Posted on July 15, 2011 by MJ
It’s been one helluva week so I’m just going to “let go” for a moment. I figure I can do that since it’s my blog after all.
I wish my mother would disappear over the event horizon of a black hole, hence, permanent deletion from the universe at large. There. I said it. I am hopeful that permanent, universal deletion–annihilation really– is painless. Sort of like blowing out a candle. Poof! Gone.
Obviously, I am not going to get my wish, and it’s better that I don’t for some very obvious and not so obvious reasons. Here’s the skinny: my mother has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). This particular flavor of personality disorder is rather malignant. It’s akin to malignant narcissism. My father had Antisocial Personality Disorder. Essentially, he was a sociopath. No remorse, guilt, empathy, or emotion. And, he loved to inflict pain. That’s when he smiled. They were an interesting pair to say the least. I’ll admit this: dealing with my father has been much easier than dealing with my mother.
They each had stories to tell me about cats, and each of their tales opens a small window on their psyches. My father lived in a part of the country that didn’t have ordinances regarding feral or loose animals. So, he would leave food out for stray cats. After a few weeks, a small pride of stray and feral cats would be living on his property at his invitation. This would annoy him. So, he would go to his gun safe, load up one of his long range rifles, open up a few cans of tuna, leave the tempting bait out for his prey, and wait. Once the pride was engrossed in their fishy repast, he would begin his game of “Kill the Kitties”. One by one, as the cats devoured the tuna in utter distraction, he picked them off until none remained. He narrated this story to me over the phone, laughing the entire time, as if it were a joke. Sickened, I told him he should stop leaving out food for stray animals. His response? “Now, where’s the fun in that?”
My mother’s story isn’t much better. When she was a girl, she was given a kitten. She loved this kitten. She played with it everyday. Sometimes she wanted to feel close to her kitten in a special way; so, she would strangle it. She would strangle it until it was almost dead, and then she would release it. It would cling to her, sucking in air, grasping at life. This was the feeling she craved–being clung to. This was when she would hold it close. This was her extra special way of finding closeness with her beloved pet. She would do this often.
Both of these stories define the personality disorder of the people behind them. My father enjoyed planning, stalking, and killing. He enjoyed manipulation and power as sociopaths do. The “I hate you, don’t leave me” worldview of the BPD comes through clearly in how my mother treated her kitten. This defines how I was raised. I was never physically strangled, but I was emotionally, spiritually, and verbally assaulted regularly. Unfortunately, she did physically harm other family members–severely at times.
So…fast forward. My father isn’t in the picture anymore, and my mother has been ignoring me for five years…until two weeks ago. When I was slogging through the muck and mire of psychotherapy, I thought I might want a relationship with my mother. I all but begged her to find a therapist and engage in her own process of healing and recovery. I am a compassionate person, and I do recognize that she, too, has suffered profoundly. She refused. I felt enormous rejection, and I grieved. In my eyes, the relationship was dying. I treated it as such. I also realized how bent I truly was in that relationship. My mother raised a victim. I only existed to meet her needs. I was not a separate individual capable of thinking unique thoughts. I didn’t even have my own identity. As one website explains:
Narcissism is quite pronounced in the borderline personality. They really see themselves as the center of everything and have a very distorted view of their importance to others. It is important to recognize when relating to a borderline that you don’t really exist. When they see you they see a fuzzy image that is filled in with projections from their own unconscious. If you do not realize this you will feel very crazy with them. In fact, most children growing up in the family of a borderline parent have a deep abiding belief that they themselves are the one that is crazy, not the parent.
This past year has actually been a relief. Her absence has given me a margin of personal freedom that I didn’t realize I wanted because I never knew it existed. But, when I heard her voice on the phone, my inner adult began to shrink. All that personal freedom and empowerment I desperately fought to gain disappeared. I was six years-old again, sitting on the other side of her bedroom door while she screamed that her life would be over if I ever left her. What could she possibly want after all this time?!
