My Borderline Mother

If you’ve read my blog in any detail, then you know by now that I have a mother who expresses her emotions and general psychology through a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder.  If I were to follow Christine Lawson’s archetypes, then I would classify my mother as the Queen/Witch with a sprinkling of Medean Witch thrown in for good measure.

No one in my family knows my mother.  Not the way I do.  Well, my former stepsisters know her in a very distinct way.  We spent our late childhoods and adolescence together under her reign of terror.  I don’t say that to be dramatic.  It was seven years of a ceaseless nightmare.  When I was a child, I used to watch “Mommy Dearest” over and over again because it felt…familiar.  The exacting nature of Faye Dunaway’s portrayal of Joan Crawford.  The obsession with the wire hangers.  My mother insisted that my sock and underwear drawer was organized perfectly lest she dump it out onto the floor and make me refold every item again and await her exacting inspection.  My closet was to be organized by color and season.  That made no sense to me.  Every Saturday was cleaning day, and my room was to be military clean to the point of a literal white glove test and a perfect quarter bounce off my bed complete with hospital corners.  If I failed any part of her inspection, I had to clean my entire room again.  Drawers were turned out onto the floor.  Invective was launched at me like live grenades.  I was, at times, violently dragged around my room, my face shoved down into perceived imperfections from streaks on windows to visible footsteps in previously vacuumed carpet.

Everything had to be perfect.  All the time.

My stepsister defied my mother once.  She was beaten so harshly for saying ‘no’ to her that a few of her ribs were broken.  She was so bruised that she could not sustain physical touch for at least a week.

These are just small details in a sea of stories about my mother.  I watched my mother lose herself to her own talionic rage on one Christmas Eve morning.  She tried to kill my stepsister.  She assaulted the other one.

My mother remembers nothing.  To her, this is all just water under the bridge.  I am characterized as an unforgiving person because I remember.  I am bad because I carry the marks of trauma.  She might say, “Well, you know, I have struggled with anger over the years.”  That’s one way to put it, I guess.  Strangling the life out of a person is just a normal thing to do then during the holidays when you feel angry because there are crumbs on the counter. Guests are coming! Chop, chop! Never mind.  I’ll just kill you over it.  Merry Christmas, one and all.

This normalized response is crazymaking.  There is absolutely nothing normal about a childhood like that.  There is nothing normal about witnessing another human being do that to someone.  Being made to feel like a bad person for saying so is…fucking nuts.

Why say this?

My mother wrote me a letter last Christmas as she always does.  It’s the Merry-Christmas-You-Are-A-Bad-Person-For-Not-Letting-Me-In-Your-Life-and-You-Have-Robbed-Me-of-Happiness letter.  I’ve received one every year for the last five years.  Her pathology is on full display in each and every letter.  I would compare it to a fruitcake full of nuts, but perhaps that’s too crass.  Suffice it to say, I’ve noticed the calendar.  I’m due for another demeaning and judgmental letter.  This year, I launched a pre-emptive strike and wrote her instead.  I mailed it this morning.

In reality, I actually only replied to her last letter–almost a year later.  I have been working on a response for almost a year.  There are a few people (i.e. almost everyone I know) who will all but scold me “Airplane” style for contacting her in any way, “Get a hold of yourself, MJ!”:

But, I feel rather like the pilot blazing a trail through the terminal.  I don’t want to sit here and passively take it for another year, dreading every December trip to the mailbox.  I’ve worked too hard to get where I am.  I wanted to speak up rather than ignore her.  No, it won’t change her.  It won’t change anything, but speaking up might continue to change and empower me.  That’s a good reason to respond to her, I think.

I don’t experience my life, memories, and even my own personality as I once did.  Everything has evolved, and that’s a good thing.  I don’t feel as I once did where my mother is concerned either although I know enough to be cautious by now.  What I have learned on this long and winding path called ‘recovery’ is that telling the truth is important.  Speaking up is valuable, and it’s important that we do so.  It’s important because we are changed when we hear our own voices in the midst of the din of naysaying, accusations, and other nonsense.  We may be talked down to, accused, disbelieved, and rejected.  I’ve experienced all of this, but your healing is catalyzed when you feel the resonant power of your own voice as you say, “No, that happened, and that was wrong.  I am truthful, and I am good.  And whether or not anyone believes me or supports me, I can say that I know what is real, and I am stronger for having said so.”

