Living with a mother or primary caretaker with a mental illness like borderline personality disorder (BPD) can be complicated. If a parent seems to be exhibiting behaviors and symptoms correlated with certain mental illnesses, you're not alone, and there are ways to find support, whether you're a teen or an adult.
To start understanding this condition, it may be helpful to learn what it means to have a diagnosis of BPD and what tools are available for supporting you, your mother, and your family. Note that it isn't your responsibility as a child of someone with borderline personality disorder – regardless of your age – to care for them, especially at the expense of your mental health. Your feelings are as valid as anyone else's, and if being in a situation with a caretaker with BPD harms you, it's okay to reach out for support from a professional or safe loved one.
A Note On BPD Misconceptions
People may form assumptions about BPD based on its depiction in the media, which often portrays self-centered behaviors and self-destructive patterns. Although these can be symptoms of BPD, stereotypes do not define this condition. In addition, bipolar disorder is not the same as borderline personality disorder. However, the two may co-occur. The difference is that borderline personality disorder is a personality disorder, bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, and BPD does not involve symptoms of mania or hypomania, which are clinically unique to bipolar disorder.
What Does A BPD Diagnosis Mean?
Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition that causes emotional and behavioral challenges and affects approximately 1.6% of US adults. BPD can skew one's self-image and sense of self, which can cause intense emotions and impulsive behavioral patterns.
If you have a mother with a personality disorder, knowing the many aspects of life BPD can impact may be helpful. You may perceive that your mother takes her emotions out on you or that minor conflicts become explosive challenges. As a child, you could take this behavior personally or form beliefs about your self-worth due to how your parent treats you. Child outcomes for individuals living with a parent with BPD may include having a poor relationship with the parent, harm avoidance, and a higher risk of developing mental health conditions later in life.
A parent's borderline personality disorder diagnosis is not your fault. However, whatever your age, there are ways to manage the challenging environment of growing up with these challenges. If you believe your parent has borderline personality disorder, their symptoms do not reflect who you are. They may instead originate from emotional pain or your parent's past experiences. While having a borderline mother can be challenging, it doesn't mean you will also develop this condition.
Because borderline personality disorder can be isolating, seeking professional treatment is often critical. Despite the disorder's complexity and the fact that there is no cure, it is highly treatable, and individuals can learn to manage the symptoms.
How Does Borderline Personality Disorder Develop?
Mental health professionals are wary of diagnosing individuals with borderline personality disorder before 18, often choosing to wait until they are young adults before making a formal diagnosis. BPD traits often manifest in adolescent children in the late teen years, and it is believed that a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors causes the condition's onset. The most common risk factors for BPD include a family history of mental illness, chaotic or dysfunctional parent-child relationships, and inadequate parenting due to under-resourced parents.
People with other family members with a history of borderline personality disorder may have a higher risk of developing the disorder, as well as individuals who have experienced abuse, neglect, or other childhood trauma. People with BPD may also be believed to have been born with higher emotional sensitivity, as they often experience profound emotional responses.
BPD symptoms often ebb and flow throughout an individual's lifetime. Changes in life circumstances, such as the end of a relationship, relocation, pregnancy, or childbirth, may worsen symptoms. Contrarily, positive life events, such as making a friend or finding meaningful work, may decrease symptoms.
If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 for support. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.
What Are The Common Symptoms Of Borderline Personality Disorder?
Award-winning psychologist and author Marsha Linehan metaphorically compares individuals with a personality disorder to "people with third-degree burns … Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement." In addition to being highly sensitive, individuals with BPD may experience the following symptoms:
- Fear of abandonment and the perception that others reject or separate from them, whether real or imagined
- Unstable relationships wherein the person on the other end of the relationship is idealized at one moment and perceived as malicious, cruel, and uncaring the next
- Low self-esteem and distorted perceptions of self, which are commonly manifested as feeling flawed or invisible
- Paranoia, which may last from a few hours to a few days, often exacerbated by high levels of stress
- Risky behaviors such as unsafe sex, compulsive spending, and substance use
- Mood swings, which can last for a few days or shift in a matter of hours
- A sense of numbness or emptiness
- Intense anger or rage, as well as a loss of temper, sometimes accompanied by verbal or physical aggression
- Suicidal threats or engaging in self-harm
If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text 988 to talk to a crisis provider over SMS. They are available 24/7 to offer support. 988 also offers an online chat for those with an internet connection.