She wanted to be friends. “I want to come visit!” Oh hell, no. Over my dead body. That’s what my inner voice said, but I couldn’t get air to move over my vocal chords. Damn it! I just froze. Thank you ever so, C+PTSD!
There’s an interesting website, www.sociopathicstyle.com, that defines the “traits of a victim” as:
I’ve italicized my own traits in relation to my mother. She groomed me from Day 1 to comply with her every whim, self-perceived need, desire, and demand, and until the day I married I didn’t know that I had any other choice but to comply. She punished me horribly on my wedding day for “abandoning” her, too. She punished me for having children. She punished me for going to college. Every milestone that represented a transition into adulthood represented abandonment to her, and I was punished for it. I didn’t understand it at the time, but her choosing to ignore my request for a relationship was the best thing she could have done. Experiencing daily life with her absence has allowed me to experience a different life. I had no idea…
Her first phone call caught me off guard, and I played the victim stupendously. It’s been my role of a lifetime after all. I sucked at saying ‘no’, she bulldozed through all those boundaries I worked so hard to put in place like they were made of rice paper, she talked over me. She played me like a fucking Stradivarius. She seethed a little. Her inner witch made an appearance, and I got scared. She put me in my place. Aah….it was just like old times. Only I haven’t played her victim in five years, and my body didn’t respond well. I endured a seven-day migraine and some PTSD flashbacks. It was great. Mind you, I did manage to tell her that I wouldn’t have a relationship with her until she was in therapy, and we had to be speaking to each other on a regular basis (someone save me from myself!).
The migraine and panic attacks should have clued me in– I wasn’t doing well. Oh, and that cheerful, good-natured voice in my head that I’ve come to recognize as Divine asked, “When will you do what you want when it comes to your mother?” What I want? That was the first time that thought had ever entered my head. I realized that I have spent my entire life doing only what she wanted. Even in therapy. The truth is, I don’t want to have a relationship with my mother. Ever. She needs therapy. She needs a diagnosis. She needs DBT/CBT to treat her BPD, and she needs ongoing treatment for her depression and her own PTSD. But, for the love of innocent kittens, I am not responsible for her happiness and well-being, and isn’t that a revelation! No matter what I say or do, I will always be the bad guy because I won’t be meeting her needs, and that’s the only reason I exist in her mind–to meet her needs. There is a part of my heart and mind that cries out in great relief at this truth. There is another part of me that cries out in great pain because I know that my mother is in terrible psychic pain because of me even though I am making the right choice. It still hurts.
Having her in my life triggers me. That’s where I’m at. My brain is, well, a bit fragile when it comes to my mother. That list of victim traits? Yep. That’s me. I was an easy target for the dude who decided to abduct me precisely because both my parents raised me to be their victim. If you’re one person’s victim, sooner or later, you’re going to be someone else’s. Twenty-three years of victimization don’t vanish and leave the neural networks in good shape. C+PTSD may be permanent, and having my mother in my life is only going to reinforce those neural connections.
So, guess what? I actually told her ‘no’ when she called the second time. There would be no relationship. I refused to reconcile, and if we ever did, it would be directed by a therapist. For me, that’s a huge accomplishment. Granted, my entire body was shaking when I hung up the phone, but I said it.
What’s the bright side? I discovered that I was in denial regarding my own abilities, if you will. I can’t have my mother in my life. It’s too triggering. I still experience her as the “all-powerful perpetrator” which is common to victims of abuse, and she still scares the hell out of me. Well, shit. I’ve got some work to do there.
But…I chose my own well-being over my mother’s which, I must say, is a victory. I have never been able to do that before. I daresay, I formed a new neural pathway, and I’m stoked about it.
Christine Lawson wrote the book Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable and Volatile Relationship. She states:
“Sometimes adult children feel so frustrated or endangered in the presence of their [Borderline] mothers that they choose not to have contact at all. No one has the right to pass judgment on such situations. Every human being has the right to protect his or her own life. In some cases, it is in the best interest of both mother and child to disengage completely.”
