Life in a Bind – BPD and me

Borderline Personality Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and my therapy journey. Listed in Top Ten Resources for BPD in 2016 by goodtherapy.org. I write for welldoing.org and for Muse Magazine Australia, under the name Clara Bridges.

Trigger troubles – BPD and parenting, Part 1

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triggers parentingAs with every book, I believe there is a time for every post. And given the day I have had looking after my children on my own, while my husband is away, today is definitely the day for this post. More than once, I felt like putting my head in my hands, and dissolving into tears.

For some time now, I have been semi-consciously avoiding writing a post about parenting. Part of it is due to an illogical belief that by keeping my children out of my blog, I am keeping them away from the darker side of my world, even though in reality, they live with it every day. But it is also due to a fear that they might someday find my blog, and I don’t want them to see anything there that might ever lead them to doubt how I feel about them, or to blame themselves for anything that I may have said or done.

However, it occurs to me that if they ever were to read my blog (strictly R rated –so not for a while!), they might in fact find it helpful in explaining some of the things they have seen or the ways in which I behave. It may be a relief to understand, rather than a burden. And given the importance of the topic, I do feel a need to write about it: not just for those with BPD who have children and who might understand; but particularly for those with BPD who don’t have children, and who might want to understand the implications for their condition – and vice versa – of becoming a parent.

Let me first say this: I believe parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and it is challenging for everyone. It is immensely hard whether you have mental health difficulties or not; whether you are a working parent or a stay-at-home parent. Nevertheless I think there are some particular challenges to parenting if you also have BPD, and those are to do with the fundamental characteristics of the disorder, and of its origins. I am going to split my post on parenting into three parts: Trigger troubles; Toddler troubles; and Transported troubles. Parts 2 and 3 will follow in subsequent weeks, but for now, I wanted to focus on the ways in which parenting can be a minefield if you have BPD – and your children can be the triggers that set off the explosions and the pain within you. The ways in which we may react to those triggers, because of BPD, will be covered in Part 2.

I was recently struck by a post called ‘Help! I have borderline personality disorder and my dog betrayed me!’, by Jeremy Medlock (and his dog Frankie!), of the ‘Out of the Box’ project. The post included the following lines:

“A relatively small event can trigger a huge emotional response, completely uncontrollable and unstoppable……once Frankie has ignore me, she’s instantly triggered the borderline and I have to hold control for what happens next”.

These words resonated with me immediately – and not just because one of my closest friends (also a dog owner) keeps telling me how alike dogs and toddlers are. I struggle with parenting because my children continually trigger the borderline, and it’s a constant battle to try and keep my reactions under control. I will admit that my children are towards the naughtier end of the scale, but this is not the only reason I find them triggering: children will always (to a greater or lesser extent) trigger their parents with BPD, because of aspects which are inherent to being a child.

Some of the most common triggers for those with BPD are: loss of control or feeling controlled; not being listened to; not feeling understood; being criticised; being emotionally invalidated; having one’s needs ignored; feeling engulfed and having one’s boundaries violated; and feeling abandoned.

Children are constantly acting in ways that trigger those feelings, and it’s not their fault – it’s part of what being a child is all about. My children do it in a million ways:

  • Acting in ways which I am powerless to change (for example, waking up early);
  • Vying with me for control over every little thing;
  • Constantly ignoring me and not listening to what I ask them to do;
  • Making constant demands on me and not understanding that I have needs of my own;
  • Ignoring or minimising my emotions or criticising my behaviour;
  • Clinging to me or losing emotional control (which can feel like I am being engulfed or ‘attacked’ by their turbulent emotions, and those emotions feel as though they are going to overwhelm me);
  • Growing up – which leaves me always conscious of the fact that one day, they will abandon me, and I have to try and live with the certainty of inevitable loss.

These things are an expected and usual part of children’s behaviour, and I’m sure every parent finds them frustrating and difficult to deal with. For someone with BPD the emotional response to those frustrations is instant, enormous, and it can feel uncontrollable and overwhelming. I can appreciate, intellectually, that my children are just being children, and are not ‘out to get me’, but as with so many aspects of BPD, the intellectual appreciation has little power to moderate my emotional response. And unfortunately, however powerful my love may be for my children – and it is – love doesn’t moderate my emotional response either. You can love your child intensely – and they can still trigger you intensely.

There is a fair amount of sobering literature out there, on the ways in which borderline parents can be ‘damaging’ for their children, and I have tried to avoid reading most of it, simply because I find it too difficult and too upsetting to think about, and also because I know that it would be too easy for me to forget that there are positive stories too. I am not denying or trying to make light of the pain that some of those with BPD can and do inflict on their children, knowingly or unknowingly, and I am not excusing it.

