Monday, August 24, 2009

Childhood Passport Filled with Toxic Guilt Trips

Ahhh, Those Guilt Trips

I went on so many trips with my parents that I can't even begin to count them. These trips weren't fun trips, however. They weren't vacations, get-aways, or holidays-- these trips were guilt trips. My parents managed to guilt trip me all the way into adulthood. Somehow, I always felt a great deal of responsibility and fault.

With a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) mother and a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) Dad, they were both masters at creating guilt trips. I tried and tried and tried to make each of them happy, walking on eggshells, at the expense of receiving none. That 'none' is the toll of living in such a relationship.

Childhood Passport Filled with Guilt Trips

So what exactly is a guilt trip? Guilt trips are about violating boundaries, controlling someone, and a method of manipulating through indirect and passive-aggressive tactics. Toxic guilt is associated with a desire to apologize, make reparations, and be forgiven for something for which you don't have responsibility. Toxic guilt stems from a focus on bad behavior that already occurred, is a negative and confidence crushing feeling, and is a matter of one's conscience. Toxic guilt is a tool used to make someone feel badly.

On another note, guilt can be 'good'. Good guilt makes you pay attention to the feelings of others and makes you feel badly if you hurt someone. It also redistributes emotional distress so that the wronged person doesn’t end up being the only one feeling poorly. Good guilt makes us apologize for wrong-doings and compels us to do things we don’t really want to.

When you're brought up in an environment where you have been unfairly blamed for the wrongs of others, emotionally abused, or pitted against one parent by the other, the adult child may not have the ability to stop feeling guilty-- this is toxic guilt. Absorbing feelings of guilt, accepting blame, and being passive contribute to the guilty feelings. This early pattern of accepting other's guilt creates difficulty with stopping feelings of guilt about the past.

Guilt trips are a very powerful tool, and I had a challenge with guilt trips and toxic guilt from my parents for many decades. In addition to the guilt, I started to have symptoms of anxiety starting in the mid-late 1990's. I believe the anxiety is a result from the long-term guilt I was experiencing compounded by the post traumatic stress that I experienced from the Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) and emotional abuse from my parents' personality disorders.

As a child after very traumatic experiences I had when my parents were tugging at my brother and me, I distinctively remember thinking , "I know I am handling this stress right now, but long term repercussions will show up later in life." I could feel internally the knots and sickness from the stressful & abusive experiences and buried it all deeply. I was a strong pillar for my brother and myself, but no matter how strong I was, I still had that guilt nagging at me with almost every decision I made that involved my parents. I never felt like I could win-- all the way up to the last estrangement with each parent (mother 2004; Dad 2008)

I have so many stories I could tell about the guilt trips I experienced through out 30 years; however, I have picked out a select few:
  • I can truly say that I was ripped in half during my parents separation and divorce, initiating in 1979. No matter what I chose, one parent was hurt or rejected. This scenario was not my doing, and my parents shouldn't have created such a scenario; however, they did-- and my brother & I suffered with traumatic, stressful, and decisions NO CHILD should EVER have to make. Choosing one parent over the other is HORRIBLE... and creates a guilt ridden situation that is a no win. To this day, I can't have a relationship with both parents at the same time. Note that my parents will say they didn't make my brother and I choose, and they will also say that we can have both of them in our lives at the same time. The Reality: The truth is that all FACTS surrounding the respective relationships illustrate that (1) we had to choose one parent over the other and (2) how we HAVE NOT had both parents in our life at the same time consistently.
  • When my parents separated in 1979, my brother and I lived with my mother while my Dad lived in an apartment about 2 miles away. My Dad would intercept me during my walk to elementary school and give me a ride. During that ride, he would cry and tell me how horrible life was without my brother and me. He would proclaim how much he missed us. Seeing him cry and hearing him profess how miserable he was truly played on my heart strings and I felt incredibly guilty for residing with my mother and leaving him all alone. The Reality: my brother and I were subjected to Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) as children, which this was one of the examples where my Dad inflicted the emotional abuse. With PAS, one parent tries to turn the child(ren) against the other parent.
  • In 1979 when my brother and I moved into my Dad's apartment, my Dad aided and abetted a heart-wrenching situation at Christmas. My brother and I were supposed to visit with my mother and decorate the Christmas tree. Due to overwhelming feelings of not being loyal to my Dad and also being very scared of my mother due to the PAS my Dad inflicted, my brother and I decided not to visit with my mother. I felt incredibly guilty imagining my mother all alone with the bare tree sitting there surrounded by boxes of decorations. For more on this story, visit Who Dunnit 1980 The Reality: my brother and I made decisions as children based on the severe PAS subjected by my Dad. My mother to this day holds my brother and me accountable as if we were adults at the time making these decisions. Multiple layers of guilt exists with this example.
  • In the early 1980's, I resided with my mother. She would have me call my Dad with a script of what to say. Additionally, she had the phone hooked up to a recording device. If I didn't follow her instructions, she would berate me on how my Dad is so horrible and how he has taken advantage of her and me. Not wanting to create a miserable living experience with my mother, I would follow her command and make the calls. The guilt I felt after the calls was immense. The Reality: Being a child under emotionally abusive conditions, I should have not felt guilty for which actions I was not responsible. My mother subjected me to Parental Alienation Syndrome (which this example is just one of many where my mother took extraordinary efforts to hurt my Dad), and I felt very guilty about how my Dad was being alienated and treated.
  • In the late 1980's, my mother and I were estranged; however, she made contact with me by showing up at one of my jobs. My Dad caught wind that my mother was trying to reenter my life. Subsequently, he showed up at one of my jobs to tell me that if I started communicating with my mother again that he would disown me. I mulled over the decision to open communications with my mother, and the guilt that I felt about choosing one parent over the other was very troubling and clouded my thought process. The Reality: Having to choose one parent over the other is extremely heart-wrenching and creates a huge fall-out in one's emotions, as no matter what your choice is, you hurt someone. My parents should have never subjected my brother and me to this treatment from childhood to present.
  • My mother was diagnosed with an illness in the early 1990's. I had opportunities for incredible career and salary growth; however, due to my mother pleading about how she was so ill that I couldn't leave her, I opted not to take the promotions. Her guilt trips halted my career growth as I felt stifled that any decision I made would leave her deserted in her time of illness and need. The Reality: I am the only one that can to control my life and to manage my life. Making decisions based on the guilt laden statements is not sensible or reasonable-- however, at the time, the guilt trips clouded my decision making and ultimately caused decisions that were not in my best interest.
  • My mother and I would get together every Monday for shopping and dinner in the early to mid-1990's. If canceled, she would send me on a guilt trip. I rarely canceled as the repercussions were worse than the joy I would have had with the friend / event. The Reality: a relationship based on control and guilt is not authentic. I was always searching for an authentic relationship with my mother and feeling forced into weekly visits with her only furthered the feeling of an inauthentic relationship.
  • In the late 1990's, my Dad and I started visiting often. During this time, he would slip me money in private. He would always tell me to keep it to myself and not say anything to anyone. I was very touched that he was thinking of me and reaching out to me: planning ahead to give me the money, pulling me away from the rest of the group, and showing interest in me. I felt guilty for the time that had lapsed in our relationship when we didn't have contact. The Reality: I found out years later that the money he was slipping me was from my grandmother's death-- the money that she left me that he never gave me when she passed away. So, not only should I have not wasted time feeling guilty for the time that lapsed in our relationship as I was not the only player in the situation, but I shouldn't have been so gullible to his overly generous gestures. Our prior estrangement was due to my Dad not paying for my college (which he was legally obligated to do per the divorce agreement where he obtained all the equity in the house from my mother in exchange for paying my brother's and my undergraduate college expenses), claiming me as a dependent after I had not resided with him for 8 years which prohibited me from attaining scholarships & grants, and dropping me from the group car insurance without telling me until I discovered I was driving with no insurance 6 months after the fact. People don't change, and I gave him too much credit, thus fell for it hook, line, and guilt trip.
  • When I met my future husband in 2000 and I knew our relationship was going to blossom into a life long journey, I fretted how I was going to handle a wedding. No matter what situation I imagined for my wedding, I felt guilty about the situation in which someone would be placed, whether my birth father, Dad, or step-father, siblings, or mother. No matter what I imagined, someone would be uncomfortable-- and that included me. My wedding was a no-win situation and one that I felt guilty about even before any wedding plans were made. The Reality: In the end, no amount of worry or guilty feelings prevented my mother from flying off the deep-end about my wedding. My mother was ready to be mad at me no matter, and we are still estranged to this day. I should have aimed to please myself and my fiance without worrying about trying to please everyone else as well.
The power of guilt is overwhelming. Guilt can cloud your decision making, lead to anxiety, and make your life your life one convoluted mess. Andrew Vachss in You Carry the Cure in Your Own Heart says: They use guilt the same way a loan shark uses money: They don’t want the “debt” paid off, because they live quite happily on the “interest.”

