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Fear of abandonment in the borderline family

Children cannot trust their borderline mothers.

Abused_children_1 A major issue for the children of Borderline parents is trust. The people that you should be able to trust more than anyone, the people on whom your very physical survival rests in early years, and psychological survival in later years, is the mother and the father. Yet very often the children of borderline parents, as much as the children try and are repeatedly reminded by negative consequences, finally realize that the borderline parent is not be trusted.

Christine Lawson in her book, Understanding The Borderline Mother, writes,

" Trust is a major issue between borderlines and their children. Children cannot trust the borderline mother for many reasons: (1) She is manipulative. (2) She distorts the truth and may even blatantly lie. (3) She may physically harm them. (4) She is unpredictable. (5) She overreacts. (6) She is impulsive. (7) She has poor judgment. (8) She has unreliable memory. (9) She is inconsistent. (10) She is intrusive. Like Alice who confided in the Cheshire Cat, children of borderlines may learn to trust a pet more than their own mother." p. 8

Because of distorted perceptions and poor cognitive functioning many people with borderline disorder project onto situations their own previous experiences expecting the same experiences to happen to their children such as a mother who was sexually abused expecting relatives to sexually abuse her daughter. As Christine Lawson writes,

"In one instance, a borderline mother claimed that her daughter had been sexually abused by her ex-husband. The daughter was appalled that her mother would make such a claim, The mother, however,had been sexually  abused by her own father and interpreted a goodbye kiss between her daughter and ex-husband as evidence of sexual abuse." p. 9

In another case in my private practice, a borderline mother who had witnessed physical abuse of her mother by her father always expected her husband to be physically abusive to her even though he hadn't in 30 years of marriage. When asked to explain the discrepancy between expectation and reality, the patient said that in fact her husband had never behaved toward her as her father had toward her mother, but it was only a matter of time before she expected that her husband could still be abusive toward her. When pressed that 30 years was a long time and how long would it take before she might admit that her husband was not an abusive man like her father, she responded that even though her husband had never hit her she believed that he has felt like hitting her on occasion and merely has not acted on his impulses.

When these kinds of beliefs and expectations become fixed false beliefs they become what might be described as delusions. People who try to dissuade the borderline from the logic and reasonableness of such false beliefs get quickly incorporated into the enemy who doesn't understand. Further attempts to explain and reason will be met with rebuff and/or increasing paranoia and rage.

Children and spouses and other witnesses learn quickly to leave the borderline alone. There is a breach in the rapport of the relationship which is fueled by a sense of mistrust from both sides.

As I sometimes jokingly say in answer to the question, "How does one have a relationship with a borderline?"

"Like with a porcupine, very carefully."

In later posts in this series I will suggest more specific ideas about how to handle these situations.

This is post #3 in a series based on Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother.



It took me 62 years to finally discover why my life with my mother was a living Hell. Spent an entire lifetime thinking I was at fault for never being good enough & trying to please her. Still trying to deal with damage she inflicted even tho she passed 3 yrs. ago.


I am 15 years old and my mother has bpd. Until a few years ago, i didn't understand why my mother did the things she did, said the things she said. Her sudden mood swings, her lies about my father, her jealousy. how one week a friend, a co-worker, a family member was an angel, the next they were a devil in her eyes. in her eyes nothing at all was her fault, Nothing.
A few years ago my stepmother, who is pretty much my mother in my eyes, told me about BPD. I looked it up and finally i understood why mother was the way she was. I love my mom. But our relationship will never be what it could be because of this disorder. She will never admit she has it and if i brought it up to her she would just get angry so there is no point. When i read the above article about why children can't trust their BPD mothers it brought me to tears. Because it's true.Everytime i let myself believe her i am let down. She loves me in her own way.But i have a better relationship with my stepmother of 10 years then my own mother who carried and gave birth to me. i wish i could be as close to my mother as i am my setpmother. But it won't happen. To all the minor children out there with BPD mothers i say this:your not alone. and even when you think you can trust her, that she telling you the truth, don't let your self be decieved. Because that always hurts more than anything. Love her, but don't trust her. Its sad but its life. Thanks for reading...


thanks for that post emma. my mother also has BPD and gave my dad gave me this book to read. at first i didnt believe him, my mother taught me not to. when i finally read it i was shocked and cried all night. it was my life in a book and it had a name. i am now 19 and still struggling with how to handle a woman i love so much but can barely stand to have in my life. i am so glad i am not the only one. good luck to everyone in the same situation.

