Adult Children of Parent Alienation Syndrome

Pas On May 24, 2007 Deborah Harper on Psychjourney interviewed Dr. Amy J. L. Baker about her book, Adult Alienation Syndome: Breaking The Ties That Bind.

Dr. Richard Garner coined the phrase Parent Alienation Syndrome back in the late 70s and it has been a controversial contruct ever sense. As they say, "Seeing is believing" and over the years I have been involved with families where parent alienation syndome is present and in my experience this is a very real thing which is often misunderstood and made worse by our Child Protective System, our Family court system, and our school systems.

The podcast lasts about 50 minutes and can be listened to on line or downloaded. I highly recommend it if you are interested in this topic. You can access it by clicking on the link below.

Link: [[Psychjourney]].


The father's role in the borderline family is crucial to his childrens' well being

Fathers This article is based on the chapter entitled "Fairy Tale Fathers in Dr. Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship.

Dr. Lawson says what you might guess:

"The father's role in the drama between the borderline mother and her child is crucial in determining the outcome for the child." p.178

It has been my observation that very often the husbands of women with borderline personality disorder are either very dysfucntional with their own problems such as alcoholism, drug addiction, workaholism, or they are afraid of their wives and acquiesce to keep the peace. Rarely is there any kind of equal partnership between a husband and a wife with borderline personality disorder. He often keeps his distance or is caught up in her drama trying to stablize the current crisis. The children are often lost in the shuffle. The kids fall between the cracks of family life.

Often times the husband is caught up in his work or community affairs and the wife with borderline personality disorder is left to run the household. He may be so distant in fact that, as Dr. Lawson writes,

"...(he) may be so uninvolved in the family's emotional life that he may barely be noticed or missed if he leaves." p. 182

Sometimes, the husband of the wife with borderline disorder can be very principled. She is attracted to his strength of character because it offers her stability and security and predictability in anotherwise emotionally chaotic world. His self worth is invested in living up to his priniciples and he represses and disavows his own happiness. He is a good example of the joke supposedly told by Socrates that if a man marry well, he will be happy. If not, he will become a philosopher. Because of his moral rectitude and career success, he will be admired in the community and the children may may resent his good reputation given the fact that things are hurtful and unfair at home. They may see him as a hypocrit or weak for his failure to deal effectively with their out of control mother.

There can be a delusion of happiness that is maintained for the public while inside the family there are high levels of stress. I had cients who were in a family which was proclaimed "Family Of The Year" in the city they lived in and the children expressed their confusion over the honor wondering if they really were happy  and a great family or was their family life all a charade.

The husband in the borderline family must repress many of his own needs if he is to remain in the borderline family. This takes a great deal of discipline and self sacrifice. He may do so for the welfare of his children. It is the father who validates his childrens' perceptions and emotions and protects them from the unfairness visited on them on a regular basis that saves his childrens' souls.

This is post #21 in a series on borderline parenting based on Dr. Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother


The effect of borderline parenting on children - part two

Crying_child This post is based on the chapter entitled "Make Believe Children" in Dr. Christine Ann Lawson's book, "Understanding The Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship." This is part two of a two part post on this topic.

Borderline parents often "split", that is they project their good side onto one child who becomes the "fair haired boy or girl", the "golden child", the "all good child" while they project their bad side onto the "black sheep", the "scapegoat", or the "no good child". In part one I described some of the dynamics that occur for the all good child. In this part two, I will describe some of the dynamics that occur for the all bad child. Dr. Lawson writes:

"Children who are perceived as evil by their mother have two choices: (1) to believe that they are evil, or (2) to die trying to be good. The mother's perception is immutable: no-good children can never win no matter how hard they try." p . 168

In part one we discussed the idea of "forced teaming" where the borderline parent says "You're just like me," and "My life would be unlivable were it not for you." There is negative forced teaming when the no good child is constantly compared to another person whom the borderline parent despises often the child's father. "You're just like your father!" referring to the father's negative characteristics or behavior. It is impossible for the child to dissociate herself from this negative attribution. This negative attribution will often become a self fulfilling prophecy and the child will act out the attitudes, and behavior attributed to them as if to say, "You think I'm bad, here's bad. You think I'm stupid, here's stupid. You think I'm criminal, here's criminal." It is interesting that the borderline parent rarely sees their part in contributing to the situation. If anything, they feel further validated that their predictions came true. As Dr. Lawson says:

"No-good children see no good in themselves, in the world, or in their future. They feel certain that they will ruin good things, good people, and good times. When they wish upon a star they see only darkness. No-good children see no hope." p.170

