Saturday, March 24, 2012

Hyperawareness | Defense Mechanism then Survivors Perception

From as far back as I can remember, I have been in-tune with other people's body language. I can read a person from a mile away, and  person's body language says more to me than what they are actually saying. I am also very aware of eye contact, which eye contact or lack-thereof is very telling about a person. And in regard to what others are saying, I listen intently to what is being related and place significance on tone-of-voice. And depending on with whom I am speaking and what we are speaking about, I may assess / analyze statements.

So, are any of you like this? Do you sense things before others or when others don't, such as:
  • Specifics of body language
  • When and how eye contact is made
  • The speaker's tone of voice 
  • What verbiage is utilized
  • Analyze the meaning behind words / statements
  • Detect faint sounds or sounds in the distance / background before others or when others don't (ie: quiet sounds from a room in the other end of the house). 
  • Feel sensitive, irritated, uneasy, or uncomfortable in crowds
  • Smell things before others or when others don't (ie: stinky smells; something burning)
  • Taste the nuances that others can't or don't (ie: detect when a food has started to turn; find flavors of various spices)
Since a child, I have seemed to have an acute awareness of my surroundings and have always been particularly sensitive to it. I just figured that I am simply more perceptive or observant that others. After talking with some of my friends who also have BPD mothers, we all have the same antidotes pertaining to this very subject. Each one of us assesses situations similarly: analyzing body language, the environment around, words spoken, and more. We all seem to be highly perceptive about the same types of input around us. Our common denominator is a BPD parent with confusing interactions, unstable sense of self, emotional instability, inappropriate / intense anger, and transient / paranoid thoughts which add-up to very confusing behavior for a child to interpret. Compound these confusing behaviors with an environment where the child is constantly walking on eggshells in order to not ignite the BPD.The result is a child who becomes hyperaware of the BPD's moods, behaviors, and idiosyncrasies.

With the survivors of trauma and abuse, this hyperawareness is a defense mechanism. "A nearly universal characteristic of survivors is excessive emotional hypersensitivity... hyperawareness of body language, moods, and 'the meanings behind the words' is a highly functional defense mechanism" p 166 Evans / Sullivan. In regard to the BPD parent:
  • One must be on defense for the next attack, so keeping a vigilant eye on her behavior is vital: She has that look in her eye again; I need to stay away. Her body language is saying she's in a 'witch' mood, I better hide. She is becoming more and more aggressive with her language today; she is probably going to verbally attack me today.  
  • Trying to sort-out the confusing and twisted behavior creates a need to collect as much information as possible to try to figure out her behavior (past, present, future). Seemingly, every action or word spoken is another piece of the puzzle.
With these observations of body language, eye contact, verbal communication, many times the child of the BPD questions their own perception of that is transpiring. Is the BPD really that bad? Perhaps the meaning behind the actions / words is being misread? Maybe the BPD doesn't really mean to act or say those things, and maybe I am the one who has the problem? "Children of borderlines may spend their entire lives trying to understand their mother and themselves. They are preoccupied with sorting out the meanings of interactions, studying their own perceptions, and questioning the intentions of others" Lawson p 302

Not only are the children of BPD parents trying to figure out what makes their parent tick and why, but they are 'walking on eggshells' in the process. The children feel as if their behavior is provoking the abuse or cause the BPD to get upset so they tip-toe around the BPD as not to provoke. This 'walking on eggshells' can be very stressful, and in combination with being hyperaware of the BPD's mood, behavior, body language, eye contact, and more, the child is on a constant state of heightened alert. This hyperawareness and state of alertness can continue into adulthood if the relationship dynamics with the BPD remain the same.

The children of BPD view the world around through these same glasses: being very aware of body language, eye contact, small nuances, being sensitive to changes and actions around self, etc. Additionally, since the child of the BPD tries to understand why the  parent behaves the way she does, the child also tries to constantly unscramble mixed messages from the BPD. Since the BPD isn't direct or candid with her emotions, actions, or needs, the child must uncode. After lifetime of unscrambling and decoding, the child of the BPD may apply this same methodology to other relationships (friends, work colleagues, school colleagues, general interactions with public).  "The borderline's children become experts at deciphering emotional messages that often have hidden significance. As adults, these children may become preoccupied with discovering hidden motives behind actions of others" Lawson p 157

With hyperawareness continuing into adulthood, children of BPD often seem 'psychic' or aware of minor details that no one else does. With this observation of details, hypersensitivity enables many to write vivid and descriptive stories and develop artwork in amazing detail. Further, children of BPD often can sense when someone is angry or in a bad mood. Alternately, they may also become agitated with people over small incidents - don't look at me like that; I get nervous when you breathe like that.