I am a step mother with a son who has a Borderline mother. It make me so sad! I love him so much. He is only eleven years old, and he cannot take information from me about his mother, because I am seen as the enemy. I care for him so much, and so far, my approach is just to be there for him, and cuddle him, and put him to bed and give him the kind of mothering he needs. His dad is a little detached, and thinks that the mother is just imbalanced, and that he, Oliver, will survive. There are constant custody battles, financial battles, and crises around typical everyday events. Any help or advice from other stepmothers greatly appreciated. Mary


I am the adult daughter of a mother with BPD. My sister has also been diagnosed with BPD. It wasn't until I was in college that I realized my mother was mentally ill. Growing up, I had always believed I was an awful child and that no matter what I did, I seemed to make my mom bad. Looking back on my childhood, I never did anything "bad" but my mother would convince me I was. As an adult now it is difficult to have a relationship with her because she is still so negative and has never acknowledged being abusive towards my sister & I growing up. Thank you to all the previous helps knowing I'm not alone!


I am a 34 y/o adult woman and I am just now realizing that my mother is very likely a borderline of the "witch" type. I always knew that she was depressed especially given that depression and alcohol abuse run in our family. I knew that she was negative and controlling but I think that I was unwilling to face how dysfunctional she was/is. I distinctly recall an episode when I was 8 years old and was in a school play as a sheep. My mother had sewn the costume and was helping me to get dressed prior to the show. As a typical eight year old girl self conscious of her appearance, I did not want black paint on my nose. She quickly became enraged, yelling at me calling me an ungrateful little bitch. Profanity was strictly forbidden in my household and I had never heard my mother use that word, much less directed at me. She made me feel like a horrible, worthless person in that moment. I plan to purchase Dr. Lawson's book to begin the process of understanding and healing so that I may lead as full and joyful a life as possible despite my dysfunctional upbringing.

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This is a great source for what's being discussed on numerous medically oriented web blogs.

Stephanie Rasband

I just did an interview on blogtalk radio about Borderline Personality in relationships and I talked from both professional and personal experience being the adult child of an untreated, malignant borderline mother. I am always very careful to state that she was untreated because like Kayla, there are many mother out there with BPD who are conscious of it and in treatment and are working to make sure they don’t harm their children. For those of us whose mothers were untreated or who bailed out of treatment when confronted over their behavior, the experience was definitely that of being a captive of an emotional terrorist. I just reread the chapter on captivity in Judith Herman’s book Trauma and it fits my experience so well. As children we can’t escape and are forced to find ways of surviving the crazy assaults on our minds, bodies and souls. I was inspired by my radio spot to set up a website for adult children of BP mother’s to learn, share and heal together. There are articles, inspriational pieces, a place for personal stories, a blog that I will post to and even a chatroom. Stop by if you like, I put it up for you.


I was diagnosed with BPD 3 yrs ago. When i looked it up on webmd i started reading an article they had that described a borderline woman. The only problem was, it wasn't me! It was my mom. They even said at the end, oh and we aren't talking about you, we are talking about your mother. Now I do have BPD. I'm the waif and sometimes the hermit. I'm in counseling and have been for the last 3 yrs. and I'm slowly getting better. The only thing I still haven't learned how to do is deal with my mom, who is the queen and sometimes the witch. She will not admit she has BPD and claims that she has no psychological problems. I'm hoping that therapy will help me learn to deal with her, without putting myself at risk of getting hurt by her. Thank you for everyone who posted and gave me the courage to post to.


I just posted anf followed a link I found to another website They had a copy of the article I mentioned above. It's the one that showed me what i suffered from and why my mother never seemed to be safe.

You can find it at: http://site,
They have some great articles there. I hope they help you like they did me.


I'm sorry I put a comma where a period should be. This is the correct link.

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Trust is a major issue between borderlines and their children.


I'm a borderline mom who is herself the daughter and granddaughter of borderlines. My experience growing up was very much the stereotypical child-of-a-borderline experience, which is why I wake up every day and vow to not be like my mother. It isn't easy, and I've gone through some periods of crisis, but I've also managed to be a joyful, nurturing, trustworthy mom.