The kind of messages which no-good children hear from their borderline parents are things like, "You ruin everything," "I'd be better off without you," "You are responsible for my unhappiness," "You make me sick," "I could kill you," "You're a disgrace to this family." Spouses often hear similar messages. One client told me that his wife had witnessed her father physically abuse her mother and told him that she expected he would abuse her as well. When after 25 years of marriage he pointed out that he had never physically abused her, she, in a rage, said that she knew he was capable of it, wanted to strike her, and it was only a matter of time before he did. My client wept and said he could never dissuade her from her perception that he was a physically violent man and an abusive husband even though he had never behaved and spoke in a way to warrant such a judgment. Later he laughingly said he could die and go to his grave and she would say "He was a wife beater in his heart and didn't act on it because he died before he got the chance. We were married 55 years."

Dr. Lawson says,

"An x-ray of the no-good child's self might reveal a slow-growing tumor consuming the soul. No-good children are afraid of looking at themselves, especially of looking within. They sense an internal darkness, something withered and black, foul and rotten. Whatever it is, it feels beyond their control and is too terrifying to face. No-good children who come to therapy, therefore, must have a great deal of courage. They must be willing to look at their withered soul and let it be nourished in the warm light of acceptance and understanding." p. 171

Dr. Lawson also describes the lost child who has given up. She says.

"Surviving mixed messages of the borderline mother requires an ability to ride the waves of emotional upheaval. Lost children survive by floating, by resigning themselves to having no control." p. 171

As adults the children of borderline parents struggle trying to understand what is normal and what is not normal. As Dr. Lawson points out, the children of borderline parents have no way of organizing their emotional life. They never received the templates or compass that kids in healthy families receive as a part of their growing up.

Dr. Lawson points out that a healthy father or mother can make a big difference in counterbalancing the dysfunctional interactions of the borderline parent. Dr. Lawson writes,

"The father's character structure can either reinforce the pathological dynamics between mother and child, or provide a healthy counterbalance, depending on the degree to which he experienced healthy love in his own childhood." p. 173

This healthy counterbalance is what I mentioned earlier in a previous post as the "enlightened witness" which Alice Miller discusses - the person who reassures the child that what is happening to them is not normal, not of their doing, and that they will be OK.

This is post #20 in a series on borderline parenting based on a book written by Dr. Christine Lawson entitled, "Understanding The Borderline Mother".


The effect of borderline parenting on children - part one

Child_kissing_parent This post is based on the chapter entitled "Make Believe Children" in Dr. Christine Ann Lawson's book, "Understanding The Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship."

Most people would not believe what goes on in Borderline families. The dynamics are intense, destructive, and subtle and not readily apparent to the casual observer. However as Dr. Lawson points out,

"Children of borderlines learn to sacrifice their true selves because survival requires that they meet their mother's emotional needs." p. 155 - 156.

An adult client told me of a conversation he had with his mother who wondered why she had no relationships with her other adult children and grandchildren, and the client said that he said to her, "Because mom you create an emotional vortex. It is too draining." He told me he wasn't sure if his mother understood but his siblings understood immediately and the term "emotional vortex" has become a catch phrase in these adult siblings' discussions of their mother.

The emotional vortex refers to the fact that the borderline mother needs to be the center of attention all the time. She often creates high drama in order to get and keep attention. She has a need to be right and does not tolerate disagreement or points of view other than her own. People learn quickly that to get along with her they must go along otherwise there will be conflict or the emotional cut-off. Every issue and topic is all about her. Other people's feelings and ideas are disregarded or denigrated as not important or being unworthy of consideration.

Dr. Lawson writes further:

"Autonomy, the freedom of self-direction and self-expression, is impossible for the borderline's child. Because the borderline mother views separation as betrayal and punishes self-assertion, the child develops a false self. The true self is buried alive." p. 156

Children of borderline mothers often are afraid of their mother. She is unpredictable, emotional intense and volatile, can be accusatory, unreasonable, and denigrating. Dr. Lawson says,

"However, children of borderlines experience a qualitative difference in their experience of being mothered. Fortunately, most children do not get 'the willies' when hearing their mother's voice." p. 157

Children of borderlines are continually doing a "risk assessment" monitoring their mother's moods so they can manage the situations and protect themselves.

Borderline mothers often do what is called "splitting" which means that she spits off the good and the bad in herself and projects that onto others. Therefore, it is common for the borderline mother to have the "all good child" and the "all bad child" or the "fair haired boy or girl", the so called "golden child", and the "black sheep" or the "scapegoat."

