I don’t know what it’s like to not have deep emotions. Even when I feel nothing, I feel it completely.~ Doré  

At first glance, our family probably seemed normal to the outside world — Dotti was beautiful and talented as a singer and bowler.

Al was well-educated, owned his own veterinary practice and was the president of the Lions Club. Our exterior distracted others from the addiction and abuse that lay beneath. No one on the outside thought to look closer.

The devastating effects of untreated borderline personality disorder (BPD) can severely restrict the functioning of people with the disorder, create extraordinary emotional distress, and lead to chronic psychological instability. The impact of BPD is not limited to the person with the disorder; symptoms bleed into the lives of those around them and deeply shape the quality of interpersonal relationships. Often, the most seriously affected are the children of a mother with borderline personality disorder, as the disorder interferes with normal, healthy parenting behaviors and parent-child dynamics, while increasing the risk of environmental instability, drug and alcohol exposure, and poor family cohesion.

As a result, the very foundation of your formative psychosocial development may be compromised, leaving you vulnerable to ongoing psychological, behavioral, and interpersonal difficulties that interfere with your capacity for joy, sense of self, and quality of life.

What would you expect to see in a mother (or a dad) with borderline personality features? Alas, you would see widespread domestic violence of the verbal variety.

That’s because one hallmark of a borderline personality is unpredictable raging.

In addition, you would see narcissism, that is, inability to attune to others’ needs, including the children’s. Instead of attunement to the children’s needs, whatever happens would be experienced as ‘all about her.’

“I wish my step-mother was dead…is that a terrible thing to say… am I a horrible person … am I going to Hell?”

I was a tortured child trapped in a form of emotional abuse and I made this statement many times to school counselors, doctors, friends, the janitor and youth counselor at my church, and therapists.

According to James Masterson (1988 ), there are four types of BPD Mother Personalities.

These four are The Waif, The Queen, The Hermit, and the Witch

  • The Waif personality is the one who often portrays the helpless victim in an instant, exhibiting how everyone is treating them so awfully and how they need protection. Waifs often look towards their children or others for constant reassurance, for them to “save her” like the helpless damsel in distress she believes herself to be.
  • The Queen personality says ‘Pay attention to me! Love me, love me, prove to me you love me and do everything as I say! Aren’t I such a wonderful mother? Oh, and have you done all those things I wanted you to do for me to prove to me you love me? Everything is about the Queen, as she is the end-all-be-all person for you to please. The Queen is vindictive and has no problems with blackmailing you, and yes, this does include her own children and husband.
  • The Hermit personality is the mother who is easily explained as the paranoid one, fearful of everyone and the whole world
  • The Witch personality is the Evil Step-Mother from Snow White. After all, off-ing your husband’s daughter just because she is the fairest is not a good enough reason to hate her.

Dotti made me feel guilty for reacting to the abuse.

A BPD mom can behave in any number of ways, ranging from neglect to over-involvement. Let’s take a look at some of the many ways BPD often manifests itself:

  • Blame: Children of a BPD mother may be made to feel that they are to blame for their mother’s sadness or anger. People with BPD have trouble taking responsibility for their own feelings.
  • Criticism: Mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder often hurl put-downs and insults at their children. As children are often seen by their BPD mothers as merely extensions of themselves, this may reflect feelings the parent has about themselves and represent a form of projection.
  • Enmeshment: People struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder have a deep fear of abandonment. Sometimes a BPD mother may develop a relationship with her children that is stifling to the children’s attempts to become individuals. She may look to her children for comfort and validation rather than the other way around.
  • Neglect: People with Borderline Personality Disorder can be so absorbed in their own pain that they are incapable of putting even their own children’s needs before their own.
  • Over-control: It is quite common for parents with Borderline Personality Disorder to attempt to control their children’s behaviors, feelings, and actions to a degree that inhibits their children’s ability to develop independently.
  • Parental alienation: A mother with BPD may not be able to tolerate a loving relationship between her kids and their father. She may feel that this love threatens her own relationship with their children. Sadly, it is not uncommon for these mothers to speak poorly about the other parent in an attempt to turn their children against them.
  • Rage: Parents with BPD can have reactions that are wholly disproportionate to the perceived infraction. Occurrences of prolonged rages and angry outbursts are common.