By the way, my debt is paid. I have stopped feeling guilty. And I can say that the guilt stopped when I took control of MY LIFE and started making decisions that were best for me. I stopped feeling guilty when I reassured myself that I am doing the best I can and that my parents are the ones treating our relationship with carelessness, disrespect, and abuse. Believing in myself and understanding my past have been powerful tools in combating guilt. And knowing that I am leading my life towards my aspirations and vision are incredibly liberating.

The Effects of Guilt Trips

With constant toxic guilt, a series of emotions and altered the state & structure of the brain can be experienced. Guilt can be immobilizing, cause anxiety & insomnia, and affect mental stability. Toxic guilt leads to the mind denying access to natural feelings that are now blocked. The guiltier one feels, the ability to make effective and healthy decisions is decreased.

Guilt can also have many negative effects on not just the mind but also on the body. "Guilt could potentially immobilize you. You can become so overcome by the fear of doing, acting, saying, or being 'wrong' that you eventually collapse, give in, and choose inactivity, silence, and the status quo" James Messina from "Handling Guilt".

How to Stop Taking Guilt Trips
  • Understand Yourself: be clear about who you are, what you want, and what you are willing to do. Acknowledging each of these assists in dealing with the abuser's agenda. Having this clarity makes you less vulnerable to the control of guilt trips.
  • Just Say No: communicate your limits and take control when someone is trying to lay a controlling guilt trip on you. Pleasantly agree to disagree. Be prepared for a reaction from the abuser that (1) you are being difficult or (2) attempting to place blame on you for creating a conflict by disagreeing. The abuser may even take the situation so far as to expect you to 'fix' the relationship if the result of you disagreeing throws him / her over the edge-- expecting an apology or promise to not disagree again. Stick to your guns and don't do it.
  • Echo Back: when someone is trying to take you on a guilt trip, echo back what is being communicated to you. For example, "Are you saying that if I don't _____, then I am not being a good son / daughter?"
  • Ask for Clarification: use his / her words to flip the situation back. For example, "I have the feeling that you are upset because ______. Is that right?"
  • Mental Toughness Training: simply put, push yourself over feeling guilty: (1) tell someone how you feel (2) be ready to stand up for your beliefs (3) be ready for the challenges that will come your way (4) let go of the guilty feelings (5) be ready to fight and continue to fight to keep control of the situation
  • See a Trained Professional: through the use of a psychologists, you can explore why you feel guilty and how to not take those guilt trips anymore
Overcoming guilt doesn't happen overnight, but with practice, a guilt free life is within reach. If you feel guilty again, go over the decision to think and act for the benefit of your mind, body, and soul again. Continue to practice the points above and know that you ARE worth the efforts! Now that I am guilt free from my parents, I can reflect back and see how controlling the guilt was and how my decisions were guided by these indirect and passive-aggressive tactics. In my situation, I wasn't able to truly break free from the guilt trips and toxic guilt until I was free of my parents. Once I maintained no contact, I have had closure-- I am free.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Borderline Personality's Hallmark | Fear of Abandonment and Rejection

The Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) individual possesses an intense fear of abandonment that interferes with many aspects of his / her life. The fear often acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy as they cling to others, are very needy, feel helpless, and become overly involved and immediately attached. When the fear of abandonment becomes overwhelming, he / she will often push others out of his / her life as if trying to avoid abandonment. The cycle most often continues as the BPD will then try everything to get people back in his / her life and once again becomes clingy, needy, and helpless. The fact that people often do leave the BPD only 'proves' to support the distorted belief that he / she is insignificant, worthless, and unloved. At this point in the cycle, the BPD may exhibit intense and sudden anger, directed both at self and others, as well a difficulty controlling destructive behaviors.

The borderline mother may display dramatic or hysterical behaviors, overreaction to illness and accidents, and dramatic displays of rage or withdrawl. BPD's can self-destruct as a result of fear of abandonment and often use emotional blackmail to control others. Children of BPD mothers often struggle with feelings of shame, anxiety, and guilt. My mother has exhibited all of the above, and as I result I have struggled with anxiety and guilt.

Distinctively I remember several times my BPD mother becoming uncontrollably hysterical in the hospital when I was to leave from visiting. I also remember when my Dad would go on business trips, my mother would become hysterical begging him not to leave her. She also has overreacted to her illnesses through the last two decades, creating a terminal illness situation where she is in dire straits. Yes, she is ill, but not so ill that she can't dust her thimble collection which she had me come over to take care of! And through the years, the mention of my Dad has always thrown her over the edge-- he's been the catalyst of her rage since their separation in 1979. And although the separation and subsequent divorce was between her and my Dad, I have been the recipient of her rage in regard to him. Even the smallest mention of him can send her into a fit of rage. She wields guilt with skillful agility, and she is able to skillfully manipulate your emotions to suit her needs at the time.

My mother and I have been estranged off and on in 5 year cycles for most of my life. During 'good' times, her BPD symptoms consisted of inappropriate social behavior, bouts of depression, impulsive behaviors (shopaholic, over-eating, hording, self-medicating), and unstable patterns of social relationships. During the 1999 - 2004 period, her dysfunctional and critical behaviors were not aimed at me, and therefore, we floated along in a relationship.

I had the opportunity to ask my mother why she became so enraged with the fact that my Dad sent me a box of dishes in 1996-- to the point where she called me a 'bitch' and hung up the phone on me and we didn't talk for almost 4 years. She explained that she wanted to be assured that I could live life without her. She said it was a test. Hmmmmm...

As a side note, I had been living on my own since 1985 (11 years at this point). I don't know why she would feel compelled to see if I could manage without her when I have proven I could live as a single woman for over a decade. If she was wondering if I could emotionally handle living without her, we had already gone that route when I was estranged from her in the 70's and then 80's for periods of time. Her explanation was rather bizarre (there's that word again!) BUT gave me reassurance for what I already knew-- my mother was the driving force behind the explosions of rage, her turn from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde, and the estrangements.

The estrangement in the 1980's ended after several years when my mother showed up unannounced at my job. I was flabbergasted when I looked up to see her standing there-- and I didn't want to hear what she had to say. I had made it on my own through college, I secured three jobs, I saved up and purchased a car, and I had my own place that I paid for on my own. I was out on my own and doing well, and I didn't feel comfortable letting her back into my life. I gave her a chance to speak her mind, sitting in my car after I got off of work. She said that she wanted to start repairing our relationship, explained that she got "help", and promised she wouldn't do what she did to me again (she became enraged that I came in town from college for a 24-hour period and didn't see her, stating that I don't love her. She asked me not to come home for Thanksgiving & Christmas and put all of my possessions on the street. I had exams and couldn't pick up my possessions so I had to send friends). I decided to let her back into my life after the talk in the car, and our relationship was okay for a period of time.

Prior to our current estrangement (2004 Little Women), my mother and I were getting along. We visited with each other at least two times a month, I was helping her to get her house organized & cleaned (including her illustrious thimble collection), and we talked on the phone often sharing life experiences. If my mother had remained stable as describe, I could tolerate her quirks and maintain contact. I never thought I had an authentic relationship with her, however, as I had to walk on eggshells around her regarding my Dad, my childhood, and any discussions related to either.

My current estrangement started mid-way through 2004 when she didn't agree with what my then fiance (now husband) and I were discussing in regard to our wedding. We didn't have any wedding plans; in fact, we hadn't even started doing any planning) In my opinion, the estrangement with my mother didn't occur because she blew up about the wedding-- the estrangement occurred because of:
If she simply expressed her disagreement with my wedding in a controlled and thoughtful manner, the estrangement may not have happened AT THAT POINT. Now don't get me wrong-- the estrangement would have happened as it's happened about every 5 years. SOMETHING would have set off her fuse and caused a blow up to which she would over-react. But the actual conflict, disagreeing with what I had to say about my wedding, wasn't the cause of the estrangement. The estrangement was caused by all of my mother's behavior THEREAFTER that got worse and worse and more bizarre as days when by. After only 24 hours, my mother had already started talking poorly and spreading lies about me & the situation to whomever she could email. Loving and supportive mothers do not treat their children in this manner.