As Dr. Lawson describes the borderline mother often does "forced teaming" with the good child saying to the all good child things like, "You're just like me" and "You're the only one I can depend on" and "If it weren't for you, my life wouldn't be worth living." This all good child is often called "the parentified child" because the child is forced to behave like a parent taking care of the mother in a role reversal where the child takes care of the parent and the other siblings. Dr. Lawson says:

"A parentified child intuitively knows that her role is inappropriate and is terrified knowing that she is solely responsible for her parent's happiness. She should never be placed in the impossible position of being responsible for her parent's life." p.163

The all good child of the borderline mother often grows up to be a caretaker. She/he is very good at meeting other people's needs, but does not feel worthy to meet his/her own. The all good child often feels guilty that they survived the abuse especially relative to the no-good child. As adults the all good child of the borderline mother is depressed and anxious and doesn't know why. A friend of mine told me that his therapist told him repeatedly, "You deserve to be happy. You deserve to have a high quality life." He told me that at first he brushed his therapist off and then intellectually agreed that this was true but with repeated statements over months he said he became annoyed and then angry. He said one day it hit him that yes he did deserve to be happy and he was angry that no one had ever told him this before. He said he went into his therapy session and cried and said "I understand now what you have been telling me and I am pissed that in all these years no one has ever told me before what you are telling me, that I deserve to be happy! This, of course, is the birthright of every child, but with children of borderline mothers, it is clear that their role is to meet the emotional needs of the mother not the other way around. The satirical point is made with the needle point hung on the living room wall which says, "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!" This, unfortunately, is no joke for a child growing up in a borderline family.

This is post #19 in a series on borderline parenting based on Dr. Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother.


The Borderline Witch - Part three- The Witch's motto: Life Is War

Angry_woman Borderline Personality Disorder can manifest itself in multiple ways. In her book, Understanding The Borderline Mother, Dr. Christine Lawson describes four role types which BPD is exemplified by: the Waif, the Hermit, the Queen, and the Witch. These role types are not mutually exclusive and characteristics of these types overlap and inter mix. This post is part three on the borderline Witch.

There are many characteristics of the Witch borderline mother. She is sadistically controlling and punitive with her children. This occurs unpredictably but regularly to the extent that after awhile the children of the witch expect to be hurt by her. I had a an adult client tell me that her mother would come to school and have her removed from class and chastise her for not doing some simple chore such as emptying the dishwasher. The client said that her mother would take her home and demand that she do her chores. She said that the front office staff were afraid of her mother and complied with her request to have her daughter removed from school even though they intially protested that this was not a good reason for the daughter to miss school. However, the mother's emotional intensity and insistence seem to bully them into acquiescing. The client told me she was embarassed the next day having to explain to friends, teachers, and school staff what was so important and emergent that her mother had appeared to take her from school.

She engages in "borderline rage" which leads to denigration, smashing of objects especially if they are favored objects of her children such as favorite toys or of her spouse like a favorite guitar, desk, cars etc. I had one client tell me that on several occassions her mother would, in a rage, remove all her toys and beloved dolls and stuffed animals, place them in black garbage bags and make her put them in the trash. She says looking back she has no understanding of what enraged her mother to take such action. A husband told me that his borderline wife one time smashed his guitar and overturned and damaged his desk after a fight when he had left for a few hours to cool down. He said that after that he never brought anything into the house that he was not willing to have her destory in another rage. Nothing, he said, was safe.

She is very good at "splitting", that is, playing one person or group off an other and idealizing one person, child, or group while demonizing another person, child, or group.People and even family members can be "blacklisted" and the Witch will not communicate with them for years if ever again. One client told me that her mother did not speak to her father, the child's grandfather, for over 18 years. Another client told me that her mother was estranged from all of her children having various grievances that they had stole from her and mistreated her in various ways. The client said that she had heard from a friend of her mother that she had explained her estrangement from her children and grandhchildren saying that her children had been the product of marital rape.

The borderline rage and hostility is thought of by psychotherapists as a mask for fear.