But if you are a parent or soon-to-be-parent with BPD, I would like to say this to you, by way of encouragement. I believe that someone with BPD who has self-awareness and insight into their difficulties, can have a real advantage in terms of putting themselves in their child’s shoes and empathising with their emotions and behaviour. If you have BPD you also more-than-likely have a deep understanding and appreciation of the importance of emotional validation and unconditional acceptance, as many with BPD have grown up in an invalidating environment and have not felt accepted for who they are. And there is nothing like feeling invalidated, to make you determined not to do the same to someone else.

Validation: ‘causing a person to feel valued or worthwhile’. If you can show that – and teach it – to your children, you will have given them a supremely important and a lifelong gift. And if you can remember that while you are navigating the minefield and negotiating your trigger troubles, you can more easily hold onto hope that you and your children can emerge on the other side, more or less intact.

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28 thoughts on “Trigger troubles – BPD and parenting, Part 1

  1. This is absolutely excellent. I am so glad that you put into words exactly what problems I experience when parenting. May I reblog this?

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  2. This is an excellent analysis. Some people with BPD come nowhere near this level of self-understanding.

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    • Thank you so much for your kind comment. My challenge is to do something with that self-understanding and to try and act on it! Often it feels like a double-edged sword – it’s easy to accuse myself of ‘choosing’ a feeling or a response, just because I happen to be aware of it. But overall, trying to gain more insight has been incredibly helpful for me. Thank you again for reading and for getting in touch….

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  3. Pingback: Boost the Signal Sunday | Pilcrows & Cedillas

    • Thank you so much for reading, and I’m so grateful for your words. It’s not easy to stand back from something you have written, particularly when you are feeling down/demoralised yourself. To know that you found what I wrote uplifting, and that love shines through it, is an honour, a comfort and an encouragement. I am so glad you have such a wonderful opportunity of a close relationship with your granddaughter – I didn’t have a close relationship with any of my grandparents (and no longer have a close relationship with my parents) and the cross-generational interaction and having a ‘role model’ is something I have only recently realised I really really miss. I am so glad your granddaughter has the benefit of that relationship too, which I am sure she treasures now and will do in future as well. And I also wish Jane all the very very best with her struggle with bipolar and all the challenges involved in parenting. My heart goes out to her and I am glad she has you to support her. I very much hope my next two posts on the subject can be helpful for you too….

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  4. I’ve often wondered how I would’ve coped with children and BPD. Besides the triggers you mention, I was reminded of when my nephews were little and their vulnerability would trigger my own childhood memories. I also thought about what it was like growing up with a mother with MH problems similar to BPD. What you and the children have in your favour is awareness. In addition to being mindful of what contributes to healthy child development, it sounds like you also protect them by minimizing those familiar BPD responses to emotionally challenging situations. I look forward to parts 2 & 3.

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    • Thanks so much for your comment Cat. Interestingly, the point you make about triggering childhood memories is going to be the subject of ‘part 3’ as I have definitely noticed the same thing….I don’t think my mum has BPD, though I do think that like me, she probably has Generalised Anxiety Disorder. But she would never admit to a mental health difficulty…I do try and protect my kids, and I think things would definitely be worse if I was less self-aware. I think ‘minimise’ is the right word – I try to minimise ‘negative’ responses, as much as I can, but I still act in ways I am not proud of, and wish I didn’t. And there is an awful lot I still find confusing – for example, trying to find a balance between appropriate discipline and not invalidating my children’s emotions. I have a sense that I need to try and validate the feelings without necessarily validating the age-inappropriate behaviour, but I find it very difficult….Thanks again for reading and commenting!

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  5. Pingback: Toddler troubles – BPD and parenting, Part 2 | Life in a Bind - BPD and me

  6. Wish I could re-do parenting after reading this…I was a horrid parent. ='(

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    • Thank you for your comment and I’m so sorry for my delay in replying, and the fact that all my comment ‘approvals’ have somehow got out of order! I share your feelings about wishing I could so some things over and again – I think I probably feel that to some extent every day! And I think many of us expect a lot of ourselves as parents (particularly if we were not entirely happy with how our own parents did things!) and so are very self-critical. I’m not minimising, or indeed disputing what you’re saying, but just to say that our own views of our parenting don’t always correspond with others’ views, or we may focus on all the areas we think we’ve ‘failed in’ without looking at our successes. I’m so sorry if my post triggered some difficult memories and feelings for you, and I hope you are doing ok. Thank you again for writing, and do keep in touch…

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  7. Pingback: Transport troubles – BPD and parenting, Part 3 | Life in a Bind - BPD and me

  8. This really resonates with me. I had have decided to move out of my family home and live on my own as I seem to be causing stress to everyone I seem to look at these days. It s for stability in my children’s lives that I have moved. It’s such a tough job trying to parent under “normal” circumstances without having to cope with BPD triggers as well.
    I hope that I can be as well informed and open as you are some day.

