What is Borderline Personality Disorder and how does it show up in a mother?

Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. Everything I talk about on my website is based entirely on my own personal research, therapy and exchange with other survivors of emotional abuse. I write from personal experience and try to inform the outside world, what growing up with borderline mother looks like and how damaging it is to a (even an adult) childs psyche.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders published by the American Psychiatric Association, there are nine criteria for Borderline Personality Disorder:

  • frantic efforts to avoid real or perceived abandonment

  • a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation

  • identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self

  • impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating

  • recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior

  • affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood

  • chronic feelings of emptiness

  • inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger

  • transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms

Christine Ann Lawson distinguishes between four different types of BPD moms in her book Understanding the Borderline Mother. These are the waif mother - whose inner prevalent state is helplessness, the hermit mother - whose inner prevalent state is fear, the queen mother - whose inner prevalent state is emptiness, and the witch - whose inner prevalent state is annihilating rage. If you suspect your mom to have BPD, I highly recommend checking out Dr. Lawson's book. She lines out all the details about what each type looks like and how they can also overlap. It is worthwhile to mention that also men can suffer from BPD but since I write about my mom, I will refer to borderline in women. I do not intend to devalue hurtful experiences some of you had with dads like this.

"People with BPD are like people with third degree burns over 90 % over their bodyies. Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement" - Marsha Linehan


Not all borderlines abuse substances and not all borderlines self harm or try to kill themselves. Nevertheless, all borderlines share the trait fear of abandonment. Some beat their children, expose them to dangerous situations, some parentify, bully, neglect or smother their children. Some do all of the above. Children are often accused of not loving their mom or being disloyal. There are no healthy boundaries with a mom like this.

Growing up with a borderline mother affects children throughout their entire lives. It can cause depression, anxiety disorders, social withdrawel, feelings of worthlessness and all sorts of mental illnesses. They are also at risk for developping the disorder themselves. Children usually blame themselves more often than not way into adulthood for feeling this way, not recognising that their mother's behaviour (which they don't have any power over) is unaccaptable. 

In that sense, I might have been "lucky" as I was never abused physically. I have to say, though, that at times I wished I had been beaten. At least then I would've had something to point at. Emotional abuse is much harder to detect. It makes you think that you are losing your grip on reality, which is very destabilising. It is also almost impossible to explain to the outside world.

I have stopped begging my mother to go to therapy and started doing the work myself. Mom wasn't equipped to nurture me or provide me with a safe haven. This is not fair and it hurts like hell. I didn't ask for any of that. Nevertheless, I am an adult now and responsible for my own healing. Borderline Personality Disorder is caused by child abuse. We pass on what we don't heal, right? My mom was severely abused as a kid. Which is why she behaved the way she did. However, I decided that the intergenerational trauma cycle ends with me. I will clean up her mess and stopp passing the trauma on. 

Would you like to join me on my healing journey?