Parents of individuals who go on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) in their adult life are typically extremely needy, sensitive (especially to rejection), and inadequate (in as far as they lack the necessary inner resources to be an effective parent).
Often, such a parent is likely to be preoccupied with her own feelings at the expense of those of her baby/child (henceforth I will just use the word ‘child’ to refer to ‘baby or child). This can then frequently lead to the child’s own needs to be soothed and comforted going unmet. This state of affairs can be made even worse if the parent also sometimes takes out her own feelings of stress and anxiety on the baby, perhaps through verbal, or even physical, aggression. Such damaging behaviours by the parent may be triggered by, for example, the child’s continued crying.
Essentially, then, because the parent finds it extremely difficult to constantly give her child’s needs priority over her own (and therefore is likely to treat the child in a very inconsistent manner) the child’s emotional needs remain unsatisfied.
So the child of such a parent will experience her as unpredictable and sometimes frightening (when, for example, the child senses the mother’s own anxiety or experiences her hostility). The child and the mother fail to bond adequately, and a kind of psychological barrier forms between them.
This inconsistent, unpredictable, inadequate and stress-/fear- inducing parenting means that the child does not learn how to consistently manage and regulate his own feelings and emotions and will therefore often find them overwhelming and out-of-control. He may become highly sensitized to perceived potential threat and thus be easily tipped into anger and aggression as a coping/self-defence mechanism (usually this response is operating on an unconscious level).
Indeed, the parenting style may be so damaging that the physical development of the child’s brain structure is adversely affected, leading to him developing acute sensitivity to even minor stress (click here to read my article on how adverse early experience can damage the developing physical brain, leading to acute problems managing feelings of stress, anxiety, fear and other emotions). A child so affected will frequently then go on to be an adult who finds it very difficult to be self-reliant and may thus become a highly dependent personality.
The psychologist Marsha Lineham suggested that children who go on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) (click here to read my article on this) grow up in what she calls an ‘invalidating environment’. She defines such an environment as one in which the child’s needs and significant experiences go unacknowledged or ignored. The environment may also be one in which the child is unwanted and viewed as a burden or inconvenience.
To end on a personal note, I myself grew up in a very invalidating environment – my disturbed mother always threatened to throw me out of the house and did just that when I was thirteen; I then went to live with my father and step-mother who both made it clear I was unwanted (both by what they said and did, and, equally importantly, by what they did not do and say). I remember, too, the invalidating comments – for instance my (not infrequent) crying would meet with phrases from my mother such as ‘stop that bloody snivelling’ or, alternatively, ‘not the bloody water-works again !’
Still. I’m now 46. Perhaps it’s time to move on.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).