Sleepless nights in the borderline family

Sleepless_nights Christine Lawson writes in her book Understanding The Borderline Mother,

"Ordinary mothers sleep at night; borderline mothers do not. Borderlines dread being alone with their thoughts: thus, intrusive, obsessive thoughts may keep them awake at night. Noise from the radio, television, or late-night telephone calls may distract them from their anxiety and provide a sense of security." p. 26

A little further down on the same page, Dr. Lawson writes,

"Another patient's mother awakened her father on a regular basis, rebuking him for being able to sleep when she was so upset." p. 26

Dr. Lawson's description of the sleeplessness, the agitation, the restlessness was very illuminating for me. Even though, I have been in psychotherapy practice for 38 years, and worked inpatient psychiatry for many years, I have never read or heard this explanation before of this sleepless behavior.

One client, a father of a borderline wife and a borderline daughter, told me how this borderline daughter, at age 20, who no longer lived at home, would call at 12:30 or 1:00AM to chat as if it were the middle of the afternoon. He told me that even though he loved to hear from her, he told her to call before 10:00 PM and not to call later except in an emergency because that's when he went to bed. She stopped calling him and he rarely heard from her after that.

The same man told me that his wife was often up in the middle of the night working on household projects and doing housework. He said it was a bit unnerving because he never knew whether she would be sleeping in the bed with him at night. He said he would often wake up in the middle of the night and she would be gone and he would be disoriented for a minute or two until he heard her moving about the house. He said that even though they were married for 35 years he never got used to this behavior and even though it never was an issue in their marriage, the behavior nonetheless continued to unnerve him.

This is post #7 in a series based on Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother.


Competition between parent and child for attention in the borderine family

Anger It is a common experience for children of borderline parents to turn to the parent for comfort and feeling worse afterwards. Similarly, borderline parents find that their parents rarely enjoy their child's happiness and success unless it reflects somehow positively on them. The borderline parent will often "horn in" on the child's success and want to share the spot light with them or even to steal their thunder. The borderline parent usually wants to be the center of attention and when the child takes away the attention, the borderline parent will do something to bring it back on themselves.

Christine Lawson, in her book, Understanding The Borderline Mother, says:

"Emotionally stable parents share their children's joy and quiet their fear. But caretaking roles are reversed for children of borderlines whose mothers are chronically upset. Children repress their fear in order to calm their mother. Situations that should frighten children may not because they have learned not to feel. A dramatic (an hopefully rare) example occurs when cildren rescue the borderline mother from suicide attempts." p.23

Children growing up with this upbringing often develop a false self putting a public face on to please people, but inside feeling confused, perplexed, and empty. There is a fear on the part of these children of being successful because they do not want to garner attention of which the borderline parent might feel jealous. One client told me that his mother always told him, "Do your best, but don't stand out." While he was competent, capable, and widely recognized for his good work he had a hard time completing projects out of fear of getting attention and acknowledgment for a job well done.

This is post #6 in a series based on Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother.


Borderline mothers sometimes steal their children's identity

The blog, Borderline Crazy, had a great post on 06/10/07 entitled, "Can I have my identity please?". It is well worth reading.

My mom has, as far as I can guess (I’m not a clinician), borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. She’s a real delight. She has sent me things so crazy that my shrink gets a gleam in her eye and jumps up to copy them, presumably to add to her “this is the craziest shit I have ever seen” file. What’s bothering me today about her is her inability to exist on her own as herself. This may not sound to an unaffected person as if it would cause problems, but I assure you it is crazy-making.

To read the rest of the post, click on the link below.

Link: Can I have my identity, please? « Borderline Crazy.


Soul murder leads to suffering in children in borderline families

Angry_parent In her book, Understanding The Borderline Mother, Christine Lawson says on p.15

"When a child disagrees with the borderline mother or does not satisfy her needs or wishes, the borderline will attempt to shame, punish, degrade, or vilify the child."

A little further on the same page Dr. Lawson says,

"Borderline mothers may use denigration as a method of discipline without being aware of its destructiveness."

I have heard this kind of denigration and vilification called "soul murder". Children living in this kind of situation often live in fear and anxiety and they shut down. These children hide what they really think, how they really feel, and what they have done or want to do. What develops in these situations is mistrust.