And therein lies the root of the Borderline's tragic personality-- what drives the Borderline's personality is their real or imagined fear of rejection and / or abandonment. Clearly her cycles of depression, manic, and psychotic phases of BPD are evident through her patterns of estranged relationships: myself, her father, her sister, my brother, her three husbands, circles of friends discarded. So, with the wedding being an event where she perceived a potential abandonment, she flipped the situation to where she claims I rejected her... or as she puts it, I 'kicked' her 'out' of the wedding.

More specifically, Borderlines have such a fear of abandonment that they set-up a situation to be rejected. The BPD turns a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde, seemingly out-of-the blue, around the time that they feel threatened by rejection or abandonment. Along with a huge blow-up that is irrational and not based on reality, the BPD starts a campaign of denigration to turn friends and family against her target of rage (me in this case).

Despite how nonsensical this sounds to you the reader, this behavior is part and parcel of the BPD personality. The BPD is essentially beating the target of rage (me) to the punch by starting a situation that ultimately must end in an estrangement, and in the process attempts to gather the target of rage's (my) friends and family as allies in order to confirm that it's not his / her fault. The Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde transformation accompanied by the campaign of denigration is usually too much for the target of rage (me) to handle; thus the target of rage (me) retreats and the BPD's fears of abandonment come to fruition by all fault of his /her own. The result is an estrangement with the BPD pleading she /he is the victim. The target of rage (me) who went from being idealized to devalued almost instantaneously, is left stunned and puzzled in regard to the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde transformation.

Even in the absence of my wedding, another situation would have certainly presented itself where my mother would have flipped her lid, and the idealization of me would have instantaneously changed to devaluation. This pattern has presented itself in the 70's, 80's, 90's, and 2000's where my mother would flip her lid about petty or minuscule things ending with an estrangement.

Another point is that the incident that initiates the conflict is not what causes the estrangement. What causes the estrangement is my mother's behavior that progressively gets worse and worse thereafter: anger, venom, hatred, manipulations, gossip, and lies. Trust is damaged time and time again-- until the trust is completely lost. This present estrangement, unlike the other 3, is permanent.

The tragic cycle of the BPD:
fear of abandonment and rejection
resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Critical Parents | How Much is Too Much?

How much is too much criticism from your critical parent? How long do you keep on wishing things will change when things stay the same-- criticisms, judgment, and nit picking? How many second chances do you give your critical parent? What steps do you take deal with the critical parent? When do you draw the line and create boundaries? When do you separate yourself and when do you cut ties all together?

How to Deal with a Critical Parent

Understand that a parent who gives in to the desire and need to criticize a vulnerable child is on some level cruel, ignorant and completely unaware. Why else would they give in to the temptation to make their own children feel so badly about themselves? They either lack understanding as to what their words are doing, or they lack kindness. Either way, they are lacking. Every time they criticize you, tell yourself that this shows that they are the ones who are flawed, not you. Just remember that just because you're genetically linked (or adopted by) this person, doesn't give him / her the right to mistreat you.

How to address your critical parent can be a tricky proposition. People in general can become defensive, retreat, or run away. But when the person is your own parent, so many more dynamics come in to play. And although you may make the most honorable, loving, and concerted effort to keep the relationship afloat, your parent may not see things the same way you do. The following is a series of steps I took to approach my critical parents:

1. Do Nothing: For a long time, I did nothing. I thought that after time, the judgmental criticisms would go away when I proved myself to be worthy. I thought that after I exhibited my independence and showed how successful I was as a person, my parent would magically become this nicer, unconditionally loving, and careful parent. WRONG. Obviously, doing nothing won't change how your critical parent treats you. So if doing nothing is the option chosen, you'll have to accept that he / she is the one that is flawed and know that he / she will not change. I wasn't to that stage, as I kept blaming myself. Not until I started to understand that my parent was the flawed one did I start seeing the light and coming to terms with the relationship.

2. Communicate: I tried communicating my desire for an unconditional and loving relationship with my parent and expressed how I felt when I left from a visit-- dejected, empty, and sad. The result? My parent became more critical, more judgmental, and more dysfunctional.

Alice Miller encourages grown children to express anger and pain to their parents, not to punish or change, but to develop an authentic relationship. When you say no more, the word "no" is a word that never should be negotiated because the parent who chooses not to hear it is trying to control you. Declining to hear "no" is a signal that someone is either seeking to control or refusing to relinquish control.

So, if you opt to communicate your displeasure with your mistreatment, be firm with your stance and consistent with your reactions. Be honest and relate that the criticisms really hurt. Being honest like this is hard but if you want to have a relationship with your parent and not tolerate the abuse, speak your mind to try to improve the situation. Further, let the parent know that you no longer want to hear their criticisms and sharing them with you is no longer an option. And if your parent decides not to accept your feelings or your requests, realize that you own your feelings and that you have every right to feel the way you do and that every relationship has mutual respect. Be proud of yourself for standing up for yourself.

3. Set Boundaries: Setting boundaries was the next step. When I was a teenager, keeping involved in school activities and functions kept me from being at home and the recipient of the mistreatment. Once I was out on my own, I physically separated myself from my parents. For example, if you live next-door to your parents, consider moving to the other side of town. If you live in your parent's house, consider renting an apartment or buying your own home.

I also limited calls and visits. For example, if your mother asks you to call every day, politely explain that you are only able to call once a week. Or, if your father demands weekly visits, kindly explain that you are only able to visit one weekend a month. Along with limiting calls & visits, I set boundaries on the amount of time my parents spent at my home-- and dropping by unannounced was a big no-no. If violations of boundaries occur, let the parent know immediately and remind the parent of the boundaries.

In my case, the boundaries didn't help in regard to criticisms. The criticisms coming from my parent only accelerated as time progressed. Even if I only saw my parent three times a year, I left every single visit feeling terrible. My parent would completely crush me with snide or off-hand comments, cutting comments at opportune times, and make mountains out of mole hills leaving me completely baffled as to where this treatment was coming from.

4. Separate Yourself: Now I was forced to take the next step, which was to separate myself-- not a permanent estrangement or no-contact situation, but a time for reflection and review of the relationship. During this time, I politely turned-down invitations for get-togethers and avoided communications with the parent. My goal was that through keeping this space between myself and my parent, time may ease tensions and make appreciation for the other grow. My hope was that my parent would be more grateful to see me, softer with approach, and also realize errors in the way I was treated. Nope. Maybe things were a bit brighter upon the first visit after the separation, but the critical treatment quickly returned and at a greater intensity.

The single greatest power adult children have is the ability to GET AWAY. Simply talking aobut the source of danger does not make it go away. Saying, "I won't tolerate being treated this way" and failing to leave demonstrates lack of conviction and ambivalence.

Remember some parents have a need for perfection and tend to be judgmental by nature. They see the flaws, instead of the strengths, and in every human, if you look for flaws, you will find flaws. Such parents are wired to find the glass half empty, instead of half full. This has nothing to do with you, or who you are, or what you are worth as a person. Such people rarely, if ever, change. Let go of the belief that if you tried harder you would suddenly gain their approval. You won't.

The giver of criticism, rather than the receiver,
is usually the one who has a problem and needs to change.

5. Estrangement / No-Contact: So after decades of trying and progressive steps to try to 'create' a loving and compassionate parent, I decided to stop trying. First off, you can't change anyone... but YOURSELF. Second, life is too short. Acknowledging both of these points, I made a conscious effort to surround myself with loving, approving people. I broke off all contact with my critical parent and made sure that my life was filled with people who see the good in me and who aren't too afraid or too petty to give me the affirmation and positive feedback my soul deserves.

Sure I wish things were different. I would love to have a warm and loving relationship with my parents. Sure I wish I had parents that are accepting and supportive-- but that's not what I was given. And because I recognize and understand where my parents are coming from, I chose not to participate. I chose to be happy. I chose to have love in my life. I chose to have people in my life that see the GOOD in others.

If a person can't see the good in others, he / she is lacking
basic qualities needed for healthy human relationships.

I am presently estranged from both of my parents, but each relationship manifested itself completely differently. What was the drawing-line in one relationship was not the same drawing-line for the other. My Dad's relationship was progressively souring, whereas my mother's relationship was cyclical with a distinct blow-up suddenly initiating an estrangement. In other words, my Dad & my relationship was a slow decline leading to an estrangement, and my mother & my relationship went into an estrangement abruptly.

