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.