This month’s “Ask Esther” question comes from a client of mine in her mid-twenties who has come to realize that her mother has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I am not going to go over the signs and symptoms of BPD in this short article. However, if you want to learn more about BPD in general, click here. If you think you may be dealing with a Borderline mother, I highly suggest you check out this book: Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship by Christine Ann Lawson.
And now, here is the question:
As I get further into my search for inner peace, and continue learning about BPD, both from you and the books I have read and continue to read a question arises:
How do I now as an adult child of BPD let go of the guilt I have deep down when I cut off contact with my BPD parent for an extended period of time? Or when I end a conversation with them suddenly, due to the sour turn it begins to take? Why do I still seek approval?
This is a very profound quandary you have and one I’m guessing many daughters of BPD mothers have. For those reading this who’ve never had a loved one in their lives with BPD, I should clarify a couple of things within this question. Because her mother’s moods tend to change like the wind and she can go from being pleasant to her daughter to suddenly attacking and abusive, this young woman has found that she has to take breaks from contacting her mother after it’s been on the abusive side. Also, she has learned to end conversations with her mother if she starts being attacked by her verbally.
Basically, my answer is that it is totally normal to feel guilty for cutting off your mother for any length of time. You’re not doing this by choice, but out of self-preservation and that of course, causes guilt. Who in their right mind would want to cut their mother off for any length of time? But in the case of a mother with BPD who becomes abusive at the drop of a hat and seems to have no control over it, you have to learn to set solid boundaries in order to protect yourself from her wrath. The same goes for ending a conversation with her suddenly if it turns sour and you are at risk of being attacked. Abuse is abuse and at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether the abuser is doing it because of mental health issues or because they are inherently vicious and get pleasure out of hurting others.
It is definitely sad that she suffers from BPD and doesn’t seek help for it, but it is also sad that you don’t have a functional mother-daughter relationship to enjoy. And just because your mother has BPD, I’m certain there is still some love that exists between the two of you and cutting yourself off from someone you love is painful and sad.
As for seeking approval from your mother, I would try to be very gentle and loving with yourself. All of us seek approval growing up and the main people we look to for it is our parents. Unfortunately, in your case, your mother wasn’t able to give you the love and approval you wanted and needed and it sounds like she still can’t. That need doesn’t magically disappear when we become adults, especially if we still haven’t gotten it from one or both parents. I would suggest being your own ‘kind mother’ to that little girl inside you who needs approval and unconditional love- practise giving her what she craves by telling her how special she is that you love and accept her exactly as she is. It feels weird at first, but after much practise, becomes second nature.
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