My Mother: the suddenly critical parent

My mother has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), and we've been estranged off and on in 5 year cycles for most of my life. During 'good' times, her BPD symptoms consisted of inappropriate social behavior, bouts of depression, impulsive behaviors (shopaholic, over-eating, hording, self-medicating), and unstable patterns of social relationships. During the 1999 - 2004 period, her dysfunctional and critical behaviors were not aimed at me, and therefore, we floated along in a relationship.

Prior to our 2004 estrangement, my mother and I were getting along very well. We visited with each other at least two times a month, I was helping her to get her house organized & cleaned, and we talked on the phone often sharing life experiences. If my mother had remained stable as describe, I could tolerate the quirks and would maintain contact. I never thought I had an authentic relationship with her, however, as I had to walk on eggshells around her regarding my Dad, my childhood, and any discussions related to either.

My estrangement with my mother started mid-way through 2004 (Little Women) when she didn't agree with what my then fiance (now husband) and I were discussing in regard to our wedding. We didn't have any wedding plans; in fact, we hadn't even started doing any planning) In my opinion, the estrangement didn't occur because she blew up about the wedding-- the estrangement occurred because of:
If she simply had blown-up about the wedding and then let things cool down to where we could move on, the estrangement may not have happened AT THAT POINT. Now don't get me wrong-- the estrangement would have happened as it's happened about every 5 years. SOMETHING would have set off her fuse and caused a blow up to which she would over-react.

And therein lies the root of the Borderline's tragic personality-- what drives the Borderline's personality is their real or imagined fear of rejection and / or abandonment. Clearly her cycles of depression, manic, and psychotic phases of BPD are evident through her patterns of estranged relationships: myself, her father, her sister, my brother, her husbands (3), circles of friends discarded. So, with the wedding being an event where she perceived a potential abandonment, she flipped the situation to where she claims I rejected her... or as she puts it, I 'kicked' her 'out' of the wedding.

More specifically, Borderlines have such a fear of abandonment that they set-up a situation to be rejected. The BPD turns a Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde, seemingly out-of-the blue, around the time that they feel threatened by rejection or abandonment. Along with a huge blow-up that is irrational and not based on reality, the BPD starts a campaign of denigration to turn friends and family against her target of rage (me in this case).

Despite how nonsensical this sounds to you the reader, this behavior is part and parcel of the BPD personality. The BPD is essentially beating the target of rage (me) to the punch by starting a situation that ultimately must end in an estrangement, and in the process attempts to gather the target of rage's (my) friends and family as allies in order to confirm that it's not his / her fault. The Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde transformation accompanied by the campaign of denigration is usually too much for the target of rage (me) to handle; thus the target of rage (me) retreats; therefore, the BPD's fears of abandonment come to fruition by all fault of his /her own. The result is an estrangement with the BPD pleading she /he is the victim. The target of rage (me) who went from being idealized to devalued almost instantaneously, is left stunned and puzzled in regard to the Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde transformation.

Even in the absence of my wedding, another situation would have certainly presented itself where my mother would have flipped her lid, and the idealization of me would have instantaneously changed to devaluation. This pattern has presented itself in the 80's, 90's, and 2000's where my mother would flip her lid about petty or minuscule things ending with an estrangement. Her disagreement with my wedding wasn't the reason for the estrangement-- my mother's reaction to the disagreement that was the reason. Her reaction was one filled with anger, venom, hatred, manipulations, gossip, and lies, which all led to a complete loss of trust. During the Dr. Jekyll times, things were good. During Mr. Hyde times, estrangements occur. Thus, the cycle of BPD.

My Dad: the always critical parent

In contrast, my Dad is a completely different story. My Dad doesn't cycle through varying behavior, attitudes, or dispositions. He is always a selfish and a highly critical narcissist, who is getting worse as he is getting older and retired. He loves the blame game and guilt trips. He enjoys criticizing, nit-picking, and judging. He's a prolific gossip and loves manipulating those around him for his gain. He feels like the world revolves around him, loves being the center of attention, and demands a great deal of praise & admiration from others. He takes advantage of those around him and lacks empathy.

Whether not my last straw happened in December 2008 (Holidays Leading to Last Straw), our relationship had been on the downswing for years. In fact, when my husband & I had left from our Thanksgiving 2008 visit, I knew that I would not continue subjecting myself, husband, and now child to this toxic, dysfunctional, and very criticizing experience. Since the early 2000's, I have left visits with him feeling empty, dejected, and sad. No matter how I set my mind to having a positive experience prior to the gathering, it never failed-- I would leave feeling horrible.

Conclusion-- How to Handle the Critical Parent

No two parental situations are exactly the same, so what may work in one situation may not be the best in another. However, doing something to improve your situation is imperative when dealing with a critical parent. By simply being conscious of the effects of criticism, you'll actually begin to negate the effects. Bringing to the surface the impact of criticism can actually help it dissipate and lose the power it has in your life.

Steps to gain control include: doing nothing, communicating your feelings and expectations, setting boundaries, separating yourself from your parent, and estrangement / no-contact. Steps can be completely skipped or passed through quickly depending on the individual situation.

Most importantly, let go of the hope that your critical parent will ever change. Stop looking for approval from the parent. Understand why the parent is like this, but stop looking to them for approval and support you will probably never get. Having a critical parent is not your fault, and you can't make this critical parent into a kind and approving parent.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Borderline Mother Alienates Daughter

One would think that my life would be filled with the love and support of family, having a mother, birth father, adoptive father, AND step-parents. My life is quite the contrary. Throughout my life my mother has manipulated and molded my life to suit her emotional needs. With "loyalty not a choice" for their children, Queen borderline mothers can be "vindictive when enraged, emotionally bribing and blackmailing others" Christine Lawson p 111. Here is how my Borderline Personality Disordered mother manipulated my life to the point that relationships are tarnished, splintered, and shattered... alienated.

I was born to a mother and my 'birth' father, and at a few months old, my mother divorced him in order to marry her high school sweetheart. He adopted me, and that is whom I call my Dad. My baby album and baby book were both altered, and absolutely no evidence of my birth father remained. This is the first example of Parental Alienation Syndrome used by my parents. No words were spoken about this birth father, but I did know about him. I didn't care-- my Dad was my Daddy, my father, and whom I loved. All my memories from the earliest are with my Dad.

When my mother had an affair with my Dad's best friend (late 1970's / early 1980's), and the tumultuous divorce happened (You Dropped a Bomb on Me), my mother moved into an apartment. If you read in the blog about the divorce and all the craziness that happened, my mother and Dad had a very dramatic, confusing, and hurtful divorce that involved us kids (Parental Alienation Syndrome). They both were going after each other with all they had-- which included using the kids to hurt the other.

Well, when I went to visit my mother for visitation when I was 13 years old, my mother, OUT OF THE BLUE, says to me one afternoon, "I know how to get a hold of your birth father. Would you like to speak to him?" I was taken back by the question but curious. I remember entertaining the notion, and we did speak to him for a short phone call. After that, I had no interest whatsoever talking to him again. LITTLE DID I KNOW, my mother used this information -- that I was in touch with my birth father-- to hurt my Dad. She leaked the information, making sure he found out. And I didn't find out until recently how much that hurt him. My mother is ruthless.

Now, later when I moved in with my mother as a teenager, she again pushed the idea of communicating with my birth father. What her motive was, I don't know for sure, but I feel like she was trying to 'right a wrong' (taking his baby from him and and abruptly leaving him the way she did) by getting me back in touch AND trying to hurt my Dad even more. Funny, but I was not interested in the least in getting together, talking with, or whatever with my birth father.

During a vacation with my mother and step-father, I got a case of food poisoning VERY BADLY. I was very ill on the drive home as well, but my mother insisted that we drive by where my birth father lives, in the dark of the evening, and meet him and his family at a McDonalds. Remember how much I have used the word 'bizarre' in my blog posts?? Well this meeting epitomizes BIZARRE. I didn't have much to say, and I was like an animal on display at the zoo. After eating some burgers, we got back in the car and were on our way again.

My mother definitely had an agenda.

When she and I had an estrangement when I went off to college (she claimed that I didn't love her because I came into town and didn't call her: Out of the Nest), she proceeded to call my birth father and his family and tell them ALL KINDS of outlandish things about me. She told them outright lies, very awful things (campaign of denigration). Why in the world would a loving, caring, and supportive mother do this type of thing to her child!? BAFFLING.

