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? 


  1. Mine was a Walking Cluster B with symptoms of all 4: Borderline, Histrionic, Narcissist and AsP. IMO, there is a tremendous amount of over-lap among these artificially contrived Dxs. but that does not infer they have no utility whatsoever.
    I also experienced Anxiety, Hyperawareness and a "Bad Case of the Good-Enoughs"/Dedicated Overachiever. I experienced a great deal of difficulty managing the normal transition from Late Adolescence to Early Adulthood and becoming un-emeshed from my CB "Mother" who was determined to sabotage all my efforts at, for example, completing my University undergrad degree. At one point I recall her saying, "Oh, TW...every time you go back to school, the rug gets jerked out from under you!" It took some time for me to realize whose hands were firmly clenched to that rug. She needed me to be the Scapegoat, wanted me to fail, to be forced to reside with her: At one point it was her place or the streets-I chose the streets knowing it was safer. Every.last.time she was in a position to assist me, she refused to do so *unless* I moved back in with her. I was-and had been-on my own for years by that point and was forced to acknowledge that reality.
    Over-coming these effects required I re-order the relationship with her. When offered a full scholarship to a prestigious Uni, I took it gratefully AND took my first step at self-protection: I LIED to my "mother" by telling her I could not afford a phone as a poor student. The guilt over lying to her was enormous; however, years of her DWI (Dialing While Insane) phone calls informed my decision. I *had* to keep my grades up to keep my scholarship and I was determined she was not going to interfere with this excellent opportunity. Placing geographical distance in addition to reducing our relationship to snail mail alone was eye-opening: Her words were her "undoing" and further confirmed my belief the "Problem" was indeed, HER. Being a Dedicated Overachiever worked to my advantage throughout this period. Ultimately, I terminated the relationship with a very polite 4 line snail mail letter.
    This lil' note unleashed decades of unabashed attempts at annihilating me in every way, absolutely globally, which in turn confirmed my decision spectacularly. I'm still somewhat anxious but regular exercise helps a lot-as do medical issues. I just don't have the energy to be really anxious. Hyperawareness has been reduced due to moving to a remote area-which came about secondary to employment, meeting my late DH, having a successful career and family life, dear friends who've been so for decades, etc. None of my burgeoning self-confidence, self-competence, self-respect and success would have been possible if I continued to remain involved with my "mother" in any way. As she screamed at me repeatedly, "You're either WITH ME or AGAINST ME!" *She* set up that binary paradigm and refused to acknowledge any grey areas in life never mind her own culpability as she destroyed her family, friendships, professional opportunities etc.
    I've been very fortunate. Maybe in the Dinged and Banged aisle of life, but the contents are still "Fit For Human Consumption." ;)
    Assuming any of us have "Clusters" and the over-all tone of that email sounds confrontational to me. If the reader took the time to read your Blog, they'd see a person of unquestionable honesty and integrity.

    1. "This lil' note unleashed decades of unabashed attempts at annihilating me in every way, absolutely globally, which in turn confirmed my decision spectacularly"-- I am so sorry. I know your pain and the road you traveled. Seeing the truth with their actions is so affirming, however, allowing you to not even question their intent or where they are coming from (Hell). And I agree about the intent of the email, "the over-all tone of that email sounds confrontational to me" and I truly appreciate you confirming my suspicions.

  2. I cried when I read this, and I don't mean sobbing or moaning, but silent tears of sadness and relief. I am a 41 years old man, the son of a single mother Queen and a largely absent narcissistic father - and the similarities between my experience and your post are uncanny; for all intents and purposes, telling my story would be completely redundant .

    When I reached the part on "Fight or Flight" - I was feeling the physical effects of stirring up my emotions on the subject - and I was literally experiencing every single physical reaction you describe, down to the last detail. I only feel this, very strong, specific reaction in relation to my parents, especially my mother.

    Paradoxically, I have often wished I had been physically abused or brought up in a visibly dysfunctional family - alcoholism or just something I could show as proof to myself and others. Something material I could use to confirm my sanity, memories and experiences - and as a self defence tool against defamation.

    How does one defend against malignant slander from one's own parent? No rational, non-borderline person, would ever assume a parent would do such a thing: something that goes a 180 degrees against all normal parental instinct. And if you add to the equation a parent who is professionally successful, with an untarnished outward appearance - but the child in question has had a few public stumbles - the accusation sounds almost absurd.

    Just reading your blog is extremely vindicating for me, if that makes any sense. For me it's yet another stepping stone on my journey to reaching some kind of peace with the subject. It´s been a very long road so far...

    Thank you so very much for sharing this - for me it's a very generous and valuable gift.

  3. I can't tell you what it means to finally know that someone else understands what my childhood was like. Thank you.

  4. If you want to hear an authentic version of this, I made a video with a few sorry voicemails. All of these tactics are represented. I know the years of details can't be clarified, but think about what you'd say to your kid(s) if they cut off contact. Then, watch and listen to this and compare. Feedback is welcomed and hoped for.

    Watch "Voice mails from Undiagnosed
    Borderline Personality Disordered Mother" on YouTube

  5. So happy to know I am not alone. The guilt and sadness still eats at me today. The barriers I have put inplace seem to be working. But after having a short visit I am emotionally drained. I only continue contact with my Queen/Witch Mother for the sake of my two children. They deserve to have the opportunity for a relationship with their grandparents. Both my husband and I are always with our kids when we visit.

  6. Borderline Personality Disorder is the most difficult to understand and diagnose mental illnesses. As a consequence there is little awareness of its existence in the general public. If there were greater awareness, more resources would be brought to the table to help these people. I believe the biggest problem is its name. "Borderline" means nothing in helping us understand the condition. I have proposed that we change the name to Faultfinding Personality Disorder based on the most important diagnostic criterion - chronic finding of fault with themselves and others due to their black-and-white thinking which leads to disturbed interpersonal relationships. To back this up I wrote the book "Faultfinders: The impact of borderline personality disorder." I explained the condition using examples of numerous famous people to make the symptoms memorable. I would be interested to hear what others think about a possible name change.

  7. This gives new meaning to why my MIL gave "King" and "Queen" mugs to me and my husband, then posted on social media that we were egomaniacs who own "King" and "Queen" mugs. We considered it projection and another attention-seeking stunt. Turns out she must have enough self-awareness to project her own diagnosis. I'd never heard of the K&Q before, so thanks.

  8. my mother is the witch and sometimes queen, but out of a whole family shes like that only with me.