Category Archives: Borderline Personality Disorder And Its Link To Childhood Trauma

Articles about how severe and protracted childhood trauma is linked to borderline personality disorder (BPD), symptoms of which include : unstable relationships, fear of abandonment, impulse control problems, unclear self-image, emotional dysregulation, explosive anger and chronic feelings of emptiness.

Childhood Trauma Leading To Psychotic And Immature Defense Mechanisms

mature-defense-mechanisms

According to the  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the unconscious defense mechanisms we employ to help us deal with stress can be split into three main types ; these are :

  • psychotic defense mechanisms.
  • immature defense mechanisms.
  • intermediate / neurotic defense mechanisms.
  • mature defense mechanisms.

If we have suffered severe and protracted childhood trauma which has led to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) / complex posttraumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD), we are more likely than average to develop psychotic and immature defenses rather than intermediate and mature ones.

Psychotic Defense Mechanisms :

Those who have been so affected by their traumatic experiences that they have developed PTSD or personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) are liable to develop psychotic defense mechanisms ; these include :

  • psychotic denial.
  • psychotic distortion,
  • psychotic projection,

All of these defense mechanisms are maladaptive.

Immature Defense Mechanisms :

Complex PTSD / PTSD sufferers are also prone to developing immature defense mechanisms; these include :

  • dissociation
  • – autistic fantasy
  • – passive aggression
  • – projection (paranoia)

These defense mechanisms are also maladaptive and also occur commonly in those suffering personality disorders such as borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Intermediate / Neurotic Defense Mechanisms :

  • displacement
  • regression
  • isolation

Mature Defense Mechanisms :

  • suppression
  • sublimation
  • altruism
  • humoanticipation
  • affiliation

mature-defense-mechanisms

Whilst immature defense mechanisms are maladaptive, mature defense mechanisms can be adaptive and healthy by, for example, helping to reduce our levels of anxiety, raising our levels of self-esteem and increasing our resilience and coping abillity in times of crisis.

STUDY ON THE ADAPTIVE NATURE OF MATURE DEFENSE MECHANISMS :

Indeed, a study conducted by Malone et al., (2013), investigated the type of defense mechanisms being used by a group of individuals (all male) aged between 47 years and 63 years (specifically, the researchers were interested in THE LEVEL OF MATURITY OF THESE DEFENSE MECHANISMS).

The researchers then followed up these same individuals to assess the state of their health at the ages of 70, 75 and 80.

It was found those individuals who used defense mechanisms that were mature tended to have a higher level of social support and better health in later life than those who used less mature defense mechanisms.

This, then, suggests that mature defense mechanisms can help to improve not only mental health, but physical health, too.

Two reasons why mature coping mechanisms may improve physical health are :

  1. People who use mature defense mechanisms are better socially integrated than those who use immature ones (see above) and it is the commensurate social support they receive that benefits their health.
  2. Those who use immature defense mechanisms suffer greater levels of stress than their psychologically healthier counterparts and it is this increased stress that harms their health.

Conclusion :

If we can develop healthier and more mature defense mechanisms, then, based on the above research it would seem possible that we might become easier to be around, leading to increased social integration and more social support, leading to reduced stress and improved mental and physical health.

If you would like to see the full and detailed list of defense mechanisms taken into account in the study referred to above, click this link : FULL LIST OF DEFENSE MECHANISMS.

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Psychological Maltreatment Most Harmful Form Of Abuse, Evidence From Major Study Suggests

Psychological Maltreatment Most Harmful Form Of Abuse, Evidence From Major Study Suggests 1

A major study (Spinazzola et al.) on the effects of child maltreatment provides strong evidence that psychological maltreatment of children is the most harmful form of abuse.

The study analyzed a sample of 5616 young people who had histories of childhood trauma in the form of :

– psychological maltreatment (i.e. emotional abuse / emotional neglect)

– sexual abuse

– physical abuse

Each young person who participated in the study was then assessed on whether or not he / she had experienced particular behavioral problems, symptoms and disorders (12 in all) , a list of which I present below :

– substance abuse

– alcohol abuse

– other forms of self-harm

– skipping school or daycare

– behavior problems in the home

criminal activity

attachment problems

– academic problems

– running away

suicidality

– behavior problems at school

– sexualized behaviors

Psychological Maltreatment Most Harmful Form Of Abuse, Evidence From Major Study Suggests 2

RESULTS OF THE STUDY :

The researchers found that those young people who had a history of psychological maltreatment were more damaged  by their adverse experiences (as measured by to what extent they were affected by the above listed behavioral problems, symptoms and disorders) than were those who had suffered physical or sexual abuse.