It’s normal for parents to get mad or slightly stressed throughout the day.

Dotti’s BPD-related anger was always on a whole different level. When she got angry she got loud, physical, and even a bit paranoid. Her anger scared us all and we never knew  what would set her off.

Our mothers are our first examples of what love looks like. George and I were blessed to have Frances. I knew what a loving mother was like.

Rick and Ron knew nothing different.

When you are raised by someone with Narcissistic or Borderline traits, here are some common difficulties you may still face as an adult:

  • You are hyper-attuned to other people’s emotional needs at the expense of your own.
  • You are more likely to choose partners who are self-absorbed or emotionally volatile.
  • You are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and having a personality disorder yourself.

Dotti had a strong fear of being left alone or abandoned by Al. His actions and behaviors did not help alleviate these strong fears.

She went to extreme measures to avoid possible separation or rejection.

Dotti was so caught up in her own emotional needs that she was truly not aware of her impact on her children.

She was an emotional wreck.

Her basic message to the entire family was: If you love me, you will do something to make it better right now.

She splashed everyone around her, including all of us children, with her emotional distress and impossible demands. We grew up in a chaotic environment in a household that centered around Dotti’s moods.

Instead of having a mother sho soothed us and helped us learn to manage our emotions, we were expected to soothe her. Al did not step in and help.

All of us kids spent our childhoods feeling somehow to blame for Dotti’s feelings.

George and I had each other’s back, the way siblings sometimes do: and our main goal was survival.

We followed the rules out of fear, and kept our opinions to ourselves. 

Al never took charge or provided a safe haven for us children, and he was an inadequate parent as well.

He sometimes added to our guilt by blaming us for his wife’s hysteria and rages.

We were told: “Don’t upset your mother.”

Childhood is full of challenges and discovery.

It is the time in our lives when we are most vulnerable to the environment in terms of our development.

It is important to remember that each child experiences ups and downs in childhood. There is no such thing as a “perfect” mother, whether or not BPD symptoms exist.

There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ childhood.

As much as Dotti was stubborn, deceitful and conniving, she was equally charming, passionate, and generous.

I can hear her humming and singing Louis Armstrong while dancing with the watering hose in the backyard.

I can see her leaning over a simmering pot of chili that was to be dinner, stirring it with one hand, and holding Ron in her arm with the other.

The back yard pool and the kitchen were her sanctuary, and they were also her dominion over which to rule.

She could exert her wishes over ingredients that had no words or free will. Her cakes were never dry or burned.

People, on the other hand, she could not control.

Dotti treated anyone disagreeing with her or disobeying her wishes like an enemy combatant, especially her loved ones.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, this is a common personality disorder, with roughly 3 million reported cases a year. The National Institute for Mental Health estimates the number of BPD cases in the U.S. at roughly 1 percent of the population.

There is mounting research that those with BPD lack brain chemical functions related to empathy, the ability to relate and understand the feelings of someone else.

In college, I finally grew brave enough to tell her she had a drinking problem. After the birth of my daughter and a Christmas holiday in which she verbally attacked my child and physically attacked me, I stopped speaking to her altogether. I stepped back into her life once after she was arrested for hitting and killing a young man while drunk. She called me, begging for assistance. I said I would assist her if she promised to never contact me again.

She kept that promise.

It took a long time for someone else to point out that Dotti might have had an actual disease instead of what I referred to as her homemade recipe for crazy. For me, the tools I’d developed to deal with Dotti cost me the ability to navigate conflict in a healthy way, to stand up for myself, and to allow someone else to take care of me when I needed it. Educating myself about her struggles, working with multiple therapists, and becoming aware of her effect on my behavior set me on a path to build the much-needed emotional resources I lacked.

I learned to take responsibility for what was in my control and let go of what wasn’t. It was not my job to fix everything. Essentially, growth only comes when you recognize your childhood for what it was.

Understanding her, having empathy, was something I could give her more fully, even when she didn’t have much to give in return. It allowed me to see the whole her, and the whole me.

She is no longer on this earth. I have a card Dotti sent me just prior to her death.

Essentially, growth only comes when you recognize your childhood for what it was.

Just remember, while searching for your hero, you are NEVER alone.

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles. ~ Christopher Reeve


How will your life be different in a year?