taken actions that are completely self-serving based on her distorted reality. For example:
  • She is fostering a relationship with my half-sister who is the daughter of my mother's 1st of 3 husbands- the husband she divorced in 1968- under the guise of bashing me.
  • She promised to financially help my brother who is in dire straits after being estranged from him for ten years but then backing down and blaming it on my step-father.
  • She struck up a relationship with one of my professional colleagues and communicating a mess of hog-wash to her.
The Emotional Terrorist Defined

Hollywood film makers portrayed the Emotional terrorist character in many of its movies including "Mommie Dearest, Body Heat, Fatal Attraction, Sophie's Choice, Single White Female, Basic Instinct, Black Widow, and All About Eve".

History gave us Hitler and Osama Bin Laden as terrorist epitomes.

Erin Pizzy, referring to her work with women, explained the working definition of an emotional terrorist in the article "Working with Violent Women". An emotional terrorist seeks to achieve a destructive goal to her family member and carry out actions without boundaries. These violent-prone actions are seen as legitimate grievances. The real or imagined legitimacy turns into an obsession.

My commentary: interesting statement about seeking "to achieve a destructive goal to her family member and carry out actions without boundaries". My mother has exhibited this time & time again with my family-- almost systematically going after members of the family methodically, all with the guise that she is the victim. Additionally, she is very pushy-- without boundaries-- and when one reacts to her intrusive behavior, she retreats as if she's been personally attacked or rejected. And although she's the one that retreats, she tells everyone that she's been abandoned. Plainly, her behavior is very detrimental by outright lashing out & attacking as well as intensely pushing herself on others-- leaving a path of destruction in her wake.

The emotional terrorist has "unresolved tendencies from a problematic childhood'. The powerful, overwhelming outrage is a mirror to their childhood's painful memories. Thinking of themselves as victims, the emotional terrorist recreates their violent-prone past into their relationships. The emotional terrorist recognizes only her pain and thus becomes insensitive to the feelings of other family members.

The above definition puts a face to many personality disorders including borderline personality disorder (BPD). indicated that mental health resources showed 75% of those with BPD are women. The undetected statistics of men fall under the category of narcissism.

Mother's Day for Children of Borderlines

Many children of borderlines dread Mother's Day. The thought of having their mother feel special, important and loved makes them sick. They sift through Mother's Day cards in a store. They look for a card with nothing mushy written on it. Sometimes, a plain "Happy Mother's Day" print is what they would pick. They knew that their mother's response will always be "What do I have to be happy about?" Greeting card companies should start making plain cards for a specific market niche for children with emotional terrorist moms.

My commentary: the statement, "The thought of having their mother feel special, important and loved makes them sick" is intensely true for me. I have felt this-- I so wanted a loving relationship with my mother when I was younger. Once I became a young adult and she continually lashed out in inappropriate, vicious, and confusing ways, I was sickened by her actions and certainly sickened to honor her in a sentimental and touching fashion. The feeling of betraying myself, the one that she's treated so carelessly and flippantly through the years, makes me sickened more than anything. Additionally, the story of the girl that gets her heart ripped out is so reminiscent of myself with my mother-- the continual disappointment, the walking on eggshells, the agony of not being able to do anything right, and the GUILT.

On another note, on times when I have been sentimental with her, I have been met with rejection. For example:
  • As a child holding her hand in the movie theater, she pulled her hand away asking me what I was doing.
  • When telling her that I love her, she responds with, "Saying I love you should only be spoken if you REALLY mean it and shouldn't be said all the time". After that saying I love you was few and far between.
  • If ever I wanted a hug or kiss I would have to go to her... but I was always left with an empty feeling and one-sided .
Many daughters have managed to stop sending cards to their borderline mothers. Instead, they pick up the phone to call them with a simple greeting "Hi. How are you?"

Many children of an emotional terrorist feel confused when greeting their mother on Mother's Day. They notice their mother getting sweet and superficially thankful while obviously becoming uncomfortable. It occurs to them that Emotional terrorists like to behave like normal mothers. They know the stereotypical mother from watching them on TV. But, their expressions seem artificial and phony. The truth is they do not enjoy motherhood.

A real-life Mother's Day incident occurred with a borderline mother with 6 children. The children gave an array of gifts to their Borderline mother in bed early in the morning. A bouquet of flowers, personalized cards, hand-crafted gifts, coffee and breakfast in bed were offered by the family. The borderline mother, stunned by the surprise, gave an emotionless "Thank you but now look at the crumbs on my bed. The coffee is not even hot. Do you really know what I have to go through to raise awful kids like you? No one ever helps me around the house. I am like a glorified maid." Then, she bursts into tears of how her hard work as a mother is only appreciated on special occasions. She expects them on a daily basis. She draws out a list from her memory of how the children have ripped her heart out. The list amazingly covered a span of several years. Later that day, she drove the children to her in-laws telling the kids she deserves time by herself on Mother's Day.

