The Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) mother may rage when angry, but many times she may use silent treatments. The BPD mother uses the silent treatment to torture the child(ren) that she professes to love. The silent treatment is a very narcissistic example of the lack of emotional regulation of the BPD. The silent treatment is control, and a safe means for them to avoid any 'uncomfortable' topics, issues in the relationship, or issues within herself; therefore, the silence is an abdication of personal responsibility.
Kimberly Roth, the author of Surviving a Borderline Parent, encountered many children of borderline parents who said they felt crazy growing up. "They experienced a lot of inconsistencies—an action or statement that earned praise one day would touch off a three-day, stony silent treatment the next—as well as sudden outbursts and overreactions." So they never learn to trust their own judgment or feelings. The most important element to recovery, she says, is to accept that you're not crazy and that "it wasn't me."
Throughout my life, my BPD mother has used the silent treatment as well as other ways of ignoring me as a way of 'punishing' me. Starting as a small child, she would lock herself in her room for up to days at a time. She would not speak to my brother and me unless absolutely necessary. Thankfully we had my Dad with which to communicate and to care for us. She continued this pattern into my adulthood-- with the worst episodes when I lived with her as a teenager. The pain and shame and feeling of isolation was overwhelming. I tried to reach out to others during this highly emotionally abusive time (my step-father, my friend, my friend's mother) but was only subjected to my mother's retaliation.
As a teenager, I was banished to the basement for 90 days, only allowed to leave to perform house and yard work. During this time, my mother wouldn't speak to me. I was completely ignored and isolated as I wasn't allowed to use the phone. I tried to appeal to my step-father's common sense, but in the midst of telling my point-of-view, my mother arrived in the basement and told him not to speak to me. She called me a bitch, and they both left. So, not only did I not have her speaking to me, but she prohibited my step-father from speaking to me as well as my ability to talk on the phone to others.
She also used notes to communicate during these silent treatment times. She wouldn't talk to me for a long period of time. Then she would start leaving notes for me around the house. Each note would get further and further off-base from the issue-- very bizarre writings. The notes would truly make me sick to my stomach as her illness was clearly apparent in these surreal and bizarre writings. Those outbursts and over-reactions that Roth referred to above were very apparent in these notes. More about this period of time: Run Forrest Run
When I went off to college, she became enraged because I didn't come home one weekend to see her. I tried to talk to her about the situation but she repeatedly hung-up on me. Instead, she used letter writing to communicate. She wouldn't talk to me on the phone (silent treatment), but she would send letter after letter-- each letter getting further and further from the truth and the issue. She eventually wrote that she didn't want me home for Thanksgiving ... then Christmas... and then ultimately she put my possessions on the street. I never responded to the letters; however, the letters got so upsetting to my then boyfriend that he confronted her about her fabricated and distorted views. More about this period of time: Out of the Nest
By the time the information technology age arrived, her methods shifted from letter writing to emails. She wouldn't call me or my then fiance (now husband) back on the phone (silent treatment) but she would fire off a series of emails to anyone that she had an email address. Her lack of emotional regulation was very apparent as she fired off inappropriate and delusional emails to my work colleagues, collegiate colleagues, future in-laws, friends, and more. More about this period of time: Little Women
Regardless if she gave me the silent treatment, left notes laying around the house, mailed me letters, or sent me emails, my mother has been incapable of honestly and openly discussing the issues at hand. The issues root to her fear of abandonment and rejection as well as her hypersensitivity to the topic of my Dad, her divorce from my Dad, and those she feels have hurt her. She has chosen time and time again to alienate herself from those around her by estranging herself from her daughter (me), her son, her sister, her father, and countless others. Rather than working through challenges, she claims the victim stance and retreats. And with the retreating, she comes ruthless with her words on paper.
So, my mother's silent treatment was not merely the absence of speaking. She added the element of note writing, letter writing, and sending emails as a form of control. With these methods she was able to refuse to communicate until she was ready to stop punishing-- and then she was able to one-sidely present her compoundingly and exponentially distorted, convoluted, and fabricated point of view. She was vicious with her words-- and still is as my brother is still in communication with her and received some very scathing and ruthless emails and texts from her. When she disagrees with him, she will not speak to him on the phone, but she will send him texts with harsh profanity (telling him to "f*&k off" repeatedly for example) and telling him how horrible he is.
Her silent treatment has always made me feel not valued by her... unimportant to her ... and easily discarded. The fact that she can stop communicating with me so quickly and flip to denigrating me is amazing and tragic. She sings my praises for years to completely change her tune in a matter of seconds-- her over-reaction leading to estrangement, the ultimate form of silent treatment. And her outbursts switch from notes / letters / emails TO me ... to notes / letters / emails ABOUT me. My mother, with her silent treatments and estrangements, has left no ability to have closure-- ever-- with any of our issues through the years. Even after a silent treatment or estrangement ended, nothing that transpired ever was discussed.
For those of you suffering from the silent treatment, please do not internalize the abuse. Remember that the silent treatment is passive aggressive and by no means resolves any of the extenuating issues. Remember also that you are worthy of being recognized, acknowledged, respected, and dignified with a response. And remember that you are not crazy ... and that it's not you.