She certainly tried to create a wedge between my Dad and me, from the point I moved in with her in high school onward. She tried as hard as she could to discredit our relationship, make him seem so evil (nicknamed him Captain Nasty), and would become enraged if his name was even brought up. Parental Alienation Syndrome exampled again. Also, I think she has tried to alienate me so that I am dependent on her-- trying to guarantee that I wouldn't leave her. The hallmark of Borderline Personality Disorder shining brightly.

She has also brought up the fact that I have a different father than my brother to my brother at stunningly inappropriate times. First of all, why bring it up anyway--she created the deception from the very beginning! Second of all, I love my brother with all my heart & soul. I don't care of he's full or half blood, but why bring this up if it's not necessary!? Third of all, now that we are adults, and I know how I want to conduct MY life, I don't want to talk about the issue PERIOD.

Well, my mother hadn't seen my brother in TEN years when she went into the hospital for a pulmonary embolism in 1999. I flew my brother to see her as the condition could be fatal. This was the first time that my brother, mother, and me were all together in the same room in almost FIFTEEN years. So, we were all in the hospital room, and my mother was acting like Mr. Hyde. I don't know what got into her, but there she was in the hospital bed, being very boisterous, pushy, and rotten. I was trying my hardest to get my brother to the hospital in between working and so forth, and during this particular visit, I had to get to work.

OUT OF THE BLUE, my mother brings up that I have a different father, and that my brother "is ONLY" my half brother. WHAT!? Excuse me!? I was floored. My brother means the world to me, and to have her even step into that area to try to put a wedge into my relationship with him-- HELL NO. I remember feeling breathless and wanting to put my hand over her mouth. What is her purpose!? Again, what is up with her!? My brother was stunned looking, kind of blank. But I quickly changed the subject, and my brother followed suit.

I brought this up with my mother later-- saying that I would appreciate allowing me to divulge information about my life, and in regard to this, there was no reason to bring this up. She reminded that my brother being a half brother is only a 'fact', and I agreed but added that if the fact is so innocent and neutral why did she take such extensive efforts to hide this fact for DECADES. My brother has enough going on in his life (and believe me, he DOES), trying to shatter his sense of family for no reason is ruthless. Not only that, he is my ONLY family that is the pure, honest, and unconditional love from my original family unit of mother, Dad, and brother.

Next, about 6 years ago, we were sitting out on my back deck when she said that she is upset with my Dad to this day because he left her. SAY WHAT!? She said that although she was having an affair with his friend, she had no plans to leave my Dad. She said that she was forced to tell my Dad when my Dad's friend decided to tell his wife (he was in a miserable marriage and wanted out). Anyway, my mother said that although she admitted the affair and wanting a divorce, she said that my Dad abandoned her because he walked away. She said that he could have asked to stay and that she reminded him of that, but he just ignored her and walked up the driveway. All of this is SO typical borderline! Fear of rejection and abandonment! Anyway, that's why she becomes so CRAZY when my Dad is brought up-- he did the unthinkable for a BPD... he rejected AND abandoned her.

Once I was older, she would continually say to me how we are the only family we have and how much we need each other. I would never respond because I didn't view things the same as her. Although she had cut off her father, sister, son, and more, I hadn't. I didn't have an isolationist point of view like she did. She also talked about her Will more than once, reminding me that she would take care of me because my birth father won't be, my Dad won't be... so, she reminded, I should remember that she is the only one I've got.

Well, as I mentioned earlier, my mother and I didn't see eye-to-eye on my wedding thoughts: Little Women. And on that day that she blew up on me, saying that she is out of the wedding, she shouted out that she was going to call my birth father and tell him that he and his family aren't invited to my wedding. WHAT AGAIN!? This is the point that I got PISSED as it's one thing for her to be mad, threaten to stay out of my wedding, or whatever, but when she starts to bring people into her crazy rage, that's completely uncalled for. In the past she's started a campaign of denigration through letter writing and phone calls, but this time she is threatening to meddle right to my face.

I asked her why she would WANT to tell them they aren't invited when NO ONE was invited to the wedding as NO wedding plans had even been STARTED! She said again, "That's it. I am telling them that they aren't invited" as if to egg me on to talk about them. I told her not to mess with my life, and questioned why she would even want to try to hurt people like that, especially since it's an outright lie. Once backed into a corner, she went back to shouting that she is out of the wedding. I was baffled at her outrage. I was baffled at how she decided to handle herself. I was baffled at her attack on me. I was baffled at how she suddenly changed from the loving mother to the wicked witch.

By the way, my birth father wasn't invited to my wedding. Why would he be? My Dad is my father. Not only that, he was contributing to some of the wedding expenses-- why would I show my appreciation for his generosity by having my birth father, who gave up his rights as my father so that my Dad could take care of me since I was an infant, attend my wedding (especially given we don't have a relationship)!? What a huge slap in the face that would be! And why is my mother so insistent on having my birth father, Dad, AND step-father all in the same place at the same time!? Can't she see how uncomfortable that would be for not only them but for ME!? She left my birth father for her high school sweetheart (flying out to see her high school sweetheart BEFORE she even asked for a divorce), cheated on my Dad with his best friend, and is now married to my Dad's ex best friend. Do you really think these men want to hang out together? Isn't my wedding supposed to be the happiest day of my life? Why would she want to put me in such a NO WIN situation? And that's what she was trying to do that day on the deck when she brought all this up. I walked out of her house that day, and I haven't talked to her since. She, however, started a campaign of vilifying me that hasn't stopped to this day.

Looking back at my life, my mother created my path by meddling in my life:
  • Taking away my birth father by removing all evidence of his existence (creating the deception and the first alienated father)
  • Having me adopted by Dad
  • Trying to push my Dad and me apart by bringing my birth father back into the picture (taking the first alienated father to assist in alienating the second father-- WOW!)
  • Continually discrediting my relationship with my Dad to the present day
  • Starting a campaigns of denigration against me
  • Attempting to have my step-father replace my Dad (forcing the relationship)
Each move she made, she effected my life by trying to alienate me. She seemed to try to position herself as the only family member in my life, to create a dependence on her, and to attempt to guarantee loyalty so that she isn't rejected or abandoned (Borderline Personality Disorder).

As an All-Good Child, "forced teaming is an effective way to establish premature trust because a 'we're in the same boat' attitude is hard to rebuff" Gavin de Becker p 66. The Borderline mother promotes teaming with the All-Good Child with comments like "You're just like me" or "No one else understands me like you do" or like what my mother would always say to me, "We're the only family we've got". The Borderline mother's need to "merge" with the All-Good Child can push the child away-- just as my mother has driven me away.

"The Queen mother instigates chaos and conflict and then enlists her children to fight the ensuing battles" Lawson p 257. The Queen mother treats her children like "subjects", and adult children may take years to have the courage to tell the Queen mother the truth of how they feel, which may cause huge eruption. When I finally had the nerve to tell my mother how I felt, she completely blew up and we haven't talked since.

I have never felt like I had an authentic relationship with my mother due to not being able to express my true feelings about my fathers, or when I have expressed my true feelings about my fathers my mother hasn't accepted my feelings. Alice Miller encourages grown children to express themselves to their parents, both anger and pain, to develop an authentic relationship but warns of the danger of such openness with a Borderline mother. I have had to suppress feelings about my childhood, my parent's divorce, and my past with my mother as my mother is irrational, conditional, and not accepting of my thoughts, memories, and feelings-- it's important to note that returning to the past for the sake of the future is so important: to live life with unrestrained love and joy, to find your real self and free will. I don't have validation from my mother, her love is conditional, and her actions are vindictive. All of this has lead to my feelings of not having an authentic relationship.

Although my mother tried to guarantee my loyalty by alienating my fathers, she failed to keep herself honorable in my life as she has lost credibility, trust, and love through her ruthlessness, conditions, and bizarre nature of her moves. She did manage to effect my relationship with my Dad-- and of course effect my relationship with my birth father by removing him from my life as an infant. Now that she and I are estranged, and I don't have contact with my Dad either, I feel very alone in regard to parents... successfully alienated as a subject of my Queen mother's rule.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Feeling Like I Don't Belong to a Family

So through the years I have felt like something is missing. I felt like I have been searching for something from my mother and Dad-- some sort of answer. And recently I had an epiphany: I don't feel like I belong to a family. I feel like I am an adult orphan. Prior to my parent's separation (You Dropped a Bomb on Me), I felt like I belonged to a family: my Dad, mother, brother, and me. Additionally, I had a deep relationship with my maternal grandparents, which both passed away (1977, 1977). Shortly after the announcement of my parent's separation (1979), that feeling of belonging started to erode away.