Very often this mistrust is perceived by the borderline parent as disloyalty and betrayal. The borderline parent may shreik with rage "Tell me the truth! What's wrong with you! Why didn't you do what I told you! Don't you think you can get away with this stuff with me!" Children must do what she commands no matter how confusing, how unfair, how inappropriate to shut her up and keep her happy.Words sometimes used to describe this behavior are "brow beating". The result is to "break" the child's spirit and obtain submission.

This kind of treatment often leads to pent up rage on the part of the child which then gets acted out on animals, younger siblings, weaker playmates, and sometimes gets directed at the borderline mother herself. One of my 8 year old clients threw a five pound pewter candle stick at his mother at the bottom of the stairs and it left a 1/2 inch dent in the solid oak door. Had he hit her, she might well have been seriously injured or killed. It is hard to tell who was more enraged as the incident was described, the mother or the 8 year old. It is not uncommon for children this age to wish their parent dead and to mean it. As Christine Lawson says:

"The borderline's children can become extraordinarily frustrated because no one understands that they are drowning emotionally. No one sees beneath the surface of their mother's facade that she is pulling her own children into the darkness. Some children fear that in order to live, their mother must die." p.19

As the child becomes older they can suffer from low self esteem, low self confidence, depression, and self injurious behavior such as cutting, anorexia and bulimia, alcohol and drug abuse, and risk taking behavior. They also can become "the perfect child" who strives for perfection, becomes very successful, but takes very little comfort or satisfaction in their achievements.

Unfortunately, we live in a society which tends to believe that behavior is based more on intrapsychic processes, personality characteristics, or "biochemical inbalances" than on interpersonal processes which contribute to the social construction of the self. Is it nature or is it nuture? Perhaps it is a bit of both, but living with a borderline parent can be a toxic environment preventing optimal growth and development.

This is post #5 in a series based on Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother


Fear of abandonment in the borderline family

Fear_of_abandonment One patient called his mother "an emotional vortex" when she asked why he and his siblings didn't come to visit her more often. Here is what Christine Lawson writes in her book, The Borderline Mother,:

"Just as a 2 year old clings to the parent when faced with separation, borderlines have difficulty letting go, saying good-bye, hanging up the phone, ending conversations, and may become suicidal when relationships end. The other person feels held back, dragged down, or pulled under, in response to the borderline's message: 'Don't leave me.' Borderlines can self-destruct as a result of their fear of abandonment and ofen use emotional blackmail to control others. Understandably, children of borderlines struggle to manage feelings of shame, guilt, anxiety, and rage." p.15

One client told me that he hated to go out to socialize with other people because his wife never wanted to leave. It could be 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning and she still would be talking with the host or hostess. Often, he said, they would be the last couple to leave, and even when they were doing their leave taking, his wife would stand in the foyer or the doorway talking for another half hour. He said it was agony, and he dreaded the leave taking process.

Another client told me that her mother attempted suicide with an overdose three days after her wedding. It complicated the honeymoon, and she said that she feared that the memory of the event would haunt what were supposed to be warm and fond memories of her wedding day.

The fear of abandonment and rejection motivates the borderline to engage in the clinging behavior which often has the opposite effect of what the borderline desires putting people off, who then back off and want to terminate the encounter rather than enjoying the rapport and taking pleasure in it.

This is post #4 in a series based on Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother.


Children cannot trust their borderline mothers.

Abused_children_1 A major issue for the children of Borderline parents is trust. The people that you should be able to trust more than anyone, the people on whom your very physical survival rests in early years, and psychological survival in later years, is the mother and the father. Yet very often the children of borderline parents, as much as the children try and are repeatedly reminded by negative consequences, finally realize that the borderline parent is not be trusted.

Christine Lawson in her book, Understanding The Borderline Mother, writes,

" Trust is a major issue between borderlines and their children. Children cannot trust the borderline mother for many reasons: (1) She is manipulative. (2) She distorts the truth and may even blatantly lie. (3) She may physically harm them. (4) She is unpredictable. (5) She overreacts. (6) She is impulsive. (7) She has poor judgment. (8) She has unreliable memory. (9) She is inconsistent. (10) She is intrusive. Like Alice who confided in the Cheshire Cat, children of borderlines may learn to trust a pet more than their own mother." p. 8