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    • Thank you so much for your wonderful words, and my heart and my thoughts really go out to you. You have made an immensely difficult decision and I can’t imagine how painful it must have been, and still is. You sound very brave – you’re right, being a parent is REALLY hard under any circumstances, and BPD triggers definitely complicate things a great deal. Do keep in touch, and hope to hear from you again…

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  9. I completely understand where you are coming from on this one. I feel this way every day with my two children. My oldest has Autism and although she is high functioning Autistic, the abandonment I feel on a daily basis with her is really hard for me to live with. When she was born, she never wanted to be touched or held, she never wanted affection and I have always needed those very badly. After I had my son, my daughter regressed a bit and is now very affectionate and touchy and it actually feels really odd to me because I’m not used to it. In fact, it makes me really uncomfortable because I don’t know how to react when she gets in my “bubble” or has a really affectionate moment. When you said,

    Acting in ways which I am powerless to change (for example, waking up early);
    Vying with me for control over every little thing;
    Constantly ignoring me and not listening to what I ask them to do;
    Making constant demands on me and not understanding that I have needs of my own;
    Ignoring or minimising my emotions or criticising my behaviour;
    Clinging to me or losing emotional control (which can feel like I am being engulfed or ‘attacked’ by their turbulent emotions, and those emotions feel as though they are going to overwhelm me);
    Growing up – which leaves me always conscious of the fact that one day, they will abandon me, and I have to try and live with the certainty of inevitable loss.

    The control thing is one of my worst enemies especially with children. When I don’t have control and I feel they are controlling me, my anger tries to overcome me. The constant ignoring or not listening when I ask my daughter to do something makes it really hard for me to not want to scream at her. I hate when others, including my children, criticize me in any way because I will either break down in tears or return in anger. I totally get the emotions of kids when they come at you and you just don’t know what to do. When my daughter has a tantrum or has a bad day, I sometimes just feel so overwhelmed by her emotions that I feel like crying or hurting myself because I can’t handle the pain she’s going through let alone the pain it’s causing me. I think I’ll feel slightly relieved when my kids move out but then on the other hand I’ll feel abandoned and helpless.

    Something that helps me when I’m feeling alone and I can’t cope is having pictures of my family near me. When my boyfriend is gone for more than 4 hours in a day, I have a hard time remembering his face and what he looks like. I have our favorite picture in my little space so when I feel alone and scared, I can look up at him and know that he loves me and is coming home. It really helps with my abandonment issues.

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    • Thank you SO much for commenting in detail, and many apologies for my delay in replying. It’s been a very difficult and painful couple of weeks and I haven’t been able to spend as much time on WordPress as I would like. I know exactly what you mean in terms of feeling odd sometimes when kids are very clingy or touchy, and also feeling anger when they don’t listen and you feel as though you have lost control. And I’m so worried not just about how my kids will cope with life as they get older (e.g. problems with friends, bullying), but also how I will cope with their sadness, and the fact I know that it will trigger my own memories. And yes, I completely agree that I know I will feel abandoned when they leave – the thought of it makes me extremely anxious already….Thank you for reading, and letting me know you relate -it’s always good to be able to share experiences, both similar and different ones, and support each other…

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      • Sorry for my late response. I’m still learning how to use WordPress. I just figured out how to reply to messages. You are most welcome and I’m glad we can relate when it comes to children. I always felt like I was the only one and that maybe I was crazy with the way I felt. My counselor told me it was completely normal to feel the way that I do sometimes. I’m actually really struggling right now with the whole touch thing and intimacy with my partner. I’m somewhat going through a faze of turmoil and confusion because I want to give my kids and my partner what I know they need from me but I just can’t seem to bring myself to do it. It’s almost like touching them or being around them right now is like touching a bug. I’m almost literally getting the “eww” sensation. I’m not sure that makes sense but it’s the closest way I can explain it.

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  10. so well written… i am also a parent and i have similar triggers.. i have good days and bad days and i try to practice self compassion (although it’s not easy at times:) but you’re so right, if we have the insight, then maybe we can work on being better…
    will reblog this, as it’s great!

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    • Thank you so much for your kind words! Insight is really important I think, in order to figure out what needs working on, and why – if only it made the actual ‘working on things’ easier, though! Thank you again for reading, and keep in touch 🙂

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  11. Reblogged this on Borderline & PMDD and commented:
    very well written piece about parenting as a BPD

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