If we were brought up by a parent with borderline personality disorder (BPD), it is likely that we suffered significant emotional trauma during our childhoods. In this article, I want to look at how various aspects of typical behaviour patterns of the BPD parent may specifically affect the psychological and emotional development of their child. The various aspects of typical behaviour patterns of the BPD parent which may adversely affect the child’s development are as follows:
1) Behaviour of parent: outbursts of extreme rage/verbal aggression
Potential effect on offspring: may become extremely aggressive, depressed, unable to control own emotions
2) Behaviour of parent: parents with BPD may suffer from a symptom known as ‘dissociation’ which involves mentally retreating into their ‘own world’, thus becoming emotionally unavailable to their children (click here to read my article on dissociation)
Potential effect on offspring: may feel neglected and emotionally deprived. In later life, this can lead to a strong need to overcompensate for this loss and a sense of entitlement
3) Behaviour of parent: self-harm – this can include self-mutilation (click here to read my article on the science behind self-harming behaviour), attempted suicide or even completed suicide
Potential effect on offspring: depression and the possibility that they, too, will develop similar self-harming behaviour
4) Behaviour of parent: Neediness – a parent with BPD may look to the child to provide him/her with emotional support or burden him/her with other responsibilities inappropriate to his/her age.
Potential effect on offspring: this can lead to ‘role-reversal’ in which the child, in many ways, is forced or coerced into acting as a parent to his/her own parent. This may lead the child to become unclear about their role and identity, which, in turn, can lead to problems interacting with, and relating to, their peers; this, in turn, exacerbates feelings of isolation, loneliness and anxiety. It can also lead to resentment, aggressiveness, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) – click here to read my article on OCD
5) Behaviour of parent: a succession of unstable relationships (eg constantly changing partners due to the volatile nature of the relationships)
Potential effect on offspring: anxiety, insecurity, fear of abandonment
Potential effect on offspring: anxiety, the development of similar behavioural patterns
7) Behaviour of parent: lack of empathy/lack of understanding of their children’s feelings
Potential effect on offspring: the development of similar difficulties empathizing with others as well as problems making sense of their own emotions
8) Behaviour of parent: splitting – this refers to the parent seeing the child in alternating extremes eg full of admiration for the child one day, but full of hatred and contempt the next
Potential effect on offspring: the development of an extremely unstable view of self and dramatically fluctuating self-esteem – sometimes feeling far superior to others, but, at other times, feeling deeply inferior and worthless; identity problems go hand-in-hand with these symptoms (ie an unclear sense of who they are – click here to read my article on identity problems)
As can be seen from the above, the effect of a BPD parent on the offspring can lead to the offspring him/herself developing symptoms of BPD. Indeed, those raised by a BPD parent are at a far greater risk themselves of developing full-blown BPD than are those who were raised in a relatively stable environment.
BPD is a very serious condition (click here to read my article on BPD) and, if you feel you are at risk of developing it, it is highly recommended you seek the advice of an appropriate professional to consider therapy options. Currently, one of the main therapies for those suffering from the symptoms of BPD is DIALECTICAL BEHAVIOUR THERAPY (click here to read my article about this).
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).