Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How to Survive a Relationship with a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

The bulk of emails that I receive inquire about how to deal with a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) relationship whether a parent, spouse, or sibling. Often I receive emails from women who have young children and don’t know how to protect their children from the BPD grandmother or BPD in-law. Also, another frequent topic is the discovery that the long-term abusive, toxic, and / or dysfunctional mother has BPD and how to proceed. How to deal with the BPD spouse is another topic that I receive. 

The House of Cards

If you are trying to maintain a relationship with a BPD, first and foremost be prepared to protect yourself otherwise each minute unarmed will slowly make you lose the battle. You cannot survive a relationship with a BPD if your own self-esteem is shattered, so  take care of yourself as the BPD is incapable of taking care of you. 

The emotional cycle that a person with BPD goes through can be compared to a house of cards. The slightest wind can make the entire house fall over. Your focus is to try to remove the slightest wind and  learn what makes the house of cards fall. Pay attention to surrounding experiences and anticipate ways to keep things calm. 

If you can calm yourself, you can begin to try to navigate the stormy relationship into less windy skies. Remind yourself that the only aspect that you can control is how you respond. You cannot change the BPD’s behavior or how the BPD feels. Respond calmly and not impulsively to keep the winds calm and possibly discover new ways to communicate and manage your relationship with the BPD. 

Arm Yourself

  • Read About BPD  Educating yourself about the BPD disorder can help you deal with it. The following is a link to a list of books about Borderline Personality Disorder: Good Reads- Borderline Personality Disorder I also use Amazon- Books About Borderline Personality Disorder because the Customer Reviews can sometimes be just as valuable as the book itself. Also find blogs such as mine to find narratives and information about BPD to educate and enlighten you on the subject as much as possible.

  • Get Support

o   Join a Support Group if you live with someone who has BPD. The support groups could be in your local area or online.
o   Therapy for yourself is a consideration to help you deal with the issues you face with a BPD.
o   Al-Anon meetings may be necessary in order to learn how to stop feeling guilty for her moods, addictions or explosions. 

Set Boundaries


Boundaries provide structure to the relationship and prevent abuse. Protect yourself from damaging criticisms and verbal abuse with boundaries by:

  • Setting personal boundaries Even if you understand BPD behaviors, know your own limits and stick by them. Never allow yourself to be abused.
  • Avoiding imprisonment To regain control over you, she may accuse you of abandonment and betrayal, tell you how lonely and depressed she is, or threaten to harm you if you do not take care of her. Be compassionate but do not allow yourself to become imprisoned.
  • Protecting children. Children can't care of themselves, and they're depending on you. Set limits and keep them out of harm's way.
  • Avoiding sharing personal information Circumvent sharing personal information with the BPD because she will find fault with your decisions and choices.   
  • Setting times for discussion Sometimes the BPD can become very emotionally deregulated- agitated and irritated. Let the BPD know that her message is important but you need to set another time to discuss the issue.
  • Limiting contact

o   Try to keep distant.
o   Try to live far away.
o   Limit phone calls and visits.
o   Put down the phone when she is nasty.
o   Give up trying to please.
o   Do not try to get through to her because she will insist that she has never been wrong.
o   Keep things nice and shallow.
o   Do not expect trust or predictability.

  • Leaving if necessary. Do not tolerate physical threats, emotional abuse, or verbal abuse so leave temporarily if your relationship escalates to this level. Return after she has calmed down. Ultimately, sometimes the only thing you can do is leave the relationship when the BPD repeatedly runs over your boundaries, limits, or refuses treatment. Estrangement may be the healthiest long-term option. 

What You Need to Understand

  • Understand that BPD behaviors aren’t about you. Try to depersonalize what’s happening.
  • Understand the BPD’s hot buttons and try not to push them but know that you won’t always succeed.
  • Understand the reality of the situation. You cannot change the BPD’s behavior no matter how well you communicate with her. Only the BPD can eliminate her negative behavior. Your goal is simply respectful communication between you and the BPD.
  • Understand simplicity. When speaking with the BPD, especially about sensitive issues, emotion may be heightened to the point that neither of you can think straight. Make each sentence short, simple, and direct with no room for misinterpretation.
  • Understand the difference between the person and her behavior. Make it clear to the BPD that you dislike her behavior but you do not dislike her as a person. Emphasize this often.
  • Understand sticking to the point. Ignore the BPDs attacks, threats, or attempts to change the subject. Stay calm and reiterate your point. If you're feeling attacked, calmly say that things are getting too hot and you'll be back in an hour / two hours / 5pm, etc Promptly, without further discussion, leave the location.
  •  Understand turning the problem over to the BPD. Turn the problem over to the BPD and ask for different solutions.