More specifically, of the above 12 listed behavioral problems, symptoms and disorders, those who had suffered psychological maltreatment were equally likely, or more likely, than those who had suffered physical abuse to have been affected by :

– substance abuse

– alcohol abuse

– other forms of self-harm

– skipping school or daycare

– behavior problems in the home

criminal activity

attachment problems

– academic problems

– running away

suicidality

– behavior problems at school

Furthermore, of the above 12 listed behavioral problems, symptoms and disorders, those who had suffered psychological maltreatment were equally likely, or more likely, than those who had suffered sexual abuse to have been affected by :

 – substance abuse

– alcohol abuse

– other forms of self-harm

– skipping school or daycare

– behavior problems in the home

criminal activity

attachment problems

– academic problems

– running away

suicidality

– behavior problems at school

IMPLICATIONS OF THE STUDY :

In response to the above findings, the authors of the study emphasized the need for it to become a matter of public policy to develop and implement childhood trauma interventions in ways that recognize just what a devastating effect psychological maltreatment in one’s childhood can have upon a person’s quality of life.

They also draw attention to the need for the child welfare system to improve their ability to detect cases of child psychological maltreatment (which frequently occurs ‘under the radar’) so that effective interventions may be implemented.

eBook :

Psychological Maltreatment Most Harmful Form Of Abuse, Evidence From Major Study Suggests 3

Above eBook now available on Amazon for immediate download. Click here.

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

Childhood Trauma And Arrested Self-Development

Early life trauma can interfere with, or arrest, the development of the self.

The normal development of self involves the following stages.

  1. Approximately 6 months : the capacity for self-observation develops
  2. Approximately 12 months : the capacity for symbolic thinking becomes well established as does a ‘sense of self’
  3. Approximately 7 to 11 years : the capacity for concrete operational thinking becomes established, as does an intense emotional life. Also, at this stage, the child becomes increasingly concerned about his / her interaction with his / her peers.
  4. Adolescence : the capacity for concrete operational thinking continues to develop as does the ability to negotiate increasingly complex and nuanced social interactions
  5. Early Adulthood : concerns turn to intimacy and family.
  6. Mid-Life : concerns extend to wider society.
  7. Later Life : world view / understanding deepens ; metaphysical concerns may become increasingly profound.

However, those who have experienced significant and protracted childhood trauma FAIL TO DEVELOP A STRONG SENSE OF SELF / SELF-IDENTITY, especially if they developed, because of their upbringing, an ANXIOUS ATTACHMENT STYLE (Main et al., 2002). An anxious attachment style can develop when an emotionally unstable parent (particularly a parent prone to explosive outbursts of rage) causes their child to have to be hyper-alert / hyper-vigilant regarding this parent’s unpredictably changing moods as a form of self-preservation (my own mother’s emotions fluctuated wildly which had an effect on me that made me able to sense how she was feeling from the minutest change in her expression, intonation or body language, and, to this day, I am able instantly to pick up on the most subtle of people’s changes in mood via tacit signs to which others may be oblivious).

Sadly, too, children brought up by such parents are unconsciously indoctrinated into developing the core belief that their own, personal concerns, worries, anxieties and needs are, at best, secondary to those of their emotionally unstable parent. Whilst, on the surface, the child / young person may appear to be ‘coping’ with such impossibly onerous responsibilities, there is often an extremely heavy emotional price to be paid in later life (in relation to this, you may be interested in reading my previously published article entitled :  Why Can The Effects Of Childhood Trauma Be Delayed?

THE THREE MAIN WAYS IN WHICH CHILDHOOD TRAUMA CAN IMPAIR THE DEVELOPMENT OF SELF :

There are three main ways in which childhood trauma can impair the development of self; these are as follows :

  1. No strong sense of self is developed ; instead, a ‘false self’ is created that tends to take its cues about how to behave from the expectations of others, so lacks autonomy, authenticity and consistency.
  2. A less weak sense of self than the above type, but still a very fragile sense of self which is kept hidden due to a sense of shame and of being judged and rejected.
  3. This third type of self develops as a result of an emotionally over-involved parent / primary caretaker. The self is undeveloped as the individual has grown up to ‘learn’ (on an unconscious level) that s/he must be hypervigilant to the parent’s / primary caretaker’s needs (and, by extension, as s/he gets older, to the needs of others – such individuals may become ‘chronic caretakers’ of others whilst remaining neglectful of his / her own needs and lacking in assertiveness and in a sense of personal boundaries.

