NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Psychotherapy Blog: The Effect of Growing Up With a Parent Who Had Borderline Personality Disorder - Part 2

In my Part 1 of this topic, I began a discussion about the effect of growing up with a parent who had borderline personality disorder.  In this article, I'm continuing the discussion with a fictionalized scenario as an example of this dynamic.

The Effect of Growing Up With a Parent Who Had Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder, which I defined in the prior article, is a disorder that is a catchall for many similar traits, including chaotic relationships, unpredictable emotional reactions, a fear of abandonment, and a strong ambivalence about close relationships, including a longing for closeness at the same time as the person with this disorder experiences a fear of being rejected, hurt or abandoned.

As I mentioned in the prior article, there are some people who don't necessarily meet the full criteria for borderline personality disorder diagnosis, but they have certain borderline traits.

As I also mentioned in Part 1 of this topic, even though a primary caregiver (usually the mother) might have borderline personality disorder and this usually has a detrimental effect on a child, if a child is lucky, there can be mitigating factors, like other close relationships (another loving parent, a loving sibling, a nurturing grandparent, caring teacher or mentor, concerned coach or so on) that can help to temper the detrimental effect.

We also know now that, due to the neuroplasticity of the brain (the ability of the brain to change), even when there's no one in the child's life to help mitigate the effect or the child doesn't have a particularly resilient nature, as an an adult, s/he is often helped later on in life by having a loving, secure relationship or by getting help in therapy.

The following fictionalized scenario, which is composed of many different cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates how someone who had a parent with borderline personality disorder can be affected as a child and later on as an adult.

Keep in mind that this scenario is only one possible result of this dynamic and there can be many other results.

Karen's mother, Alice, gave birth to Karen when Alice was only 16.

Alice lived with her single mother, Betty, and Alice's six siblings.  When Betty found out that Alice was pregnant, she became enraged.  She hit her, cursed at her and called her "a whore."

Alice dropped out of high school after her pregnancy became more obvious, and she hoped, eventually, to get her GED.

Alice was confused and had mixed feelings about her pregnancy.  She had some resentful towards her unborn child because she knew her life would be changed forever.  Instead of going to parties with her friends, she knew she would be home taking care of the baby.

At the same time, she didn't want to have an abortion because it was against her and her family's religious beliefs.  So, she grudgingly accepted that she made a mistake and baby was her responsibility.

The baby's father, who was also only 16, was sent away by his parents to live out of state, so Alice was completely dependent upon her mother during her pregnancy and after Karen was born.

The Effect of Growing Up With a Parent Who Had Borderline Personality Disorder

In the meantime, she and her mother were both reliant on public assistance to get by, and life was tough.

When her friends went out, Alice felt left out and lonely because she had to stay home and take care of Karen.  On the one hand, Alice loved Karen.  But, on the other hand, she also resented her because she wanted to be a normal 17 year old by going out and having fun.

Alice also had a lot of resentment towards her mother, Betty, for her verbal abuse and they would often argue.

Even though Alice told herself that she would never treat her daughter, Karen, the way that her mother treated her, she had no awareness of how she (like most children) internalized this dynamic on an unconscious level.  And, as Karen got older, without realizing it, Alice was just as verbally abusive with Karen just as her mother was with her.

Karen grew up to be an anxious child.  As a four year old, she never knew when Alice would fly off the handle and scream at her or slap her.  There were times when Alice would be sweet to Karen and then, for a minor issue (like Karen dropping an ice cream cone) Alice would explode and startle Karen.

Alice had several boyfriends during Karen's childhood.  She had very chaotic on-again/off-again relationships with men.  Karen would start to get close to whomever Alice was seeing at the time, and then he was gone.  This was significant losses for Karen.

Whenever Alice went through a breakup, she became depressed and angry and she would drink a lot.  Without realizing how damaging it was, while, drunk and upset, Alice would tell Karen that men were "no good."

Alice Became Depressed and Angry Whenever She Went Through a Breakup

Karen was very anxious and she wished that she could do something to help her mother.

During one particularly bad breakup, Alice made a suicide attempt by taking a handful of sleeping pills.  Betty called 911 and Alice was rushed to the ER.  Alice was kept in the hospital for observation for 72 hours and, after she assured the psychiatrist that she wasn't going to hurt herself or anyone else, she was released.

While Alice was in the hospital, Betty refused to talk about it with Karen.  She tried to distract her with books and TV, but Karen knew that something was wrong and not knowing made her feel scared.

Alice, Betty and Karen had to attend family counseling after the hospital contacted the bureau of child  welfare.

Things improved for a while during this time.  After they completed family therapy, the counselor recommended that Alice attend individual therapy, but Alice refused and her case was closed.  Then, things went downhill again.

When Karen's elementary school teachers told Alice that Karen was an anxious child, despite their assurances that they were not criticizing her, Alice took their comments personally and felt they were saying that she was a bad mother.  Alice got very angry and moved her to another school.

When Karen was 11, Alice got her GED and got a job where she could support them, so she moved out of Betty's household.  At first, things seemed to be going well.  Alice and the landlady became friends.

But several months later, when the landlady made a comment about Alice not recycling properly, Alice became enraged and moved back in with her Betty until she found another apartment.

The Effect of Growing Up With a Parent Who Had Borderline Personality Disorder

Throughout Karen's childhood, she and her mother moved numerous times because of the arguments that Alice would have with the landlords.  Each time that this happened Alice would uproot Karen from  the neighborhood, her school and the few friends that Karen made.

When Karen went to junior high school, one of her teachers saw something special in Karen and took Karen under her wing.  She spent time with Karen as part of the after school program, helped her with her homework, and took an interest in her.  She encouraged and motivated Karen.  She also gave Karen a sense of hope about the future--something that Karen never had before.

Gradually, Karen came out of her emotional shell and began to enjoy her talks with her teacher.  She never told her mother about this relationship because she was afraid that her mother would get angry and try to come between her and the teacher.

By the time Karen was in high school, she dreamed of going away to college and being on her own.  She worked hard, got good grades and, despite the chaos at home, she was able to go to the college of her choice out of state with a scholarship.

Karen did well in college.  She made friends and dated casually.  She felt happier than she had ever felt.

Growing Up With a Parent With Borderline Personality Disorder

Then, in her last year of college, her relationship with a young man, Dan, at college began getting serious and she felt anxious and scared.

Even though she knew she cared about him and he cared about her, the anxiety and emotional vulnerability that she experienced was so overwhelming that, at times, she wanted to end the relationship just to avoid feeling these emotions.

Karen knew that she needed to get psychological help or she would ruin her relationship with Dan.

In my next article, I'll continue discussing this scenario and how Karen was helped in therapy.

Getting Help in Therapy 
Growing up with a parent who has borderline personality disorder can be traumatic, but working with a licensed mental health professional can help you to free yourself from emotional trauma so you can go on to live a meaningful and fulfilling life.

If you're struggling as an adult with the impact of childhood trauma, you're not alone.  Rather than continuing to struggle alone, take steps to contact a licensed therapist who can help you to overcome unresolved trauma.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

See my article:  The Effect of Growing Up With a Parent Who Had Borderline Personality Disorder - Part 3