If an individual with BPD anticipates rejection or unwanted separation from a loved one, they may engage in self-harming behavior or threaten to commit suicide. Because the emotional pain the individual is experiencing can seem unbearable, they may attempt to manage it through physical pain. The threat of suicide from a parent can confuse a child or adolescent, as can witnessing self-harming behavior and the wounds or scars that result. For this reason, children of a mother with BPD may benefit from talking to a psychologist.
What Can Mothers With BPD Do?
It can also be beneficial to realize that your BPD diagnosis is not your fault, and it's not too late to seek treatment. Mothers diagnosed with BPD may carry guilt on their shoulders, and a BPD diagnosis may exacerbate guilt or shame about their actions, feelings, and relationships with their children, family, and friends.
As a mother with this personality disorder, you may strive to create a healthy life for your children. While mistakes can have lasting psychological consequences, they do not necessarily define you as a person or mother. Choosing to get better and choose healthier behaviors around your child is possible, and you're not alone in the process. Some mothers with BPD benefit significantly from therapy to treat their condition.
How To Cope As An Adult Child Of A Mother With BPD
If one of your parents has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, it may stress your parent-child relationship and family system. You may have noticed that your mother finds it difficult to be alone, and you might feel guilt about leaving or living an adult life without them. Being alone can provoke severe anxiety in parents and individuals with BPD, as they often want to depend on others, including the children they raised, to soothe their intense emotions.
Some people with BPD may lash out at their children. Although they crave close, meaningful relationships, mothers with borderline personality disorder often keep loved ones at arm's length and may struggle with space. The mother-adolescent relationship can become strained and create a shameful and incongruent sense of self for the child. Throughout your childhood or life, you may have felt that your parent used you to vent their frustrations, which may have left you without much emotional support.
Having a parent with borderline personality disorder can affect your healthy development, leaving an unstable self-image and difficulty trusting the emotions and needs of future partners or children in your life. Taking care of yourself can be essential to healing and lets you put your mental health first.
A child raised by a mother or parent with borderline personality disorder may also have experienced significant impacts on their mental health. How a child was raised and their experiences can affect their relationships, compassion, and parenting style as adults. It could also affect children's early development and healthy relationships with friends. For example, a child raised by a mother with BPD may experience difficulty controlling their emotions, setting boundaries, or working through challenging memories.
Even if you believe you can support your mother, taking care of yourself and safeguarding your needs, including your mental health, can be as crucial as supporting your mother. Setting clear and healthy boundaries in your parent-child relationship, taking space when needed, making time for self-care, and seeking therapy may help you maintain a balanced relationship with someone with BPD and learn more about the condition from a professional.
Setting healthy boundaries can be challenging for children who want to help their mom. It can be challenging to see someone you love in emotional pain. However, resources are available to help children support their moms without jeopardizing their mental health. For example, family therapy with a knowledgeable therapist can help adult children develop boundary-setting skills and assist their mothers in respecting those boundaries.
Is BPD A Choice?
Although it can be challenging to live with BPD, your mother did not choose to live with a mental illness. BPD is a complex condition she may not fully understand, and your parents might not note its impact on you. Despite this, your mother's diagnosis doesn't give her a right to take out emotional pain on you, discuss sensitive topics before you're ready, or abuse you.
Emotional abuse, or any other type of abuse, is not an acceptable way for a parent with borderline personality disorder to cope with their condition. Borderline personality disorder may not be your parent's fault, but they are responsible for learning how to control it. There are many resources and effective treatment options for people living with BPD, and some people may experience periods of symptom remission when caring for themselves proactively.
Resources For Individuals With Borderline Personality Disorder
Whether you are a mother with borderline personality disorder or a child of one, the following resources may help you better understand this mental illness.
I Hate You, Don't Leave Me
I Hate You, Don't Leave Me is a bestselling book that demystifies borderline personality disorder as a mental health condition. In addition to offering hope and support to those with BPD and their loved ones, this resource includes up-to-date research. It discusses the link between borderline personality disorder and other conditions and the pattern of "splitting" common in BPD, which involves behaviors like idolizing someone one moment and hating them the next.
Stop Walking On Eggshells
Stop Walking on Eggshells may be a beneficial read for anyone affected by the chaotic nature of BPD. This resource is often recommended to adult children of a mother with BPD or partners of someone with BPD.
