Rebooting for the New Year

One of the broader topics on this blog is mental health and how mental health is defined and experienced in different contexts.  The DSM-V has divided and sub-divided the human experience into so many diagnoses that I imagine that every human could find an aspect of themselves somewhere within it.  Some of that feels legitimate.  Some of it feels less so.

Within one area of that broader diagnostic context you will find the personality disorder and its many “flavors”.  What is a personality disorder (PD)? What is its origin? Is it genetic? Is it chemical? Can it be treated? Can it be effectively “cured”? Is it a spectrum “disorder”? When is it safe to diagnose a person with a PD? At what point in human development does one’s personality become disordered? Why does one person become narcissistic and another express as borderline? What about the antisocial personality or the schizoid?  These are important questions that I won’t attempt to answer here.

I have written extensively about Borderline Personality Disorder on this blog as my mother’s personality expresses as borderline and growing up with a borderline mother affected my development in profound ways.  I do not directly blame my mother for my abduction twenty years ago, but, at the same time, I doubt I would have been taken had I been raised by a different parent.  I don’t say that with self-pity.  It feels factual at this point.  As they say today, it is what it is.

Why bring this up? My mother wrote me a letter.  Again.  It arrived a few weeks ago.  I haven’t seen my mother in almost ten years.  I think.  That is my best estimate.  She has sent me very weird letters over the years.  Some of them have been vitriolic.  Some of them have been strange and full of darkness.  Some of them have been full of blame and desperation.  My response has remained steadfast.  “Tell me how you are safe.  Tell me how you have changed.  Tell me how you have learned to control yourself.  Tell me how you have learned to respect boundaries.  Tell me how you have learned to self-soothe and self-regulate.  Tell me how you have learned to be accountable for your actions.  Then, we’ll talk.”

Never has she addressed these requests.

Until her most recent letter.

This letter was different.  For the first time, she tried.  She talked of realizing that she had been self-centered.  She had never known that about herself, but she had come to see that she had been.  For her whole life.  She talked of her recklessness.  She admitted that I would have to live with the consequences of her actions for the rest of my life.  She knew that now.  She recognized that her behaviors were abnormal.

I think she must have finally gone to therapy which is what I have been recommending rather strongly.  We none of us can make it without help.

She asked if we could meet for coffee or lunch.  I am considering it.  Not from a place of smoldering hope.  I suspect I am considering it because she finally tried.  She did what i asked.  It took her ten years to do it, and it cost her a great deal.  It may cost me something to see her.  I remember what she was like.  She may reduce me to a bloody mess, but, then again, she may no longer have the power to do that.  I’m not the same person anymore, and I’ll tell you why.

At some point during my marriage, my mother saw how my my ex-husband was treating me.  He was very neglectful and self-centered.  Sixteen years ago, we moved into a new house.  I was six months pregnant.  I had packed up the entirety of our old house singlehandedly.  My mother and her husband drove in from out-of-state to help us.  On the day of the move, my ex-husband received an invitation from a friend to attend an outdoor concert.  One of his favorite bands was playing, and he was stoked about it.  As we were moving boxes into the house he left.  There was a concert to see! “Sorry babe, but Frank Black! I gotta go!”

And that was it.  I was pregnant.  My mother and her husband were helping.  And, there I was.  Alone.  My mother was shocked and hurt on my behalf.  Reasonably so.  She told me, “Leave him.  Just bring the girls and live with us.  I’ve been divorced twice.  There is nothing wrong with being like me.”

“There is nothing wrong with being like me.”

Her words reverberated through my mind,  Nothing wrong with being like her? She was the last person I wanted to be like.  There was everything wrong with being like her.  So, I internally vowed in that moment never to be like my mother, and I stayed in a very bad marriage so much longer than I should have, in part, to prove a point.  I could not be like my mother.  I could not have failed like her.  I imagined her rubbing my face in it should I ever see her again.  I imagined myself feeling defeated, humiliated, and small.  Judged.  My mother standing over me smugly saying, “See? You and me? We are the same.”  The thought of it cut into my viscera.  

There came a moment towards the end of my marriage when I realized that I didn’t care anymore about what my mother might say to me or even think about me.  I wasn’t my mother, and my mother wasn’t me.  I wanted a second shot at life, and I didn’t care one iota about what anyone thought of me least of all my mother.

I think that this realization and moment of actualization are the insights that allow me to venture forth into even imagining sitting in front of my mother after a decade of virtually no contact.

Why speak of this? Well, I see in retrospect that I made certain choices from a deficient identity.  I was trying so hard not to be someone (my mother) rather than building out who I really wanted to be.  I would not have tolerated quite a bit had I seen that sooner.  Thankfully, I did.

In honor of gratitude and changing our lives, I want to introduce you to 10Q.  The Jewish New Year is upon us, and it is a time of reflection, return, and making changes.  There is a very cool app of sorts that helps you do that called 10Q:

Every year between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur there is a 10-day period of reflection – an opportunity to look at your past, present and future. 10Q makes this digital and social.

  • For ten days 10Q sends you a question a day to answer.
  • Answers are entered in your own secret online 10Q space and then saved to the secure online 10Q vault for safekeeping.
  • After the ten day period the vault is locked.
  • One year later, the vault opens and your answers land back in your email inbox.
  • You can also choose to share your answers anonymously with other 10Q users, and can also scroll through other people’s answers. (Becoming The B Boss)

You do not have to be Jewish to do this.  Just willing.  Here is the first question:

Q01: DESCRIBE A SIGNIFICANT EXPERIENCE THAT HAS HAPPENED IN THE PAST YEAR. HOW DID IT AFFECT YOU? ARE YOU GRATEFUL? RELIEVED? RESENTFUL? INSPIRED?

