Christine Lawson writes in her book, Understanding The Borderline Mother, that children have four needs:
- To be held (to be enveloped by safe, loving arms)
- To be mirrored (to se a positive reflection of themselves in their parent's eyes)
- To be soothed ( to be comforted, reassured, and protected)
- To be given some control ( to elicit predictable responses to expressed needs)
Lawson writes a little further:
"Like a broken record, the borderline's behavior seems compulsively driven, with the aim of eliciting what she lacked as a child. The Waif needed to be held, the Hermit needed to be soothed, the Queen needed to be mirrored, and the Witch needed control." p.45
In addition to physical and sexual abuse, emotional abuse in the form of denigration put children at high risk of developing Borderline Personality Disorder. Denigration can take the form of teasing, ridicule, mockery, humiliation, embarassment, and harassment. Dr. Lawson writes:
"Chronic denigration can destroy even an emotionally heathy adult's self-esteem. Denigration of a child can destroy the soul before self-esteem has a chance to develop." p. 46
One client told me how he was constantly referred to as "fat butt" as a child growing up. He also said that he was often told sarcastically that he was "dumb as a stone", and that the dog was smarter than he was.
What is even more damaging is when the parent is held accountable for this emotional abuse and it is denied as "I was only kidding." or the victim gets blamed as "not being able to take a joke" or further denigrated as "there you go whining again."
Some might argue that physical and sexual abuse are less psychologically damaging to children because the nature of the abuse and the perpetrator is clear, but emotional abuse is more confusing or "mystifying' as R.D. Laing, a British psychiatrist called it. Dr. Laing thought it was the "mystification" that was the most damaging aspect of emotional abuse because as the abuse is being perpetrated, it is also being denied.
It was this invalidation that Lawson refers to when she writes:
"Linehan explains that invalidating environments do not allow the expression of painful or negative emotions. Invalidating families teach children that pretending to be happy is more important than being happy, and that talking about how you really feel only makes things worse."p.46
The "no-good child" often has it worse. As Lawson says,
"Unjustly accused, the no-good child is sentenced without trial, held without bond, and may feel imprisoned for life. Therapists sometimes warn family members not to depend on the person with BPD to validate their self-worth, yet young children have no choice." p. 47
One client, a very capable competent nurse in her early 30s, told me that it took her years to overcome her anxiety about whether she was competent and good enough.
"Children raised by borderlines may spend their childhood balanced on the edge of disaster and may suffer anxiety for the rest of their lives." p. 48
The old child's nursery rhyme, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me." is wrong. Words often hurt worse than sticks and stones because sticks and stones only injure the body, but words can injure the soul. A broken leg is one thing, but a broken spirit is quite another.
This is post # 12 in a series based on Dr. Christine Lawson's book, Understanding The Borderline Mother.