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.