Dr. Lawson writes:

"In other words, when the Witch mother perceives her children as resisting her control (by expressing their own will) she perceives them as threatening her survival. Her mindset is 'If you are not with me, you are against me.' The Witch mother's hostility is an attempt to discredit those with power. Portraying the enemy as weak, incompetent, or worthless reduces the threat to her. Thus, she is pleased when others feel diminished, vulnerable, and powerless. The Witch's children sense her pleasure (sadistic enjoyment) at their expense. In fact, degrading others does make the Witch mother feel better." p. 143

The witch is often intrusive, domineering, and violates the boundaries of others. She has an uncanny ability to perceive the vulnerability in others. People closest to her often become withdrawn, isolated, and keep things private for fear that she will use their thoughts, feelings, and desires as weapons against them. One client told me that her mother asked her as a teenager what she wanted for her birthday. She said they discussed her desire for a special kind of radio at length and even had marked one in a catalog. When her birthday occured a month later she was excited about receiving the radio, but it never appeared. When the mother asked her at the end of the day how she had enjoyed her birthday she said "Fine. It was very good." When the mother inquired further, she said she continued to insist it was fine. When the mother finally asked how she felt about not getting the radio, she said she was disappointed, at which point the mother launched into a tirade about how she was ungrateful, never happy with anything the mother had done for her, and that she was a terrible daughter who was selfish, egotistical, and not worth enough to receive anything as fine as the radio which she desired. The adult daughter said she was angry, hurt, confused, and doubted her own worth. She said further that she felt ashamed that she had even admitted that she wanted the radio. She said that she realized then that her desires and preferences were unworthy, and not to be held, let alone admitted to anyone. She said that as an adult she has a hard time believing that she has a right to be happy or to express any preference or desire for fear that it will offend if not enrage people who will think she is selfish and impertinent.

The witch often fears entrapment and becomes paranoid believing that others wish her ill and are out to get her in some way. Her tendency is to "get them before they get me" or "I have been hurt by others so often, I am never giving anyone a chance to hurt me again." The brighter and more articulate the Witch, the more dangerous she is and difficult to reason with. There usually is a kernel of truth to her accusation and paranoia but on further consideration it appears that the fear is usually exaggerated and taken out of context. A client told me that his mother always thought people were trying to take advantage of her. She loved to go garage saling and took great delight in getting people to lower their prices. Getting someone to lower the price of some object from 50 cents to 25 cents gave his mother a sense of triumph as if she had pulled a fast one on a world bent on stealing from her and unfairly taking her money.

The borderline Witch will rarely seek help herself. She is suspicious and doesn't believe that anyone else can understand and help her. If help is obtained it may be as a result of an involuntary psychiatric hospitalization after a suicide attempt. In extreme cases the Witch will go too far and commit a crime and wind up in prison as did Susan Smith who killed her children by driving the car in which they were strapped into a lake.

The borderline Witch's children often grow up somewhat damaged. As Dr. Lawson writes:

"They grow up broken, unable to love, unable to trust, unable to feel. The Witch's children are victims of soul murder and may feel alive only when suffering or when inflicting suffering." P. 148

Dr. Lawson writes further:

"The Witch's children survive their childhood by learning not to feel, cry, laugh, smile, or frown in their mother's presence. Adult children raised by Witch mothers survived an emotional hell. Without intervention, young children may not survive." P. 149

The borderline Witch's children can be greatly helped by what Swiss Psychoanalyst, Alice Miller, calls an enlightened witness. The enlightened witness is a person in whom the child can confide, or whom the child perceives as knowing what is going on. The enlightened witness lets the child know that what is happening to them, the way they are being treated, is not fair. The enlightened witness lets the child know that it is not them who has the problem but the parent. Often times we are mystified and wonder, "Is it me or is it them?" The enlightened witness says to the child, "It's them." The child is relieved to know that he/she doesn't deserve and isn't causing what is going on. The enlightened witnesses understanding and validation can help a child preserve the child's sanity and soul.

This is the 18th post in a series on borderline parenting based on Dr. Christine Ann Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother.


The Borderline Witch, part two - Beware of "the turn"

Verbal_abuse Borderline Personality Disorder can manifest itself in multiple ways. In her book, Understanding The Borderline Mother, Dr. Christine Lawson describes four role types which BPD is exemplified by: the Waif, the Hermit, the Queen, and the Witch. These role types are not mutually exclusive and characteristics of these types over overlap and inter mix. This post is part two on the boderline Witch.

One of the important characteristics of the Witch type of borderline is what Dr. Lawson and others call "the turn". Dr. Lawson describes "the turn" as follows:

"One of the most devastating experiences for chldren of borderlines is "the turn." The Turn is a sudden attack, the abrupt withdrawal of love and affection, and razor-sharp words that can pierce the heart as painfully as an arrow. The messages aimed at the children include, 'I want you out of my life,' 'I'd be better off without you,' and 'I should never have had you kids.'"

And I could add, "Who do you want to life with: your father or me!?"

