Mothers With Borderline Personality Disorder: Treatments For Parents With BPD
Content/Trigger Warning: This article contains sensitive topics including brief discussion of self-harm and suicide. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact one of the following hotlines.
National Domestic Violence Hotline: Call 1-800-799-7233 or text "START" to 88788.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741741
Living with a family or caretaker who has a mental health disorder can add certain complications to life. It is completely valid to be concerned about a parent if they seem to be exhibiting behaviors and symptoms that are correlated with certain mental illnesses.
One particularly challenging mental health condition – borderline personality disorder (BPD) – is predominantly diagnosed in people assigned female at birth at a 3:1 rate. You may have some assumptions about BPD based on its depiction in the media, which typically involves extreme self-centered behaviors and self-destructive patterns, but this is hardly an accurate representation of a typical person or woman diagnosed with BPD.
If you genuinely question whether your mother is experiencing BPD, continue reading to learn more about what it means to have a diagnosis of BPD and what tools are available for supporting you, your mother, and your family. Keep in mind that it isn’t your responsibility as a child of someone with BPD – regardless of your age --to care for them, especially at the expense of your own mental health. Remember that you and your feelings are just as valid as anyone else's and if being in a situation with a caretaker who has BPD is harming you, it's okay to reach out for help and support.
A BPD Diagnosis Is Not Your Fault, But It Is Your Responsibility
Borderline personality disorder is a mental health condition that affects approximately 1.6% of people living in the United States. When you have BPD, your self-image and sense of self is skewed, which causes you to have intense emotions and behave impulsively. If you have a mother who has a personality disorder, it’s important to understand that this illness can greatly affect how they react in certain situations. Because BPD can be isolating, seeking professional treatment is key, such as through online therapy. Despite the disorder’s complexity and the fact that there currently is no cure, it is highly treatable.
Diagnosing BPD can be difficult, as its signs and symptoms are like those of other mental health disorders. Your mental health professional will complete an extensive psychological evaluation to ensure a proper diagnosis, including family history.
When Does BPD Usually Develop?
Mental health professionals are wary of diagnosing individuals with BPD before 18, typically choosing to wait until they are young adults before making a formal diagnosis. BPD traits tend to manifest in the late teen years, and it is believed that the condition’s onset is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
People with other family who have a history of BPD may be at a greater risk for developing the disorder, as well as individuals who have experienced abuse, neglect, or other childhood trauma. People with BPD are also sometimes believed to have been born with marked emotional sensitivity as they struggle with emotion regulation and tend to have intense emotional responses.
BPD symptoms tend to 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. On the other hand, positive life events, such as making a good friend or finding meaningful work, can help decrease symptoms.
If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic abuse, reach out for help immediately. The National Domestic Abuse Hotline can be reached at 1-800-787-3224, and is available 24/7.
What Are The Common Symptoms Of BPD?
Award-winning psychologist and author Marsha Linehan 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 feel the following borderline traits and harmful behaviors:
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 tends to be idealized or perceived as malicious, cruel, and uncaring
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, and is typically 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 and range from euphoric happiness, anger, guilt, anxiety, and panic within a few hours
Feelings of numbness or emptiness
Intense feelings of 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 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 feels unbearable, they may attempt to manage it in a different way using physical pain. The threat of suicide can be incredibly confusing to a child or adolescent, as can witnessing self-harming behavior or the telltale wounds or scars.
If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255, and is available 24/7.
A Note To Mothers With BPD
Most importantly, it’s essential to realize that your BPD diagnosis is not your fault, and it’s never too late to seek treatment. Many mothers diagnosed with BPD carry a tremendous amount of guilt on their shoulders, and a BPD diagnosis may exacerbate feelings of guilt or shame about your actions, feelings, relationship with your child and friends, etc.
You deserve to feel better, and you deserve to get help. Therapy has been proven to reduce symptoms associated with BPD, and doing so can help you understand your disorder in a non-judgmental way. It can also help you repair relationships with family and friends or learn how to better translate the feelings and symptoms you're managing to family in a way they can understand.
A Note To Adult Children Of Parents With BPD
If one of your parents has been diagnosed with BPD, it can put incredible stress on your parent-child relationship and family system. You may have noticed that your mother finds it difficult to be alone and you feel guilty, as their child, about leaving them. Solo time can provoke anxiety in parents and individuals with BPD, as they depend on others, including the children they raised, to soothe their intense emotions. Individuals with BPD struggle with lashing out at the people they love most, including their children. Even though they crave close, meaningful relationships, a mother with BPD often keeps loved ones at arm’s length and may struggle with personal space.
It’s important to recognize that your mother did not choose to live with a mental illness or BPD. It’s an incredibly complex disorder that they likely struggle to comprehend fully or even understand how much it affects their parent-child relationship with you. Even so, your mother’s own pain does not give them a valid reason to take it out on you or hurt you. Emotional abuse, or any other type of abuse, is never an acceptable way for a parent with BPD to handle their struggles. BPD may not be your parent’s fault, but it is their responsibility to learn how to control it. There are many resources effective treatment options for people living with BPD, which we’ll cover in-depth in the following sections.
A child, or children, being raised by a mother or parent with BPD may also have experience significant impacts on their own mental health. How a child was raised, and their childhood experiences can affect the child’s current relationships, compassion towards others, and even their own parenting style. It could also affect children’s’ early development and healthy relationships with others growing up. For example, a child who was raised by a mother with BPD may struggle to control their own emotions, set boundaries, or work through negative emotions.
