Tag Archives: What Is Bpd?

Highly Dysfunctional Families and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

borderline personality disorder and dysfunctional families

Those who go on to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD) almost invariably grew up as children in highly dysfunctional families in which the parent/s was/were emotionally unstable.

dysfunctional families and borderline personality disorder

I have written about BPD extensively in other articles on this site (to access them, simply type ‘BPD’ into the site’s search box) so I will only briefly recap upon some of the main symptoms from which the individual with BPD suffers :

– inability to control powerful emotions

– extremely chaotic interpersonal relationships

– extremely poor impulse control

– very poor sense of own identity (also sometimes referred to as ‘identity confusion’)

– sees others in terms of being either ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’ with no middle ground (this is also sometimes referred to as ‘black and white’ thinking or ‘dichotomous thinking)

– hypersensitivity, especiallly a tendency to interpret neutral, innocuous comments of others as personal slights

Overwhelmingly, the most important risk factors leading the child to go on to develop BPD are child abuse and child neglect. Indeed, these two risk factors easily outweigh the influence of biological and social factors.


The child who goes on to develop BPD as an adult is very likely to have grown up in a household in which he received ‘double messages’ from his/her parent/s – in other words, the child’s parent/s are very likely to have both felt and expressed EXTREME AMBIVALENCE towards the child. I describe how this ambivalence towards the child generally manifests itself below :


It is theorized that the parent holds, simultaneously, 2 attitudes towards being a parent which are contradictory and in direct opposition to each other. It is thought the 2 conflicting attitudes are :

ATTITUDE 1 : the parent/s believe their role as a parent is of great importance and central to their lives

ATTITUDE 2 (in direct opposition to the above but simultaneously held) the parent/s deeply resent having to fulfill a parental role and regard the child as an IRRITATING OBSTACLE PREVENTING THEM FROM PURSUING THINGS THAT WOULD LEAD TO THEIR PERSONAL FULFILLMENT.

Not infrequently, such ambivalent feelings will focus upon just one child, leaving his/her siblings relatively emotionally undamaged.


Unconsciously, the child has a deep need to keep the ambivalent parent/s as emotionally stable as possible (in Darwinian terms, this is clearly in the interests of his/her survival). The dilemma is, therefore, as follows :

On the one hand, s/he needs to remain of great importance to the ambivalent parent/s (in order to support attitude 1 (above)). On the other hand, however, s/he needs to allow them to justify, in their own minds, their hostility, anger and resentment towards him/her (in order to support attitude 2 (above)).

But how can this possibly be achieved?

Building upon an original idea of Melanie Kline, it has been theorized that, in order to maintain his/her parent’s/parents’ psychological equilibrium, the child must adopt what has been termed spoiler behaviour (this is NOT a conscious decision of the child’s – it is driven by unconscious forces).

‘Spoilier behaviour’ involves :

– in effect, refusing to grow up

– remaining dependent on the parent/s (as not able to function competently as an adult)

– rebelling against and severely denigrating the parent/s

Without therapy, such ‘spoiler behaviour’ may be maintained deep into the formerly abused child’s adulthood. Such behaviour is a way of INVALIDATING THE PARENT/S IN EXACTLY THE SAME WAY AS THEY INVALIDATED HIM/HER AS A CHILD. In essence, s/he is ‘giving back as good as s/he got.’

The now adult child will continue to try to keep his parent/s emotionally stable by (and I repeat, unconsciously) desperately trying to regulate their ambivalent emotions towards him/her :

– if they begin to feel too guilty (due to attitude 1, above), he will make them angry. However :

– if they become too angry (due to attitude 2, above) s/he will make them feel guilty

This is, I think, a very ingenious theory; however, it is very difficult to prove theories which are based in part upon ideas relating to unconscious mental processes.

If I could briefly indulge myself by suggesting a theory of my own : IF A CHILD KNOWS S/HE IS ESSENTIALLY DISLIKED BY HIS/HER PARENTS, IS IT NOT EASIER TO TOLERATE IF S/HE ACTS IN SUCH A WAY THAT HELPS THE PARENTS, IN THEIR OWN MINDS, TO JUSIFY THEIR DISLIKE, RATHER THAN TO TRY HARD TO GET ON WITH THE PARENTS, AND OBTAIN THEIR ADMIRATION, AND YET STILL BE DISLIKED? In the former case, the child can almost convince him/herself s/he wants to be disliked, and is only disliked due to his/her behaviour. Whereas, to be disliked whilst trying desperately to be liked by one’s parents could, potentially,  be psychologically catastrophic.