After being subjected to "the turn" people in relationship with the borderline often walk on eggshells, on pins and needles, never knowing what might cause "the turn" or which way the wind will be blowing in the next 15 minutes. Dr. Lawson does mention some of the possible triggers for "the turn" on p. 133 in her book Understanding The Borderline Mother.

  1. Showing affection for someone other than the mother.
  2. Disobeying, or expressing independent thought.
  3. Diminishing the mother.
  4. Differentiating from the mother.
  5. Disagreeing with mother.

Dr. Lawson writes:

" The disturbing reality is that the Turn may be triggered by circumstances that have nothing to do with the child. Any situation that triggers feeings of betrayal, rejection, or abandonment might cause the good mother to turn into the Witch. When the borderline mother's partner is absent or frustrating, she may turn on the children.

Children have no way of knowing that the borderline's emotional state is primarily determined by the state of her relationship with her own primary attachment figure. They have no way of knowing that their mother sometimes views their existence as a threat to her existence. Thus, the Turn seems entirely random to the child." p. 133 - 134

In my experience, the borderine herself is not aware of what motivates her feelings and behavior. In her mind, her actions seem entirely justified and appropriate. It is as if she has been so traumatized in the past that she promises herself that she will not allow anyone to hurt her again, and so she is not only defensive but pre-emptively attacks to mitigate any perceived threat, possibly real or imaginary. The mother - child relationship becomes not one of trust, nurturance, and reliability, but one of attack, rejection, unfair accusation and blame leaving a child or partner emotionally stunned, bleeding, hurt, sometimes devastated, and distrusting.

Dr. Lawson points out that the borderline Witch is the least likely to seek treatment. She doesn't want improvement and happiness, but revenge. She will denigrate mental health professionals because she fears their power to see her suffering and expose it which will lead to a loss of control and make her vulnerable to potentially even greater injury and hurt. As Dr. Lawson writes:

"Like the Witch in Hanzel ad Gretel, the borderline Witch has 'a keen sense of smell' for human weakness. Witch mothers know what to say to hurt or scare their cildren, and use humiliation and degradation to punish them." p. 137

It is this same strategy that the Witch uses on others that she most fears people will use on her. Therefore, she will avoid situations where she fears that her suffering can become known and exposed and used against her. Witches will never apologize, say they are sorry, take responsibility for their harming and hurting others. To do so would make them vulnerable and in their mind expose a weakness that could then be taken advantage of by others.

Dr. Lawson makes an accurate but very dire statement when she writes:

"Witch mothers are more likely to bring their children for treatment than to seek help for themselves. They project their own pathology onto their child, and often expect the child to be institutionalized. Because the no-good child is the target of the Witch's projections of self-hatred, the mother may wish for the child to be sent away. She needs and wants to get rid of this hated part of herself. Working with children of Witch mothers requires careful consideration, as therapists need to take appropriate steps to protect themselves while acting in the best interests of the child. No one should underestimate the vindictiveness of the borderline Witch, but, most important, no one should leave her children unprotected." p. 138

Stop_the_pain Unfortunately, it has been my experience working in the mental health field for 38 years to find that most human service, health, and mental health professionals do not understand Borderline Personality Disorder, it's symptoms, and dynamics. Consequently, children, spouses, and the person suffering from the disorder are often mis-served or ill- served. It also has been my observation that most mental health professionals don't want to serve people with Borderline Personality Disorder because the experience is often volatile, acrimonious, futile with sometimes destructive and life threatening consequences. If there were such a thing as combat pay for mental health professionals, those that are willing to provide service to Borderline clients and their families would certainly deserve it. Since mental health services for the most part are voluntary, a more positive prognosis is possible when the criminal justice, child protective, or family court system are involved which can provide structure and consequences for the borderline Witch. This structure may help her contain her bile, venom, and acting out because she knows she is being monitored and can be held accountable. It certainly may provide some small comfort, reassurance, and relief to children and spouses who may have some recourse to an external third party and are no longer at the sole mercy of the Witch's insanity. 

This is post # 17 in a series based on the book Understanding The Borderline Mother by Christine Lawson.


The bordeline Witch- "I can't be happy until I have found someone to hurt."

Angry_woman2 Borderline Personality Disorder can manifest itself in multiple ways. In her book, Understanding The Borderline Mother, Dr. Christine Lawson describes four role types which BPD is exemplified by: the Waif, the Hermit, the Queen, and the Witch. These role types are not mutually exclusive and characteristics of these types over overlap and inter mix.

The borderline Witch mother is personified in fairy tales most notably Hanzel and Gretel.

"Husband, listen to me. Tomorrow at daybreak we'll take the children out to the thickest part of the forest...They'll never find the way home again and that way we'll be rid of them."