Even if you feel mentally healthy now, and feel capable of supporting your mother, it’s important to note that taking care of yourself and safeguarding your own needs, including mental health priorities, is as important as supporting your mother with hers. Setting clear and healthy boundaries in your parent-child relationship, taking space when needed, making time for self-care, and seeking out therapy for yourself can help maintain a balanced relationship with someone who has BPD and help you show more compassion towards your parent with BPD.
Boundary setting can be particularly difficult for children who just want to help their mom or parent feel better. There are resources available to help children support their moms without jeopardizing their own mental health. For example, family therapy with a knowledgeable therapist can help children develop boundary-setting skills and assist moms in respecting those boundaries, or lack thereof.
Resources For Individuals With BPD
Whether you are a mother with BPD or the child of one, the following resources can help you better understand this mental illness and disorder:
I Hate You-Don’t Leave Meis a bestselling book that demystifies BPD 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 and discusses the link between BPD and other conditions.
Stop Walking on Eggshells is a great read for anyone affected or hurt by the chaotic nature of BPD. This resource is especially helpful for adult children of a mother with BPD.
The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guideanswers every question you may still be asking about BPD and its effects, either as a parent with BPD or a child raised by parent with BPD. This award-winning resource is a must-read for anyone who experiences BPD symptoms. It includes valuable information and insight as well as a list of coping skills to help you move forward.
Reading is a great self-care strategy as well as a wonderful way to learn more about BPD. However, there are other self-care resources available for parents diagnosed with BPD and their children. For example, mindfulness exercises may be a great self-care strategy for developing a sense of deep 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. For example, grounding exercises are a self-care technique that is particularly useful when you are stressed. One such technique has you pay attention to your senses. For instance, list five things you smell. Then pay attention to your sense of taste. What do you taste? Continue this for all your senses, and you will likely feel calmer afterwards.
What Treatment Options Are Available For Moms With BPD?
Professional help is often recommended to cope and move forward from BPD. Below are three common practice treatments for BPD.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
DBT focuses on teaching skills for emotion regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and mindfulness practice. Traditional DBT includes group skill-building sessions along with individual therapy. Some therapists treat patients with BPD solely through individualized DBT sessions, but the treatment is most effective when combined with a group component.
Schema-focused therapy can be conducted for mothers diagnosed with BPD either individually or in a group setting. This type of therapy can help moms with BPD recognize their unmet needs on their healing journey. A woman who was neglected by family in childhood may engage in unhealthy patterns to cope with their emotional pain. Upon entering schema therapy, they can learn insights as to how to properly care for themselves and cope with childhood trauma and emotional abuse in a healthier, more sustainable way.
Mentalization-Based Therapy (MBT)
MBT is a form of talk therapy that allows clients to voice their true thoughts and feelings about their life. During MBT, negative thought patterns are reframed for the BPD mother, 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 mom with BPD or you and your family grew up experiencing the ups and downs of a mom with BPD, therapy can help you untangle the complex emotions that accompany the disorder, help you live a more fulfilling life, and gain better insight into how your parent with BPD thinks. After answering a few questions, BetterHelp will connect you with a licensed therapist who best fits your situation and needs.
Harvard Medical School has reported that psychotherapy is the “mainstay” for treating and supporting mothers with BPD. Therapy can address deep-rooted behavioral and personality concerns that characterize such a disorder. Harvard also concluded that various types of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) and psychodynamic therapies (like MBT), could be equally effective in treating and supporting mothers with BPD.
Because personality disorders are so entrenched in individuals challenged by their symptoms, successful therapy for mothers with BPD likely takes prolonged time and patience. Research shows that psychotherapy can reduce the harmful behaviors and psychological symptoms associated with BPD and increase the quality of life of mothers with BPD.
The Benefits Of Online Therapy
Sometimes symptoms such as shifting emotions and moods can make it challenging to attend in-person sessions. Online therapy offers a solution, enabling parents to schedule appointments at times that are convenient for their schedules or mood fluctuations. In addition, online therapy typically offers lower pricing than in-person therapy.
New research continues to affirm the effectiveness of online therapy for the treatment of BPD. In one randomized trial of internet-based psychotherapy for 80 women who met the DSM-IV criteria for BPD, those in the experimental group experienced a significant decline in their scores in impulsivity, cognitive difficulties, affective symptoms, interpersonal struggles, and overall BPD symptoms.
BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have helped mothers with BPD and other clients manage many psychological symptoms. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar issues.
“Kris [Fant] has been helping me for over a year and a half now. Whether it’s dealing with the day-to-day stresses of work or deep-seated issues from my childhood, she brings sensitivity, insight, and gentle humor… She’s pretty awesome, and I’m happy to be able to connect with her via this platform.”
“Dr. [Christina] McGrath Fair is such a great listener and can synthesize my thoughts in a way that makes everything feel less insurmountable. I’m bipolar, and I have a chronic illness, so that I can be a lot. But she is so kind, and patient, and caring. And she’s encouraged me to use the messenger part more (we do phone sessions; I’m an elder millennial, lol), which has been surprisingly helpful. It’s like texting a friend when you’re in panic mode. Except you don’t have to worry about freaking out your friend or overwhelming them, and she replies so quickly. Not immediately, because people have lives. And always in a way that makes me feel validated and less alone with my problems… Talking to her makes things reasonable again. Not fixed, or gone. She reminds me of my skills and power and struggles I’ve gotten through, so I’m confident I’ll get through this difficult time too.”
Commonly Asked Questions On This Topic Found Below:
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?
How do you manage a relationship with an emotionally unstable mother?
To read more on the topic of BPD and parent/child relationships, check out these articles!
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