I’ve written before about my narcissistic parents, and the challenges that trauma has left my brother and me to deal with. My brother and I spoke recently about the PTSD we both have, still, that we didn’t understand we had, for years.
One of the more serious mental health issues I inherited from my mother is Borderline Personality Disorder, or BPD for short. My mom’s BPD is far worse than mine, though, and I’ve also written before about my rocky relationship with her.
People with BPD have trouble regulating our emotions, and are frequently “triggered” by situations and incidents that remind us of our traumas, much like someone suffering from PTSD. Though not every person with BPD was abused growing up, the field of psychiatry is beginning to realize there’s a strong correlation between childhood trauma and Borderline Personality Disorder.
Escaping from the tortuous mental clutches of BPD is a huge relief. I’m happier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been.
This study titled “Suicidality in Borderline Personality Disorder,” by Joel Paris, defines BPD this way:
“BPD is a disorder primarily characterized by emotion dysregulation and indeed, patients with BPD show heightened emotional sensitivity, inability to regulate intense emotional responses, and a slow return to emotional baseline. Linehan proposed also that the development of BPD occurs within an invalidating developmental context characterized by intolerance toward the expression of private emotional experiences during childhood . As a consequence, children exposed to this adverse environment show inability to learn how to understand, label, regulate, or tolerate emotional responses and, conversely, they vacillate between emotional inhibition and extreme emotional lability.”
In layman’s terms, when a child is exposed to an uncertain, violent, gas-lighting, non-affirming environment growing up, they may end up an adult with inappropriate, even explosive reactions to emotional triggers. If you’ve ever come across someone who’s sensitive, gets their feelings hurt easily and cuts off friendships when offended, you may know someone with Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s also likely they had a rough childhood. Unfortunately, BPD is a complex personality disorder that’s difficult to diagnose, as it masquerades as other mental health issues such as Bipolar Disorder, depression and generalized anxiety disorder. (I’m only skimming the surface of exactly what behaviors Borderline Personality Disorder entails, but there’s tons of great information out there.)
I’m lucky. My BPD is just mild enough that I’ve only driven a few people out of my life, and several of those people welcomed me back with open arms once I apologized for my stubborn, over-the-top reactions to them. I married a fantastic man who has put up with my mood swings and been nothing but supportive. There have been times in our marriage when my bad moods probably crossed the line into emotional manipulation, at the very least. I’m also lucky because I finally realized what the hell was wrong with me. Many people with BPD won’t accept the diagnosis because the diagnosis itself feels like the ultimate emotional attack. It took me about ten years to finally admit to myself I fit the BPD profile, to a T. People with BPD are severely wounded and full of self-hate, and if they think you’re criticizing or attacking them, they will lash out and deny there’s anything wrong with them. Often, they’ll insist you’re the crazy one in order to deflect blame — which, of course, is gaslighting.
Having said all that, this never gives the person with BPD the right to abuse you. Never. Their mental illness is their issue, but they’ll try to blame you for their rages and disappointments. If you know someone like this, my advice is to get away. Quickly. People with severe BPD can be incredibly destructive, even if they don’t mean to be. Yes, there is a wounded child in there somewhere who needs healing. The problem is that no one from the outside can heal that hurt. No one. Only they can do that. Most, though, never will, and they will have no qualms about dragging you down into their mental misery with them.
I try to be very open with my husband and daughter these days that my mood swings can be difficult to manage, and I never mean to take my anger or depression or anxiety out on them. I can’t undo my past behaviors toward my them, but I’ve learned to recognize when I’m being triggered and so I can get ahold of myself before getting angry over nothing. They have been forgiving and kind.
Ironically, people suffering from BPD think admitting we’re broken is going to be the most emotionally painful thing ever. But freeing yourself from that anger and hurt is a huge relief. Up to 80% of people with BPD have had serious suicidal thoughts and/or attempts, and up to 10% succeed in committing suicide.
Admitting I have BPD and realizing that the vast majority of the time my friends and extended family aren’t “out to get me,” has been a huge relief. Not feeling hurt and angry all the time is a huge relief. Cutting my two gaslighting parents out of my life has been a huge relief. (Again, it’s complicated to explain, but I finally realized I was cutting the wrong people out of my life, i.e., some of my friends, instead of my abusers.) Escaping from the tortuous mental clutches of BPD is a huge relief. I’m happier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been.
This doesn’t mean I’m perfect. Not by any means. I still struggle with mood swings and my self-esteem. Sometimes I’m literally not sure if I should be mad at someone or not, so I try to talk things through with my husband or a friend.
It’s often said that people suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder engage in “black-and-white” thinking —we label people as either good or bad and there’s no room for anything in between. But that also means there’s no room for forgiveness. What I finally realized is that plenty of my friends and family could have thrown me out of their lives forever due to my behaviors, but they didn’t, and I am eternally thankful for that. Now I need to do the work so I can be more like the people in my life who haven’t given up on me, and I don’t have to give up on myself.
If you think you suffer from BPD, it’s worth it to read up on the condition, and, if you can afford it, seek out therapy. It’s a difficult condition to overcome, but well worth the effort.
Surviving a Narcissistic Parent
Things to be aware of if you were raised by the vainglorious
My Relationship With My Mom Hurt My Other Relationships
The day I made the decision to cut off contact with my mom was the day after Christmas, 2018. Getting my mother to…
Amber Fraley is an indie writer living in Kansas. Sign up for her email list here. Follow her on Twitter here. Check out her weird greeting cards here. Read her viral Medium post Gen X Will Not Go Quietly here.