Ultimately, this is why I responded to my mother, and this is why I feel peaceful.  I’m not scared of her, but I do feel slightly vulnerable.  Between her and my father, I have witnessed the absolute worst in humanity.  Hands down.  For those who prefer the light, the darkness holds little appeal.

So, speak your truth.  Be brave even if you’re afraid.  You are in good company, my friends.

12 Comments on “My Borderline Mother

  1. I feel as though I should say something out of respect for your vulnerability with us or because it shuts off the horror projected in my mind as a result of what I read is unclear.
    Pain shared is pain lessened, I hope that is a true statement for you, I hope you experience as many days as possible with a mind free of the old tapes and voices and images.
    I have my past as well so thank you for letting me walk your road a while.
    No one can tell you what to write or say to your mother, your sanity, I assume, probably hinges at times on putting the anger and sadness on the right shoulders because you didn’t deserve it and you don’t deserve the weight of it now. We all just want to hear, “I love you and I am proud of you.”
    Thank you so much for sharing, you are amazing.

    • Thank you for your kindness! That’s a rare quality these days. I hope you weren’t too horrified. I actually feel sane and relatively calm these days which is why I probably could finally formulate a response to her. Unlike her, I am not looking to further the pain or usurp will and rights. I just wanted to make a declaration, if you will, and a counterargument. But, I think I just wanted others to know, and emphasize this for myself, that even if nothing circumstantially comes of our action, it doesn’t mean that nothing changed.

      Thank you for encouraging me. I really appreciated it. Best, MJ

  2. I’m so proud of you!! That’s awesome. So glad you took control and sent that.

    Btw, I saw The Accountant recently. If you haven’t seen it, I think you guys might really like it. Ben Affleck is the protagonist and he’s autistic. But he is a butt kicking hero. Really cool to see a lead in a movie like that. The girls might like it too.

    • I must be living under a rock! I have not even heard of this film! I’m shaking my head.’s all the driving everyone around. That’s it

  3. I never know what the protocol is on blog sites, i.e. respond once, like the thank you and then stop. So forgive me if I am out of line by responding a second time.
    I am glad you have some sanity and peace in your life.
    Being horrified by someone else’s story takes me out of my self-centered world so I probably needed the shock.
    You will grow by your “declaration,” that is most important, I think we all want our families psychologically healthy but we are not responsible for their acceptance or rejection of reality.

  4. I found your article with the help of google. I am going to change my phone number in order to completely cut ties with my own borderline mother, and I was wondering if I should speak my truth before. I don’t intend to be mean. But I want to stop being nice out of fear, and just tell her to leave me alone and stop expecting to be treated like a “real” mother that she never was.

    I found your article inspiring. You articulate very well what it feels like to be the child of an abusive borderline mother who will never admit that she did anything wrong.

    I am glad you felt liberated after expressing yourself.
    I wish you the best.

    • If you intend to cut ties with your mother, then I think it’s a perfect time to tell the truth. You have nothing to lose. The first time I told my mother the truth, I was traumatized because I had never told her ‘no’ or dared to speak up. It registered in my being and body, but it shifted something in me for the better. I was able to deal with other areas of my life that had previously been resistant to change. So, yes, I think that if it is on your mind to tell the truth, then move in that direction. I wish you all the best as you make these choices. Shalom to you, MJ

  5. I’ve found that examples of interactions between a borderline mother and her child really put things into perspective for me, so here’s an example of an interaction with my mother growing up, with more to follow. I’ll try to set the scene a bit with each example.

    It’s 9pm. I just got home. I showered and left the house for Uni at 8am. I’ve spent the day in classes and at the library studying for a crucial exam tomorrow. The bus ride home was long and I’m completely drained. I walk in and the house is in total disarray. It always is. I did the dishes the night before, but literally every single dish in the kitchen is dirty. The counters are buried, caked on food from my mothers middle-of-the-night binge is glued to plates and both sinks are filled with greasy dishes and stinking water; in a half-hearted attempt to soak them. I can’t even muster the will to be angry. I have nothing left to give.

    Right then, my mother walks down the stairs, right passed me, into the kitchen, like I’m not even there. She hasn’t showered in days or left the house. She is still wearing the nightgown she slept in.

    Me: “Hi mom, how was your day?”

    Mom: -no response-

    Me: “I’m sorry I couldn’t get home before dinner to do the dishes. (mom ‘hates’ to cook in a dirty kitchen, ironic I know, so I already knew this was the source of her anger) I have an exam tomorrow and I was at school late studying.”

    Mom: “You, know… it’s the only thing you’re asked to do around here. You don’t pay rent. You don’t buy groceries. All you do is take take take from us and I can’t do this anymore.”