I love this! It is a wonderful reminder that the best time to change your mind, your circumstances, or yourself is always now.

Happy New Year!

Resources:

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4 thoughts on “Rebooting for the New Year

  1. Great article.

    Just curious, being brought up by a BPD mom does it make one to have BPD tendencies?

    I relate to the thing you wrote about the triangular web between your ex and your mother, the dynamic by itself creates its own reality.

    My mom I think have BPD with narcissistic disorder and I think it affected my reality and how I see the world. If I am not mindful, I would see reality as in strict good/bad, valuing/devaluing manner. I have a flimsy sense of self. Today I went for a walk and few weeks before that I was talking to my therapist how I don’t have a solid presence and solid sense of self and she gave me exercise to find real me, and I was struggling to find anything that I can call self and I was trying hard that it became hard work and fruitless. But today while I was walking with my son on early morning by the sun, it dawn to me that I can focus on the emptiness and I did. It felt me, authentic and effortless.

    I have abandonment issues and my refuge from eternal loneliness and emptiness shifts regularly from my mom to my husband. sometimes I felt it is my mom who can take me back and give me warmth and unconditional love and sometimes I felt I can get it from my husband but rarely I felt I can get it from both. I am in interesting time in my life, for the first time in my life I believed I won’t get warmth from both (mom and husband)–I guess that is being an adult. Because of my upbringing courtesy to my mom I have unprocessed raw need for love, affection, warmth and kind of in arrested development. I am in the process of splitting with my husband and I have functional but very distant relationship with my mom because that is how she wanted it. Few month ago she hang up before answering my call-not once six times, my dad had to make excuse for her saying she forgot her mobile phone… this is only one example. When I want closeness and want to talk to her she kind of act like she is not there act like having a mind fog. She will be happy about splitting from my husband, he doesn’t like her and she doesn’t like him. I took his side many times during gossip and I dread telling her the news in fact I am planning to hold the information as much as I can. I recently read a book for daughters of narcissistic mothers titled “Will I ever be good enough?” It helped me immensely what to expect, and about her limitations.

    Thanks.

    • This is a great question and an important one. I think it’s a question that many people are afraid to ask. Does being raised by a BPD mother cause BPD in their children? According to the research, the answer is both yes and no. The answer depends on the child and how the BPD was displayed in the mother (or primary caregiver). It is more likely that a child will experience BPD in their personality as an adult child of a BPD parent if their mother viewed them as All-Bad and if the child believed it. In other words, how did the child experience and internalize being hated by their borderline mother? Did they try harder to become acceptable to their mother over the years only to then figure out that it was an impossible scenario and realize that it was their mother was was flawed? Or, did they try harder to earn acceptance and love from their borderline mother only to fall into despair and eventually believe her–they were, in fact, all-bad and intrinsically evil, thusly, merging with their mother’s view of them giving up their own identity for their mother’s extended identity. The first scenario seems to result in codependency while the second results in the passing on of borderline traits.

      I fell into the first camp. I became codependent. I tried and tried, and then, one day, I realized that it was futile. No matter what I did my mother was going to love/hate me. And, I saw it for what it was. It had nothing to do with me. Somehow, I got there. I think I saw it finally because she was this way with everyone. Not just me. There was no fixing it. And I knew her personal history. I understood how this arose in her. I did need and require love and validation, acceptance and approval, but I was NEVER going to get it from her. That was the hard thing to accept. Getting to that point with a parent is very hard. There is a grieving process around that that one must go through in order to heal.

      As far as the traits: the splitting (devaluing or black/white thinking), fear of abandonment, fear of engulfment, etc. I saw some of that in myself but to a much lesser degree. The splitting was very easy to deal with once I saw it. I used a dialectic approach: “People are still good even when they make mistakes.”

      The identity issue is harder. Identity work is hard if you do not have something positive to work with. This is where, for me, the idea of bigger truths have had to come in. When you are abused by parents, you end up with two sets of rules. It is impossible not to have this embedded in your mind somewhere. Usually, it is hidden, but it will be in there somewhere. You can have strong identity statements for other people but really lousy ones for yourself. “That person over there is worth love and tenderness. That person is worth being looked after simply because they have that right. Because they are here. Me? Oh no….not me. I’m not worth that.” A double standard. And the work of merging those two IS the work. Why the double standard? Well, because your parents are supposed to show you what the world is like. They are supposed to be the solace. The soft place to land. The protection. They are supposed to help you build out a sense of self. When they abuse you, they do indeed help you build out a sense of self, and the resultant sense of self that they help you build ends up being a really shitty one.

      So, the exercise I would do is think of the sort of sense of self I would want my daughters to have. AS glorious and wonderful as I could create. THEN…apply that to myself. And, I will say, it was hard. It did NOT match what my parents or life experiences indicated about me. But the identity I wanted to give them SHOULD be the identity I myself had.

      And then, that is what I started meditating on. And, from a basic place, this is how you start building a new identity. And whatever new identity statement really pings you hard, go back and find out why. Make that your therapy focus. IF it is “I am a beloved individual deserving care, protection, and intimacy,” and it makes you cry and feel emptiness, then explore that. Really get into why that statement hurts you. This is how you do identity work. We don’t focus on what we are not. We focus on what we are and why we are not able to stay in line with what we are.

      You are not an empty person. You are a full person who is struggling to stay inside the boundaries of your full identity. That is the reframe. Once you reframe that, then the works becomes clearer. The walk becomes easier. And you don’t feel so fearful of what you might be (like your mother for example). You become more hopeful of what you could be–of who you really are.

      I hope this is helpful.

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