What’s it like to live with a parent who has a personality disorder?

And what can be done about it?
Profile picture of Mia (not her real name)

Created by Mia (not her real name)

Published on Mar 8, 2021
What’s it like to live with a parent who has a personality disorder?

Someone with a personality disorder thinks, feels and relates to people in a different way to what is considered ‘normal’ in our society.

Over the past eight years I’ve noticed how my mother’s behaviours seemed to escalate to a point of irrationality on a daily basis. These behaviours include: emotional instability, disturbed patterns of thinking or perception, impulsive behaviour and intense but unstable relationships with others.

The impact of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is not by any means limited to the person with the disorder; symptoms bleed into the lives of those around them and deeply shape the quality of interpersonal relationships.

Often, the most seriously affected are the children of a parent (in my case, my mother) with BPD, as the disorder interferes with normal, healthy parenting behaviours and parent-child dynamics, while increasing the risk of environmental instability, and poor family consistency.

This resonated with me hugely; I have early memories of being shut in a room when I was upset or angry and this of course continued as I got older. It has definitely had a negative knock-on effect in later adult life.

Parents really are naturally your example. You adopt what they do and say, because you see the world as they do. I really struggled to know how to handle my feelings and am only now learning that this is because I was never taught how to. I developed anxiety and mild forms of depression because I didn’t know how to regulate how I felt.

As a teenager and into my early 20s, I experienced an overwhelming feeling of inadequacy and frustration. To an extent, this is normal for a teen from any background – or at least I convinced myself that what I felt was normal.

I would go to my mother with questions, largely to do with her behaviour and how I felt, as suggested by friends and sometimes even other family members. This, however, was never a fruitful conversation.

Her inability to take any responsibility for her actions resulted in deflection, manipulation of the reality and an attempt to belittle whatever the situation may have been in the first place. I would leave these conversations feeling as if I was the one who was ‘overthinking’, ‘making something out of nothing’ or ‘depressed’ (just some of the terms she would use to describe me).

One example of her behaviour that springs to mind is the time she sent me and my brother goodbye messages insinuating that life would be better without her.

We, of course, assumed the worst and called her frantically (while we were both at work) only to get hold of her four hours later, when she told us we had overreacted and were being dramatic.

This is just one of many situations where we have been manipulated by her. Interestingly, I read recently that despite the extraordinary level of distress experienced by children of mothers with BPD, many are reluctant to acknowledge these experiences to others, or even to themselves.

This, again, I found very true to my own situation. I felt that revealing the truth about my mother seemed (seems) like a betrayal, and I believe this is because my mother’s illness has conditioned me to feel responsible for her emotional state and behaviour.

I want to tell you now, you are NOT responsible for anyone else’s emotions other than your own. You have no control over them and trying to change someone will only hurt you. It took me 23 years to figure this out, but knowing this has changed my life.

At the age of 20, due to other personal reasons in my life, I began to talk more about why I was feeling so low, anxious and depressed a lot of the time. This led me to look for a counsellor; I tried three different women, none of whom I clicked with, and interestingly they all seemed to be somewhat similar to my mother!

I have now been seeing a therapist for four months, and for the first time in my life, I have started to accept that I am me, and she is she – nothing I do will ever be enough to help or change her.

I have acknowledged that my happiness depended on hers for so long, and this I CAN change. Since this has come to a head and I have accepted these facts – and coupled with meditation, exercise and spending time switching off from her much more regularly – my life has changed for the better. I am connecting on a deeper level with people, and have adopted a much more carefree attitude towards life.

Identity issues, frustration, shame and anger can all be changed by you – and only you. I believe I am stronger as a result of my experience, and happier in who I am, because it pushed me to look for the solution.

Do not be afraid to talk, do not feel ashamed or guilty that your mother is the subject of your emotional instability, and do not believe that you are defined by it.

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