The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide
The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide answers questions you may be asking about BPD and its effects, either as a parent with BPD or a child raised by a parent with BPD. This award-winning resource can be valuable for anyone who experiences BPD symptoms, including parents. It includes a list of coping skills to help you move forward with your condition.
Reading is one self-care strategy for people with BPD and their loved ones. However, other self-care resources are available for parents diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and their children. For example, mindfulness exercises may be effective for developing a sense of gratitude for the positive aspects of your family life rather than fostering a sense of shame or guilt about a BPD diagnosis.
Other self-care strategies include breathing exercises, journaling, and staying active. Grounding exercises are a self-care technique that you can use when stressed or severely upset. Paying attention to your senses is one way to do so. For instance, you can list five colors in your environment. Afterward, pay attention to your sense of taste. What do you taste? Continue this exercise for all five senses until you feel your emotions regulating and your breath returning to normal.
What Treatment Options Are Available For Mothers With BPD?
Professional help is often recommended to cope and move forward from borderline personality disorder. Below are three standard practices for BPD.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) focuses on teaching skills for emotion control, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness practice. Traditional DBT includes group skill-building sessions along with individual therapy. This modality was developed by Marsha Linehan, Ph.D., an author and individual living with BPD herself. For that reason, the treatment is often the first choice for BPD.
Some therapists treat clients with borderline personality disorder solely through individualized DBT sessions, but the treatment is most effective when combined with a group component. Note that mental health research is constantly evolving, so older sources may contain information or theories that have been reevaluated since their original publication date.
Schema-focused therapy can be conducted for mothers diagnosed with borderline personality disorder individually or in a group setting. This type of therapy aims to support clients in recognizing their unmet needs. A woman neglected by her family in childhood may engage in unhealthy patterns to cope with their emotional pain. Upon entering schema therapy, they can learn how to properly care for themselves and cope with childhood trauma and emotional abuse without having the sense that they must be saved or supported by others.
The therapist can work with the mom to identify her schema and how it affects her life. Through understanding these thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, moms can better understand their authentic needs, moving away from adverse patterns developed in response to an emotionally absent parent or family member.
Mentalization-Based Therapy (MBT)
Mentalization-based therapy (MBT) is a form of talk therapy that allows clients to voice their true thoughts and feelings about their lives. During MBT, negative thought patterns are reframed, and the client learns to reflect, pause, and react after analyzing the situation. This form of therapy is effective for treating the impulsivity associated with BPD.
If you are a mother living with BPD or a child of a mother with this condition, therapy may help you untangle the complex emotions that can arise, live a more fulfilling life, and gain better insight into how you or your parent thinks. However, some people may struggle to seek professional support due to shame or stigmas. In these cases, it may be beneficial to reach out for support through online therapy platforms like BetterHelp for adults or TeenCounseling for those aged 13 to 19.
Online therapy offers a solution to shame, stigma, and difficulty planning appointments, enabling clients to schedule appointments at times convenient for their schedules or moods. In addition, online therapy offers lower pricing than in-person therapy in some cases, which can be more affordable for low-income families.
New research continues to affirm online therapy's effectiveness in treating BPD. In one randomized trial of internet-based psychotherapy for 80 women who met the DSM-IV criteria for BPD, the experimental group experienced a significant decline in their scores in impulsivity, cognitive difficulties, affective symptoms, interpersonal struggles, and overall BPD symptoms.
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Commonly Asked Questions On This Topic Found Below:
How Do You Manage A Relationship With An Emotionally Unstable Mother?
Can Someone Who Has Borderline Personality Disorder Be A Good Mother?
How Do I Know If My Mom Has Borderline Personality Disorder?
Should Borderlines Have Kids?
How Do You Live With A Borderline Mother?
What Is A Waif Borderline Mother?
Do Borderlines Get Worse As You Age?
What Personality Disorder Does A Controlling Mother Have?
How To Detach From Someone Who Has Borderline Personality Disorder?
What Age Does Borderline Personality Begin?
How Does A Mother With Borderline Personality Disorder Act?
Do People With BPD Have Empathy?
What Are Parents With BPD Like?
What Happens To Children With Mothers Who Have BPD?
What Are The 4 Types Of BPD Mothers?
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