Flowers, cards, gifts and calls you give a borderline mother are never good enough. The common statement after giving it to them is "Thank you but..." Some have sent Mother's Day cards to their borderline mothers only to receive photocopies of their own cards a few years down the road. Borderlines must constantly accumulate evidences of their good parenting skills.

The over-sentimental fanfares on Mother's Day elicit anger feelings from children of borderlines. As they struggle to keep their head above the water, their borderline mother throws a boulder to keep them beneath the water. Every child of a Borderline has this fantasy of sitting down their mother and telling her "Look here. This is what you have done. Look at me. I am broken because of you." The children of Borderlines have no voice.

My commentary: SO TRUE: "Every child of a Borderline has this fantasy of sitting down their mother and telling her, 'Look here. This is what you have done. Look at me. I am broken because of you.' The children of Borderlines have no voice." The only voice I have with my mother is silence and estrangement. She tends to misconstrue, manipulate, and hear what she wants to hear when I have tried to communicate-- and she doesn't allow my feelings to be felt or expressed (ie: what happened during my childhood, what happened during my parents' nasty divorce, what occurred to spur off our previous estrangements). I am not allowed my viewpoints of my childhood, she reiterates over & over about what a wonderful childhood I had, and she thinks that childhood has no bearing on who you are or how you function as an adult. In other words, communication has been a dead-end with her.

Even if I told her 'Look here. This is what you have done. Look at me. I am broken because of you' she would say I am making that up, that I am wrong, and that I am exaggerating. Saying nothing and being estranged is the healthiest option all the way around; however, if she could REALLY understand and see what she's done, I would LOVE to say my peace with her. But that's not going to happen-- she is not based in reality, as, like this piece says, "For the terrorists, their actions are legitimate, justifiable and a response to an injustice".


On Mother's Day, we are programmed to celebrate and appreciate motherhood. Many grown daughters and sons of Borderline mothers have opted for closure, limited or no contact. They live at arms length from their emotional terrorist mothers. Otherwise, Mother's Day is another episode of the endless drama. The drama includes the Borderline mother fighting with their Dad all the time, wailing hysterically, door banging and things breaking.

A facade of normalcy is displayed to the outside world. But in reality, these children live in self-contained prison camps. While a traditional greeting card will say "My mother , you are a guiding light" for children of borderlines their mother is like a "guard tower spot light in a prison". You cannot escape.

The beautiful personifications of motherhood for children of borderlines are imagined. The sad reality is children have no legal rights for even the Department of Social Services (DSS) will take no action until there is broken skin. The judges of the family courts continue to give visitation rights for the law must protect the parental rights of mothers. What about the broken spirits and shattered dreams of the victims?

Mother's Day seems to be a life sentence for children of Borderline mothers until they find a way to navigate to the spiritual side of their sufferings.

My commentary: "Mother's Day seems to be a life sentence for children of Borderline mothers until they find a way to navigate to the spiritual side of their sufferings"... and this is so true. Validation, self acceptance, and freedom from guilt are necessary. Getting away (and STAYING AWAY) from the threat of the terrorist and her weapons is vital. Terrorists don't change...



  1. Have you seen this analysis of Understanding the Borderline Mother?

    It has some excellent commentary and fully describes what our lives with our emotional terrorist mothers were like. (be sure to click the tiny arrow at the very bottom of the first page to backtrack to previous posts)

    THANK YOU, Gretel, for this blog!!! You are a light in a dark place . . . love and HUGS! :)


  2. Thank you so much for the link! Love and hugs back at you! ;)

  3. My mother also has BPD. This year I've decided to disconnect. I didn't talk to her on Mother's Day and ignored phone calls and emails. I did a lot of visualizations about disconnection. It's her birthday soon and I'll ignore that too.

    It's taken a while to realize that there is no relationship, because she doesn't see me. There's been a lot of drama, and I felt I needed to somehow get through to her, either to calm the rapidly changing emotions or to make her understand who I am. But it just doesn't work.

    It's been over a month now, and I've realized that my identity was so wrapped up in that constant sense of uncertainty, violation, and mind fuck. (She has an MA in Counselling Psychology in addition to being BPD, so she really knew how to get in my mind). It's rather confusing not having that as much, and there is a lot of pain there that comes up without that constant war zone. But I think it's a great step.

  4. Matthew,

    Indeed you have taken a great step,not only in disconnecting from the drama, uncertainty, violation, and confusion, but also with taking time to deeply think about what you have been through in the past and where you are headed into the future (a future of peace, love, and support rather than the negativity, dysfunction, and toxicity in your past).

    Have you read Lawson's book, Understanding the Borderline Mother I highly recommend it, as she can clear up a lot of questions & confusion, as well as explain what you've been going through with a BPD mother.