Signs That A Parent May Have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)


Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is an extremely complex psychological condition. Indeed, it is not infrequently misdiagnosed as some other type of disorder, such as bipolar disorder. For these reasons there is likely to be a very large number of individuals who have the condition but are not aware of it.

And the picture is further confused by the fact that BPD often exists alongside (comorbidly) with other psychiatric disorders such as depression and anxiety. Furthermore, many who have the condition do not seek psychiatric help for the problem.

Of course, a formal diagnosis of BPD can only be made by an appropriately qualified professional. However, there are many signs to look out for that may suggest a parent has the disorder. It is to these that I now turn.

Signs That A Parent May Be Suffering From BPD:

The parent :

– shows little emotional or physical affection for the child

– invalidates/ignores/minimizes/derides/dismisses feelings that are important to the child (eg. ‘Why or you upset? – for god’s sake stop blubbering you little cry-baby’)

– responds inconsistently to the child’s behaviour – gives the child ‘mixed messages’ (this is sometimes referred to as putting the child in a ‘DOUBLE-BIND’ – click here to read my article on this)

– subjects the child to verbal cruelty – my own mother referred to me as ‘scabby’ (I self-harmed) and ‘poof’ (I was highly sensitive). Often, when I returned home from school, she would glare at me and announce, ‘Oh Christ, the little bastard’s home’. She finally kicked me out when I was thirteen)

– makes the child feel unloved/unwanted

– expects the child to meet exacting/unobtainable standards – frequently changes expectations of the child

– hinders the child from developing his/her own identity

– disputes child’s version/recall of events if it involves criticism of the parent

– creates ‘role-reversal’ (i.e. the child is treated as if s/he is the parent’s parentthis is also sometimes referred to as ‘parentification’ of the child; it may include making the child take on responsibilities that are inappropriate for his/her age (for example, I frequently had to act as my mother’s personal counsellor from the age of about ten. She reinforced this by referring to me as her ‘little psychiatrist’).

– makes the child feel on-guard and defensive all the time

– over-confides in the child (e.g. provides intimate details of sex-life)

– expects the child to be the carer/provider of emotional support

– expects child to constantly demonstrate undying loyalty and unconditional love, but DOES NOT RECIPROCATE


Of course, such treatment as described above can have a catastrophic effect upon the child. Indeed, if the child is seriously affected, these effects can last a lifetime unless proper treatment is sought. I list some of the possible effects on the child once s/he becomes an adult below:

Possible effects on the child’s future adult life of the kind of treatment described above:

The affected person may:

– suffer severe social anxiety

– feel inadequate, unlovable, of no value and guilty

– have pervasive and chronic feelings of emptiness

– feel incapable of enjoyiong him/herself (this condition is referred to by psychologists as ‘ANHEDONIA’ – click here to read my article on this) or feel guilty about enjoying self, believing him/herself to be undeserving of happiness

– expects always to be betrayed by others/be deeply mistrustful of others

– have no sense of direction in life

– have serious problems in relationships, perhaps due to ‘repetition-compulsion’ the tendency to seek out relationships in which one is abused in a way similar to how one was abused by parents (this acts on an unconscious level)

– question his/her intuition, judgment and memory as parent will not accept his/her view of his/her childhood

– have chunks of childhood missing from memory (for instance, I can remember almost nothing about what happened to me before the age of about eight years)

– have a deep rooted fear of rejection/abandonment so will not take risks with trying to form relationships

– have a low tolerance of own mistakes/perfectionism

It should also be noted that research shows that those of us brought up by a parent with BPD are of elevated risk of developing the condition ourselves. Currently, one of the main kinds of treatment for the condition is ‘DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOUR THERAPY’ (DBT) – click here to read my article on this form of treatment.

NB: It is worth reiterating that a formal diagnosis of BPD must be made by a professional – as I have already said, it is a very complex disorder.


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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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