I appreciate what Ms. Lawson is trying to do with her book. However, not every borderline is dishonest, manipulative, inconsistent, intrusive. Many of us manage to be as good -- or better -- mothers than non-borderlines. Furthermore, engaging in unpleasant and irrational behavior does not make one a borderline. If you're not a professional psychologist, social worker, counselor, or physician, you are not qualified to make a borderline diagnosis -- I'm looking at you, stepmothers. It's time we stop using "borderline" to describe women whose behavior we don't like.


Today I sent my 18 year old stepdaughter off to college. I have been in her life since she was five. Her mother has BPD which was only confirmed the beginning of this year. Her mother nearly destroyed her Senior year of high school. It has been a very emotional year finally hearing her open up about all the things her mother has said and done. She has been more of a parent to her mother than her mother being her parent. She is so afraid she will become her mother. She is going to get counseling while at college. She so aches to have her mother love her and approve of her, it has been all consuming in her life.


Jennifer- How did your BPD manifest itself and what were the symptoms you experienced that led you to being diagnosed?

sonia lopez

I am a daughter of a bordrline mother who had wild behaviors and most people would not even believe me when i told what she would do, not even psychiatrist or counselors. My mother was a great actress and made it seem as if i was an out of control teen even though i was an athletic honoroll studnet who volunteered in nursing homes. I was won in custody battle to live with a narcisstic aunt and an alcoholic father. my childhood and adolscent years were a living hell. I am now 24. Now what? Move on right? its hard but the best action and the best advice i can give to one who has this experience is to run away ASAP.


Jennifer, it seems you have had some experience with stereotyping. It's very sad to hear that as anyone with a diagnosis is sensitive to the stereotype that comes with (IE: bipolar disorder, narcisstic PD, etc). I think it is noteworthy that you feel as though you have done an even-better job that most moms without the BPD diagnosis. Good for you! However, I do want to ask that, as we respect your post, please respect others (IE: "stepmothers" you referred to). This is an open forum that we can all coexist upon. After all, we are all healing from something, past or current, aren't we? I don't think that this is too much to ask as "stepmothers" were not lodging complaints directly at you and may be going through a legitimately hard time with a loved one. I believe everyone's struggle deserves validation, yours and hers equally.


I am an adult child of a Borderline and also an only child--my mother was an only child as well. My Mom moved far away from her family and so I grew up with just her--my Dad is a recovering alcoholic and they divorced early on. My experience is very similar to what other people say and The Borderline Mother book was life changing for me. My step-brother who is a well known psychotherapist had diagnosed her early on but it took me years to fully understand all of it. The DSM diagnosis didn't explain my experience very well. Anyway, my mom recently passed from colon and liver cancer. She was only diagnosed 10 days before she passed--she thought she had everything under control and created an unbelievable web of lies with her friends and family about seeing Drs, etc. She was a very bright and funny person and well liked by many people (people who never thought she lied, haha, they didn't live in the eye of the storm with her.) and she pulled the wool over every one's eyes. She betrayed everyone she knew and it's incredible sad. I am incredibly sad that such a dynamic person suffered so much from BPD. But you can't help someone who doesn't wan help--and she didn't.
When I was a child I had a caregiver who I think saved my life. That, and 20 years of counseling. What has worked wonders for me is EMDR. It has been life changing for me in beginning to believe that I am not the piece of trash my mother told me I was and resolving the years of trauma. Her death, although I am sad, has begun to free me from the chains that bind me to her. I loved her and hated her at the same time--never knowing which mother was going to show up. These days I am highly motivated to be emotionally healthy. Especially after seeing my mother inadvertently kill herself.

BTW, good for all the step-mothers for being good mothers to their step-children. You are their lifeline and you will save their lives. There is real evidence that abused children with strong people involved can still thrive in life. Living with a BPD mom is very, very confusing b/c the child cannot betray her or he/she is hated more.