Trying to simply 'turn off' a defense mechanism so deeply engrained is challenging. Being wired to notice slight changes, behaviors, and verbiage about one's own BPD parent for an entire childhood and onward is a learned process. Using the hyperawareness in a positive, perceptive, and intuitive manner is a healthy alternative rather than creating unease and staying on-guard. Being able to 'read' people is a valuable trait, and being able to notice intricate details is also a favorable attribute. Enjoy the ability to sense beyond what others may and take enjoyment of the heightened senses-- stop and smell the roses.


  1. Yep. All of it.

    I also used to spend a lot of time second guessing myself--"is this what's going on, or am I over-reacting? Am I reading too much into this?"

    It took years for me to realize I was hyper-sensitive to anything even vaguely resembling my mothers behavior. If I find that someone is manipulating me, I go into "survival mode". If someone said something critical of/to me, I'd kind of go berserk, determined that I wasn't going to put up with that anymore.

    After tiring of scrutinizing my mom, I started scrutinizing myself. I began to more honestly evaluate myself, my behavior, my actions and words. Instead of justifying myself (under the guise of "clarifying"). A smart person once told me "you can't build yourself up by putting others down". I watch for that carefully in myself. Which makes me hyper-aware of it in others as well.

    Sorry, have to remain anonymous, as my Witch mother googles my name to try to find me and continue the hell game.

    1. My mother is **troll** too, googling me as well.

  2. Strangely it is more my mother who is hyper aware although I am told that I am extraordinarily sensitive to the manifestations of others. Crowds? Forget about it! What concerns me the most is how utterly I discount my own feelings to protect others. My room mate got drunk and broke her ankle in the middle of the night in my yard, the ensuing drama not very pretty. So as not to hurt her feelings, I haven't told her how trashed the room was (liquids leaking on varnished surfaces and in drawers, pee in jars) and how violated & used I am feeling. How do you tell a person in the hospital recovering from surgery that you don't feel safe with them in your home??

  3. I am so happy you are posting again. This is one of the best blogs on the net for me.

  4. How insightful! I have always been aware of my seemingly psychic abilities and how well I can read people, but never even considered how I became this way! It was, and I guess still is, my learned survival mechanism!

    My husband often sites me for seeing the negative especially when it comes to foreshadowing how conversations with his family will go... but it's interesting how often our discussions prepare us!

    I would like to thank you for your blog! I find myself coming here when thoughts of the BPD person who abused me linger. Mother's Day will mark 2 years that I went no contact. Just a few months ago I became a mother and perhaps this is why this holiday is being met with mixed emotions.

  5. Because we are raised to be animals, not people. We are so emotionally terrorized and gut-instinct triggered, that we can practically smell trouble coming off someone a mile away and immediately start planning how to manage it or escape. I also soothe myself using primal animal habits (I have trichotillomania and trichophagia), because all I ever knew was terror and fright.

  6. I am just new to your blog and I find it very insightful. I am currently step-mothering 4 children whose birth mother has BPD. The childrent have seen their mother treat their father with little to no respect, play games and manipulate. We do our best to provide them with a loving and stable home when they are with us, however we don't know what is going on when they stay with their mother. Does anyone have any advice on how, as a step-mother, I can have a positive impact as they grow up in a BPD world?

    1. Yes, most definitely. The primary way is to be an enlightened witness for these kids. You can read more about enlightened witnesses at as well as another post If you would like more information, feel free to email me.

