My beloved mother has BPD or Borderline Personality Disorder. I think there’s another name for it but borderline describes precisely how it feels to encounter someone with this disorder, so for brevity’s sake I’ll just say BPD.
Living with someone else’s BPD is like living under a dark cloud even when it’s sunny outside. BPD is as painful for families as Schizophrenia, however this disorder doesn’t get much attention because these people live right on the border of insanity and sanity. They can function just enough to get by without severe psychiatric care because they have learned how to hide their dysfunction for just long enough at certain right times. Those who know them well discover the depth of brokenness eventually. It’s confusing for all who encounter BPD.
My point here is not to dehumanize anyone, including my mom, by labeling someone and saying that’s who they are. No, instead knowing I’m saying knowing about BPD may help one to cope with it when someone they know has it. The problem with Borderlines is that they have such a deep brokenness that if one isn’t careful, it can become a black hole that sucks loved ones in with all the disrespect of a jealous mafia boss. The brokenness in them must be escaped, even when that means the relationship becomes an- it’s either me or you, prospect.
With my own mother I have had to take long breaks from her in order to rebuild resiliency. Somehow, no matter what, without any warning, I would become the target of verbal attacks so venomous I left the conversation feeling bitten & needing to get the venom out. To avoid being continually blindsided by her cold eyed rage and boiled over emotionalism, I’ve worked on recognizing warning signs. If she asks if I’m going to take away something, like the cell phone my wife & I pay for, I usually know this is a set up. For some reason it’s like she then has to test me to see if she can throw a tantrum & still have that phone.
Another warning is over emotionalism of something in the news that has no actual bearing to her life. For a couple years I stayed news free (since the election it’s more in my life-not sure that’s a good thing) but last summer I did hear about a shooting in my mom’s city. I didn’t know the name of the person shot but was surprised to hear my mom say she planned to attend a funeral of a person she never mentioned knowing. I asked how she knew this person, and she responded “we all cried when he was shot by the police.” Moments later my mom went into an epic meltdown. These are the moments I’m learning to navigate.
A book I recommend, especially for children of BPD moms is Understanding The Borderline Mother by Christine Ann Lawson. I’ve read some of the other popular books on the topic and this one has been the most helpful. This book aptly profiles 4 types of BPD moms: The Waif, Hermit, Queen, and Witch. The distinctions help to sort out behavior traits that tend to cluster in certain ways with certain people. Also the chapters on living with them without succumbing to their madness are particularly helpful in recognizing and steering through the murky waters in the soul of a BPD.
As a kid I wanted to fix my mother’s brokenness. I used to make her these terrible “tonics” which was whatever liquids we had to drink combined with random spices, to make her feel better. Being an only child, I was her all-good and no-good daughter who either was appreciated when the mood was right, or was ridiculed and raged at when the mood was wrong. I’m convinced my mom “knows not what she does” in some instances because she forgets her previous outbursts, manipulation, and intensity. But that doesn’t give her a free pass.
In growing out of BPD’s heart-breaking effects I’ve been changing what I allow in my life from BPD loved ones. Navigating her illness in a saner way starts with recognizing behaviors in others and myself that is harmful. When faced with say, controlling behavior, I can stop and think about what I need and want, what my fears are, and what is most important. This is beyond “do I want to be right or happy” and instead asks: how far down the rabbit hole of conflict with this person do I want to go, knowing they will likely never change? Fewer power struggles are better, but it’s important to recognize what is important to stand up for and how long to do that before all hell breaks loose with BPD folks.
Living with BPD means nearly every day presents a new struggle with that person. We all occasionally lapse into various controlling types of behavior at times in our lives. As a Christian I believe we are fallen, and will never reach earthly perfection. That’s why forgiveness is such a potent and powerful tool in relationships because we all mess up and act like jerks from time to time. However a war zone manifests when we are tested by another person like this regularly. And this is what I and so many other kids of BPD grew up in. Sometimes we must win a war by leaving it. This is why limited communication with my mother is key to coping, even when I miss the good things about her.
Apparently children of BPD’s can grow into it themselves and I think I got close, especially as a young teen and young adult. Being used to chaos instilled a desire for it in a way. I was always angry with something vast and nebulous like the government, civil rights, and elitism. I didn’t even know what I was talking about half the time but I could stir up my own fear and rage and go to socially sanctioned marches and protests to let off steam. I think really though, all that yelling, victimization (by THE man), and indignation was about letting my own brokenness out. It was ultimately about catharsis rather than “making the world a better place.” Of course I went to my 1st protest at age 14 with my mother, so there you go.
The worst part of living with BPD and nearly having it, is the sadness. To feel that aching loneliness and emptiness, is brutal. It’s like being trapped in a cold prison, isolated from life itself. The only thing that makes the pain go away is distraction after distraction, cause after cause, fancy after fancy. Luckily by the time I was 30 I had worn myself ragged by self-righteousness and mellowed out. Don’t get me wrong, passion is good, I’m just more choosy about what will bring my life more happiness. If I take up a cause or commitment, it’s because it has elements that will directly effect my life. Perhaps that sounds selfish but if I want to help elephants, for example, it’s because I think elephants are cool and therefore it benefits me to help. Joining causes and movements I’ve learned, never alleviates inner turmoil for long.
Here are some summarized points from Understanding The Borderline Mother.:
-Adult children benefit from establishing structure in their relationships with Borderline loved ones.
-Chronic crisis isn’t the other person’s responsibility, so check facts, clarify expectations, and retreat if their behavior begins to overwhelm (another version of this is: name it, frame it, tame it).
-Respond to the issue, rather than the persons fear/anger/tears. If a BPD person feels threatened they may become erratic. Refuse to be provoked or taken in by drama by being clear, direct, honest, and mindful to not succumb to crazy making. Also remember the sufferer is a human being and deserves love not allegiance.
-Eliciting guilt is a common tactic.
-Individuation will not destroy the BPD loved one. Having financial and emotional independence is key to maintaining a possible relationship.
-BPD individuals can have many wonderful qualities and can at times be fun and loving, but sometimes the intimacy can be too much after a bonding moment and drama can ensue.
Well I’m off to a walk dogs. There’s sun shining though some spots in the clouds. Both light and grey mingle in the skies and in us. We can walk in greater freedom, when we can endure both, yet continue to hope for brightness.