Before my grandparents' passing (Fly to the Angels), I was my happiest when I was with them. I had some of the best childhood memories with them, and I still carry their love with me to this day. I always was so upset to part from them. I would choke back the tears and try to hide how very upset I was to say 'goodbye'. I remember this happening every time one of our visits ended, and I have never understood why (they were about a 2 hour drive away). I have my suspicions why, however.

I was born to my 'birth' father. When I was a baby (only months old), my birth father gave up his rights and allowed my mother's new husband (her high school sweetheart) to adopt me. My birth father's mother & father were told to say goodbye to me as they were never to see me again. Somewhere during this time, my mother lived with her parents, where my grandparents took on a very emotional & parental role in raising me. I apparently called my Grandfather 'Dada' and he loved me with all his heart. When my mother married my Dad, they moved me about 1,000 miles away. I was told that my Grandfather was very torn-up about me moving away, and I know how much I adored him, so I am sure I was upset too.

With these two events happening in such proximity in my first two years of life, one would have to surmise that the separations had to have an impact on me. Attachment for security and safety reasons is occurring in infants and toddlers during these times, and possibly I had some residual effects from being separated from three very important people in my life.

Years later, my parents moved me (and my newborn brother) back to the same state as my grandparents. As I said earlier, I had a very strong connection with them until they passed when I was around 11 years old. A year after they passed away, my parents separated. In such a short period of time, I lost my beloved grandparents and my parents divorced. A divorce is not necessarily a damaging or traumatic event for a child if handled responsibly, lovingly, and with consideration of the children. My parents did not do any of the sort, which given that they are the personality types that are seen in courts battling for years and years, their negatively toxic and dysfunctional behavior follows suit (Narcissistic Borderline Couples: mother = Borderline Personality Disorder; Dad = Narcissistic Personality Disorder).

During the separation & divorce, my parents used brainwashing and alienation in an attempt to distance us from the other parent. My Dad was the first to use this parental alienation-- and was very adept at wielding the guilt and scare tactics. He successfully made us scared of our mother, and eventually, we moved in with him. The Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was so damaging that my brother and I have taken decades to sort out what actually happened to us during this period of our lives.

When I went to visit my mother at her apartment, she instigated getting me in touch with my birth father (another attempt to hurt & alienate my Dad). I felt like an outsider, looking in at the father that could have been-- the father that allowed me to be adopted by another man and never having contact with me ever again. I have always felt like this relationship was decided when I was an innocent little baby-- the man that was my birth father disowned me. Why my mother wanted (and still to the last time I spoke to her in 2004) me to pursue a relationship with this man other than to hurt my Dad is beyond me-- possibly to right her wrongs? Possibly because she threatened him in some shape or form so that he would go away for good? What kind of man is that... who would leave his new daughter to another man!?!? Evidently, I didn't belong with him or his family.

Shortly after the divorce, my mother remarried my Dad's friend who had two children (one the same age me and one the same age as my brother) and then my Dad remarried a lady with two children (5 and 7 years younger than me). Two "ready made" families in a short time was a difficult adjustment (one + one = three more). My brother and I barely had time to digest our grandparents' deaths, much less the separation & divorce-- and much less the needs, wants, and expectations of all the players in these newly formed families.

My Dad's attention sharply turned to his new wife's needs, and from my point-of-view, he turned his back to my brother and me. The needs of my stepmother and her two kids (mostly her youngest, a girl) took precedence over my brother and my needs. I felt like an outcast in my own home-- and I eventually moved in with my mother (Moving on Over). My brother followed suit shortly thereafter.

In my mother's home, we were constantly having to pay the price for "choosing" my Dad over her (Run Forrest Run). She emphasized how much hurt she endured when we were living with my Dad, how we crushed her heart. She was mad at us kids, not accounting for the fact that we made our decisions as CHILDREN and were emotionally abused by our Dad. I again felt like an outcast in my own home-- not feeling like I fit in. I was the step-child of my step-father. When we went over to my step-father's mother's house, I was a step-grandchild. And above all, I didn't feel like I had a authentic and real relationship with my mother. I felt like all she was attempting to do was get back at my Dad by using my brother and me as tools to hurt and alienate him.

Throughout my 20's and 30's, if I had a relationship with one parent, I didn't have a relationship with the other. My Dad came up to one of my jobs in the late 1980's telling me that if I reconciled with my mother that he would disown me. He also told me on occasion that if my mother "died tomorrow" that he "wouldn't shed a tear". The parental alienation continued from childhood and teenage years into adulthood! And no matter how I tried to create meaningful and unconditional loving relationships with either parent, I was constantly left feeling empty and dejected. With both parents, I don't feel like I belong. "Children of divorce spend a lifetime, not just a childhood, negotiating the widely divergent worlds of each parent, a task that is emotionally exhausting and leaves the child feeling like that football—flying free, with no clear sense of belonging in either world. " Elizabeth Marquardt

If I was with my mother, she would constantly remind me that she is the "only one" that I have-- that my birth father and Dad wouldn't "take care" of me. I have been independent since I left for college-- why do I need to be taken care of? Just another attempt by my mother to alienate me further from both men and illustrating how the fear of rejection and abandonment define Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Another interesting point is that my mother would make comments that my brother is "only" a "half brother" (note that the fact I had a different father was buried for as long as I can remember, but once the information could be used by my mother for her gain, she spilled it out there). As a result, I would get upset and mad at my mother. Why would she purposely want to belittle my relationship with my brother? I believe she further wanted to reinforce that she is the only one I have, like I mentioned above. Whatever the reason for her comments, I now know why the comments would upset me so-- I felt a strong bond with my brother. I felt a belonging with my brother. No matter what happened with my parents, no matter what was the status of my relationship with them, I had my brother. So when my mother made attempts to take that last bond of our intermediate family away from me, I reacted.

If I was with my father, he never had time for me-- no simple conversations of how my life is going, no concern over how my jobs are progressing, no getting to know who I am. He has forgotten my birthday year after year. Whenever visiting at his house, I always felt like an outsider looking in-- I didn't feel included, I was criticized, and I was judged. He walks away mid-conversation; he interrupts to tell an unrelated story; he doesn't care. He is a true narcissist in that he caters to the ones who 'need' him and stroke his ego. Even in a house full of children that are his step-children or children of friends, I am treated lower than the rest-- invisible.

I would always leave his house disappointed and heartbroken as I always maintained high hopes of building a meaningful relationship with him like when my parents separated. The funny thing is that my brother and I have been searching for' that' Dad for decades. We haven't found him or that relationship again because it didn't exist. 'That' Dad was a fake relationship derived from manipulations and brain-washing of PAS. And once the outcome was in his favor (custody of the two kids) and he was remarried with a new family, the Dad that we knew during those divorce times was gone.

Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. I searched for my aunt for almost a decade (my mother's sister that my mother has been estranged from for 25+ years but maintained contact with my Dad), later finding out that my Dad did know how to contact my aunt but hid the information from me. During the time with my aunt and family, I felt included & important, part of something bigger than me, and the unconditional love & support that a family gives. The experience really touched my heart. Parting was so very difficult and when I got home, I had this constant craving to see them all again very soon (they live across the country). I haven't felt this connected and complete in a LONG time-- and I hadn't cried during parting like that since saying goodbye to my grandparents in the 1970's.

So through the years I have felt like something is missing. I felt like I have been searching for something from my mother and Dad-- some sort of answer. I haven't been able to put my finger on the feeling until just the other day when I was looking at my daughter and feeling such pure love and joy looking in her eyes-- I belong with her & my husband, she & my husband belong with me, I have family across the country is very loving & supportive- WE ARE FAMILY AND I BELONG. I haven't had that since I was 11 years old.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Did Dave Pelzer's Mother from "A Child Called It" Have Borderline Personality Disorder?

During the entire time I was reading "A Child Called It", I couldn't help but draw correlations between David Pelzer's mother (Catherine Roerva Christen Pelzer) and Borderline Personality Disorder. After I was finished reading the book, I started my search to see what mental illness Catherine had suffered. All I have managed to find was that she was mentally ill and an alcoholic. No details have emerged of what type of mental illness she suffered. So, with the facts about Catherine from "A Child Called It" and professional resources (namely Lawon's Understanding the Borderline Mother) about BPD, I will pose case that Catherine suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

David Pelzer paints the picture of a seemingly normal childhood until his mother's behavior changed radically. He describes his mother as a "wicked witch" on (pg 30), which hit the nail on the head. She exhibits the behavior of the prototypical BPD Witch. "The darkness within the borderline Witch is annihilating rage. Her inner experience is the conviction of being evil, and her behavior evokes submission... She is filled with self-hatred and may single out one child as the target of her rage. The Witch's message to her child is: Life is war" (pg 38) Lawson.

