THE BORDERLINE PARENT
Surviving Childhood

By Shari Schreiber, M.A.
www.GettinBetter.com

 

The trouble with growing up with a dysfunctional parent, is we have no other frame of reference for what's normal. Aberrant behaviors within the home happen on such a frequent basis, a child accepts these as commonplace, and naturally presumes all kids face these kinds of challenges.

When this child feels sad, lonely or empty, there's a tendency to talk himself out of these feelings once he's become old enough to have words, and form cognitive thought. The anguish he feels however, has already existed for the first two to three years of his life, with no language skills to understand or describe it.

Once he has acquired a vocabulary, he goes up into his head to sort out the terrible confusion and torment he's lived with since he can remember. As soon as he begins asking himself why he's so sad, empty, lonely or scared, he's distracted himself from the pain he feels inside his body, and talking to himself becomes the balm that eases the terrible aloneness he often experiences.

With this regular practice, emotions are automatically converted into thoughts. They're analyzed, obsessed about and turned into faulty narratives, which are self-critical and destructive, shaming or guilting, and most importantly, inaccurate and untrue.

THE BASIS OF DESPAIR

Core trauma means our sense of Self has been damaged. You live with the feeling that it's not okay to be You. You're always on the outside, observing yourself through others. If they're smiling at you, you're comforted. If they're frowning, you worry that you're at fault~ even if it has nothing to do with you!

There is one inalienable truth when it comes to core trauma in childhood. As we grow to adulthood, the relationship we have is the one we believe we deserve. In short, your partner echoes how you truly feel about yourself deep down, beneath all your successes and accomplishments. Don't believe me? How hard are you on yourself? Do you address yourself kindly when you have time on your hands, or are you harshly critical and abusive?

Self-flagellation is a learned response to overly-critical and strict parenting in childhood. In essence, you left home to get free of abuse from your folks, but you've carried on the same injurious tradition toward yourself, and you're a compulsive perfectionist. No good ever comes from this behavior, and it has to be fully eliminated, in order for you to get well and stay well.

WISHFUL THINKING IS ADULTHOOD FANTASY.

There's always a relational template in childhood, that drives our attachment to a borderline disordered individual.

Every child who experiences deficits in nourishing affection and attention from a parent presumes it's his fault, and that he must not be worthy or deserving of these vital supplies. The love he feels for Mom or Dad is not reflected back to him, and so painful yearning and longing for that which is seldom if ever returned, becomes this child's definition for what 'Love' feels like. These painful sensations associated with loving an unresponsive parent influence our entire existence. They set us up for poor relational choices, and prepare us for lives defined by wishful thinking and intense cravings for that which we can never actually have; hence, our fascination with Borderlines. In short, we grew up loving a parent/caregiver with personality disorder traits, or we'd never be able or willing to tolerate them in a romantic partnership.

The primal needs of infancy and early childhood always take precedence over our adult needs. Primal needs involve receiving loving touch/holding, positive mirroring, attention to our feelings and concerns and tender care (all that you might get at the start of a relationship with a BPD lover). Satisfaction of these primal needs is vital, as it shapes how we grow up feeling about and relating to ourselves.

I've worked with male clients who stayed with highly abusive partners, only because their primal needs were met in bed. Outside of the bedroom, their lover was a rageful, castrating monster~ but they lived for those moments she was physically loving and responsive.

A number of us experienced warmth and nurturance from our mom for awhile after our birth~ but when the novelty of having a new baby wore off, she lost interest in maintaining the connection with us. This wasn't our fault. We naturally continued to want all that former closeness, and we experienced the shame of rejection when it wasn't forthcoming. Some of us never got that early care, and have been needing it since infancy. Whether we had this loving initially and it vanished, or we never received it, core trauma resulted, and left us with the sense; "I'm not lovable, not deserving of affection, not worthy of care, not good enough," etc.

The sensation that we're "not good enough" spawns and perpetuates various addictions/compulsions. These behaviors reflect our need to compensate for the painful lack of worth we've had to endure, since before we could walk or talk. They also help us run from, or numb our emotional pain.

Sometimes these injuries to our sense of Self were subtle, but they've left us with deep scars just the same. Our parent might have compared us to a sibling or another family's child, in terms of pointing out 'right' mannerisms or scholastic achievement. In any event, the message conveyed to us always carried a tone of disapproval or disappointment. For the kid who feels he's a disappointment to his parent, self-loathing can last a lifetime.

Core shame which emanates from this early programming drives a deep need to 'buy' another's affection and approval, by being indispensable, and placing the feelings and needs of others before one's own. The term which describes this brand of psychopathology, is codependency. Codependents Anonymous or CoDA meetings can bring helpful awareness to this issue, but it's seldom resolved without specialized core trauma work.

Because of early abandonment trauma and attachment issues which resulted from it, it's impossible to avoid acquiring self-protective defenses which may have left you with BPD traits.

FROM MOTHER TO MONSTER, AND BACK AGAIN

Many clients have reported; "my mom would scream at us, call us names and beat us, and then later come into our bedroom crying, saying how much she loved us." Sure~ and gorillas have wings.

This sends totally confusing messages to a child, and skews their definition of Love. They might feel sorry for the mother and want to forgive her, but given these repeated assaults, trust evaporates from the foundation of this maternal connection. It's not unusual then, for an adult child of a Borderline parent to perpetually re-enact this scenario with a BPD lover, who may act contrite and beg to be forgiven after heinous episodes of betrayal or abuse. The victim of this type of behavior allows wishful thinking to override rational thought and previous experience, which inevitably insures an unending cycle of domestic violence to men and women.

It's hard for the parent of a Borderline to assume responsibility for their kid's dysfunction. Nobody wants to believe they fucked up their child, and plenty of parents write me, asking how they can help their BPD son or daughter, or get them away from a borderline disordered partner. It's not possible to be born with Borderline Personality Disorder, nor inherit the attraction to a lover who has it. BPD is an environmentally produced set of emotional issues, which is typically passed along to successive generations through learned behavior. It is not a mental illness or 'genetic disease.'

 

This is a work in progress. I am hoping to find the time to expand it shortly, and thanks for your patience in the interim.

If you have an iPhone, iPad or iPod this app will let you hear this material; http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/web-reader-text-to-speech/id320808874?mt=8

 

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Copyright 2004 - 2017, Shari Schreiber, M.A. All Rights Reserved.