I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) was once categorized with schizophrenia but as psychological medicine advances, researchers have learned the disorder is less unstable as they believed and reclassified it as a personality disorder. The cause is most always rooted in traumatic childhood experiences, usually at the hands of an afflicted parent, and creates a fear of abandonment in the sufferer, interfering with their logic and the ability to understand cause and effect. Some experts summarize it as a six year-old’s mind living in an adult body.
As a recovering BPD, I agree. It’s been difficult to come to terms with the insane behaviors of my past and accept the long-term consequences of my actions. What makes it most astonishing, however, is how normal I believed I was. I sincerely believed everyone thought and behaved as I, most were just discrete; the ones who proved otherwise to me, I declared abnormal.
Having the disorder may have explained my behaviors but it does not excuse them. Even in the deepest throes of disorder, I understood right from wrong and was quite aware of my intent of anything I said or did. I may argue as much with anyone who tried to confront me back then, but deep down I knew. Having BPD doesn’t give one a pass on accountability.
Most of you who find this article will do so because you’re searching for answers to explain the behavior of a parent, sibling, or significant other. You understand something isn’t right in your relationship and you want to fix it.
Sadly, BPD can’t be reversed without acknowledgement by the sufferer and conscious behavioral therapy on their part. The only thing you can do, as the loved one and victim of someone with BPD, is protect yourself.
If you or anyone you love, exhibits more than one of these common traits of BPD, please seek therapy.
1. Never Wrong
This is often one of the first red flags to a loved one there is something terribly wrong. Often even when presented with evidence of wrongdoing, the BPD will insist there was nothing wrong with their actions. By the time the disordered spins a tale of explanation as to why they weren’t in the wrong and shouldn’t they be held accountable, the accuser is left feeling confused and ashamed.
A friend’s mother who suffers from the disorder once told me a story about how her mother bought her preschool and infant sons a cat. Her mother insisted her grandsons wanted a pet and they should keep it, while my friend kept trying to remind her mother their oldest son had an adverse reaction to a relative’s cat once and they feared he was allergic. Grandma insisted her daughter was being a hypochondriac mother. Despite her better judgment, my friend relented.
Later that night my friend and her husband had to rush their son to the emergency room because of breathing difficulties. Allergy testing later revealed he was, in fact, severely allergic to cats.
When my friend informed her mother of the testing results, Grandma insisted he hadn’t been allergic before so it was likely the kitty litter or catnip instead to which he was actually allergic. Over and over, she claimed there was no way her grandson was allergic to the cat she gave him because “nobody in the family is.” She made the final mistake, however, when Grandma demanded the son be put through painful testing again when she said, “I’m sure that test was wrong, do it again. I won’t believe it until a second test says it too.”
That was my friend’s last contact with her mother. They’ve had no contact in four years.
2. Can't Apologize Without Justifying
Dr. Phil once said, “‘But’ means forget everything I just said.’ Truer words have never been spoken. The borderline personality quickly learns apologizing is a way for them to regain control of a situation but they can never do it with justifying their behavior.
When my parents asked me what they needed to do to repair our relationship after I first decided to end contact with them, I told them they would first have to apologize to my husband about whom they had disrespected and made false claims about to others in the family. This immediately turned into a diatribe against me of how he had done them wrong. When I asked for specifics, they could only “hint” at what they were, being vague and evasive when I pressed the issues. It was obvious they only time they could claim such was the times when he stood up for himself against their cruelties.
When I made it clear if they wanted to salvage the relationship, they had to apologize to my husband without the ‘but’ or accusing him of doing them wrong when it was actually self-defense. After a short pause to process my words, my father’s only response was to ask, “If we apologize to him, is he going to apologize to us?”
Stick a fork in me.I was done.
When you’re blaming everyone but yourself for the hardships and wrongdoings of your life and you believe everyone thinks just like you, eventually you're going to have a moment of disordered enlightenment: if I’m pointing fingers at them, they’re accusing me too - oh no!
In the disordered mind, failure on someone’s part to speak to them at the grocery store translates to the person is ignoring them; and if someone is ignoring them, it must be because someone else said something about them. It never crosses the unhealthy mind the person may not have seen them or to even question themselves why they didn’t initiate a greeting. Instead the disordered mind draws its own conclusions and immediately declares it the truth.
Reddit’s r/justnomil is filled with stories of in-laws who’ve fallen victim of this trait when they are accused of puppeteering the disordered’s adult child. Refusing to accept their child may willingly be setting boundaries, borderlines blame the spouse or significant other. Once again, the disorder’s reality becomes truth and they share it with anyone willing to listen.
Just as a stoner worries about getting caught while high, such is every waking moment for the borderline personality disordered mind. Every word or action is scrutinized by the unhealthy mind and the smallest perceived slight can have dire effects on an unsuspecting victim.
4. Always Angry
Often they’ll have a smile of their face and the words they speak are benign but there is always anger boiling just beneath the surface. The anger is the result of unresolved childhood issues and unleashed on those unfortunate enough to know them in their adulthood.
This trait presents itself in innumerable ways, some of the most common include racism, extreme political affiliations, verbal rages, gossiping, and physical attacks. It’s impossible to know just exactly how a borderline will express their anger, nothing is off limits because numbers one and two, of course.
A borderline personality doesn’t suffer the garden-variety “oh man, I wish it was me” jealousy a healthy mind is prone to occasionally experience but with an intensity which fully explains the old moniker the “green-eyed monster.”
A disordered mind sees themselves as superior to others in all facets of life. If anyone dare challenge this, their monster will rise up and wage war against its perceived enemy. There are no rules in this one-sided war and the destruction is great.
More than one example of this trait can be found at the previously mentioned subreddit as wives and girlfriends share their tales about mother-in-laws who lack intimacy boundaries with their sons. On a forum for adult children estranged from their parents, one wife recounted how, in the earliest days of her marriage, her Jacosta complex-inflicted mother-in-law would insist on sleeping with the couple while visiting. She claimed they had done so since his father had left when he was six until he had married.
As a new bride, the wife had learned something about her husband he had never shared but was even more appalled his mother would expect it to continue even after he was married. As can be expected, the wife refused to allow such.
Fortunately, in this particular scenario, her husband agreed and redefined boundaries with his mother.
OTHER SYMPTOMS MAY INCLUDE
Grandiosity of Self
To be a borderline personality is difficult, to love one is even more so. Marriages seldom overcome the chaos it creates and in children, it can plant the seeds for their own borderline disorder which will later exhibit itself in a string of destructive behaviors.
Generation after generation will raise their children with the many damaging traits of the disorder. Each generation will blame the one before them and the one after but never themselves.
I’ll reiterate, the only thing you can do is protect yourself. Set boundaries with the disordered and refuse to tolerate any bending or breaking of the rules. Borderline personality can’t be reversed without the sufferer admitting they have a problem, but it can be trained. If it can’t, kick it to the curb.
© 2017 Kim Bryan
Ronda from Ontario on July 28, 2019:
very good information.
Cristale Adams on May 14, 2019:
Great job. Not only was this hub very informative, it also reminded me to carefully choose how and when I use the word 'but.'
Billi M. on February 28, 2019:
I just wanted to reach out to you and thank you for your writing. I've long searched for some applicable writing on the internet about being a "Motherless Mother" due to estrangement.
I'm 43 and a Mom to two beautiful daughters (ages 5 and 7). The very week I had my first daughter (at age 36) I made the very necessary decision that it was time I end my relationship with my own Mom.
It was a long and sordid tale, but after reading some of your Q & A's and your article, I feel like I finally feel heard and "understood" for the very first time.
I just wanted to reach out & thank you :)
Joylette Hilliard on May 16, 2018:
My daughters, need to read this!! How can I share this with them???
Suzie from Carson City on October 07, 2017:
Kim...Very courageous of you to take on the explanation/description of BPD, an extremely complex disorder. While you have taken on the struggle to accept, admit and alter the negative attributes & causation of BPD, it is an ongoing presence of mind and self-monitoring that results in complete success. This can and does occur, even while being cognizant of the triggers & pitfalls of any form of relapse or further, keeping a watchful eye on your own immediate family (children especially) who sadly, can easily become victims in suffering from the effects of BPD.
You are to be commended and congratulated. Your article can help others. Paula