How to Communicate with the BPD

  • Feelings before facts. In ordinary conversations, facts are placed before feelings. We assess facts and then react with our feelings. BPDs often reverse this process. The BPD has distinctive feelings, such as abandonment, so change facts to match her feelings. For example, a BPD may interpret your actions as abandonment when you are simply leaving to the run errands. Instead of pointing out the facts such as the TO DO List in your hand, emphasize with her feelings such as, "You sound really upset. I would be upset too if I thought you were leaving forever. However (however is better than "but") I'm just going to run errands and I'll be back at 3pm."
  • Remember the importance of timing. With certain subjects, good and bad times are available. Certain incidents can make the BPD feel weak and could lead her to feel rejected, abandoned or invalidated. During these times, communication is likely to be exponentially more difficult. Postpone the communication if you can; however, if you can’t, take into account the BPD’s greater weakness at this time. During times of highly positive emotions, the BPD may show impulsivity which is a hallmark of BPD. During bad times, the BPD can be impulsive by telling you that she never wants to see you again. During good times, she may express that she adores you and wants to get married this instance. A BPD’s positive impulsivity can be very charming and enthralling. Detach yourself to as a defense again the seductiveness of her impulsivity.
  • Understand Validation You can validate the feelings of a BPD by accepting her right to own her feelings. Though you do not necessarily agree with her feelings, acknowledgement helps to identify her current feelings. Emotions circulate as feelings of being sad, frustrated, unheard, misunderstood, lonely, and depressed. By validating these feelings, you can help label her feelings and be there for her. The goal of validation is to calm the BPD, otherwise, a trivial issue may escalate to anger and rage.

Communication Methods

  • Delay, Distract, Depersonalize, and Detach. In the midst of an intense conversation that is escalating and unproductive, practice the following:

  • Delay -- Suggest talking about things later or asking for time to think about what she is saying. Speak calmly and in a way that affirms the BPD as well as yourself without necessarily confirming her claims: "I'm feeling upset right now. Your feelings are important to me and I need some time to understand them."
  • Distract -- Suggest doing something else at that moment, like grocery shopping.
  • Depersonalize -- Remind yourself often that the BPD’s tough criticism of you is not real. Try not to take the BPD’s comments personally however cutting or cruel they may feel to you as this is the nature of BPD.
  • Detach --  Remove yourself from getting caught up in the emotional whirlwind. Resolve to yourself, "I'm not going to get so involved in this."

  • The Four (4) Don'ts you should not do or say to the BDP:

1.      Don’t defend yourself.
2.      Don’t explain.
3.      Don’t justify.
4.      Don’t counter attack.

  • Practice SET Communication Method to effectively to handle the BPD with:

o   Support. support statements are important to reassure the BPD that you want to help.
o   Empathy. involves making the BPD feel that you understand her feelings.
o   Truth. re-state reality after emotional outbursts are settled.

After many decades of cycling in and out of a relationship with my BPD mother, the last straw occurred almost 10 years ago. Throughout my life, I forgave and moved forward after repeated emotional abuse from my BPD mother. The typical cycle was 5 years in a relationship, 5 years estranged (all of which were initiated by her). I accepted apologies, I turned the other cheek, and I walked on eggshells, using many of the recommendations and methods outline above. 

Ultimately, the healthiest choice I could make was estrangement. Initially when my mother blew-up on me about my engagement and future wedding, I hadn’t been pushed past the edge of never trusting her again. However, through her intense campaigns of denigration and her aggressive actions against me, trust was lost that cannot be repaired.

I didn't get to select my parent... I was born to her. Due to being born to a parent, many daughters and sons feel as if they have to remain in the relationship out of respect, religion, or duty. After trying to communicate, placate, understand, delay, distract, depersonalize, detach, and more, I made a choice not to take the abuse, dysfunction, toxicity, craziness, manipulations from my parent anymore. I didn’t want the battle anymore either. Further, I have a choice of who I let into my life, what influences me (and my husband and child too), and how I allow those around me to treat me. I would rather have the hole of where a mother should fill rather than a hole as a result of continued abuse.