WOW. Catherine was most certainly filled with rage. Every page of that book, Catherine was filled with rage that she took out on her son day in and day out. Her inner experience is the conviction of being evil, where she even speaks of it on (pg 41) of Pelzer's book, "Now it's time I showed you what hell is like!" Throughout all of her abuse, her behavior was to evoke submission from David. She was constantly beating him down mentally, emotionally, and physically. He says that his soul was consumed in a black void from the intense abuse by his mother (pg 132). She certainly was filled with self hatred as indicated by her alcoholism, not taking care of herself ("Her once beautiful, shiny hair is now frazzled clumps. As usual, she wears no makeup. She is overweight, and she knows it. In all, this has become Mother's typcial look" pg 5), and being so filled with annihilating rage. And, the fact that the BPD Witch singles out one child as a target of her rage is so revealing because Catherine singled out David. For years he was the only child abused. When David was put into foster care, the younger brother was then singled out as the target of her rage.

David was without a doubt the "no-good child"; however, remarkably he didn't turn-out to be what Lawson identified as the lost child (pg 171). His mother, Catherine, called him a "bad boy", and an entire chapter is devoted to the "bad boy" David.
  • Catherine had David look in the mirror and recite, "I'm a bad boy" repeatedly (pg 31).
  • Even though he was successful with school, his mother told him he was a "bad boy" and held him back in the 1st grade (pg 36).
  • David was left out of Christmas due to Santa only bringing "good boys and girls" toys (pg 38).
  • His mother accuses David of making her life a "living hell" (pg 41) and talks to the other siblings saying how she didn't have to worry about them becoming like David, "a bad boy" (pg 43).
  • Even when David was awarded the honor of naming the school newspaper, Catherine says, "There is nothing you can do to impress me! Do you understand me? You are a nobody! An IT! You are nonexistent! You are a bastard child! I hate you and I wish you were dead. Dead! Do you hear me? Dead!" (pg 140).
As mentioned above, the BPD Witch's message to her child is that life is war. David recieved that message pretty early into the story as he states on (pg 43), "For the first time, I had won! Standing alone in that damp, dark garage, I knew, for the first time, that I could survive. I decided that I would use any tactic I could think of to defeat Mother or to delay her from her grizzly obsession." Catherine put David in the middle of an all out war with her, even making him sit in the prisoner of war position (pg 50, 84, 111, 114, 123) by sitting on his hands with his head thrust backward. Lawson states (pg 125), "The Witch's children feel like prisoners of a secret war."

In Lawson (pg 137), rejection triggers the desperate fear of sinking into the cold, dark abyss of abandonment, a fate the BPD Witch feels worse than death. Catherine was an alcoholic who had been drinking from the age of 13. Brought up in the Mormon community of Salt Lake City, she would hide in the outhouse during Prohibition to wince down bootleg whiskey. Her parents were divorced, which made them outcasts in that religious community, and Catherine was frequently locked in a closet, denied food, and told how despicable she was. Catherine primarily appears as a Witch, which a BPD who primarily appear as a Witch is filled with self-hatred as a result of surviving a childhood that required complete submission to a hostile or sadistic caregiver (pg 131) Lawson.

The BPD Witch is sadistically controlling and punitive with her children where they fear their survival. The Witch's children are forced to submit to her control and may be victims of sadistic emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. Lawson explains, "Therapists hear horrifying stores of child abuse that never make the headlines... Some children may not survive simply because they are too young to get away" (pg 122). David Pelzer is VERY fortunate that he survived his horrifying ordeal with his mother.

Throughout the book, David speaks of being able to survive his mother's abuse. He made a promise to himself when the discipline drastically turned to punishment out of control, "I knew, for the first time, that I could survive. I decided that I would use any tactic I could think of to defeat Mother... I knew if I wanted to live, I would have to think ahead... I could never give in to her. That day I vowed to myself that I would never, ever again give that bitch the satisfaction of hearing me beg her to stop beating me" (pg 43). He later refers back to that promise when he was stabbed by his mother, "I wanted to lie down and quit, but the promise I made years ago kept me going. I wanted to show The Bitch that she could beat me only if I died, and I was determined not to give in, even to death" (pg 91). He was a survivor from the start through his determination of thought. References of survival also include:
  • He also talks about that "water was my only means of survival" (pg 104) as his mother starved him for ten consecutive days.
  • Later, when his mother used chlorine gas while locking him in the bathroom, David relates that "to survive her new game, I had to use my head" (pg 108).
  • He started to lose his instinct for survival when his mother had him sit in POW style on a 1 inch diameter of rocks, stating "all my efforts for mere survival seemed futile. My attempts to stay one step ahead of Mother were useless. A black shadow was always over me" (pg 111).
Because the Witch emerges when the mother and child are alone, no witnesses can verify the child's experience (pg 125) Lawson. Catherine typically abused David when no one else was around, making sure to cover up the abuse if and when family members returned to the house. David says on pg 42, "I knew Mother never acted his bizarre when anyone else was in the house."
  • When Ron came home, Catherine ceased to attempt to burn David further on the stove (pg 42).
  • When Catherine tried to have David eat the dirty diapers, the abuse stopped when Ron, Stan, and David's father returned to the vacation cabin (pg 57).
  • David always noted that he appreciated when his father was home, calling him his protector, as the abuse was not as prevalent. (pg 101).
  • When he would come home from school and his brothers weren't home, David knew that his mother's "game" would be full force.
  • After Ron and Stan went go to bed, Catherine ordered David upstairs to feed him ammonia (pg 73).
  • David even devotes an entire chapter to "When Father is Away", starting the chapter with, "When he was home, Mother only did about half the things that she did when he was gone" (pg 101).
The BPD Witch can be cruel to the target of her rage; however other children may not perceive her as a Witch if they do not possess qualities that trigger her rage. With the information contained in Pelzer's book, Catherine did not treat the older two or younger baby abusively. They were immune to her physical abuse. Being cruel, the BPD Witch may make a statement such as "I'm going to make your life a living Hell" or "I'm going to kill you" (pg 137) states Lawson. Catherine said both of these statements to David: (pg 41) "Now it's time I showed you what hell is like!" and (pg 85) "If you don't finish on time, I'm going to kill you." David continues by saying that she said that same statement over and over for almost a week (pg 86).

The need for power and control over others is important to the BPD Witch as well as the need to elicit a response of fear and shock. Catherine certainly illustrated how she needed each of these. She exerted power over David, reducing him to a "slave" (pg 50, 84, 126), an "it" (pg 140), and "the boy" (pg 50). She controlled every part of his life down to what he ate (or rather, what he didn't eat). He was controlled through having to "work" constantly around the house with only being allowed to attend school. Her pathological "needs" resulted in David viewing his home as a "madhouse" (pg 104) and "hell house " (pg 137), as well as his existance as a "morbid life" (pg 116). He felt as if his soul was consumed in a "black void" (pg 132).

She used fear and shock throughout her abuse. He was relegated to the basement on a cot, not knowing when he would be fed, allowed to see sunlight, or beat (ten rounders (pg 111), whipped with dog chains (pg 116), broom handle blows to the backs of legs (pg 117)). He was often intense with fear: shaking, unable to concentrate, heart skipping beats, and startled. He was put though tremendous shocking situations such as being fed ammonia, subjected to chlorine gas, submerged under cold water for long lengths of time, burned on a gas stove, arm dislocated, stabbed in the abdomen, smashed into the counters breaking his teeth, forced to eat dirty diapers & rancid food, and so much more.

Children who resist the control face worse punishment. David did not resist her control. He knew the rules & punishments to his mother's "game": (1) if he took too long to do his chores, his mother would withhold food (2) if he looked at one of his siblings without permission, he was slapped (3) if he was caught taking food, he was subjected to hideous punishment (pg 83).

David did not resist control. He would do everything in his power to get his work done under her strict time restraints. He says (pg 50) during the time when he had to stand until summoned to perform chores, "It was made very clear that getting caught sitting or lying down in the basement would bring dire consequences. I had become my Mother's slave." Without putting up a fight, he took his "punishments": remaining in the chlorine gas filled bathroom, submerged under cold water & then forced to sit outside on rocks 1 inch in diameter (Bathtub and Backyard Treatment pg 114), and skating in icy cold weather without appropriate clothing (pg 120). Additionally, he would sit for extraordinary lengths of time on the bottom step standing and in POW position as she instructed. Once when he decided to not "take anybody's crap anymore" (pg 142), the results were a stomping from his brothers and Mother, a special batch of chlorine gas in the bathroom, and a choking.

