Borderline mothers are people with Borderline Personality Disorder. This disorder is characterized by the following traits and symptoms:
- an intense fear of abandonment
- intense anger
- alternating between seeing people as all wonderful or all evil
- self-destructive behavior
- unstable relationships
- unstable self-image
- may have suicidality
Many people with Borderline Personality Disorder were severely abused as children. Often, they were raised by parents who had the same disorder and were not able to parent in a reasonable, stable manner. Sometimes the Borderline adult has been the victim of sexual abuse, incest or other severe childhood traumas.
Living with a Borderline Mom
A mother with Borderline Personality Disorder can be very emotional and at times, quite out of control. A child’s fairly normal misbehavior or mistake can trigger an intense temper tantrum. Verbal and physical abuse may replace appropriate discipline strategies. Drama, hysteria and crisis erupt where calm, thoughtful parenting should have prevailed. After episodes of abusive parenting, the Borderline mother may feel intense remorse and fear of losing the child’s love. Acting more like a lost child than a parent, the mother may then beg the child for forgiveness or cry in front of the child about what a terrible parent she has been.
The child who lives with a Borderline parent can become hypervigilant – always on guard for signs that Mom will become enraged. The child also becomes confused, never knowing whether he is a “good” or a “bad” boy because the mother’s opinion swings wildly from one pole to the other. Because severe punishment can be meted out at any time for any infraction, the child may feel that he can never succeed in being good enough. The child may also end up parenting the mother, offering reassurances of love when the mother expresses fear of abandonment.
A Life-Long Struggle
Eventually children of borderline mothers grow up and leave home. However, the mother-child dynamic does not end. The grown up child still may feel insecure and may still try to please the mother or at least avoid upsetting the mother. The grown child may not yet realize that, in fact, his or her parent is ill. Instead, the child may still be engaged in frequent fighting, arguing, disconnecting and reconnecting for many years into adulthood or middle age before some therapist finally identifies the issue.
It is important for people to realize that intense drama in interpersonal relationships and particularly the parent-child relationship, is never normal. Some sort of pathology is always at play. Instead of caring feelings of inadequacy, helplessness, guilt and anger, children of Borderlines can heal and find their own healthy centers. Usually professional assistance is required for this journey. However, once healing occurs, the relationship with the older Borderline parent can be renegotiated to protect the child better. Although the Borderline mother may never heal, the child certainly can. Seeking professional help is the quickest way to do so.