When Your Mother Has a Borderline Personality

From Psychology Today

If your mother’s love was, and still is, toxic, what are your options?

What is borderline personality disorder? It’s a pattern of intensely hyper-emotional responses, especially to situations that trigger abandonment fears. It’s a pattern of demanding, critical and chaotic relationships instead of cooperative communicating . It’s a pattern also of misinterpreting situations as hurtful that are in fact benign, with the misinterpretations ocuring either while the situation is happening, or in retelling the events later. It also may be a pattern of attractive and highly competent-appearing social functioning at times alternating with periods of intense and inappropriate anger, narcissism, and explicitly hurtful behavior (to themselves or to others).

What would you expect to see in a mother (or a dad) with borderline personality features? Alas, you would see widespread domestic violence of the verbal variety. That’s because one hallmark of a borderline personality is unpredictable raging.

In addition, you would see narcissism, that is, inability to attune to others’ needs, including her child’s. Instead of attunement to the child’s needs, whatever happens would be experienced as ‘all about her.’

You might alas also see abusive behavior. In fact if it’s the man with borderline tendencies, that is, if it’s the dad who is difficult, his BPD pattern is likely to be labeled abusive personality.

Here’s a classic example of a borderline parent in a situation that most dads or moms would react to with an easy hug. Mom and child are walking on the sidewalk. Child falls. Mom erupts in fury. “How could you fall like that here where everyone can see you? You are making me look bad!” The child’s concerns would be irrelevant. The mother’s reaction to the incident would be all about Mom.

I’ve written several articles about how children do and do not develop borderline personality disorder: The Sleepover: How a Cute Little Girl Develops Borderline Personality Disorder and How an Often-Angry Little Girl Does Not Develop a Borderline Personality Disorder.

In response to the second of these earlier articles, which discusses what parents can do when children start raging, several readers wrote in about their childhood experiences with the opposite situation: growing up with a raging mom. This posting draws from their profoundly insightful comments. So does this additional blogpost on the same subject. Lastly, the comments from readers in response to this article have been profoundly enlightening to me. Especially if there is an individual with borderline functioning in your life, be sure to read these insightful contributions.

Thank you so much to all of you: Annie, Linda, Alison, Babs, Naomi, Verdi, Kelly, Jose, Elijah, Crawford’s Daughter, and the many others including the various folks named Anonymous who have written in to my prior articles and to the comments to this one. Thank you for sharing your stories, for supporting each other, and for suggesting readings on the biological elements of borderline functioning.

Please note: When I use the word Mother in this article I intend it to refer to either parent, Mom or Dad.