    Me: (Defensively, because I already know what her next statement is going to be) “Can’t do what anymore?”

    Mom: “I don’t want you here anymore. You need to call your dad and have him pick you up” (I haven’t spoken to my dad because of my mom since I was 14)

    Me: “What are you talking about!? Why do you have to be like this?”

    Mom: “We’re all tired of it (my name). Your Brother and (step dads name) don’t want to be around you. You make everyone miserable. We all walk on eggshells around you. (I know you see the hypocrisy oozing from that statement). The only time you’re nice to us is when you want something from us.”

    Me: “Whatever, I’ll leave tomorrow. I’m not leaving in the middle of the *explicit* night!”

    Mom: “I think that would be best for everyone. You’re clearly not happy here. Nothing we ever do for you seems to make you happy.”

    Me: (I want to scream, “when’s the last *explicit* time you did anything for me”!?) Instead I say “That’s me, I’m just dead inside”

    *I walk away.*

    I cry myself to sleep, without trying to study. I can’t concentrate. I have had concentration issues my entire educational life. The next day I barely pass the exam I was so confident I was going to pass only 24 hours prior.

    This particular example would happen monthly, sometimes weekly and is the best case scenario. Worst case, she would scream at the top of her lungs, sometimes slap, punch me or push me. Other times, she would grab things out of my room and throw them out on the front lawn. I am female, but almost 6 inches taller than her and much stronger than her. She was intimidated by my strength and stature and would only get physical with me if my step dad was present. If my step dad was there, she could order him to remove my belongings from the house. Sometimes he was asked to remove my bedroom door. Sometimes she would order him to physically remove me from the house. He would pick me up and put me outside. Whatever she asked, he obliged and he took pleasure in doing it. He relished the moments that he was her ally and not on the receiving end of her fury.

    My next example will be a whole lot of little things that grew into a big thing.

  6. These are just random examples of things my mother would say to me, or conversations we would have. In some of these examples, she would twist and contort things so much that she almost had me convinced at times that I was the one with a mental disorder. Most of the time I just felt like I was bashing my head into a brick wall or tumbling endlessly through Alice’s rabbit hole, wondering why up felt like down and left felt like right. Mostly I lived on a carpet and at any moment that carpet could be ripped from below my feet, without any warning what-so-ever. Sometimes the magic trick would work and I’d be left standing comfortably, undisturbed by it. Other times a black hole would appear below and once in it, it sometimes felt like there was no coming back.

    Here we go!

    Me: “Mom, I don’t like my hair. I want to cut it off. It’s too hard to manage when it’s this long”

    Mom: “Do whatever you want. Short hair won’t suit you, but if you want to look like a boy, be my guest”


    Me: “I don’t like having bangs. I want to grow my bangs out, like the other girls”

    Mom: “You’re foreheads too big. You need bangs. I don’t want to argue about this with you anymore”


    Mom on the phone (Calling at 11pm my time, 9pm her time): *crying* “I fought with your brother tonight. He’s moving out. Him and (step dads name) got into a fist fight. I don’t think he’s coming back!”

    I”m half asleep, so I’m not really processing anything.

    Me: “Okay, what happened? why’d they fight?”

    Mom: “I don’t know, they just did” *in between sobs*

    Me: Well, I don’t know what to say. I can’t really say anything if I don’t know what happened”

    Mom: *sobbing* *silence* *sobbing*

    This goes on for 5 minutes

    Me: “Mom, it’s 11pm at night. I was already in bed. Can you please tell me what’s really going on?”

    Mom: “Jesus (my name), I called because I’m upset! Why are you always so mean and hateful? Why does everything have to be on your schedule. Sorry I took up your precious time. I don’t even know why I bother talking to you. You don’t give a *explicit* about anyone but yourself.”

    *I hang up the phone, because I’m finally learning how to put boundaries in place*


    Mom: “I need to borrow some money, just for a few days. I’ll pay you back next week. Here’s a postdated cheque, just don’t cash it until next week, okay”

    Me: “I don’t have any money right now.”

    Mom: “What do you mean you don’t have money? You were just paid!”

    Me: “I had to pay my credit card off from last month.” (It’s a lie, I always have money. It’s my thing and she knows it, but I’m desperate not to give it to her, because I will not get it back and I really can’t afford to lose it.)