Susan Smith killed her children in 1994 when she drove her car into the lake with the kids strapped into their safety seats and killed them because her boyfriend left her and said he didn't want a girlfriend with kids.

Dr. Lawson writes:

"Two lessons can be learned from the Susan Smith case. The first is that a borderline's fear of abandonment can lead to tragically desperate acts. The second is that failing to recognize the borderline Witch can have deadly consequences." p. 123

Dr. Lawson points out that most borderline mothers do not kill their children and most borderline mothers do not physically abuse their children "but the Witch's children live in terror of her power. The look in her eyes strikes fear in their hearts. Words alone can shatter souls." p. 123

I have had adult children of borderline children tell me that the only time they felt safe was when they were in school or at someone else's house. Going home after school always filled them with dread because they never knew "what kind of a mood she would be in" or what fault she had focused on in their absence which had filled her with rage. As Dr. Lawson writes, "Children are the first to recognize and the last to admit that something is wrong with their mother." p.124 Often, only as adults, safely ensconsed in their own life will they look back and disclose stories of the terror they endured as children. Usually other adults, even if they knew the mother, express shock and chagrin because they had no idea of what was actually going on.

Dr. Lawson writes:

The Witch's children feel like the prisoners of a secret war. By the time they grow up they often unconsciously repress their memories, and their terror may be transformed into hatred." p. 125

These adult children sometimes can be become sadistic, callous, and cruel thinking that such behavior is normal and its a question of "getting them before they get you" or that "they deserve it" because of their own weakness or unwillingness to submit to their desires. Dr. Lawson writes:

"Children of borderine Witches know that their mothers can make people vanish. They have seen her cut people to shreds with words, shatter the reputations of those who betray her, and stab them in the heart with false accusations. They know the feeling of sinking into nothingness by soul-wrenching verbal attacks." . 125

A dramatic cinematic portrayal of borderline Witch rage is in the film Fatal Attraction starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close as borderline girlfriend, Alex Forrest.

Husbands are often the target of vicious and damaging accusations if they try to separate/divorce a borderine Witch partner. Custody battles often ensue which are exceedingly damaging to all parties involved especially the children. Borderline Witches are often very good at manipulating the system and naive attorneys, child protective workers, psychotherapists and clergy get chewed up in the process. Many times religious beliefs get used to justify horrific behavior. Dr. Lawson writes:

"A pseudo-self-righteousness or a justification based on religious dogma may conceal their lack of true remorse. They may cling to the beliefs that they are forgiven and believe that they have spared their children from further suffering." p.128

The borderline Witch herself often was sadistically abused as a child. This justifies her abuse thinking in so many words, "It was good enough for me and it is good enough for you too." or "I don't know what you are complaining about, this is nothing like what I endured." The borderline Witch may trick her children or her husband into telling her what they want and then using it against them by witholding it or giving some flawed version provoking a complaint that can lead to her venting her rage that they are ungrateful or undeserving.

Dr. Lawson points out that frequent attack by the venomous Witch leads to the development of immunity in children and husbands. She writes:

"The Witch's tone of voice conveys a clear message of venomous hatred. But children of Witch mothers are like snake handlers who, frequently bitten, develop immunity. With time, a thick layer of scar tissue eventually covers wounds." p . 132

Unfortunately, forced to stay in a relationship because of dependency as with children, or with hope of always making things better as with husbands, leaves loved ones, especially children, in a no-win situation. Dr. Lawson very eloquently writes it this way:

"Managing the adrenaline triggered by an atack by one's mother is not easy. Children who fight back are punished. Children who hurt themselves may be labeled crazy. Children who hurt someone else are referred to the justice system. The Witch's children must surrender themselves to her control and suffer the consequence of internalized rage."  p. 133

One of the most difficult aspects of living with the borderline Witch is that one is living in a war zone. Anxiety is always high because one never knows when and from where the next attack is coming. Dr. Lawson likens it to living in a tornado zone. She writes:

"Attacks by the Witch mother are like tornadoes: random, devastating, and unpredictable. Naturally,her children are on constant alert for changes in the atmosphere that might indicate when and where she will "turn." p. 133

One client told me that she could never plan on having a happy holiday. Something would always set off her mother who would pick a fight, make cutting remarks, and hurt other people because of her own sense of hurt and need to control, to be in charge.

"It was like she was unhappy and so she wanted everyone else unhappy too or even worse she couldn't be content and happy unless she had hurt someone. It was like her only sense of satisfaction. The even scarier thing is that my mother felt entirely justified in this behavior always blaming it on the other person saying in so many words that they deserved it or had it coming. I never dared asking how she figured that or she would attack me."

