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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.



"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." You have described me. My therapist says that this feeling of being unworthy/insecure is a hallmark of any abuse. She assures me that I can recover and not live under these clouds someday, but I am dubious. Is it truly your experience that such children of borderlines can go on to walk with their heads high and not be afraid all the time? Lawson's book isn't very hopeful; her positive accounts of adult children of borderlines are the exception. I'm just curious!


The dark clouds will lift. Let go of the bad stuff, believe in yourself, find what makes you happy. It took a long time, but my dark clouds have gone.I left home at an early age and struggled through this alone. I only recently even learned the word "borderline." I had to cut off all ties with my mother because I felt like I was dying. But then rather than feel relief, I struggled with intense guilt. It was paralyzing. But I made a conscious decision to save my own life. Without therapy, without any acknowledgment of what I'd been through, keeping everything mostly inside me, I muddled through good days and bad, good years and bad. 25 years later, I only have scars -- and sometimes feelings or behaviors that I can only wonder if/how they're tied to the 17 years I spent in the hellish world of a borderline mother. I still mourn for my missed childhood but try to make up for it by providing a healthy environment for my son. I wish I could talk to kids and young adults who are struggling through went I went through, give them hugs, and tell them to believe in themselves.


Yes I can relate to most of what you say.I have never held down a job,had kids or been able to have a healthy relationship.my family have more or less abandoned me.I suffer from anxiety which Ive never known any different.I am determined to deal with the anxiety and low self esteem.I have also lived a life of isolation and need that to end.Im on a 12 step programme.take care


I am a child of a borderline mother. Was the idealized 'bad' child. although i was in reality not 'bad'. YES the clouds will lift. Because of the early conditioning by my mentally ill mother, even though my rational mind said 'she's wrong, I'm not an awful person', the 'other' side of my rational mind would say 'but she wouldn't say these things if there weren't some grain of truth.'
that may be what you're experiencing. the conditioning into thinking you're so unworthy may have you feeling that happiness is what happens to 'other' people.
i thought that way once. it is not overnight, i was in therapy 2.5yrs. but it helped me to internalize that there wasn't a single grain of truth in my being a bad person. i am an amazing person who has lived in an abnormal environment.
getting better is not the exception, i am so sorry for the poster who was dubious about getting better, because i've been there.
have hope, there is help, get a good therapist and TRUST THE PROCESS...


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Melissa Boyer

As a spouse, how do you deal with a husband and inlaws who are so dysfunctional that they cannot even approach ideas of mental illness or consider that their Mother is a borderline? It has taken me 20 years and a nervous breakdown to understand that the "nice" person they dumped on me to care for is a Borderline. Knowing this up front would have saved me from a considerable number of stress related health problems.
That Horrible Daughter-in-law

Rebecka H

What bothers me even now is her rage. It was almost as if she were addicted to it. After I grew up and escaped her physical presence, I began referring to her as a rage-a-holic. I say I escaped her physical presence because I terminated my relationship with my mother--however, her condemning voice remained in my head. I never felt that anything I did was good enough. I never felt smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough. I tried very hard to please her, and I wound up feeling like Cain in the Old Testament--my offerings displeased the angry goddess. If I succeeded in pleasing her, she would be wonderful for a while. She would invite me to talk to her and she would approve of me--or appear to. As her "lonely only" child, I longed for this closeness. I learned not to trust it, though. Whatever I told her during these periods would very soon be used against me. She was a good observer. She always knew what my vulnerabilities were. She really knew how to wound me. I soon learned not to trust these seductive moments of intimacy. She was simply treacherous.

Her rage shaped me. I walked on egg shells and tried to please everyone but myself. I had three unsuccessful marriages with very demanding men that no healthy woman would ever have wanted. All were bright, narcissistic, and self-centered. Two were Ph.D's in scientific fields; the third ran an extremely successful and lucrative business. The pattern was the same. I would try to please them for years and then just get up and walk out--as I had done with my mother. I stumbled into Alanon and found this program very helpful, though she wasn't alcoholic at all. I never actually saw her take a drink in her life. Between this organization and good therapy, I eventually succeeded in developing a long-term relationship with a very kind man with no impressive degrees. I realized later that the three husbands represented the kind of trophies she demanded. Marrying them went along with her demands that I do impressive things. I think I gave up 40 or more years of my life to ironing out the "wrinkles" this woman put in my head and heart--fear, insecurity, and a sense of inadequacy.

