Treatment can help in the borderline family and it begins with information
Pursuing peace does not require passivity and weakness, but rather discipline and courage

When the borderline mother's motto is "Life is too hard"

Waif 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.

The Waif seems to want soothing and often leaves others feeling helpless because she is often inconsolable. As Dr. Lawson writes that the Waif might say, "I can't allow myself to need your help and be in control at the same time."  The irony is that the Waif feels that in accepting help she is loosing control.

The Waif can self soothe with the compulsive use of alcohol, drugs, money, food, sex, work, and likes to play the role of the martyr. She can often become hysterical to get attention.

Unfortunately, nothing others do for the Waif seems to be quite good enough. She could be described as a bottomless pit in that if you give an inch, she will want a foot, and if you give a foot, she will want a yard, etc. Others usually wind up feeling "used" and burned out and then will avoid her only compounding her fears of abandonment and rejection which leads to the dysphoria and anxiety which are the beginning of the self reinforcing cycle all over again.

The Waif rarely has insight into her own behavior and is more likely to play the victim than to take any responsibility. If challenged to take responsibility she will either further sink into helplessness or flip and accuse others of persecuting her.

Dr. Lawson writes:

"Loss or abandonment can trigger psychotic reactions. Abandonment or rejection by her partner arouses rage in the Waif, as she seeks to annihilate the one who failed to love her perfectly." p. 72

I worked in Psychiatric Emergency Rooms for over 18 years and estimate that over that period of time I peformed over 14,500 suicide assessments. The only patient I lost was a woman in her 30s who had had several admissions to the psychiatric floor for suicide attempts. Her problems had been diagnosed as borderline personality disorder. When I interviewed her at 3:00 AM in the morning she attributed her suicidality to her break up from the tumultuous relationship which she had with her boyfriend. We worked out arrangements for her to spend the next few days with her father and for her to see her therapist later in the day. Apparently, in the morning, instead of keeping her appointment with her therapist she sought out her estranged boyfriend where a further argument occured. She reportedly grabbed his rifle from his house and went into the front yard where she proceeded to shoot herself as he watched from the front door. Unfortunately, she died.

Doing a psychological autopsy after the incident it was determined that there was no way to predict her impulsive and deadly act. Had she not had contact with the ex-boyfriend she would never have killed herself that day.

Dr. Lawson writes that the Waif Mother's motto is "Life is too hard" to which I would add, "Nobody loves me", "you'll be better off without me", and "you'll be sorry when I'm gone."

Children of Waifs often become excellent caregivers and often enter the helping professions as nurses, social workers, psychologists, EMTs and other crisis workers. These adult children of Waifs have spent their whole lives making order out of chaos, managing other people's emotions for them, and consoling the inconsolable in situations where there is a high level of subjective distress. These are skills which are invaluable in situations where most people would fear to tread and become paralyzed. For the Adult Child of a Waif, they, many times, have "been there and done that".

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

Comments

Gen

I read these kind of blogs and I ask myself what kind of Americans would describe their fellow beings in such unempathic, stereotypic, all black (forget about black and white thinking - you seem to leave that for "borderlines"), and often just plain ugly terms. Since "personality disorders" have been invented, they seem to have infiltrated the English language like a virus.
We on the other side of the Atlantic are often bewildered by a society that seems to judge everything and everyone in biblical terms of good and evil. We ask ourselves nervously if it is only a question of time before we are infected too.

Brenda

I'm an American living on the other side of the Atlantic.

I must say that I think this blog entry is very interesting. At the same time, I do have that "other side of the Atlantic" perspective, in that I think in the US, we take these diagnosis and overapply them. In researching Borderline Personalities (see Wikipedia for an excellent article), I see that maybe 1 to 2 percent of the population might have that.

When this type of diagnosis is highly publicised in books and media, people easily start to decide that every other person they know suffers from such problems...

On the other hand, after living outside the States for 12 years now, I am starting to see that American society is evolving in such an individualistic direction that I think we see the psychological side effects of our culture in a wide array of unhealthy attitudes and behaviours - even sicknesses.

In the traditional Mediterranean society I'm living in, where family is still the center of life, there is a strength and health in society that I don't feel in the USA - which I still visit frequently.