    2. I am the 45 year old daughter of a BPD mother. I am told I have survived (my sister did not) due to my "earned attachment" or resiliency. The children who survive usually do so becuase they are lucky enough to have non-pathological loved ones, mentors, etc. who are literal life savers. My step-mother was one of those. My advice to you as someone who has been in this situation is just love your step children. Be open and honest without judging or bad mouthing their mother (they won't trust you if you do that). They know exactly who their mother is and what her faults are but she is still their mother and they will cling to their fantasy/ideal vision of her with desperation. In fact, if you try to focus on her good qualities rather than her crazy ones, this will give them great peace, especialy when they are young. The situation is traumatic enough as it is. They will come to adore you for giving them that sense of peace. I also recommend that you reinforce reality for them as much as possible. Validate their feelings (again without bad mothing the mom, I know that won't be easy). Model good parenting behavior. And pray they survive.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. This is amazing. I didn't realize other people experienced this (I have been told I was very sensitive to smells even in infancy, and sensitive to body language as a toddler). I have the same Narcissist father/BPD mother combination and there is such relief in knowing that other people have been on the "inside" of this kind of family (my brother has pretty successfully blocked out our entire childhood). I will be attending an artist's workshop soon and had decided to forego the intro meeting because I find the sensory input from crowds overwhelming.

  9. omg, yes, yes, and yes...even on the googling. my mother sometimes adopts my identity online and pretends to be me. Nice.

    I'm so glad to find this blog. my mother is borderline, my dad is married to another one...borderline? narcissist? It's hard to know...after the first few years of trying EVERYTHING to get along/ keep the peace, we've stopped any contact with her. She's a nightmare and we have to protect our kids.

    So much of what you write resonates with me. I've subscribed (with my REAL name, lol)!

    I'll be reading through archives...

  10. I am so happy to find this blog
    My Nmother recently passed. It took me years to figure out what her problem was....I hope some day to get over it.
    I will be back to read more. I would love to share with you some of her most abusive moments

  11. Body Language! Do only attraction is the main purpose of that thing???? Or healthy living?


  12. I am the son of a hypercritical father, whether he was borderline or not I am not sure. Mostly I think he was the victim of a Mom that was.

    I ended up choosing a partner who had many of his traits and some extras. She was hypercritical, blaming, shaming, and did not trust that I was telling the truth. It got to the point that I did lie to avoid her criticisms and blaming. I also got to the point that I started self harming and wanted to kill myself. This was in my early thirties. I eventually left her and spent many years in therapy. I have learned to cope. I am now 51.

    But this post is not about me it is about my daughter. I left her Mom when my daughter was 6 months and have remained a very involved father. I'm the father who takes her to all the events mom's usually do and the mom's are not sure that to make of me. She is fifteen and recently spent two weeks in a psych ward. She was admitted for self harming (cutting) and planing to kill herself . In the ward she learned about who her mother really is and has begun to strip away the fantasy image of her mom. I let her find this out on her own, because if I did talk to her about it I would have been accused of trying to take her away from her mother. Being non-custodial father has put me in a very weak position.

    My daughter is out of the hospital but not out of danger. Her mother has custody and 75% of visitation. My daughter does not feel safe going back to her mom's. That's where she cut herself and her mom has not changed. So far her Mom has let her stay with me for the last five days. But, she is guilting my daughter into returning to her. Her mom is looking for any and every reason to blame her daughter's rejection on something other than her own dysfunctional parenting including my daughter's friends and the providers at the psych ward.

    I am terrified of what might happen to my daughter if she is forced to return to her mom. I need advice about resources (books, chat groups, etc.) where I can get advice and support. I would also like to know how common it is for girls who's mother act like her's to end up self harming.

    1. I am the daughter of a BPD mom and a Narcissist(NPD)dad. Your daughter is old enough to chose to come and live with you (or someone else) and there is nothing legally the mom can do about it. There is plenty of psychological warfare she can and certainly will inflict, but maybe with the help of her therapists your daughter can get the support she needs to make healthy decisions and put boundaries on her mom. I urge you to find the strength to get her the help she needs. I survived my mentally ill parents. My sister did not. My younger sister died on Christmas day last year. How she died is a brutal and complicated story. She started engaging in self-destructive behaviors as a child. She died at 42. Get your daughter help. The sooner the better.

