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.