This is post #16 in a series on Christine Lawson's book, Understanding the Borderline Mother.


The borderline Queen - "It's all about me!"

Angry_woman Borderline Personality Disorder can manifest itself in multiple ways. In her book, Understanding The Borderline Mother, Dr. Christine Lawson describes four role types which BPD is exemplified by: the Waif, the Hermit, the Queen, and the Witch. These role types are not mutually exclusive and characteristics of these types over overlap and inter mix.

Dr. Lawson writes that Borderline Queens are driven by feelings of emptiness, and that they seek special treatment because they felt emotionally deprived as children. The Queen has learned how to win special treatment through persistence and intimidation.

Dr. Lawson writes:

She can be intrusive, loud, inpatient, and flamboyant. She is easily frustrated, often bursting into rages than can terrify her children. She can be disingenuous and may lie in order to get what she wants." p.104

Dr. Lawson points out that giving in to the Queen is easier than resisting, and Dr. Lawson further points out that those who dare to confront the Queen may be treated as infidels and, as such, may be banished for their disloyalty. In this way, the Borderline may create new borderlines in their children by terrorizing them with rejection and abandonment to punish them for not following her will. Husbands of Queens learn that any peace and equanimity that can be obtained in the relationship with her will require that they acquiesce to her demands or arguments will ensue that will escalate until the Queen gets her way. For similar reasons, the Queen will be right about everything and never take responsibility for her own mistakes or problems. She will never apologize or say she is sorry or seek forgiveness. The Queen is sovereign and expects all to serve her faithfully and compliantly or as the Queen in Alice In Wonderland would hysterically shout, "Off With Their Heads!"

Dr. Lawson writes:

"The darkness within the borderline Queen is emptiness. Emptiness and loneliness are distinctly different emotional experiences. Whereas loneliness results from loss and evokes sadness, emptiness results from deprivation an triggers anger. However, not all Queens experienced loss in early childhood. The common denominator among borderline Queens is emotional deprivation. As children they felt robbed; consequently, they feel entitled to take what they need." p. 105

In my clinical experience, it is this sense of deprivation which gives the Queen her sense of entitlement. This sense of entitlement allows her to justify her exploitation, lying, steeling, and deprivation of others. This entitlement may lead to behaviors such as shoplifting, embezzlement, fraud, and stinginess.

The Queen can be very charming and seductive pursuing attention to fill the void of the underlying deprivation. The Queen can be quite competitive and envious of others and devalues others who are a threat to her or who do not provide gratification or special treatment. This sense of deprivation often impairs moral judgment and the Queen can be vindictive without feeling guilt or remorse. The Queen will rarely give credit to others unless there is something in it for her. People quite attracted to the Queen initially, because she usually has quite a charismatic personality, will sooner or later get burned by the Queen when they realize that for the Queen everything must be about her and if possible they will avoid her.

Dr. Lawson writes:

"The Queen relates to others with superficiality and an air of detachment. She may perceive others, including her children, as a threat to her own survival unless they relinquish their needs for hers. Queen mothers compete with their children for time, attention, love, and money. Superficial interest and a lack of attunement to the child's emotional needs are typical of Queen mothers." p.108

A little further on the same page, Dr. Lawson writes:

"In order to win admiration and love, her children must reflect her interests, values, tastes, and preferences. The Queen expects her children to dress the part, to reflect her importance." p.108

The borderline Queen motto is: "It's All About Me!"

Dr. Lawson points out that although Queen mothers emotionally sacrifice their children, their children may go to their graves protecting her.

This is post # 15 in a series based on Dr. Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother.


Anxiety in adult children of borderline parents

Anxious Dr. Christine Lawson writes in her book, Understanding The Borderline Mother, that "Adult children of Hermits may suffer from panic attacks, claustrophobia,or agoraphobia without recognizing the source of their fear - the early experience of feeling trapped by their mothers." p.87

I had one client email me the following:

" It has taken me most of my early adulthood to de-stress from the perpetual anxiety and establish a sense of self-worth after having my mother as a mother. I am conflicted, however, knowing I'd be a much different person had I been born to anyone else. I think I'd be much less tolerant, self-reliant, and empathetic and more fearful of change and the unknown. I truly believe that good things can be born of struggle."

Feelings of inferiority, insecurity, unworthiness, are very prevalent in the Adult Children of Borderline Parents whom I have worked with. They often worry about being good parents themselves and therefore may postpone or forgo having children.