RESOURCES :

Assertiveness Training | Self Hypnosis Downloads

The Real You | Self Hypnosis Downloads

Setting Boundaries | Self Hypnosis Downloads

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

 

 

 

 

 

Borderline Personality Disorder And The Brain

 

Nobody chooses to suffer from borderline personality disorder ; this is obvious.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is probably the most tormenting and agonizing psychiatric condition known to man. One in ten sufferers end up killing themselves after years, or even decades, of appalling mental suffering. Due to the disturbed behavior that accompanies BPD,  sufferers may become social pariahs and/or be rejected by their families – in the latter case, often by the very family member/s who have played a major role in causing the disorder ; I have said elsewhere that this is rather like somebody cutting off all your limbs and then blaming you for bleeding for over them. Or injecting you with a cancer causing agent and then blaming you for wasting away and dying.

One of the great torments of BPD sufferers is a belief that they are bad and that their behavior is due to some fundamental character flaw rather than due to a desperately serious psychiatric condition. It is this false belief (frequently caused by internalizing parental negative views of them whilst growing up) that contributes to many of the suicides and, as such, is a belief which is in urgent need of correcting.

On what grounds do I make this assertion? I summarize them below :

  • DAMAGE DONE TO THE PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE BRAIN:

The physical development of the following three brain regions is affected by our upbringing in early life and this physical development may be adversely affected if that upbringing is significantly dysfunctional.

  • AMYGDALA
  • HIPPOCAMPUS
  • ORBITOFRONTAK CORTEX

 

Let’s look at each in turn:

AMYGDALA : This part of the brain controls emotions and, especially, negative emotions like fear, anxiety and aggression. It follows that because the amygdala has developed abnormally in BPD sufferers, they will be prone to experiencing abnormal levels of fear, anxiety and aggression.

HIPPOCAMPUS : This part of the brain plays a significant role in our ability to exert self-control. Again, it follows that because the hippocampus has developed abnormally in BPD sufferers, they will have difficulties with self-control, leading to impulsive and self-destructive behaviors.

ORBITOFRONTAL CORTEX : This part of the brain is involved with planning and decision making. Yet again, it follows that because the orbitofrontal cortex has developed abnormally in BPD sufferers, they will have problems planning ahead (including poor ability to consider future implications of behaviors or to act in a premeditated or carefully deliberated manner) and be prone to irrational and illogical decision-making.

Furthermore, these three brain areas play a very significant role in mood regulation / our ability to control how we feel. As these three areas have developed abnormally in BPD sufferers, this helps to explain why their moods can fluctuate so dramatically, in turn leading to extensive problems both forming and maintaining healthy relationships with others.

Now, consider this : If a person was hit on the head with a hammer, causing brain damage which, in turn, affected how s/he felt and behaved, should s/he (the person hit) be blamed for this change in behavior? No, of course not. So, why should a different view be taken in the case of BPD sufferers? Indeed, to take a different view would seem suspiciously like discrimination against mental illness and a failure of imagination in regard to how devastating the infliction of emotional suffering can be.

Types Of Dysfunctional Upbringing That May Damage These Brain Regions :

These include :

  • suffering abuse from parent/primary carer
  • being neglected by parent/primary carer
  • being brought up by a parent with a significant mental health problem
  • being brought up by a parent/primary carer who is an alcoholic
  • being brought up by a parent/primary carer who is a drug addict

What About The Role Of Genes?

There is NOT a gene for BPD.

However, some may be born with a greater vulnerability to being adversely affected by stressful environments due to high levels of sensitivity.

 

Are Those With BPD Manipulative?

Sadly, many individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) are stigmatized by others and, amongst other perjorative terms, are frequently described as ‘manipulative’.

However, in recent years, it has been increasingly recognized that intentionally manipulative behavior is, in fact, NOT a defining characteristic of BPD sufferers after all ; this shift in attitude is best exemplified by the fact that the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Illness, Fifth Edition, or DSM-V (sometimes informally referred to as the ‘psychiatrists’ bible’), has ceased to list ‘manipulative’ as one of the personality traits associated with borderline personality disorder.