One can build a life that is healthy and happy and prosper away from the BPD but trying to build a life with an ever destructive force of the BPD is extremely challenging and fatiguing. For those of you trying to survive a relationship with a BPD, I wish all of you the strength, clarity, and fortitude possible.  Hopefully some of these tips will help you to navigate away from the winds that blow over the BPD’s house of cards.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Effects of a Borderline Personality Disorder Mother on Her Children

So what is your diagnosis? It is impossible for you to have been raised by and been witness to such disorder and not be affected yourself. Have you been honest and written an article about your diagnosis and treatment, or do you consider yourself not disordered in any way and somehow just rattled by it all and not ill yourself? What is your cluster and are you honest about it?

That excerpt was from an email that I received. I don’t know if the nature of the email was sincere or confrontational; however, I thought covering the topic provides value for those attempting to climb out of the trenches of their own personal war. As I have stated before, adult children of BPDs are *war veterans* in every sense of the word, and your psychic landscape no doubt looks something like what's left after a bombing attack.

Through the last 5 years of writing this blog, I have covered the effects of my upbringing and parental relationships. I always searched for my part in the relationship's challenges-- as every relationship takes two. I would analyze and dig deeply to assess my accountability in the estrangements. And time and time again, I was never angry or resentful or even bitter-- always sad that broken relationships surrounded my family. I also wished that our family could be a happy family that shared in successes and supported during failures. But most importantly, I always accepted that these were the cards that I was dealt, and I would manage them to the best of my abilities. 

Parents are the people we look to nurture us and keep us safe. When a parent abuses a child,  the  impact is life-long. My childhood was very confusing, very destructive, and very tormenting. My childhood left my brother and me treated carelessly, with conditions on love, and orphaned. And I think dealing with the emotions, feelings, and memories is crucial to being a healthy, happy, and productive adult. I thoroughly believe that our choices are guided by our internal subconscious shaped by our past experiences. And that internal subconscious can be a positive or negative force depending on the presence, amount, and condition of the scars.

Before we delve into the effects of the relationship with my BPD mother on me, the following are the four BDP mother categories and effects on their child(ren): 

The Witch
  • Children live in terror of BPD Witches' capricious moods; they are the "collateral damage" of a secret war they did not start, do not understand, and cannot control.
  • Attacks are random, intense, and cruel. Children automatically think they're at fault and can become shamed, depressed, insecure, dissociative, and hypervigilant.
  •  As adults they may have multiple difficulties with self, relationships, physical illness, and even post traumatic stress disorder.
The Queen

  • To the BPD Queen, children are a built-in audience expected to give love, attention and support when the BPD Queen needs it. Children feel confused and betrayed when their normal behavior is sometimes punished (according to the BPD Queen's needs of the moment). 
  • As kids grow, conflict with the BPD Queen increases. Underneath, these kids long for approval, recognition, consistency, and to be loved unconditionally for who they are, not what they achieve.

The Waif
  • They feel angry, afraid and alone.
  • Children may feel like failures for not making the BPD happy, or they may keep trying and trying until the mother's death. This enmeshment (inability to separate) may hinder grown child's relationships, which may be fraught with dependency.
  • The child may become cynical, angry, and feel manipulated or turn into over-responsible nursemaids seeking elusive approval.
  • The message to children is that life is something to be endured until you die.
  • The BPD shelters children to such an extent they find autonomy disconcerting.

The Hermit
  • During adulthood, they suffer from many maladies stemming from trapped feelings such as panic attacks or phobias.
  • Children not encouraged to explore and learn can become anxious when faced with new situations. They may not learn appropriate coping skills, give up control too easily, have a hard time trusting, and be less capable of naturally moving away from the parent.

My mother is the "Borderline Queen Witch" who married the "Narcissistic King". Borderline mothers are make-believe mothers living in darkness needing the rescuer husband. In particular, my borderline mother is characterized as the Queen, and the 'darkness' that lies within the borderline Queen is 'emptiness'. "Her inner experience is deprivation and her behavior evokes compliance. She is demanding and flamboyant and may intimidate others. The Queen feels entitled to exploit others and can be vindictive and greedy. The Queen's emotional message to her children is: Life is 'all about me'" p 38 Lawson. The Witch hides within my mother as a "temporary ego-state", and makes appearances at times quite frequently but can hide for periods of time. The Witch's darkness is annihilating rage with the message to her children: 'life is war'. 