Destroying valued objects and being intentionally withholding, the BPD Witch may intentionally withhold what their children need. David's mother withheld food from David, severely starving him. He only had his brother's left-overs from breakfast on occasion, a P&J sandwich with a few carrot sticks for lunch, and rarely any dinner. Due to the obsession to find food, David resorted to taking other kid's lunches, (pg 48), food from the grocery store (pg 59), frozen cafeteria food (pg 63), begging for food (pg 69), and frozen from from his basement (pg 79). He also would eat scraps from his garbage can after his family ate (pg 62) until his mother started to add ammonia to the waste or planting rotten food so that he would get sick (pg 63). She also would tease the starving boy by putting food in front of him then taking it away (Two Minute Game pg 105 -107). When she found out about his eating of frozen cafeteria food, she forced him to vomit it up by forcing her finger down his throat, scooping the vomit out of the toilet, and then eating the vomit later that evening (pg 66 - 68).

Along with withholding food, Catherine also intentionally withheld proper hygiene and clothes for David. Kids made fun of him for how he smelled calling him David Pelzer-Smellzer, and teachers not used to his smell wave their hands in front of their face. He was consistently in tattered and worn clothes, even if new clothes existed in the home for him.
  • David says, "Because my Mother had me wear the same clothes week after week, by October my clothes had become weathered, torn, and smelly" (pg 47).
  • He continues further in the chapter, "In September, I returned to school with last year's clothes" (pg 57).
  • He indicates that his mother had newer clothes for him but withheld them: "One Sunday during the last month of summer ... Mom let me put on new clothes that I had received last Christmas" (pg 123).
  • By the time he was rescued, "My long sleeve shirt has more holes than Swiss cheese. It's the same shirt I've worn for about two years. Mother has me wear it every day as her way to humiliate me. My pants are just as bad, and my shoes have holes in the toes. I can wiggle my big toe out of one of them" (pg 6).
The BPD Witch organizes a "campaign of denigration", enlisting others as allies against the target of her rage. "She may seek out friends, family members (including siblings and children), and co-workers of her victim in whom to confide fabricated stories designed to discredit her enemy" (pg 141) says Lawson. David's mother, Catherine, denigrated David by turning family against David including his father and other siblings. She also had the school turned against him, pegging him as a thief and "bad boy". She told neighbors negative things about David, further denigrating him. Many believe the allegations because of the intensity of emotion. When the ability to enlist allies disrupts and divides groups, such as neighbors and the school system, that could actually help him.

The Witch does not recognize boundaries and exploit the child's trust by denying right to privacy and humiliating & degrading the child.
  • Catherine stripped off David's clothes having him stand naked, where he "shook from a combination of fear and embarrassment" (pg 40).
  • For months, David was forced to sleep under the breakfast table next to a cat litter box with newspapers as his covers (pg 68).
  • After his mother made David drink dish-washing soap, David needed to use the bathroom and begged his mother to use the bathroom, and she refused. David "stood downstairs, afraid to move, as clumps of the watery matter fell through my underwear and down my pant legs, onto the floor. I felt so degraded; I cried like a baby. I had no self respect of any kind... I felt lower than a dog" (pg 77).
  • While lying naked in the tub submerged as his mother instructed, his brothers would come into the bathroom, glare at him, shake their heads, and turn away (pg 113).
  • After all the humiliation he endured, he talks about how he ate like a homeless dog, grunted to communicate, didn't care if he was made fun of, and nothing was below him (pg 132).
  • At one point, his morale became so low that he hoped to be killed (pg 141).
The BPD Witch seeks and marries a "Fisherman", someone she can dominate and control, which is EXACTLY who Catherine married. Stephen Pelzer was completely dominated and controlled by Catherine. He was a subservient partner who relinquished his will at her command (pg 179), as Lawson describes the Fisherman. Further, this type of husband has little or no self-esteem and see himself as a loser. He also fails to protect his children from abuse. All of these characteristics fit Stephen who does not step in to stop the abuse (pg 50, 58):
  • When David was first deprived of food, Stephen gives David scraps of food and tries to get Catherine to change her mind about feeding David.
  • Catherine and Stephen begin to fight, and as the arguments between them became more frequent, the Stephen began to change-- he is not around for David.
  • When David was forced to eat his own vomited hot dog, his father "stood like a statue"and watched him eat something "a dog wouldn't touch" after unsuccessfully "trying to talk Mother out of her demand" (pg 66 -67)
  • David's father stood by as David's mother refused to let David use the bathroom but instead had to use a five-gallon bucket to relieve his diarrhea (pg 77).
  • David's father started to help David with the dishes. Catherine stopped this, as well as she said that Stephen gave David too much attention. After that, David notes that his father "gave up" (pg 101 -102).
  • When David was stabbed by his mother, David's father didn't even look at David when David reported the incident.
David said, "I knew that Mother controlled him like she controlled everything that happened in her house... All my respect for my Father was gone" (pg 90 - 91). Stephen gave up on David without a fight and started not even staying at home on his days off. One day he told David that he was sorry (pg 103) and eventually left the family all together (pg151), leaving David at the hands of his terribly abusive mother, Catherine. David said that he was fully aware of his father's lack of courage to rescue him, and he hated him for it (pg 134).

Marsha Linehan, in her book Cognitive Behavioral Treatment of the Borderline Patient, describes the normalcy that BPD's present to others. When people around the BPD mother hear her complaining about her child, the assumption is that the child is troubled rather than the mother. Further in social settings, the BPD mother may be engaging, gracious, and endearing.
  • David talks about how when his mother was a den mother for the Cub Scouts, the kids commented how they wished their mother was like Catherine (pg 39).
  • She snowed the school administration by showing up with her infant son in her arms and agreeing to cooperate with the school regarding David (pg 53).
  • Additionally, he notes that in the presence of neighbors, his mother "played the role of the loving, caring parent-- just as she had when she was a Cub Scout den mother" (pg 122).
  • Catherine also painted a different picture of their home life when David's Grandmother came for the holidays (pg 126).
Lawson points out that "children have faith in their parents and believe in their greater wisdom. No child wants to believe that his mother is capable of brutality" (pg 273).
  • After stabbing David, he accepted his mother's increased compassion towards him. He hoped that she was trying to make up to him and hoping that he was back into the "family fold" (pg 94).
  • Later that night, when he goes to bed with the large laceration, he goes so far to say "I felt safe knowing she was nearby to watch over me" (pg 95).
  • Before a visit from Social Services, Catherine manipulates David into thinking that his ordeal was over and that she will "try to be a good mother" (pg 123). He even starts calling her "Mom" at this point.
  • Near the end of the book, David is called an "It" by his mother, and he reveals, "I gave all that I could to accomplish anything possible for her recognition. But again, I failed. Mother's words were no longer coming from the booze; they were coming from her heart" (pg 141).
So, even through the devastating and intense abuse, David still held onto the hope that his mother loved him and that she would return to being a nurturing and caring parent.

Through and through, I believe that Catherine suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder. She illustrates the maternal functioning of a Borderline Mother, including:
  1. Confusing her child
  2. Not apologizing for or remember inappropriate behavior
  3. Expects to be taken care of
  4. Punishes or discourages independence
  5. Envies, ignores, or demeans her children's accomplishments
  6. Destroys, denigrates, or undermines self-esteem
  7. Expects children to respond to her needs
  8. Frightens and upsets children
  9. Disciplines inconsistently or punitively
  10. Feels left out, jealous, or resentful if child is loved by someone else
  11. Uses threats or abandonment (or actual abandonment) to punish the child
  12. Does not believe in her children's basic goodness
  13. Does not trust her children
Catherine fully qualifies for each of these points. Further and more specifically, as the Witch BPD mother, she sent the following messages to David:
  • I could kill you
  • You will be sorry
  • You won't get away with this
  • You deserve to suffer
  • I'd be better off without you
  • You'll never escape my control
  • It's my right as your parent to control you
  • I'm going to make you pay
The Witch's child is raised in a hopeless situation-- and David made it out with his resolve, smart thinking, and strong will. The Witch's words can be vile, her heart cold as stone-- thankfully David survived the vile words and the heartless mother to become a highly successful man and an inspiration for all.