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Miranda Gardiner

It is so good to hear that I am not crazy and that it is not my fault...the physical, emotional, verbal and sexual abuse seems never ending...but I am finazlly after 40 years and one best friend who has been a life saver...and through my own soul searching process realizing that it no longer has to be this way...I could use a chatroom for adult children of borderlines to supplement therapy can anyone help me...and please...I will believe you even if nobody else does...it's real and so are you...and there is hope...write to me if you need validation


I am the adult child of a borerline father, who I currently have no relationship with- his way of punishing me for some perceived slight. I know, from past experience, that these times of no contact generally last around three years, meaning that he will be apologetically contacting me soon. Has anyone had sucess maintaining a relationship with a borderline parent? I am considering severing all ties for good, but want to know if there is another approach to stop the cycle.


is there an online support group for this?

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I found this site that might be helpful to folks here:
Oz Online Community for Family Members with a Borderline Loved One



My mother has borderline personality disorder, and while I've known for a long time what it is exactly, I still have a hard time putting "borderline" and "my mother" together in my head. I'm 18, and I've been pulling out my hair (a disorder called trichotillomania) for about 6 years now, because of the anxiety of living with her. No matter what she does, I always seem to forgive her, and I can't express my anger towards her properly. I always think she'll change, but she never does. I don't know if I want to continue a relationship with her, because I'm sick of taking care of her, only to have it bite me in the butt. But the worst part is seeing myself in her actions. I don't want to be like her, I don't want to drive people away when all I really want for them is to stay with me.


My wife's mother is undiagnosed BPD comorbid with BiPolar disorder. I say undiagnosed loosely; my wife is studying to be a clinical psychologist & training in psychotherapy. She's a brilliant diagnostician & we've had numerous discussions about how her mother behaved, how each of her 5 children were treated uniquely, but followed the "all-good/all-bad" pattern. Some deserved to be saved, others deserved to be ridiculued for being an individual. Reading these posts & the articles that I'm finding online this morning help me to develop empathy for my wife in difficult times.

I need help. Last night my wife & I, despite how hard she tried, had the same argument we've had for nearly 7 years. My resentment has grown to proportions that simply overpower my empathy. I've gotten to the point where I don't care to even try to have empathy. We've flip-flopped at the most inconvenient times, when one tries something new to avoid our patterns & failing because the other was just not motivated to change.

I just 'sold' my wife on going back to couples therapy recently because I feel the need to have a separate 3rd party for my own feelings of safety & validation. Because I suffer from adult ADHD my wife has chosen to focus on that as the primary issue in our relationship & gave me an ultimatum that I must see a psychiatrist for meds & that our therapist must understand that specific issue in order for my wife to go. I agree because I know that this is the role that I'm responsible for; that this is what I bring to the table as my co-morbid affliction in the relationship. Then she adds a new ultimatum that we must try other things before spending "$200 on therapy" that will help develop intimacy.

Now it should be made clear that she has a deep understanding of how her mother's BPD/Bipolar affected my wife. My wife understands the relationship between her mother's affliction & my wife's difficulties with interpersonal relating. That having been said, I know that she's coming up with distractions because she doesn't want to deal with the deepest pain of her life.

I don't know what to do...

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Barbara Liimatainen

I to was raised by a BPD mother. I was her bad child, of seven. She praised and idolized others while she tore me apart until there was only shreds left. I took those few shreds and ran, some how knowing, what she said and did to me was wrong. I slowly built a life for myself, trying to make it as normal as possible. The anxiety and endless selfwoth issues were difficult to over come. But I found the more I stayed away from my abuser the stonger I became. I see my mother very little now. When I see her I ignore her untruthful comments and remind myself that there is no aruging with crazy. Crazy is crazy, and it is not me, or part of my world anymore!