However, this begs the question : ‘Why has it been so common for those suffering from BPD to be scornfully dismissed as manipulative in the past?

According to the psychologist, Marsha Lineham (well known for having developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for the treatment of BPD), this mis-labelling of BPD sufferers as manipulative has been based on a MISINTERPRETATION of certain types of their behavior.

Lineham puts forward the view that, often, some of the behaviors of BPD patients are wrongly perceived as being  manipulative whereas, in fact, they are desperate manifestations of intense psychological and emotional pain.

Indeed, borderline personality disorder (BPD) is generally accepted as being the most excruciatingly, psychologically and emotionally, painful of all mental health conditions ; as I have stated elsewhere on this site, approximately one in ten of those suffering from BPD end their lives by suicide. (To read my article, Living With Mental Agony, click here, or to read my article, Anger May Operate To Soothe Emotional Pain, click here.)

Sometimes, an example some people may give of so-called ‘manipulative’ behavior from BPD sufferers is the threat of suicide. For example, someone with BPD may take an overdose of tablets but then phone a friend or family member to say what they have done. Lineham points out, however, that this is unlikely to be a coldly calculated ploy but, rather, a desperate and confused expression of inner mental turmoil (the intensity of which the individual may not have the words to convey) and ambivalence – ambivalence in the sense that a part of the BPD sufferer may genuinely want to die whilst another (say, instinctual) part may be driven to survive.

Indeed, the fact that, as stated above, one in ten BPD sufferers eventually die by suicide suggests that any threat to do so should be treated extremely seriously.

 

RETURN TO BPD AND CHILDHOOD TRAUMA MAIN ARTICLE

 eBook :

Borderline Personality Disorder And The Brain 4

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

 

The Main Ways Trauma Continues To Ruin Our Lives Long After It’s Over

The effects of trauma, in the absence of effective therapy, can adversely affect our lives for years or even decades (for our WHOLE lifetimes, in fact) after it is over (indeed, the effects of trauma themselves can take years from when the traumatic experience ended to present themselves – in relation to this, you may wish to read my previously published article entitled : ‘Why Can Effects Of Childhood Trauma Be Delayed?’).

In his book, ‘The Betrayal Bond‘, Patrick Carnes, PhD, outlines eight main ways in which the experience of severe trauma can continue to affect us. I list these below :

Trauma reaction :

The ‘alarm’ response to the traumatic experience. These responses can be both biological and psychological. Extreme and prolonged trauma can lead to an individual becoming essentially ‘trapped’ in the alarm response which results in him/her becoming extremely, emotionally reactive and prone to flying into rages in response to the smallest of provocations. This state is sometimes referred to as hypervigilance or hyperarousal.

Furthermore, this ongoing trauma reaction frequently involves :

Trauma arousal :

This refers to deriving pleasure from taking large risks, sensation seeking, and exposing oneself to high levels of danger or even from getting involved in violent situations ; individuals who are traumatized may behave in such ways to detract from feelings of emptiness and emotional pain.

Individuals displaying trauma arousal may :

  • find it difficult being alone
  • be intolerant of ‘low-stress situations’ (as such situations do not satisfy their cravings for mental stimulation).
  • need ever increasing ‘hits’ of stimulation and excitement due to habituation, leading to taking greater and greater risks
  • use stimulant drugs (e.g. cocaine)
  • associate with dangerous people
  • become increasingly addicted to the arousal state

Trauma blocking :

Trauma blocking refers to the individual’s attempts to numb him/herself so as to escape / block out painful feelings associated with the traumatic experiences.

Individuals displaying trauma blocking behavior may :

  • over-eat, especially carbohydrates to induce drowsiness
  • consume excessive amounts of alcohol
  • sleep excessively (referred to as hypersomnia)
  • workaholism
  • undertaking excessive exercise
  • compulsive sex
  • ‘zone out’

Trauma splitting :

This refers to the unconscious process of avoiding the reality of the traumatic experience by ‘splitting it off’ from conscious awareness so that it is compartmentalized and unintegrated into personality so as to allow day-to-day functioning (if it was not ‘split off’ and compartmentalized, it would psychologically overwhelm the individual. Therefore ‘splitting’ can be categorized as defence mechanism ; however, such splitting prevents the information associated with the traumatic experience being properly processed which, in turn, prevents traumatic resolution. (For more about ‘splitting’, click here).

