Why Is Parenting Style Important?
Although mothers with borderline personality disorder (BPD) can significantly disrupt normal childhood development, researchers have only recently begun to examine the link between being raised by a parent with BPD and child outcomes. For many children who are raised by borderlines, the negative outcomes extend into adulthood; thus, it is important to understand the parenting style that researchers have identified among mothers with BPD.
How Big Is the Problem?
Approximately 75% of individuals diagnosed with BPD are women. At this time in the United States, there are estimated to be over 6 million women who have the disorder. BPD is a personality disorder with a specific pattern of behavior that frequently includes the following:
- Uncontrollable anger
- Poor impulse control
- Intense and stormy relationships (not limited to romantic relationships)
- Affective instability
- Identity and cognitive disturbances
Some individuals with BPD make suicidal threats or attempt suicide. The functional impairments associated with BPD influence the way women with BPD treat their children and can lead to many negative outcomes in adulthood, including the development of BPD in the child.
Primary Parenting Style: Inconsistent
Because BPD can often occur with other disorders, such as depression or anxiety, it is difficult to determine what parenting practices are specific to mothers with BPD. To help answer this question, scientists will often conduct a study where some of the participants have BPD and others have another diagnosis to tease out what parenting practices are specific to BPD.
Both Over- and Under-Involved
Based on the overall body of scientific evidence (that includes several groups of mothers in the analysis), it was found that the general parenting style of mothers with BPD oscillated between over-involvement and under-involvement. In other words, mothers with BPD are either too involved and overbearing in their child’s life or they are disconnected and uninterested. Sometimes, children of mothers with BPD will experience both types of parenting multiple times within a day or even within an hour. These inconsistencies in parenting contribute to a chaotic and confusing childhood.
Over-involved parenting can include intrusive behaviors, overprotection of teenaged children, or trying to control children through guilt. Under-involved parenting can include withdrawing attention or affection from a child or avoiding the child (aka the silent treatment). Mothers with BPD may also alternate between being cold to their children and exercising hostile control, perhaps through “borderline rage” or other manipulative behaviors.
Furthermore, mothers with BPD are not consistent with their emotional socialization strategies. For example, a mother with BPD may lament to her child that she is growing up and going to leave the mother while the child is on the way to socialize with her friends.
Educate Yourself About BPD
If you were raised by a mother with BPD, it can be difficult and challenging to make sense of what happened to you as a child. The most important thing to remember is: You are not responsible for your mother’s behavior.
In the last several years, books about BPD and mothers with BPD have been published to help adult children understand their mothers and their upbringing. Reading books and articles (based on science) is an excellent way to gain a better understanding of the person with BPD in your life. As someone who was raised by a mother with BPD and who is still trying to make sense of her childhood, these are the books that I have read and personally recommend.
1. Understanding the Borderline Mother: This book explains the four types of borderline mothers and their characteristics. The four types of BPD mothers are the queen, the witch, the waif, and the hermit. Mothers with BPD can be any one of the four types or a combination of the different types. The book also covers, in detail, the relationship between mothers with BPD and their children. It is expensive, but insightful and definitely worth the investment. I have personally read it several times throughout my own healing process from being raised by a borderline. I have included a video below that was created by a daughter of a borderline mother who read this book and then gave a brief overview of the four types of borderline mothers.
2. I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me: My copy of this book is well-worn. I have owned it for about 8 years, and I still pull it off my shelf to help me make sense of my experiences with my mother. Originally, this book was gifted to me by someone who raised a daughter with BPD, so it’s applicable no matter who in your life has BPD. The book contains 10 chapters that cover everything about BPD, from an explanation of what exactly the disorder is to the types of therapy and medications that are useful to treat the disorder. Chapter 6 (“Coping with the Borderline”) is particularly useful. One way I have used this book in my own healing process is to use the sections of the book as writing prompts for my journal.
Bezirganian, S., Cohen, P., & Brook, J. S. (1993). The impact of mother–child interaction on the development of borderline personality disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 150, 1836–1842.
Reinelt E, Stopsack M, Aldinger M, Ulrich I, Grabe H, J, Barnow S: Longitudinal Transmission Pathways of Borderline Personality Disorder Symptoms: From Mother to Child? Psychopathology 2014;47:10-16. doi: 10.1159/000345857
Stepp, S. D., Whalen, D. J., Pilkonis, P. A., Hipwell, A. E., & Levine, M. D. (2012). Children of mothers with borderline personality disorder: Identifying parenting behaviors as potential targets for intervention. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 3(1), 76–91. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0023081
Zalewski, M., Stepp, S. D., Scott, L. N., Whalen, D. J., Beeney, J. F., & Hipwell, A. E. (2014). Maternal borderline personality disorder symptoms and parenting of adolescent daughters. Journal of Personality Disorders, 28(4), 541-554. doi:10.1521/pedi_2014_28_131