Because of distorted perceptions and poor cognitive functioning many people with borderline disorder project onto situations their own previous experiences expecting the same experiences to happen to their children such as a mother who was sexually abused expecting relatives to sexually abuse her daughter. As Christine Lawson writes,

"In one instance, a borderline mother claimed that her daughter had been sexually abused by her ex-husband. The daughter was appalled that her mother would make such a claim, The mother, however,had been sexually  abused by her own father and interpreted a goodbye kiss between her daughter and ex-husband as evidence of sexual abuse." p. 9

In another case in my private practice, a borderline mother who had witnessed physical abuse of her mother by her father always expected her husband to be physically abusive to her even though he hadn't in 30 years of marriage. When asked to explain the discrepancy between expectation and reality, the patient said that in fact her husband had never behaved toward her as her father had toward her mother, but it was only a matter of time before she expected that her husband could still be abusive toward her. When pressed that 30 years was a long time and how long would it take before she might admit that her husband was not an abusive man like her father, she responded that even though her husband had never hit her she believed that he has felt like hitting her on occasion and merely has not acted on his impulses.

When these kinds of beliefs and expectations become fixed false beliefs they become what might be described as delusions. People who try to dissuade the borderline from the logic and reasonableness of such false beliefs get quickly incorporated into the enemy who doesn't understand. Further attempts to explain and reason will be met with rebuff and/or increasing paranoia and rage.

Children and spouses and other witnesses learn quickly to leave the borderline alone. There is a breach in the rapport of the relationship which is fueled by a sense of mistrust from both sides.

As I sometimes jokingly say in answer to the question, "How does one have a relationship with a borderline?"

"Like with a porcupine, very carefully."

In later posts in this series I will suggest more specific ideas about how to handle these situations.

This is post #3 in a series based on Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother.


Walking on eggshells in the Borderline family never knowing what to expect

Christine Lawson writes in her book, Understanding The Borderline Mother,

"Children of borderlines never know from one minute to the next how their mother feels about them. Like the game, 'She loves me, she loves me not,' the mother's moods can suddenly change from affection to rage, creating an uncertain and insecure emotional environment. Winnicott (1962) emphasized the importance of the child's need for the 'good enough mother' who provides enough consistency and calmness so that the child is not overhwhelmed by anxiety." p. 7

Dr. Lawson quotes a client who says "...they don't seem to have any rules in particular: at least if there are, nobody attends to them - and you've no idea how confusing it is..."

Fathers with Borderline wives have the same problem in terms of never knowing what to expect. Moods can change in an instant and over trivial things which usually are perceived by the Borderline as some threat of rejection or abandonment which can be as simple as disagreement over some minor preference which is perceived and interpreted as a betrayal and a sign of disloyalty.

Keeping the lid on things often takes major effort if it is possible at all. Other family members are put in the position of having to sooth, conjole, reassure, acquiesce, submit or there will be further hell to pay. Children growing up in such families either become Borderline and troubled themselves or very skilled at interpersonal relationships because they are so good at "reading" other people, anticipating their emotional needs, and managing the other person's emotional needs for them.

Never knowing what to expect leads to tension and anxiety and this is a heavy burden for a child to carry who often becomes the caretaker for the parent rather than the other way around. The motto in Borderline families is "If mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy", and because of the Borderline disorder, mama ain't happy a lot of the time, and it takes many years for children and spouses to learn that it is not in their power to "fix it" as much as they would like to.

This is post #2 in a series on Borderline Parenting based on a book on Understanding The Borderline Mother by Christine Ann Lawson.


Understanding The Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredicable, and Volatile Relationship, the book

Understanding The Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship by Christine Ann Lawson is an extremely important book for any psychotherapist or layperson interested in the impact of parenting by a person with Borderline Personality Disorder.

The impact is huge and can be multigenerational. Dr. Lawson, in lay language and with clear case examples describes the dynamics that occur between mother and children and somewhat with fathers. She also has clear suggestions for how adult children can manage the relationship with the Borderline mother.

I believe this topic is so important that I am planning on posting a series of articles on this blog as I re-read and study the ideas in this book further. I am developing a new category on the blog which I am entitling, Borderline Parenting. While the focus of Lawson's book is on mother's, fathering plays a critical role  well.

In addition to reading this book and being a psychotherapist, I also have personal experiences with the topic which undoubtedly fuel my interest and resonance with the material described.

I highly recommend this book.