‘Splitting’ can manifest itself in various ways :

  • using hallucinogenic drugs (such as LSD) to ‘enter an alternative reality.’
  • In extreme cases, ‘splitting’ can take on the form of dissociative identity disorder (which used to be called ‘multiple personality disorder’) which may involve amnesia about what one has been doing and where one is
  • certain religious and spiritual practises
  • ‘obsessive love’ – see my previously published article about OBSESSIVE LOVE DISORDER
  • frequently retreating in one’s own mind to a ‘fantasy world.’
  • living a double life

Trauma abstinence :

This refers to a compulsion to experience deprivation. This is especially likely to happen when the individual is experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety or shame ( to read my article entitled, ‘Shame Caused By Childhood Trauma And How We Try To Repress It) or even at times when great success has been achieved (see my article on self-defeating personality disorder).

According to Carnes, self-deprivation may relate to the individual having been deprived and neglected during childhood, causing him/her to believe, as an adult, that s/he is unworthy and undeserving of ‘the good things in life.’ If such an individual also has a high level of arousal caused by childhood trauma such as severe abuse (click here to read my article about hyperarousal ), this may also have led neurochemical changes in the individual’s brain making him/her prone to addictive behavior. When these two two factors (i.e. self-neglect caused by a belief of being ‘unworthy’ and proneness to addiction) coalesce, s/he may become, as it were, addicted to self-deprivation.

Carnes provides the example of anorexia, explaining that self-starvation operates like an addiction to drugs because it can increase the production of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killers (e.g. Tepper, 1992). He also states that such addictions to deprivation may operate to psychologically compensate for a sense of loss of control in other areas of life ; the example Carnes provides is that of a woman who is sexually out of control ‘compensating’ by becoming anorexic.

Food is just one example of what such individuals may deprive themselves of, other examples include :

  • heating
  • medical care
  • depriving oneself of success (self-sabotage)
  • sufficient rest and relaxation
  • holidays
  • anything that could be categorized as a luxury
  • vacations

Trauma shame :

This refers to feelings of shame (see my previously published article, ‘Childhood Trauma, The Shame Loop And Defenses Against Shame’ ) and self-hatred (see my previously published article, ‘ Childhood Trauma Leading To Self-Hatred And Intense Self-Criticism) that, all too frequently, arise following chronic and severe childhood trauma

Feelings of shame can manifest themselves in various ways, including :.

 

  • Trauma repetition :

This refers to an unconscious drive to recreate and re-experience the trauma through people (e.g. forming relationships with physically abusive partners if one was physically abused as a child) and situations and to repeat behaviors associated with the original trauma.

Trauma repetition may also involve the traumatized individual being unconsciously driven to treat others in the same abusive manner that they themselves had been treated.

There exist different theories as to why individuals often re-enact their original traumatic experiences later on in life. For example,  Levy PhD (1998) proposed that reenactments might be caused by :

To read Levy’s original paper on these four possible causes of reenactment of trauma, click here.

Trauma bonds :

This refers to the tendency to form relationships with others that are maladaptive and dysfunctional and expose one to harm, danger, shame, emotional pain, exploitation or, in extreme cases, even death. Examples of traumatic bonds operating in relationships include those that exist within a context of domestic violence or incest. Other examples include codependents who live with alcoholics or compulsive gamblers.

Carnes provides us with various examples of signs that a relationship may be based upon a traumatic bond, some of which I present below :

  • remaining loyal to those who betray one
  • keeping the abuse secret
  • staying in conflict with others when walking away would cost one nothing
  • being constantly attracted to / obsessed with / preoccupied by untrustworthy people
  • staying in a relationship which causes one great psychological pain

 

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

The Importance Of Limbic Resonance In Early Life

The Importance Of Limbic Resonance In Early Life 5

One way of describing the brain is to represent it as comprising three parts which developed at different times during our evolutionary history :

  • The reptilian brain (this is the most primitive part of the brain) : this part of the brain is involved in basic functions such as breathing and heart rate.
  • The limbic system (sometimes referred to as the mammalian brain) : this part of the brain is involved with emotions.
  • The neocortex (this is the most recently evolved part of our brains) : this part of the brain is involved in higher level mental processing.

This three part model of the brain is often referred to as the triune brain and is depicted in the image below.

 

The Importance Of Limbic Resonance In Early Life 6

The concept of limbic resonance relates to, as the term suggests, the brain’s limbic system (sometimes referred to as the brain’s emotional centre).