    Mom: “Go *explicit* yourself then. I’ve never met anyone as greedy and self-centered as you. Move the *explicit* out! *she’s screaming this if you hadn’t already assumed that and flying around the house like a dog that just took a giant s**t*

    She’s not going to admit it, but the reason she needs the money is because she lost everything she had on online poker, again and she doesn’t want my step dad for find out that she can’t pay the mortgage or the utility bills.

    My next example will be the worst one of them all and the hardest one for me to deal with and process. Everything changed when this happened. Our relationship would be permanently scarred by it and I would never feel the same way about her or look at her the same way again.


  7. This will be my last example. I don’t want to get too carried away and I appreciate MJ for having told her story. I was not brave enough to make my own site, so thank you giving me the means to piggy back on your post.
    So… I’m 9 or 10 years old. Things are pretty bad financially at the moment. My mothers gambling addiction has taken it’s toll and we are currently living in one of her revenue properties that has been vandalized by the former tenants. There’s no gas currently hooked up to the house and the only hot water we have is from a small propane tank my step dad jimmy rigged as a stand in, until my mom pays the long overdue utility bill.
    I have just found out through my father that my grandfather is in the hospital. He told me it’s just gallbladder surgery and he’s going to be just fine. I ask to go visit him. My father says it’s not a good idea, because he’s on morphine and he’s saying strange things and he doesn’t want my grandfather’s behaviour to scare me. It makes perfect sense to me, so after I get off the phone I tell my mom what’s going on.
    Me: “Grandpa’s in the hospital…
    Mom: “They’re lying to you. It’s not his gallbladder. He has cancer.”
    Me: “Dad said it’s his gallbladder. Why would he lie? How do you know it’s cancer?”
    Mom: “Your dad told me your grandfather had had cancer a few years ago. We didn’t tell you, because we didn’t want you to get upset, if it turned out to be okay. He beat it, but it must be back now. You need to go to the hospital. This may be your last chance to see him. I can’t believe your father would deny you the chance to see him one last time. God, he is such a selfish *explicit* prick! This is about the inheritance! He doesn’t want you getting your hands on any of your grandparents money!”
    Me: ” I don’t want to go to the hospital if dad told me not to go. He’s going to be mad at me.”
    Mom: “So you’re just going to throw all that money away and let your dad screw you out of your inheritance.”
    Me: “Dad doesn’t want me to go! It’s just a gallbladder mom, he’s going to be fine.”
    This is when she finally blows. I’m sitting on my bed crying my eyes out and shes hovering over me.
    Mom: “You make me sick. You don’t give a *explicit* about your grandfather, who’s done everything for you? How could you be so heartless and cold? You don’t feel anything for anyone do you? You’re evil, pure *explicit* evil. I can’t even look at you, you make me sick to my stomach. Don’t you dare leave this room.”
    *she exits the room and slams the door*
    I cried for hours that day. I cried so hard I was dry heaving and my stomach muscles cramped up so hard that I thought they were going to tear. I would have been sick, but I hadn’t eaten anything yet and I refused to eat for the rest of the day. At one point my mom came flying back into the room and screamed at the top of her lungs that if I didn’t stop crying she would give me something to cry about. It still amazes me to this day that none of our neighbours ever called the police on my mom. They must have heard her. About 2 or 3 hours later she came into my room and tried to console me. It’s one of the only times I ever remember her apologizing to me. There was always a BUT at the end though. An excuse or a reason why she was justified in her actions. I never hated her so much in my life after that day.
    I currently have zero contact with my mother. I tried tell her my truth a hundred times. She either turned it around, made excuses or pretended she had no recollection of the event. ” I tried my best” she would say. My life has been so much better since I cut all contact. I cannot have her back in my life, I’ve made up my mind.
    Actually, it wasn’t her denial of the events that hurt me the most, it was other people’s. To this day, even though they’ve seen my mothers behaviour first hand, my father and step mother have accused me of lying about how bad things were. They don’t even know about this particular incident or any of the more significant ones, but they’ve chosen to believe that I am my mothers daughter and I have no contact with them either. In relationships, I’ve shared some of these events and I’ve been met with skepticism. My current husband actually admitted to me recently that he thought I was lying or exaggerating about my mother. After meeting her, he still wasn’t convinced I was telling the truth. It wasn’t until he received a horrible, nasty email from her that he finally apologized to me.
    I hope this helps others to see that you are not alone. You don’t have to cut contact like I did, but you certainly don’t deserve to be treated like that. Sometimes I laugh at how ridiculous some of it is, because if I let it traumatize me, then severing ties with her will have been in vain.

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