BPD Link To Mothers Who Fluctuate Between Nurturing And Abusive Behaviour


As we have seen from other articles that I have published on this site, individuals who have been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (a very serious psychiatric disorder strongly associated with severe and protracted childhood trauma) have a strong tendency to see others and ‘black and white’ terms or as ‘all good’ and ‘all bad’. Indeed, BPD sufferers may suddenly switch from idealizing a person, such as a partner, to ‘demonizing’ this same person.

Unfortunately, as I know from my own experience, mothers with BPD or with BPD traits may treat their own children in this way – sometimes smothering them with love and engulfing them, then, unpredictably and dramatically, altering their behaviour to treating them in a highly psychologically abusive way. In other words, their parenting is inconsistent in a particularly extreme way

Obviously, to be on the receiving end of such treatment is disorientating, deeply confusing, toxically stressful and traumatizing, particularly (as in my case) the mother is a single parent and there is no stable father or partner to protect and comfort the child. (Throw into the mix a complicit, bullying older sibling and things are apt to turn out especially badly).


Because of the diametrically opposed ways in which the mother has of treating her child (vacillating between nurturing and abusive), this may lead to the child to being unable to construct an integrated mental representation of his/her mother that encapsulates her whole range of potential behaviours (from very good to very bad) towards him/her.


Instead, the child forms two mental representations of the mother (one reflecting her ‘all bad’ side and one representing her ‘all good’ side and stores these representations, it has been hypothesized, in two different parts of the brain, as follows:

  • the mental representation of the ‘all good’ mother is stored in the right hemisphere of the brain.
  • the mental representation of the ‘all bad’ mother is stored in the left hemisphere of the brain. 


The process described above is often referred to by psychologists as ‘splitting‘, a psychological defence mechanism which can lead to not only two opposing, unintegrated mental representations of the mother (‘good’ and ‘bad’) but, similarly, two such contrasting, unintegrated views of the world in general. Because of the mother’s extremes of behaviour, the two hemispheres in the brain are theorized not to develop in the normal, integrated way, but to develop in such a way that makes each hemisphere relatively autonomous. 


This lack of integration between the two hemispheres, and because of the different ways in which each hemisphere operates, may also mean that the individual whose brain development has been harmed in such a way may also develop a marked tendency to dramatically fluctuate between viewing people, events and circumstances in a logical or over-valuing way (when in what we might call ‘left-hemisphere mode’) and viewing these same people, events and circumstances in a severely hostile, negative and critical way when in the ‘right-brain mode’, seeing everything in terms of ‘black and white’ rather than in more subtle, nuanced and sophisticated shades of grey. 

As I said at the beginning of this article, seeing everything in terms of ‘black and white’ is one of the defining characteristics of sufferers of BPD so it can be seen from the above why mothers with BPD are far more likely to have children who develop BPD than the average mother although there are, of course, many other reasons why this is the case which I write about elsewhere but are beyond the scope of this current, brief article.


Childhood Trauma, Therapy And The Right Brain

Why A ‘Love-Hate’ Relationship Develops Between The Abusive Parent And The Child

Bowlby’s Theory Of The Damaging Psychological Effects Of Maternal Deprivation

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


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

David Hosier MSc holds two degrees (BSc Hons and MSc) and a post-graduate diploma in education (all three qualifications are in psychology). He also holds UK QTS (Qualified Teacher Status). He has worked as a teacher, lecturer and researcher. His own experiences of severe childhood trauma and its emotional fallout motivated him to set up this website, childhoodtraumarecovery.com, for which he exclusively writes articles. He has published several books including The Link Between Childhood Trauma And Borderline Personality Disorder, The Link Between Childhood Trauma ANd Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and  How Childhood Trauma Can Damage The Developing Brain (And How These Effects Can Be Reversed). He was educated at the University of London, Goldsmith’s College where he developed his interest in childhood experiences leading to psychopathology and wrote his thesis on the effects of childhood depression on academic performance. This site has been created for educational purposes only.

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