I have worked very hard over the decades to be a healthy and happy individual, at peace with life, as well as productive and prosperous. Through an open mind and an open heart, I have been successful. I have seen psychiatrists from childhood onward, and I have never received a diagnosis of a psychological disorder (a psychological disorder, also known as a mental disorder, is a pattern of behavioral or psychological symptoms that impact multiple life areas and/or create distress for the person experiencing these symptoms). Although I have not had a formal diagnosis of a disorder, I have had issues to work-out and resolve.

I am very thankful for the wonderful friends that I have had through the decades who would listen for hours on end about MANY whys and questions. They are partly responsible for keeping me grounded and focused.  Besides finding answers through my friends, I have read books like crazy. And when the Internet became more and more of a comprehensive tool, I have used it to connect with others like me and to research even further. Then, I started to blog, which allowed me to take all of this information out of my head and put it somewhere else... AND most importantly, help others like me to sort out all of the jumbled mess that happened in the past and create an understanding of it all. Ultimately, no-contact was the healthiest alternative for not only myself but my child and husband too. 

Part of my being at peace and being able to overcome the effects of a BPD mother is due to the research that I conducted about personality disorders, communicating with others who have experienced mirror situations, support from friends / family, writing down all my history with accompanying analysis, and more. I count on myself for my happiness, peace of mind, and understanding of this world.

The following are the effects of the BPD / NPD dysfunctional toxicity on me, which some are still present (hyperawareness for example) but some have been overcome (insomnia for example): 

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

Fight or Flight
I am generally a calm, cool, and collected person BUT whenever I have a potential confrontation, actual confrontation, or cause of concern related to my parents, my body immediately reacts. I get shaky, I feel sick to my stomach, I get out-of-breath, and my mind runs a million miles an hour. After decades of ...
  • wondering when the next blow-up is going to happen or 
  • what I am going to be falsely accused of next or 
  • what is being fabricated about me now or
  • having my parent(s) confront me with the next "we have to sit down an talk" scenario
... my body is sent into a tail-spin when my parents are discussed relative to me. This 'tail-spin' is fight-or-flight which is defined as the set of processes that occur in the body when it is confronted with some form of physical or mental stress. The nervous system signals for adrenaline and other hormones to be released into the blood which prepare the body either to confront or flee (thus, “fight or flight”). Changes in the body include increased heart rate, dilated pupils of the eye (to improve vision), and increased supply of blood to the muscles (to prepare the body for action).

Growing up in an environment with a borderline personality mother and a malignantly narcissistic Dad compounded by a period of simultaneous major-life-stessors (moving, death of grandmother, death of grandfather, parental divorce, parents remarrying), I developed several symptoms of stress. Insomnia was one of the resulting symptoms, which when your sense of safety and trust are shattered, having difficulty falling asleep is a normal reaction to abnormal events.

I can remember the EXACT night that the insomnia started in 1977 when I was 9 years old. Most anxious children do not have a specific event that triggered their anxiety, but some do. Certainly some situations can be anxiety producing, especially those that disrupt the child's sense of structure and order in their world (parental divorce, deaths in the family, trauma, moves)

Mental Scars
A seminal 1992 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report defines childhood abuse as "a repeated pattern of damaging interactions between parent(s) [or, presumably, other significant adults] and child that becomes typical of the relationship." In addition to physical, sexual and verbal abuse, this can include anything that causes the child to feel worthless, unlovable, insecure, and even endangered, or as if his only value lies in meeting someone else's needs.

I wasn't left unscarred from my childhood trauma. I have battled insomnia during peak times of childhood trauma. I have battled anxiety throughout my life, waiting for the next bomb to explode in my family. I have sought acceptance and attention from my parents that I will never achieve in receiving. I have searched, researched, dug, and sought understanding of my past, with which my parents have never assisted (my mother is irrational when speaking of the past, and my Dad 'doesn't remember' because he 'doesn't want to', which neither helps when trying to gain peace with the past).

Toxic Guilt and Anxiety
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.

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.

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. 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 a family, and I belong. I haven't had that since I was 11 years old.

As an adult child of two parents with personality disorders, I knew when the abuse was actually going on that some after-effects would be experienced later in life. Although I was able to endure the abuse, I knew I deep-sixed some of the feelings. I remember thanking God for giving me a head on my shoulders to know that the abuse was my parents doing-- that what I was going through was a product of their manufacturing. Even so, I knew that somewhere down the line, feelings or results could emerge. Both my BPD mother and NPD father wielded shame well with their emotional abuse, and I exhibit residual effects from the abuse I endure from my BPD mother and NPD father. 

If you are an adult child of a BPD mother, what are some of the effects you have experienced? What have done to over-come these effects?