  13. NAMI National Assoc of Mental Illness has support groups for both you and daughter

  14. I totally and completely identify with everything on your blog regarding your mother (my father does not have a disorder). I've been reading every post and this one was so surprising for me because I would have never guessed that my hyperawareness was a result of having a BPD mother. It has been less than a year since I was able to finally put a name to what the trouble is with my mom, and the more I read, the more I'm finding that every aspect of my life has been affected by her disorder. Hyperawareness is just another affected area. Sadly for me, her changes in moods, the bad things she said about my grandparents (who were like parents to me), her attempts to isolate us from our dad, and her intense dislike for me, combined with my hyperawareness, make it SO difficult for me to trust how people say they feel about me. It takes years of constant positive treatment before I will accept that someone is truly my friend, and even then I'm very quick to convince myself that I've sensed that they have decided to drop me. It's like I'm constantly on the lookout for the blow-ups I got from my mom, and I'm afraid they'll come from everyone I know. It's getting better the more I learn about being a daughter of a BPD .. but these things are so hard to overcome. Your blog is helping, for sure!

  15. I know I am replying to an older post, but just wanted to say that I relate to this completely. In addition, I have a near phobia about making phone call. Since I cannot see the person on the other end, I cannot read their body language and gauge my safety. I will actually go out of my way to visit an office in person rather than call, if I have that option.

    1. I completely relate... and how you perfectly described the need for body language and gauging safety. So very true. Thanks for posting :)

    2. I too avoid the phone - now I know why, I did not realise it was due to the fact that I needed to read the body language in order to feel comfortable in conversations. I've always felt half blind on the phone and my anxiety was always "on"!! I'm 37 and still recovering and am vigilant of my own behaviour now that I have 2 children. Stopping the cycle. Your blog is helping me and is fantastic - thank you <3

  16. so its not just my father was korean war vet.a very good man but the war effected him.its kinda funny when people try to manipulate me,they have no idea i see right through them.

    1. "I see right through them". So very true.

  17. I love your positive take on life. I find that very helpful in healing my childhood scars left bu bpd mom. Life is indeed about 'smell the roses'.

  18. Gretel - Thank you so much!

    This is the first time that I've been able to find any kind of article like this. I was starting to think that it was only my mother and I.

    My mother has all of the symptoms you mentioned and I have many of them - inherited from separate traumas.

    My grandmother still speaks about the "old days" as if she doesn't remember the things she did to my mother.

    When I was 12 I was finally able to tell my mother what had been happening to me at aftercare (the same day that I put a stop to it myself). Since then we've shared an unbreakable bond. We openly discuss our "abilities" and things that we've both observed.

    My friends think that my mother is super scary (and cheerful and "so much fun" all at the same time). I almost feel responsible for keeping her happy because I know that I'm one of the very few people who can. It used to be eggshells before she knew that I was so much like her.

    It's happened a few times now that my mother has "taken in" and mentored friends of mine when she's picked up behaviours of abuse or depression.

    We're also both aware of our abusive genes. Sometimes its hard to keep them in check. We don't always notice when we speak down to my father. We're both convinced that he has some kind of disorder too (probably a mild form of Aspergers or something odd alike). It makes it very difficult for us to understand each other.

    My boyfriend and I are quite serious about our future together, but we're both concerned that I might one day mistreat him. I can only hope that being self-aware will help me stop myself. (It's amusing when he tries to understand my mother and I's conversations about our observations)

    He's come to expect my "psychic" abilities which also makes for some interesting conversations when I'm able to guess what is currently happening within our social circle.

    It's hard for me to enjoy most books as it's too easy to foreshadow the ending. (Joss Whedon is a genius screenwriter if you're having the same problem with series.) In high school Poetry was a breeze for me. I'm currently writing a series of books (good call btw), and studying IT. Socially awkard people are amazingly accepting of all personality types when you openly accept them too.

    Sorry for the long comment - I just got really excited when I found this post. Its so awesome to know that we're not the only ones. It can be super difficult to explain to people why certain situations make us so uncomfortable. It's good to know that we're not crazy.

    (Also, you might want to warn your readers that connecting to Google via the combobox below after typing their comment could potentially lose their entire comment :P Yes - I typed this twice)