Whether or not a person chooses to walk away from an abusive relationship is not the point here, the point is that we have the right to do so in order to preserve and protect ourselves and, in many cases, the lives of our loved ones.
I was raised in a religious environment, and, for many people of faith regardless of that faith, this doesn’t always seem like an option. In Christian circles, I’ve been judged harshly for my decisions to take care of myself. In Jewish circles, I’ve raised a few eyebrows as well. My Jewish grandmother just wanted me to forget the past. Sometimes the past devours the present leaving you with no future. This is what I bring to the table in this case: Romans 12:18 found in the New Testament of the Christian Bible says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live in peace with all people.” A brain in a triggered PTSD episode is the opposite of peace. As far as it depends on me, I can’t live peaceably with my mother because peace is not her goal. Getting her own needs met at the expense of all others is her primary goal. Jeremiah 6:14 of the Tanakh or Old Testament says it well: “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ But there is no peace.” How many of us have lived in that environment?–“Everything is fine. You’re fine. Get over it. There is no problem. You see a problem? Then, you are the problem.” Human nature does not change.
I won’t do it. I won’t say there is peace when there is none. Choosing to stop saying ‘Peace’ when there is none may be one of the first steps out of being someone’s victim. It was for me where my father was concerned. It will be again when it comes to fortifying and maintaining my boundaries with my mother.
I must say, I want to say ‘Peace’ because there is peace to be had and enjoyed. Right now. Right here.
Category: Borderline Personality Disorder, Christianity, Complex PTSD, Denial, Fathers, Mothers, PTSD, UncategorizedTags: Antisocial Personality Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, boundaries, Christianity, Complex PTSD, denial, mothers, neural networks, peace, PTSD, sociopathy, therapy
This is a huge victory, BH. I’m proud of you.
Thanks! It doesn’t feel like it, but I know it is. 🙂
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Wow… so good! I need to take notes on this one! Lol
I really like this post. It was cathartic to write. And, you know, for what it’s worth, it is the most read post on my entire blog. You know what that tells me? You and me…we are not alone in this journey. I still go back and read it, too, to remind myself of where I’ve been because sometimes I get a little turned around. It’s nice to know that we’re not alone, isn’t it? Common experience is such a comfort, I find. ::big hug::
Found this post searching for links between PTSD and having a borderline parent. My mom was borderline, too, and 90% of what you described sounded eerily similar. Thanks for writing, and good job with the boundary-setting.
I can confirm for you that there are links between PTSD and being raised by a BPD parent. C+PTSD (which isn’t in the DSM yet) is probably more common because it’s associated with longterm exposure to trauma. I am sorry that your parent has BPD. I seem to meet people with similar life experiences, and I’ve found that it takes that shared experience to heal and move forward. No one really “gets it” unless they, too, have had a BPD parent. I hope that you are well, happy, and have the life that you want! Best, MJ
This is a good symbolic description of my mother:
“My mother’s story isn’t much better. When she was a girl, she was given a kitten. She loved this kitten. She played with it everyday. Sometimes she wanted to feel close to her kitten in a special way; so, she would strangle it. She would strangle it until it was almost dead, and then she would release it. It would cling to her, sucking in air, grasping at life. This was the feeling she craved–being clung to. This was when she would hold it close. This was her extra special way of finding closeness with her beloved pet. She would do this often.”
Yes, mine as well. Her actions describe her disorder. It describes BPD, at least her flavor of the disorder, quite well. That’s how I felt growing up. All.the.time. After speaking to many people who have borderline mothers, I have found that this is a common experience. We children become their kittens.
This is really beautifully written. I’m searching for “permission” to cut my BPD mother out of my life. I used to be able to see her once a year with minimal problems. But something changed in me when I became a mother and now I am experiencing worse and worse health when around her. I try to grin and bear it for the sake of everyone but now I’ve developed a bunch of autoimmune diseases and I’m thinking it’s from c+ptsd and my out-of-wack stress response. Thanks for sharing, it’s empowering to not feel alone.
