How Adult Children can Manage Their Relationship with Parents who have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Part 1.

childhood trauma and borderline personality disorder

Children Of Parents With BPD:

Some of us experienced childhood trauma due to a parent being unstable. As has been described in previous posts, BPD causes great instability in individuals, which can have a very serious impact on that individual’s child/ren, so some of us who experienced childhood trauma may have grown up with a parent with BPD. This could have contributed to ourselves developing similar problems, or, even, to us developing BPD ourselves.

However, whatever the state of our mental health, as adults now ourselves, we need to know the best way to manage our relationship with BPD parent/s in the present, and, also, understand what effect our parent/s condition may have had on our own lives. This is of particular interest to me as I was brought up by a highly volatile and extremely unstable mother.

POSSIBLE EFFECTS ON THE CHILD OF A PARENT WITH BPD:

Parents with BPD can lack the necessary resources to bring their children up – in the worst case scenario, this may lead to neglect and/or abuse.

Children of BPD parents have frequently grown up in a highly unstable emotional atmosphere, have witnessed highly distressing behaviour in their parent/s, and, often, have been on the receiving end of extreme hostility, expressed verbally and/or physically. Further, they may have been exploited by their parent/s burdening them with their own emotional problems. My own mother, for example, used me, essentially, as her own private counsellor from when I was about 10 or 11- years- old, and would, on top of this, very often be terrifyingly verbally aggressive and hostile.

With experiences such as these, as adults, we can feel that our childhoods were stolen from us and we may go on to enter a kind of mourning for the childhood we never had.

Being brought up with a parent with BPD leads to a much higher probability of us developing the following problems:

alcoholism – illicit drug use
– depression
anxiety – suicidal feelings/ suicide attempts/ suicide
– behavioural problems eg impulse control
– personality/emotional disorders

Indeed, this is not altogether surprising when it is reflected upon that, as children, we may have been exposed to many long, painful, distressing years of intense conflict and arguments, threats (eg of violence, or, as in my own case, of abandoment),and unpredictable, unstable and highly volatile emotions.

Whilst we may feel deep resentment for the way in which we were treated, not infrequently necessitating professional support to deal with it, it is necessary, also, to keep in mind that our parent/s with BPD have developed it due to their own personal histories,including psychological, biological and social factors. However, this is cold comfort when we are children struggling to understand ourselves and living in a permanent state of acute distress.

POSSIBLE IMPACT OF A PARENT’S BPD ON THE CHILD:

1) The parent’s impulsivity: this could include alcohol, drugs, gambling etc causing enormous anxiety in the child and possibly in him/her developing similar problems in later life (due to the psychological concept known as ‘modelling’).

2) The parent’s dependency on child: for example, the parent may become emotionally dependent upon the child, using him/her as their personal counsellor, which can lead to the child feeling overwhelmed with concern, responsibility and anxiety, leading later to anger and resentment.

3) The parent’s volatility, instability and unpredictability: this, again, often leads to the child developing extreme anxiety and deep concerns about being abandoned – causing long-term, deeply ingrained insecurity (the parent may threaten to send the child away to live with relatives or to live in the care system).

4) The parent’s threats of suicide: again, this can lead to the child experiencing acute anxiety, possibly leading, later down the line, to the individual developing his/her own self-harming or suicidal behaviour.

5) The parent’s ambiguity towards the child: technically, this is known as ‘SPLITTING’- being consumed with passionate hatred towards the child one day, but then giving him/her extravagant praise the next – these polarized attitudes towards the child vascillating in a deeply confusing fashion.

This will often lead the child to have an extremely unstable identity and self-concept – sometimes feeling they are better than others, but, at other times, feeling worthless, inferior and consumed with self-hatred. Thus, the child can grow up not quite ‘knowing who he/she is’.

This is not an exhaustive list, but, as I am trying to keep these posts to a manageable length and avoid swamping the reader with information, the picture the examples give, I think, is sufficient as an introduction.

In PART 2- I will look at suggested ways to manage our problematic relationships with our BPD parents.

If you would like to view an infographic on the relationship between having a mother with BPD and risk of suicidal behavior, please click here.

borderline personality disorder and childhood traums

The above eBook is now available for immediate download on Amazon. CLICK HERE.

Best wishes, David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

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