What Is Limbic Resonance?

The concept of limbic resonance was first introduced in the book entitled  A General Theory Of Love and, in simple terms, refers to the idea that emotions are contagious and that, therefore, the emotions of others have a powerful effect upon our own inner state.

Due to our capacity for emotional resonance, our own internal, emotional state does not exist as an independent entity, but, instead, is dependent upon the emotional states of others, particularly those to whom we are very close. For example, if someone around us is anxious and fearful, we sense this and it may have an adverse effect upon our own inner state ; in other words, the negative emotions of others can ‘infect’ us (and, likewise, the positive emotions of those around us (such as warmth, compassion and love) can ‘nourish’ us.

Limbic Resonance And Babyhood :

Limbic resonance is of crucial importance in relation to how we relate to our primary carer (usually the mother) when we are babies / infants.

Limbic resonance is normally achieved between baby and mother via deep eye contact; However, if the process goes wrong and  our mother is consistently,  poorly attuned to us at this early stage of our lives, failing to attend to our basic needs, our brain’s chemical composition and its limbic system’s ability to interact with the reptilian brain and neocortex (see above) in a manner conducive to emotional health and well-being (referred to as ‘limbic regulation’) may be seriously disrupted leading to impaired development of the personality as well as emotional difficulties in later life.

LIMBIC REVISION

If, when we were very young, the poor quality of our relationship with our mother meant that she was unable to satisfactorily attune to us and to provide consistent, attentive, warm, loving care, the authors of A General Theory Of Love, (Lewis, Amini and Lannon) suggest that the resultant psychological problems we are at risk of developing  may be effectively treated with the use of a therapy known as LIMBIC REVISION.

 

RESEARCH THAT HELPS US TO UNDERSTAND THE VITAL IMPORTANCE OF LIMBIC RESONANCE IN EARLY LIFE :

In relation to this, you may wish to read my previously published article :

The book referred to in the above article, A GENERAL THEORY OF LOVE,‘ can be purchased from Amazon (see below):


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

Managing Relationships With BPD Parents

Children Of Parents With BPD:

Some of us experienced childhood trauma due to a parent being unstable. As has been described in previous posts, BPD causes great instability in individuals, which can have a very serious impact on that individual’s child/ren, so some of us who experienced childhood trauma may have grown up with a parent with BPD. This could have contributed to ourselves developing similar problems, or, even, to us developing BPD ourselves.

However, whatever the state of our mental health, as adults now ourselves, we need to know the best way to manage our relationship with BPD parent/s in the present, and, also, understand what effect our parent/s condition may have had on our own lives. This is of particular interest to me as I was brought up by a highly volatile and extremely unstable mother.

POSSIBLE EFFECTS ON THE CHILD OF A PARENT WITH BPD:

Parents with BPD can lack the necessary resources to bring their children up – in the worst case scenario, this may lead to neglect and/or abuse.

Children of BPD parents have frequently grown up in a highly unstable emotional atmosphere, have witnessed highly distressing behaviour in their parent/s, and, often, have been on the receiving end of extreme hostility, expressed verbally and/or physically. Further, they may have been exploited by their parent/s burdening them with their own emotional problems. My own mother, for example, used me, essentially, as her own private counsellor from when I was about 10 or 11- years- old, and would, on top of this, very often be terrifyingly verbally aggressive and hostile.

With experiences such as these, as adults, we can feel that our childhoods were stolen from us and we may go on to enter a kind of mourning for the childhood we never had.

Being brought up with a parent with BPD leads to a much higher probability of us developing the following problems:

alcoholism – illicit drug use
– depression
anxiety – suicidal feelings/ suicide attempts/ suicide
– behavioural problems e.g. impulse control
– personality/emotional disorders
Indeed, this is not altogether surprising when it is reflected upon that, as children, we may have been exposed to many long, painful, distressing years of intense conflict and arguments, threats (eg of violence, or, as in my own case, of abandonment),and unpredictable, unstable and highly volatile emotions.

Whilst we may feel deep resentment for the way in which we were treated, not infrequently necessitating professional support to deal with it, it is necessary, also, to keep in mind that our parent/s with BPD have developed it due to their own personal histories,including psychological, biological and social factors. However, this is cold comfort when we are children struggling to understand ourselves and living in a permanent state of acute distress.