I’m so glad that you found validation and encouragement here. No, you are not alone. Not at all. Shalom…
Good I you’re sticking up for yourself!! It sometimes can be hard to do when it’s towards your own mother so be proud of yourself! However I must admit though when I saw ‘But, for the love of innocent kittens’ I giggled a bit thinking back to what you said about your parents and cats 😋
Hello my “Sister” (it’s what I call ALL non-BPDs who were raised by BPDs), my brothers and sisters. The internet needs more articles like yours and far less of that joke of an “end the stigma (for BPDs)” sympathy campaign that is currently flooding the internet. (In case you can’t tell, I too have CPTSD and my fight response is triggered every time I see so many quacks on YouTube making light of what BPDs are really all about!) I’m very, very curious, what the statistics will look like for the number of us who were raised by BPDs and have been diagnosed CPTSD as adults? No doubt the numbers would be alarming, considering the most talked about subject in the email group for children of BPDs (over 5000 members) is “I’ve been diagnosed with ptsd”. Btw, I was raised by the Witch so when you referenced your mother’s “Witch” coming out, that really hit home. You definitely made the right to decision to keep her out of your life! Hugs to you and every one of you that I consider “fellow refugees from that planet known as Borderland!” ❤️
I’ve felt varying degrees of guilt for telling my mom I can’t have a relationship with her unless there’s a therapist. I told her I didn’t feel safe with just us “working out our problems” as it’s always said but that translates to me being 7 and her lecturing me and telling me how horrible of a daughter I am. It took me years to realize the same physical sickness I’d get when she was on the phone matched the one I’d get with my ex. On one of my cycles in and out of therapy a psychologist who told me to “tell me about your mother” wrote BPD down on a sticky and told me to go look it up. I was shocked. I felt like you could put a picture of my mom right next to that in Webster’s. She has been through a lot of trauma and I asked her if she ever went to counseling. No she did not. When I said I would not continue our relationship without it she got very very mad and told me she hated me. She was greatly offended and basically insulted me because I was the weak one who needed help. She has not talked to me since. I send her texts of the kids and tell her happy holidays and such but no response. Sometimes I’m mad and want to cuss because I know she’s trying to punish me and I wish I didn’t feel punished and wish I didn’t care. I have lots of depression and anxiety and am afraid to voice my opinion in close relationships. I think PTSD sums it up nicely. I don’t think she’s a horrible person she just needs help and is prideful and stubborn about it. Maybe us being permanently apart is the best thing for us. Sometimes I cry about that and other times I’m happy. Same feelings with my ex. It’s a wonder how much we repeat patterns.
I relate to what you have written particularly personal guilt over taking steps to end or limit the relationship with your mother. I think it has been a decade since I first limited my time with my mother, and what became very clear to me in those years is that the guilt originates in codependency. I wish that there were a better term than “codependency” to describe this particular mental/emotional state because it is so complex. And, it doesn’t go away when the origin or cause of it leaves. All the behavioral patterns, negative core beliefs, and maladaptive coping strategies stick around, and that, for me, has been the hardest part of the healing process. The source of my pain and fear–my mother–was not in my life, but all the evidence that she left behind was still there–depression, anxiety, foreshortened future, various and sundry fears, etc. It does get better, but not on its own. Time doesn’t heal this. Only intentional work will. And, I think, sometimes, the greatest injustice in this that must be acknowledged and stated is that there is great injustice here. Children should not be faced with years and years of healing because of the wrongdoing of their mothers (or fathers). Adult children should be able to face the uncertainties of the world with their parents standing behind them cheering for them–not sabotaging them. Healing, however, is possible even if you don’t have your parents behind you. You can do it. One day at a time. Keep going. Best, MJ