Dealing With A Borderline Personality Disorder Parent

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a complicated mental health condition with many possible symptoms, including difficulties with regulating emotions.

Not everyone with BPD experiences every possible symptom, and some have few symptoms while others experience many. These symptoms, which range from fear of abandonment to extreme emotional outbursts, have a significant impact on the BPD sufferer and the lives of those around them. BPD can also affect relationships, whether they be friendships, romantic relationships, or family relationships.

If you have a parent with borderline personality disorder, you’ll know that it can be a very challenging condition for both of you to cope with. You can implement several strategies to help you and your parent, and there is help and support available to you when you need it.

Have you considered clinical trials for Borderline personality disorder?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Borderline personality disorder, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is borderline personality disorder?

Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that affects a person's mood, self-image, and behavior. It affects about 2% of the population, with 75% being women.

Someone with BPD may have intense emotional responses to stressors and difficulty regulating their emotions. They often experience frequent episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that may last hours or even days, which can make everyday life and relationships challenging.

Signs and symptoms of borderline personality disorder

BPD symptoms are changeable and unpredictable. A person with BPD may experience mood swings and their responses to conversations and events are usually extreme. Their opinion of others can change quickly — for example, they may idolize a close friend one minute, then dislike them the next.

People with borderline personality disorder often act impulsively and struggle to regulate their emotions after a triggering event. The condition can lead to an intense fear of abandonment and reluctance to be alone.

People with BPD tend to crave long-lasting, loving relationships, but their symptoms, especially their rapidly changing emotions, can lead to short, unstable relationships.

Signs and symptoms of borderline personality disorder include:

  • Fear of abandonment (it’s not uncommon for a person with BPD to sever ties before the other person can do so themselves)

  • Extreme emotions, like profound love or intense hatred

  • Unstable sense of self

  • Impulsive behavior (can be dangerous or reckless)

  • Self-harm or suicidal behavior

  • Episodes of depression, anxiety, or irritability that last from a few hours to several days

  • Constant feelings of unfulfillment or boredom

  • Extreme emotional outbursts often followed by remorse, guilt, and shame

The impact of BPD on parent-child relationships

Borderline personality disorder can make any relationship challenging, especially one between a parent and their child. In this scenario, you as the child are typically the most seriously affected.

When your parent has BPD, it can interfere with normal, healthy parenting behaviors as well as the dynamics between you both. The implications of this can be far-reaching, affecting many aspects of your life now and as you get older.

Feelings of worthlessness and shame

Studies¹ show that people with BPD can react with intense anger which sometimes results in verbal attacks that are upsetting and devaluing, especially for children.

Your parent may be quite volatile; for example, they might be deeply loving and supportive towards you one minute, then react with an angry emotional outburst the next. You may feel like you are constantly being blamed for things, which might make you feel responsible for your parent’s behavior. You may also find it challenging to develop confidence and a strong sense of identity.

Attachment issues

Your parent with BPD may have challenging attachment issues towards you which affect how they treat you. For instance, they may become angry and upset whenever you leave the house, perhaps to go to school or work. If you go on an overnight trip, this may lead to severe distress and trigger their BPD symptoms.

Often, how your parent interacts with you may switch from being hostile to passive — this may be the result of their own unresolved trauma. These patterns of interaction can dramatically affect your ability to form relationships and grow and express yourself as an individual.

Codependency between you and your parent

People with BPD often need constant reassurance and attention, so it is common for children to assume the role of parent and look after them.

You may find this subverted role a psychological burden, and you may find it difficult to assert your own independence. As you grow older, you are likely to struggle with your sense of self and your ability to find and follow your own personal aspirations.

Are children of a BPD parent at risk of developing a mental health condition?

While symptoms and their severity vary, research² shows that a child who has a parent with BPD is at greater risk of developing a mental health condition themselves, including the same disorder.

While the exact cause of borderline personality disorder is unknown, it has been shown that genetics, brain structure, and brain function also play a role as well as environmental, social, and cultural factors.

Symptoms of BPD typically begin during early adulthood and include an unstable sense of identity, difficult and strained relationships, and self-destructive behavior. In many ways, these issues are related to what a child experiences throughout their childhood when they have a parent with BPD.

If you have a parent with BPD, it’s important to remember that you won’t necessarily end up with the same condition. This is why it is important to establish boundaries between you and your parent, seek help, and safeguard your own mental wellbeing.

How to communicate with your parent and set boundaries

Your parent will have had unhealthy behaviors throughout most of their life, meaning they likely consider their erratic behavior as normal. Because of this, it’s best not to offer constructive criticism of their habits, lifestyle, or reactions as this can trigger a mood swing and confrontation.

While it is difficult, if not impossible, to change the behavior of a parent with borderline personality disorder, you can control the way you interact with them.

One of the best ways to deal with a BPD parent is to understand the condition and how it affects your relationship. An understanding of your parent’s illness and what they are experiencing will enable you to show empathy, communicate more effectively, and avoid conflict where possible.

Establishing healthy boundaries between you and your parent can provide structure to your relationship. For example, you may want to enforce a limit on the time you have available for your parent and ask them to respect your personal space. They may try to test these boundaries and question your reasons for establishing them, but maintaining them can help break the cycle and allow you to get on with your life.

When you should get help or support and where

Growing up with a parent with BPD can be intensely challenging for a child and can leave emotional scars. You may feel reluctant to acknowledge these issues for various reasons: you are loyal to your parent and you have been conditioned to feel responsible for their behaviors. Revealing the truth about a parent and acknowledging your experiences can feel like a betrayal, especially if you feel responsible.

While your parent's behavior may not be intentional, the effects on your personal development can be devastating, harming your ability to navigate the world and form relationships. Often, dealing with a borderline personality disorder parent can lead to the development of anxiety or other mental health disorders.

Speaking to a mental health professional may help you to heal and recover. A trained professional will show you how to develop trust towards others and a more stable and positive sense of self, and they will also provide the skills needed to form meaningful relationships.

The lowdown

Dealing with a parent who has borderline personality disorder is challenging, and your relationship with them won't change overnight. However, there is help available to you and ways to improve your relationship while safeguarding your own wellbeing.

The most important thing is to learn how to establish boundaries and look after your own mental health. Ultimately, while BPD parents can be manipulative and attempt to make you feel guilty, it's important to remember that you are not responsible for their behavior.

Have you considered clinical trials for Borderline personality disorder?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Borderline personality disorder, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

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