POSSIBLE IMPACT OF A PARENT’S BPD ON THE CHILD:

1) The parent’s impulsivity: this could include alcohol, drugs, gambling etc causing enormous anxiety in the child and possibly in him/her developing similar problems in later life (due to the psychological concept known as ‘modelling’).
2) The parent’s dependency on child: for example, the parent may become emotionally dependent upon the child, using him/her as their personal counsellor, which can lead to the child feeling overwhelmed with concern, responsibility and anxiety, leading later to anger and resentment.
3) The parent’s volatility, instability and unpredictability: this, again, often leads to the child developing extreme anxiety and deep concerns about being abandoned – causing long-term, deeply ingrained insecurity (the parent may threaten to send the child away to live with relatives or to live in the care system).
4) The parent’s threats of suicide: again, this can lead to the child experiencing acute anxiety, possibly leading, later down the line, to the individual developing his/her own self-harming or suicidal behaviour.
5) The parent’s ambiguity towards the child: technically, this is known as ‘SPLITTING’- being consumed with passionate hatred towards the child one day, but then giving him/her extravagant praise the next – these polarized attitudes towards the child vacillating in a deeply confusing fashion.

This will often lead the child to have an extremely unstable identity and self-concept – sometimes feeling they are better than others, but, at other times, feeling worthless, inferior and consumed with self-hatred. Thus, the child can grow up not quite ‘knowing who he/she is’.

Therapy For The Effects Of Our ‘Stolen Childhood.’

If we have been brought up as children with a parent who has BPD, it is often necessary to seek therapy to help resolve the trauma that we have suffered and to help us come to terms with our loss – in effect, our ‘stolen childhood’.

In therapy, it may often be necessary to work through the resentment we might well feel (particularly as this feeling of resentment can be deeply painful for us to carry around) and consider how our lives have been adversely affected.Also, we may want to work with our therapist to consider what positive or useful things we may have learned from our difficult childhood, perhaps through strategies we adopted to deal with this problematic period of our lives, or from other, more positive, role models (e.g. teachers, friends, counselors etc).

Reviewing things in such a way can bring to the surface very painful feelings, and, if we do not have a therapist to speak to, talking things over with a sensitive and compassionate friend can be valuable.

Releasing emotions connected with our past through ‘talking them out’ can help us to move forward in our lives. Until we do this, our emotional development can remain arrested (‘stuck’), as I am quite convinced happened in my own case for more years than I care to recollect.

One way in which we can express our, perhaps, long pent-up feelings towards the parent with BPD is to write them a letter describing how their behaviour made our lives so stressful and painful. (It is usually better not to actually send the letter as this runs the risk of making matters worse still; however, some therapists may have different views.)

HOW, AS AN ADULT CHILD, WE CAN NOW PROTECT OURSELVES FROM OUR PARENT WITH BPD?

Individuals with BPD find it very hard to understand that others have personal boundaries, thus it is necessary to put more effort into establishing such boundaries with a parent with BPD than might otherwise be the case.

In some cases, it may be necessary to cut off completely from the parent with BPD, as the relationship is mutually destructive and it appears that this is beyond remedy. That, very sadly, was the decision I had to take with my own mother.

However, such drastic action may not be required; it might, instead, be necessary to make it clear we are unable to cope with constantly supporting the parent with BPD with their endless emotional problems as we have our own to deal with; that we need time alone/personal space/privacy; or that we are not prepared to discuss certain topics which always give rise to unpleasantness, hurt and pain.

These are just examples; there may be several other areas in which we need to make clear our boundaries. A parent with BPD will often put their own emotional needs ahead of ours; we need to be clear in our own minds that we have a right to have our own needs respected.

Indeed, we have a duty to ourselves to meet our own needs, especially as so much emotional damage was done to us as children. We need to ASSERTIVELY make this clear.

Of course, our parent with BPD is very likely to respond by trying to make us feel guilty and bad about ourselves for expressing our own needs, so we need to be prepared in advance for this reaction and not to give in to emotional blackmail. We need to maintain our strength and confidence – a good view to take is that we have a duty to protect the hurt child who still resides within us.

As I have said, it is extremely advisable to have support when thinking about making such changes as I have written about, ideally professional. If, however, this is not possible, there are many support groups for people affected by BPD, both online and offline.

 

RETURN TO BPD AND CHILDHOOD TRAUMA MAIN ARTICLE.

 

 

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

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