Growing Up With An Emotionally Crippling Borderline Parent

By Susan Heitler, Ph.D.

What is borderline personality disorder?  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. The hallmark of a borderline personality is unpredictable raging.In addition, you would see narcissism, that is, inability to attune to others’ needs, including her child’s.  Instead of attunement to the child’s needs, whatever happens would be experienced as ‘all about her.’Here’s a classic example of a borderline parent in a situation that most dads or moms would react to with an easy hug.  Mom and child are walking on the sidewalk.  Child falls.  Mom erupts in fury. “How could you fall like that here where everyone can see you?  You are making me look bad!”  The child’s concerns would be irrelevant.  The mother’s reaction to the incident would be all about Mom.People who grow up with raging, screaming, physically and emotionally abusive parents become conditioned early in life to totally obey, placate and cater to their domineering parent, or risk emotional or even physical injury to their own self. So it’s like confronting a huge, feral, enraged wild animal to change the power dynamic in such cases.

It takes a great deal of sheer courage for a person who has been domineered his or her whole life by a parent who tantrums and rages, blames, and lashes out when angry, to even attempt to leave their presence when they begin raging at you. It took me until my mid-forties to even think about trying it. The first time that I just left the room when my bpd/npd mother started in having a rage-and-criticism fit at me, I felt scared but very empowered.

And it does work! I really does. Sometimes it takes a long time and many repetitions, and sometimes the behavior gets worse, even, before it gets better, but it does work. Its the same technique you’ve described for handling a toddler who is having a tantrum, its just exponentially more difficult to actually have the guts to DO it when the person having the rage-tantrum is one’s parent.

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1 reply
  1. Jason
    Jason says:

    This was very very insightful. Thanks for posting this. It gives me clarity and hope.

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