It is interesting to work with Adult Children of Borderline parents in therapy. As adults they often are very aware that they do not know what is normal and what is not normal. They seem to not have a good understanding of the origin and genesis of their symptoms. It is in good therapy that they come to understand where the symptoms came from, and how to manage them more effectively to improve their interpersonal and social functioning. As they manage their symptoms better and their distress goes down, the qualty of their lives can improve, often significantly.

The Adult Children of Borderlines deserve to be happy and to have a high quality life. They have lived through hell and now it is time for something more heaven like.


When the borderline mother's motto is "Life is too dangerous."

Hermit_in_bed Borderline Personality Disorder can manifest itself in mutliple ways. In her book, Understanding The Borderline Mother, Dr. Christine Lawson describes four role types which BPD is exemplified by: the Waif, the Hermit, the Queen, and the Witch. These role types are not mutually exclusive and characteristics of these types over overlap and inter mix.

Dr. Lawson writes :

"The borderline Hermit seeks solitude but paradoxically longs to belong." p. 81

Like the Waif, the Hermit also often has trouble sleeping at night ruminating about the safety of her children, her husband, her job, her heath, and any number of other things. Hermits can be extraordinarily sensitive and may believe that they are psychic according to Dr. Lawson. She looks for hidden meanings in greeting cards, gifts, invitations, and innocent comments.

One of my clients told me that she went to a large wedding reception where there was assigned seating. She was seated at a table of people she didn't believe had as high status as the other guests. She stated that the candles on her table burned down quicker because the bride wanted to save money and so put cheaper candles on her table than on the other tables.

The predominant emotion of the Hermit borderine is fear and so they often shut out the ones they claim to love. It's as if they have been hurt so much in the past by people who were supposed to love them that they have made a pledge to themselves not to let anyone ever hurt them again. They, therefore, protect themselves by putting a wall around themselves which can be cold and stoney or accusatory and wrathful.

In a similar vein, to project an exterior of invincibility, the Hermit borderline will never admit she is wrong, never say she is sorry, never apologize or take responsibility fo her part in hurt and injustice. She dreads being understood by others because it indicates a loss of protective seclusion and so usually refuses any psychotherapy or counseling.

Hermit borderlines can be relentless in their criticism and denigration of the no-good child because there is tremendous fear that the child's imperfections will reflect on her. To bolster her self esteem, the Hermit borderline will often cling to the all - good child giving the all - good child a sense of being trapped, drained, and upstaged.

For the Hermit borderline suicide often will be seen as a victory rather than a defeat because it is a way of maintaining control. This type of suicide is characterized as the Queen of the Mountain type because the person looks at life as  something like "If I can't have it the way I want it, then I'd rather not have it at all." It is in the loosing of control, or in the feeling of being boxed into a corner that the suicidal behavior will manifest in its most deadly forms.

The Hermit borderline is often depressed and filled with a sense of impending doom. Her view seems to be, "People are out to screw you, and if anyone can take advantage, or anything can go wrong, it probably will." This view often becomes a self fulfilling prophecy and the family gathering is not over until the fight has broken out or some sort of high drama has occured. If nothing negative happens there is an increase in tension because, as one client told me, "It's only a matter of time."

With a Hermit, there is rarely a happy holiday. Children are filled with anxiety hoping that Mom will be happy and "nothing bad will happen to ruin the holiday." In a similar matter, vacations become difficult with invariable snags and problems which can quickly escalate to abort or change plans at the last minute.

Plans are difficult to make with the Hermit Borderline because she is constantly changing them or finding reasons why they are no longer viable to being carried out.

One client told me that he and his wife and their 5 children planned to go camping with another couple and their two children. Plans were made to meet this couple at the camp ground about 200 miles away  by mid afternoon. After working all night, the husband said he arrived home at 8: 45 AM expecting things to be packed and everyone ready to go. The wife had let the eldest daughter go baby sitting and she was to arrive home at 11:00 AM, but then was delayed and there was no way that they could rendezvous with the other couple successfully at the camp ground. When the husband brought this to his wife's attention she became outraged and blamed him for being inflexible, nonsupportive, and always ruining everything. She told him to take the other four kids and go by himself. Not knowing what else to do, and not wanting to stand up the other couple and disappoint both his and the other couple's kids, he took his four kids camping by himself for a week. When he returned home, his wife seemed happy to see him and the kids, and acted as if nothing unusual had happened.

Dr. Lawson says that the motto of the Borderline Hermit is: "Life is too dangerous."

This is post #14 in a series based on Dr. Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother