As 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.