Mothers With Borderline Personality Disorder: Common Symptoms And Treatment

By: Kelly Spears

Updated November 20, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Sonya Bruner

Growing up is hard. Sometimes you feel like your parents don’t understand you, and sometimes it feels like they understand you a little too much. Everything maybe even more complicated if you are living with someone who has a mental health disorder. It is completely valid to be concerned about your mother if she seems to be exhibiting behaviors that are correlated with certain mental illnesses. If you question whether your mother is experiencing borderline personality disorder, continue reading to learn more about what this means and how she can access help.

What Is Borderline Personality Disorder?

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Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health disorder that affects approximately nineteen million people in the United States. When you have BPD, your self-image is skewed, which causes you to have intense emotions and behave impulsively. If you have a mother who has a borderline personality disorder, it’s important to understand that this illness can greatly affect how she reacts in certain situations. Because BPD can be isolating, seeking professional treatment is key. Despite the disorder’s complexity, it is highly treatable.

Diagnosing BPD can be difficult, as its signs and symptoms are similar to 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 Borderline Personality Disorder Usually Develop?

Mental health professionals are wary of diagnosing individuals with BPD before 18, typically choosing to wait until early adulthood to make 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 a family 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 unusual emotional sensitivity.

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.

Common Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder

Award-winning psychologist and author Marsha Linehan compares individuals with a borderline 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 often experience the following symptoms:

  • Fear of abandonment and the perception that others reject or separate from them, whether real or imagined.
  • Unstable relationships. The person on the other end of the relationship tends to be idealized or perceived as malicious, cruel, and uncaring.
  • A distorted perception of self is commonly manifested as feeling flawed or invisible.
  • Paranoia, which may last from a few hours to a few days. Typically, high levels of stress exacerbate these paranoid feelings.
  • Risky behavior, 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 person with BPD may experience euphoric happiness, anger, guilt, anxiety, and panic within a few hours.
  • Feelings of numbness or emptiness.
  • Intense feelings of anger or rage. Also, loss of temper, which can be 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 with 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 Borderline Personality Disorder

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A diagnosis of BPD can be both enlightening and scary. After being diagnosed with BPD, it’s vital to practice self-compassion and remind yourself that the diagnosis does not define you. Most importantly, it’s essential to realize that your BPD is not your fault, and it’s never too late to seek treatment. Many mothers carry a tremendous amount of guilt on their shoulders, and a BPD diagnosis is likely to exacerbate feelings of guilt or shame. 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-judgemental way.

A Note To Children Of Mothers With Borderline Personality Disorder

If your mother has BPD, you may have noticed that she finds it difficult to be alone. Solo time can provoke anxiety in individuals with BPD, as they depend on others to soothe their intense emotions. Individuals with BPD may also lash out at the people they love most. Even though they crave close, meaningful relationships, they often keep loved ones at arm’s length.

It’s important to recognize that your mother did not choose to live with BPD. It’s an incredibly complex disorder that she likely struggles to comprehend fully. Even so, she should never take it out on you. There are many resources for individuals with BPD and their loved ones and effective treatment options for BPD, which we’ll cover in-depth in the following sections.

It’s important to note that protecting your mental health is as important as supporting your mother with hers. Setting clear boundaries, taking space when needed, and seeking out therapy for yourself can help maintain a balanced relationship with someone who has BPD.

Resources For Individuals With Borderline Personality Disorder

Whether you are a mother with BPD or the child of a mother with the condition, the following resources can help you better understand this disorder:

  • I Hate You-Don’t Leave Me is a bestselling book that demystifies BPD. In addition to offering hope 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 by the chaotic nature of BPD. This resource is especially helpful for adult children of parents with the condition.
  • The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide answers every question you may still be asking about BPD and its effects. This award-winning resource is a must-read for anyone who experiences BPD symptoms. It includes valuable information and a list of coping skills to help you move forward.

Treatment Options For Mothers With Borderline Personality Disorder

Professional help is often recommended to cope and move forward from BPD. Below are three common treatments for BPD.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

DBT focuses on teaching skills for emotion regulation, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness, and the practice of mindfulness. 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

Schema-focused therapy can be conducted individually or in a group setting. This type of therapy can help mothers with BPD recognize their unmet needs. A woman who was neglected in childhood may engage in unhealthy patterns to cope with her emotional pain. Upon entering schema therapy, she can learn to properly care for herself and cope with her childhood trauma 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. 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.

Seeking Help

If you are a mother with BPD or you grew up experiencing the ups and downs of a mother with BPD, therapy can help you untangle the complex emotions that accompany the disorder and help you live a more fulfilling life. Answer a few questions, and BetterHelp will connect you with the licensed therapist that best fits your situation and needs.

The Benefits Of Therapy For Borderline Personality Disorder

Harvard Medical School has reported that psychotherapy is the “mainstay” for treating BPD. Only therapy can address the deeply rooted problems with both behaviors and personality that characterize a personality disorder. They also concluded that various types of therapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapies (e.g., DBT) and psychodynamic therapies (e.g., mentalization-based treatment), could be equally effective in treating BPD. Because personality disorders are so entrenched in individuals challenged by their symptoms, successful therapy will likely take prolonged time and patience. The good news: research shows that psychotherapy can reduce the harmful behaviors and psychological symptoms associated with BPD and increase the quality of life.

The Benefits Of Online Therapy

Is Your Mother Very Emotional? She May Have Borderline. Read More Here.
Talk About Your Family Issues Using Online Therapy.
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As discussed above, psychotherapy can help individuals reduce the harmful symptoms of psychological disorders and live happier, more fulfilling lives. But sometimes, symptoms such as shifting emotions and moods can make it challenging to attend in-person sessions. Online therapy offers a solution. You can access BetterHelp’s platform from the comfort and privacy of your home.

In addition, online therapy offers lower pricing than in-person therapy. BetterHelp’s licensed therapists have helped clients overcome many psychological symptoms. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

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.”

Final Thoughts

While it’s essential to seek help if you’re experiencing BPD symptoms, recognize that you are not your disorder. A diagnosis of BPD doesn’t define you as a person or a mother. Many experts view borderline personality as a trauma response rather than a disorder. This reframing can help patients navigate the healing process from a non-non-judgemental perspective. Through time, perseverance, and hard work, you can recover. Take the first step today.


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