It is well known that those suffering from BPD find it very hard to maintain healthy relationships with others and this includes relationships with their own children. Why is this?
Mothers with BPD are very likely indeed to have many unmet needs deriving from their own traumatic childhoods which, in turn, can act as an unconscious desperate desire to have these needs satisfied via their adult relationships. In other words, the BPD mother projects her childhood emotional needs (which went unfulfilled) onto her adult circumstances.
This means the BPD mother may, on an unconscious level, have a powerful need for her own child to provide her with the emotional nourishment she missed out on from her own parents. Or, to put it another way, she may unrealistically expect her child to sacrifice his/her own emotional needs in order to satisfy hers. This, of course, is an expectation that the child cannot possibly fulfill as s/he simply does not have the psychological resources necessary to do so.
In the eyes of the BPD mother, the child’s inability to meet her needs constitutes a slight against her which can then lead to deep resentment of her child, resulting in a catastrophic breakdown of the relationship.
In my own case, after my parents divorced when I was eight, my mother soon started to use me as her personal counselor (she even used to refer to me as her ‘Little Psychiatristt’). However, she was also prone to outbursts of vitriolic rage and hatred towards me if I displeased her in any way and, by the time I got to be about twelve or certain, I started to argue back and express my own (defensive and reactive anger). This was intolerable to her so she threw me out of the house at the age of thirteen so that my father and step-mother (against their wishes) were forced to take me in.
And, of course, it is not just BPD mothers’ relationships with their children that are highly volatile, but with romantic partners too. Just as her expectations of how her children relate to her unrealistic, so too are her expectations of those she attempts to form romantic partnerships with. In essence, she expects those with whom she forms a relationship to provide her with the kind of unconditional love only parents can provide. Furthermore, due to her lack of experience with genuinely healthy relationships, she often has unrealistic expectations of an IDEAL relationship in which all her emotional needs are met at all times and that the initial, exciting ‘honeymoon period’ of the relationship lasts forever.
Because those with BPD frequently have severe problems with relationships (as described above) and are unaware that these problems derive from their own unmet childhood needs, gaining insight into this and learning to ‘self-parent their inner child’ with the help of an empathetic therapist is potentially beneficial. Unfortunately, many BPD sufferers do not accept they have a problem, instead insisting that it is everyone else who has the problem. Indeed, many individuals with BPD find any kind of criticism extremely hard to take and this tends to be linked to an extremely fragile sense of self-esteem making him/her highly defensive. Raising self-esteem, then, may be a necessary starting point.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)