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".