I am a mother of 3, married, almost 40, and have recently been diagnosed (by my therapist and after lots of psychological testing) to have BPD. I didn't know what BPD was, so I looked it up. And, I couldn't believe what I read. I felt like someone had told me I was insane. I had a few episodes of self-harming behavior in my twenties and early thirtees. But, that's the past now. However, I still struggle with arguments over petty things, especially when I have PMS. I can be very demanding and critical with my husband. I am trying to learn more about this disorder. I don't lie, manipulate, etc.... But, I blame him sometimes for our problems, and a little thing can become a big deal every once in a while. I struggle with all relationships, self esteem, and black or white thinking.I also have feelings of deep emptiness and feel clingy sometimes. I shared my diagnoses with my husband. He told me that he knew something was wrong. And, I am still in therapy. Since my diagnosis, I feel vigilant of my own behavior, I don't blame others as much, and my husband is being more tolerant too. But, it's a struggle some days more than other days. Just wanted to share....

S Brown

I am a 32 year old woman and I think I've just realised my mother has boderline personality disorder. She can be so nasty and jealous and she is vey controlling, especially over my love life. My father left when I was very young and from the age of 13 my mother constantly accused me of having sex with her boyfriends. There were frequent violent rages in my house when I was growing up and I was petrified. Nothing I did or do now is ever good enough and I still feel guilty!


I just found this blog on a search for borderline mothers. It is soooo freeing to see and read others words. I have just been learning the last 3 months that my mom is more than likely a narcassistic and borderline mother. I am reading the Understanding a Borderline Mother and it is soooo scary and freeing to read. My mom fits three of them the Waif, Queen, and Witch so much. She refuses to talk about her issues... This is all with the help of my therapist, it has been really tough but helps me know i am not crazy like i thought i was and my mom IS messed up and it is not me being crazy and dilusional. Thanks everyone for being open and honest about your thoughts. I am so thankful for what i have read.


My mother was sectioned for three months and diagnosed with BPD 2 years ago, but she refuses to accept it and refuses all treatment except her wacky vitamin and herb concoctions which don't seem to do anything. She blames everyone for her problems. Everyone except herself. All of her daughters (I'm the middle one) are getting therapy to help us understand our chaotic and violent childhood. But the trauma is still going on. My mother is rapidly spiraling downwards towards alienation from everyone who really cares for her, crippling debt and homelessness but seems bent on that path. She's only 65. It's really hard for us (her family) to try and help, because we just get rejected or taken advantage of and there's never any change. We are currently trying to get the court to take over her affairs so that at least she'll have a home and some finances going into old age. But she's been fired by her doctor for being rude, won't listen to her lawyer, and is bent on persecuting my father and my brother and his wife. She is acting like a truly evil person and yet I know she is very ill, although sometimes i find it hard to accept since she seems so clever at being destructive. I am truly sad that she will not enjoy her old age with her children and grandchildren but will spend it in misery and pain. Who could have believed this of such a beautiful, romantic, poetic, witty, charming, gregarious woman? Sadness rolls forever in.


I grew up as an only person living in a house with my mother who felt (and likely still does feel) that I was the only real problem in her whole life. Fortunately, we now how resources about BPD so as to understand the real reason for our chaos, and sites like this give survivors like us a sense of community. For decades, I hid my reality as much as possible. People who have not spent their lives with "crazy" as the norm may sympathize, but they will never truly relate to the trauma of never knowing when the next attack or public outrage over nothing will occur.


I am a 47 year old adult female who had a "witch" mother with BPD. I say "had" because I have not laid eyes on her in twenty years.I only became aware of BPD just over a year ago. I was the youngest of five children. Our life was a living hell - every minute of everyday. Our father was a successful surgeon, surrounded by a wealth of educated, professional people who sat back and watched the horrors that took place - yet did nothing to get these five innocent children out of this hell. My youngest brother took his life in 2003, my oldest brother took his life in 2005 and my sister died in 2010 from a brain infection - she was the "bad child" in my mother's eyes and never recovered from that. I am now an experienced obituary writer (not something I am proud of) If I ever saw my mother on the street, I would run her over with my car again and again and again. I will NEVER forgive her for taking the lives of my family. There is NO hope.


Im 38. My mother is a psychopath and bpd and histrionic- all, as far as I can tell. havent talked to her in 2 years and never will again. I hate her with all my heart. She never loved me yet convinced everyone around her she did. She resents me for not being a girl , which is what she always wanted. I hope to get over the hate for her someday.

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