KANSAS STATE UNIVERSITY – further information about dysfunctional families (CLICK HERE).



bpd ebook


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


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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Borderline Personality Disorder: Raising Our Self-Esteem.



Individuals with low self-esteem constantly criticize themselves. We may even META-CRITICIZE ourselves (criticize ourselves for criticizing ourselves). We oftemn focus on mistakes and over-generalize from them, believing that these mistakes completely define us as a person (thus losing perspective and ignoring the positive things about ourselves; in other words, being biased against ourselves, often because we have been programmed to dislike ourselves during childhood).

This faulty thinking style leads to depression, guilt and low confidence. We may think of ourselves as: -stupid -unlikeable -inferior -weak -incompetent etc,etc…

We need to question our negative beliefs about ourselves and ask ourselves: ARE WE CONFUSING OUR THOUGHTS ABOUT OURSELVES WITH THE ACTUAL FACTS? One of the biggest dangers of self-criticism is that it can PARALYZE and DEMORALIZE us, taking away our confidence to try to develop ourselves in life. We feel doomed to perpetual, unremitting failure.


We would not follow a friend around all day and focus his attention on his every little mistake by loudly announcing it to the exclusion of everything else, so why do we think it fair to do it to ourselves – undermining ourselves, chipping further away at our own precarious confidence?


Often, we criticize ourselves with the benefit of hindsight – overlooking the fact that it was not possible to have this perspective at the time, and that we reacted AS THINGS APPEARED TO US THEN.

When we criticize ourselves in RETROSPECT, we do so with the benefit of information that was not available to us at the time we acted. CONSTANT SELF-CRITICISM PREVENTS US FROM LEARNING:

By constantly criticizing ourselves we take away our confidence to tackle problems in the future that could help develop us as a person; we keep ourselves ‘stuck’. We learn much better by PRAISING OURSELVES FOR WHAT WE DO RIGHT, NOT CRITICIZING OURSELVES FOR WHAT WE DO WRONG.

If we conclude we’re a hopeless failure, condemned to be eternally incompetent and useless, when we get things wrong, we will lose all incentive to perservere and make constructive changes in our lives.


By constantly criticizing ourselves, we are kicking ourselves when we are down. We might be criticizing ourselves for such things as lacking confidence or always being miserable. It is important to remember, though, that other people, too, would probably see themselves in the same way if they had had the same experiences as us. It is a NATURAL and COMMON response to stressful events and does not mean that there is anything fundamentally wrong with us.


-Spotting our self-critical thoughts: self-critical thoughts can become automatic, a routine we have never actively tried to change. We may not even have considered that we can change, assuming they were an essential and intransigent part of our nature.

But changing the way we think about ourselves changes the way we feel and behave, so it is necessary for us to stop being so hard on ourselves and focus much more on our positive qualities an our potential to grow as a person as we would like to.

We need to stop feeling excessive guilt and disappointment in ourselves and realize such thoughts are most probably the result of depressed, faulty self-judgments and do not accurately reflect the person we actually are.

We need to gradually distance ourselves from these erroneous, negative self-descriptions that we have, up until the time we undertake to change, imposed upon ourselves.

Challenging our negative thoughts about ourselves:

When we have negative thoughts about ourselves we can do the following:

-tell ourselves our thoughts about ourselves could be completely mistaken, unrealistic and unfair. Also, they may be caused by an irrational guilt complex and a subsequent unconscious wish to punish ourselves.

-concentrate on all the evidence AGAINST our negative view of ourselves.

-consider other perspectives: are we taking the most negative one possible?

-remind ourselves that our negative thoughts are keeping us stuck in our life situation, making us too depressed, unmotivated and lacking necessary confidence to develop our full potential and to change our lives for the better.

-remind ourselves that we are almost certainly judging ourselves too harshly; much more harshly, say, than we would judge a friend. -remind ourselves that it is irrational to write ourselves off as a person due to some past mistakes and weaknesses. -make more of our strengths and less of our weaknesses.

-stop feeling disproportionately guilty about mistakes made in relation to great stress.




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

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery