I'm a Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.
Growing up with a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) mother is traumatic and has long-term effects on her children when s/he reaches adulthood in regards to relationships, finances, careers, and overall stability.
BPD is part of the Cluster-B personality disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM 5), the bible of mental health workers. The disorder is rooted in a fear of abandonment and can be traced to a one or more events which occurred during the sufferer's earliest formative years of childhood.
Although BPD is one of the most researched disorders, we have only just began to understand the cause, the effects it has on the patient and society as a whole, treatments, and learning how to best protect other individuals from these abusive personalities.
Many books were recommended to me following my decision to "divorce" my parents by other adult children who were estranged from their parents but the following five books are the ones which will have a permanent place on my bookshelf.
1. Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship by Christine A. Lawson
Considered by many to be the best book on the subject of borderline mothers, family therapist Dr. Christine A. Lawson's Understanding the Borderline Mother is the answer to the adult child's question about their not-quite-right childhood.
The first few chapters of the boo educate readers about borderline personality disorder; how it is born, the traits it exhibits, and the effects of such on the borderline's child. The heart of the book, however, is what becomes the most quoted and referenced portion of the book.
Using an analogy of fairy tales, Dr. Lawson categorizes BPD mothers into four categories: the Queen, the Waif, the Hermit, and the Witch. She defines in-depth the traits and behaviors of each type using patient stories as examples.
The latter chapters of the book are focused on how to cope with the BPD mother. Dr. Lawson's advice and strategies are designed to help strengthen the reader, not placate the borderline.
I wish this had been the first book I read when I began searching for my own answers. Not that the other books weren't informative, they were and some are even included on this list; however, Understanding the Borderline Mother revealed the deeper levels of the disorder only children of a borderline experience.
The price of the book was the initial turn-off for me but it turns out it was worth every penny. I have more highlights and notes in this book than any others on this list and frequently refer back to it during those "down" times. Dr. Lawson's book finally gave a name to something I always knew wasn't right but I had no way to describe. As such, I walked away with a better understanding of my mother and myself.
Emotional intensity, impulsivity, unpredictability, and fear of abandonment are symptoms observable primarily by those who have an intimate relationship with the borderline.
— Dr. Christine A. Lawson
2. The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
Migraines, autoimmune disorders, gestational issues, depression, alcoholism, drug addictions - these are not the problem, they are symptoms of a greater problem.
The foregoing is what Dr. Bessel van der Kolk began to understand early in his career as a medical psychiatrist. He identified these symptoms as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. While initially only recognized it in war veterans, Dr. van der Kolk began to see the same symptoms in patients who had experienced traumatic childhoods.
With 30 years of observation and research, Dr. van der Kolk has declared PTSD to be a public mental health crisis in dire need of attention. The traumatic experiences of the child are exhibited in their adult psyche through physical ailments.
Western medicine focuses only on the physical aspects of health, neglecting to acknowledge the physical symptoms are often indicators of major mental ailments. This neglect is having devastating effects on society in employment, education, crime, relationships, domestic or family abuse, alcoholism, and drug addiction - to name just a few.
Dr. van der Kolk explains how he came to recognize PTSD in both war veterans and adult patients who had experienced traumatic childhoods. He uses patient stories as examples of how physical illnesses are often cured only when the mental aspect of the ailment is acknowledged.
I purchased The Body Keeps the Score after seeing it recommended on a personality disorders forum and it was certainly money well spent. This book gave me the tools I need to battle the physical symptoms I've suffered my entire life - which is what differentiates it from the other books on this list.
We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present.
— Dr. Bessel A. van der Kolk
3. Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Dr. Karyl McBride
If you're the child of a personality disordered mother, you've undoubtedly asked yourself the question "When will I be good enough?" many times over.
As Dr. Karyl McBride says in her book by the same title, the answer is never. She goes on to explain just exactly why that is through countless patient stories as examples, including her own personal story.
Dr. McBride's book was influenced greatly by the first book on this list by and the work of Dr. Christine Lawson. While much of the information in Will I Ever Be Good Enough? is covered in Understanding the Borderline Mother, I enjoyed (for lack of a better word) the increased number of patient stories analyzed for borderline and narcissistic behaviors.
Will I Ever Be Good Enough was the first book I stumbled on after my own personal issues arose and it was tremendously helpful. I would later realize it is an expanded summary, basically, of Dr. Lawson's book with the author's personal and professional experiences mixed in as teaching guides.
What most makes it worthy of being included on this list, however, is the self-therapy exercises recommended in each section. While some of them were more than I cared to do - such as, writing your emotions on a piece of paper tied to a balloon you release into the sky, some of them were quite therapeutic.
4. Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay C. Gibson
Have you ever thought your parents acted like children themselves? Ever feel like you were the parent and your parent was the child? If you said yes to either of those, chances are you had emotionally immature parents.
Family therapist Lindsay Gibson says emotionally immature parents have no tools to help them raise their own children. The end result? An emotionally immature parents raises a child who becomes an emotionally immature adult. It's a never ending cycle until someone recognizes there is a problem.
In Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, Dr. Gibson explains the logistics behind the insane behaviors of the disordered parents without excusing it as some books are wont to do.
Much like Dr. Lawson categorizes the borderline mother, Dr. Gibson categorizes parents into four groups: the Emotional Parent, the Driven Parent, the Passive Parent, and the Rejecting Parent. Unlike Lawson's categories, these labels apply to both mothers and fathers.
I included this book on my list because while it's well-written, thoroughly researched, and quite informative, I best enjoyed the direct advice of using "tough love" and boundaries with our parents in order to protect ourselves from further abuse.
Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents is one of the most direct guides on how to best deal with a borderline parent.
Children who try to be good enough to win their parents’ love have no way of knowing that unconditional love cannot be bought with conditional behavior.
— Lindsay C. Gibson
5. The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self by Alice Miller
When therapist Alice Miller discusses the gifted child, she's not referring to those with high IQs but to the children who learn from infancy how to survive within their dysfunctional families. These children learn to sense and then ease their parent's - most usually mother's, emotionally insecurities.
These gifted children spend their entire childhood learning to care for others without caring for themselves and carry on the habits into adulthood.
These gifted children grow into adults are likely to either overcompensate by being extremely successful or by being utter failures yet there are many who will manage an ongoing struggle to stay balanced between the two. At the end of the day, however, all of them ask themselves the same question, "Who am I really?"
The Drama of the Gift Child helped me answer that question and explained so many of my "quirks." I've long been criticized by family for said quirks, now I understand most of them are coping defenses against the mountains of criticisms I regularly received from them.
The author, late psychotherapist Alice Miller, studied and researched this issue for more than 20 years and she provides quite a few examples of patient stories in her book. Miller also draws on her own personal experiences as well. Her childhood was rather traumatic, even beyond the average dysfunctional parents, which gave her a greater perspective on the effects of severe trauma in childhood.
Miller doesn't sugarcoat the delivery of the truth about dysfunctional parents but it is certainly one of the best reads for anyone trying to heal the internal scars inflicted by their family of origin.
© 2016 Kim Bryan