That's not to say life is perfect here on the "other side". However, I do think that the American focus on independence and individualism is unhealthy and damaging for possibly even the majority of society. There is not the peace and happiness there that I feel here.

From the time I started sinking my roots into this "old fashioned" place in the "old world", I felt like a "spiritual refugee" - someone who was fleeing from a cold, hard, selfish society and finding something so wholesome and down to earth. It has been very refreshing and it's wonderful to watch my children grow up feeling rooted in their society, loved by a large network of family and friends and supported by their immediate family.

I see each society (country, if you will) as a game board. The rules are different wherever you go. It's hard to go against the grain of society. If you're living in the United States, it won't be easy to avoid the effects of the rough and tumble game that is played there. The rules that govern personal relationships are so hard on those who lose - leaving them vulnerable to developing such things as "borderline personality".

Kate S.M.

With regard to the previous post: Your muddling of a psychological assessment with a sociological one is inappropriate. Yes, people are complicated. If you had actually read the book then you would know that the author addresses the myriad complexities of a personality.

Without attempts at identifying causes for anti social behavior (yes, a value judgement is necessary here), psychologists are unable to understand and therefore treat sick people.

Europe is not a perfect fairyland. I, too, have lived there and found the same propblems, only they go untreated. Just because Europe does not identify personality disorders does not mean they do not exist. If this were true, then the US was without many of the disease that we are, today, able to identify.

DianaJaye

If you grew up in a normal family, then it is difficult to understand the suffering one experiences as the child of a borderline parent. It is invalidating as well to their experience to think that there is judgement here rather than explanation and illumination of a very serious disorder. Lawson's book brings clarity and understanding to a perplexing and destructive set of behaviours that destroys lives. As the adult child of a borderline parent I am still struggling with its affects as I reach my 50's. My siblings are as well. And yes psycology and sociology are not the same.

Hollister

I second the above. I grew up with a borderline Waif/Hermit mother and a borderline Queen sister. I get this stuff like you wouldn't believe. Gen, you are lucky you didn't have the bizarre, sad, lonely childhood I did. I'm not feeling sorry for myself, I have learned to make lemons of lemonade and have also learned to acknowledge past dysfunction so that the cycle will not continue. Seeking therapy was hugely helpful.

U.

Obviously, this book is not referring to just any other fellow person. It is referring to people who have been diagnosed with a severe personality disorder. Amateur diagnosis of neighbours and such is plain silly. Some years ago I found out that my mother has been diagnosed by several psychologists with borderline personality disorder and some other things. Up until then, I had been trying to "talk things out" with her and "grow". I was puzzled why this didn't work at all (even though she said she was willing) but why we ended up in truely weird, circular arguments, that always ended wither her verbally abusing me in truely mean ways, in the same way she had done since I was a child. I couldn't make sense of her contradictory behaviour. It was like a twilight zone. Luckily, I have been brought up by my same aunt, so that I can at least see that her behaviour is not normal. Still, I'm struggling with the after effects and the pain of not being able to have contact with her.
Btw I always wonder if it has to do with the fact that women get accused of these atrocities, that makes some people so defensive about the book. If the author would have described sadistic fathers, I doubt that people would be so surprised. But women still are seen as somehow more "good" that men?
it is exactly that ideology thathas prevented me from protecting myself from her earlier, and it has allowed her to hide her behaviour behind a "victim" role.

R

If your family member suffered from this disease, you would find nothing wrong with this article. It is like reading a biography of your life. I'm glad there are professionals focusing on this subject, because it is something the family alone can't mend once it has gotten this far.

Chenoa

Yes, yes, yes... I am open to the idea that Americans over-medicalise things. But when my therapist diagnosed(-by-proxy) my mother with BPD, and I started reading these articles, I was shocked at how much of my childhood - and adulthood - makes sense in this context. In understanding what my mother's borderline did to me, I've come to terms with my own depression and anxiety... And in understanding what my mother's borderline does to her, I hope someday to have some empathy for her, even though I know that she will never seek treatment and we will never have a peaceful relationship. At least understanding can help ME heal. And probably naming these disorders helps countless other children-of-borderlines.

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It is like reading a biography of your life. I'm glad there are professionals focusing on this subject, because it is something the family alone can't mend once it has gotten this far.

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