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Living with a Parent with Borderline Personality Disorder (1)

It’s not easy living with any person who suffers from emotional instability but it is particularly difficult when you are a child in that situation. In fact, even when you are an adult, it can still be difficult to cope with such a parent. This is particularly the case with Borderline Personality Disorder.

In Borderline Personality Disorder: Diagnostic Criteria, we looked at the characteristic requirements necessary to be diagnosed with this confronting disorder.
Today we look at what it is like to grow up with a parent suffering from this condition.

Anna’s mother Claire had shown signs of emotional instability when she was a teenager. Expelled from two schools and possessing a break-and enter charge by the time she was 17, Claire was a difficult child. But then, her parents did not provide Claire with an emotionally stable background either. They divorced when Claire was 16 after years of alcohol abuse and emotional neglect of their child.

Claire alternated from her father’s residence to her mother’s, neither parent really wanting her. She began drinking heavily and sought love in numerous one night stands. Eventually she had a complete mental collapse and was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Claire was placed on a regime of antidepressant and antipsychotic medication. This allowed her to attend college and after a period of years, complete a certificate in childcare. But her life was profoundly unstable, punctuated by extreme mood swings, erratic spending, self-harming behavior and irresponsible sexual behavior. The latter led to the birth of Anna, when Claire was 21. Anna is now 21 herself and has struggled to cope with her mother’s erratic behavior all her life.

Fortunately for Anna, she learned from an early age that her mother was “different”. This helped Anna to avoid the same behavioral patterns as her mother as it was obvious that something “just wasn’t right.” Yet she could never rely on her mother and as she grew older, found that she became responsible for picking up the pieces of her mother’s life.

As an only child to a single mother, Anna was running the household by the time she was 12 years old. The paying of bills was Anna’s responsibility as her mother could not be relied upon to remember or even have the money to hand when the due date arrived. Anna had become what is known as a “parentified child”.

Living with a Parent with Borderline Personality Disorder (2)

In the first article of this series, we read about the difficulties a child encounters when their parent suffers from borderline personality disorder (BPD). We looked at the story of Anna, a 21-year-old woman whose mother suffered from BPD. Anna did well to become a functioning adult, but with her mother’s erratic lifestyle and rapidly changing moods, Anna had many difficulties to cope with.

The least was her mother’s continual on-off relationships. Always volatile and intense, Anna’s mother, Claire, made Anna’s childhood a misery. Constantly disappointed in her mother’s failure to attend important school days, she would sometimes believe in her mother’s promises to attend functions, hold parties and generally be a good mother to Anna.

There was little doubt that Claire truly believed that she would arrange and carry out a wonderful themed 10th birthday party for Anna. Claire would plan the dishes and the decorations and Anna would be naturally excited. But something would invariably happen. A fight with a lover or the illness of a friend would throw Claire into such a state that the party would be all forgotten, and poor Anna would be mortified as she had to tell her friends on the day of her party that it was off because “something came up”. After many years of similar circumstances, Anna grew wise to her mother’s lifestyle and didn’t believe her anymore. But the resentment built.

The crunch came when one of Anna’s childhood friends lost a long battle with leukemia. Anna had begged her mother to accompany her to the funeral as Anna felt that she would break down and needed her mother’s support. Repeatedly Claire reassured her daughter that she would be there for her. But on the morning of the funeral Claire phoned Anna and, sobbing her eyes out, told her daughter that she wouldn’t be able to attend the funeral. Her current lover had dropped her, and so she dropped her promise to Anna.

Fortunately Anna had anticipated this might happen, so she had sought support elsewhere. However, Anna needed therapy in the long term to help her realize the amount of damage her mother had caused her over the years, and how much she had believed there was something wrong with herself, rather than her mother.

With counseling, Anna was able to slowly come to grips with the sorrow and anger associated with having a parent such as Claire and was finally able to move to the point where she could see that her mother had an illness, it was not Anna’s fault and thus she could ultimately forgive her mother. It took several years of therapy but Anna now sees herself in a more realistic light and not as an angry, unloved and unlovable child.


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