My mother is an undiagnosed (as far as I know) histrionic BPD. I'm only 21 but inability to come to terms with a painful, mentally abusive relationship with a current boyfriend led me to seek therapy to ameliorate my feelings of inability to get over the relationship.
I identify with so many components of the comments/body of this webpage; it's incredible. Like Rebecka H, my mother would swing between very caring and damning. She is very intelligent and would use anything personal I would share with her to cut me very deeply emotionally. As a teenager I would ask my close friends from time to time if I was a "good person", a question they found shocking because of the empathy and tolerance described earlier in the article. I've decided now that I am, but it took three years of living outside of her house to get there. Of course, I frequently have my moments of doubt and self-loathing.
I am still in contact with my mother because I know that she is sick and I realize that as much as she swings back and forth, she really does love me deep down. She's just stuck in her mind and can't get out. It must be terrible.
Again, like Rebecka H, my relationship with my mother has reaped terrible damage on me as far as my ability to have a healthy, personal relationship with anyone sexually. I find myself seeking out intelligent, self-centered mates who I have to make myself available to. I also tend to distract myself from my work by sabotaging these relationships through not reacting properly to emotional triggers. My relationship with my mother has caused me to not know "normal." I have no qualifiers, but I am aware that that does not mean that they can't be created. Children of borderline mothers have a chance to establish normal but it takes time and a supportive community. I am at the beginning of this process but I would like to reaffirm to everyone reading this that there is hope.

My mother's borderline personality disorder when I was young was pretty bad. She would mentally attack me and then forced me to sleep in bed with her (not sexual - unless that's repressed or something; i just started therapy less than a year ago). After I finally found the strength to stand up to her and demand to leave her bed, she started dating a man and having loud, audible sex. I've learned that I developed disassociation to adapt from this abuse and my recent path towards acceptance has been difficult. I still sometimes have panic attacks from things such as cuddling or personal speculation.
Shortly after I asserted my independence in this way (I was eleven/twelve) she decided that I must have health problems. We went to multiple hospitals and the like until she found doctors that would agree with her (she's a medical professional, so she could be convincing). She told me I had an array of disorders and even went as far to make me wear a Medical Alert bracelet - but my later evaluation of my medical charts has revealed that I was at best low-normal for some of the the things she said I had.

I've felt better in increments since I've left her house. Like I said, we remain in contact, mostly, but through advisement of my therapist I can't indulge her when she goes through her victimized/accusatory moods. It's painful, but it's been positive. I don't trust her at all but I realize I could make her comfortable, which is something I would try to do for any mentally unsound person. As you could see, like Ally said, I'm still have problems putting "borderline" and "mother" together, but it's helping me understand my childhood better and drop my self-loathing.

If anyone needs to contact me, I am available for support. Just ask me for my email or sn! Sorry this is so choppy, I'm just glad to find other people that are going through the same things that I am.

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Wow....I'm 43 & just discovered that my mother is a "borderline"...I have tossed the idea around 4 years but just accepted it. The kicker is that she is an LCSW.....ya, a psychotherapist. She has spent a great deal of time telling me of all my "issues & dianosies" (sp). She also has a strange dislike of borderlines in her practice.
I really thought I ws OCD....have been medicated to try to help me stop worring if my mother would think MY counter at MY house had been scrubbed enough....if she could find a spot on my furniture that I hadnt thought to dust.....or cleaning the edge of my rolled down car window...with the thought that she would give me approval....always with the chant in my head that she would say "good job" if I worked harder, faster and with great attention 2 detail.
I also left @ 17...working full time, chearleading, nhs, csf and interact....student council and prom chairman... powderpuff organizer & Jr. Miss runner-up....graduated with honors, paid rent & still drove 2 the family house 2 get my brother & sister 2 school.
Mom ws at her best when I ws ill....so caring.... but other times sh e ws sweet & the bearer of gifts then horribly mean....cruel tongue.I still never know what 2 expect.... she is this way to my fabulous kids....I hope I am not 2 late to explain to them....& make a diff.
She is able to exact control from us still by attacking my father..... if we r on her "bad" side that day but she can't get to us...she is super cruel and needy with dad....threatens to leave a lot.
I did discover 3 yrs ago that I had been dating men who were my mom....got a hold on that one....now I need to bring the rest into perspective.
Help..... I too feel like I am dying....Rebecca H could have been me writing.


I am sad. I am a newly licensed therapist and a new mom of a couple months. It took having a naturally needy newborn to recognize BPD in my mother. It's hard setting boundaries because she has an absentminded way of crossing the boundaries. My biggest fear is for my innocent daughter...how her grandma will effect her and that I don't unknowingly repeat maladaptive parenting techniques.

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