Just some background on the situation: I’ve lived with my father and my step mother for 3 ½ years after social services intervened and moved me and my little sister away from my birth mother. My little sister went back to live with my mother very quickly, but I stayed up here.
I’ve been aware of my mother’s mental health issues since I was about 11, but according to people I’ve asked her problems go way back. The problem is she’s very reluctant to get treatment – she had to get therapy when social services got involved, but didn’t show up to many of the sessions. So we have no diagnosis.
I’ve recently been researching personality disorders, and I came across BPD. A lot of the symptoms fit her eerily well:
-Unstable relationships: she’s had lots of boyfriends since divorcing from my father 7 years ago, often moving very quick, for instance once she was certain she was going to marry one after only knowing him a week. Once we went to stay with a man she’d assured me she wasn’t in a relationship with, only for me, my sister and his two sons to hear them having sex. More recently she had an affair with someone already in a relationship.
-Idealization, disillusionment and devaluation: this is the pattern almost all her romantic relationships follow, and a couple of her friendships. In fact, she did this with me; she idealized me and called her a ‘blessed child’ (bear in mind she never gave my sister this treatment) until I was about 11, when I became aware of her problems and started becoming more independent, and in the space of two years she went to completely devaluing me.
-Fear of abandonment/intolerance of being alone: I’m unsure about this one, but she’s always desperately looking for someone to be with. Also, when I came to live with my dad she started phoning up my sister and me and saying she was a non-person without us.
-Shifting goals and vocational aspirations: It seems every time I talk to her she has a different idea about what she wants to do, and every now and again she’ll come up with a new life plan that she never actually fulfils. She tried making a small business making clothes, living in a canal boat and having a goat.
-Impulsivity: Again, I’m unsure about this one. A couple of times she’s quit a job just on a whim, and when she moved my sister and I 250 miles away from our dad, she did so with only two weeks notice. However, the one thing that definitely springs to mind is her tendency to buy dogs – she first did it when she and my dad were still together, when she bought a West Highland Terrier, thinking she’d make money from breeding puppies. Our circumstances meant she had to be given away. Shortly before social services got involved, she bought a puppy that she didn’t know how to train and couldn’t take for walks, and this happened again with a rescue dog a year or so ago.
- Suicidal behaviour: she’s never actually tried to kill herself or self-mutilated, but she has often talked about wanting to kill herself. When my sister went back to living with her, she said it was because she was scared she’d kill herself if she didn’t.
- Emotional instability: towards the end of when I lived with her, we’d have huge rows when I couldn’t ignore the things she was saying about me or others. When I answered back, she’d start shouting really easily. At times she’d be screaming at me while I was curled up crying one minute, then half an hour later she’d act like it never happened and be actually shocked that I thought it a big deal.
-Depression: she has been very depressed in the past.
Here’s a couple more things I think are relevant, but I’m not certain about since I am relying on other’s testimony:
-Her mother was an alcoholic and killed herself when my mother was 18 (although I find it difficult to know any more because my mother still really idealises her and my aunts/grandfather are biased in the opposite way).
-Before having me she had a lot of miscarriages and (apparently) once refused to have a dead baby removed.
-After having me she became paranoid that her close friend was going to ‘steal’ me.
-Similarly, when my sister was born my mother was ill and unable to keep her healthy by breastfeeding, and my sister ended up getting ill as well.
I’m sorry this is so long, but hopefully the flip side of that means that I’ve been detailed enough for you to have a good idea of her.
A: I’m unclear what you are asking. Yes, it certainly sounds like your mother may have signficant emotional problems. I can’t make a diagnosis on the basis of a letter but BPD would be at least one hypothesis. On the other hand, she has also had a lot of losses and may be trying to fill the hole left behind by her mother and the miscarriages by holding on too tight to relationships, by seeking boyfriends, and by adopting the dogs, etc. In either case, she would probably benefit from seeing a therapist and really engaging in some treatment. It sounds like she has had a really hard life.
Of more concern to me is understanding why you wrote. Whatever her diagnosis, you mother hasn’t been able to mother you since you became an adolescent and less dependent on her. I’m guessing that perhaps you might feel partly at fault or that you just plain miss the mom who saw you as “blessed.” Who wouldn’t? Please understand that none of this is your fault. Your mother is the adult. You may be an exceptionally insightful and smart kid, but you’re still the kid. You can’t fill whatever hole is in your mother’s heart. However rude you may have been at times, that didn’t cause these problems.
As you get older and more able to withstand your birthmother’s emotional ups and downs, you will be able to set good boundaries and develop ways to relate to your mother without getting caught up in her issues. If you have trouble figuring this out, you might want to see a therapist, not because something is wrong with you, but because a therapist could help you learn how to handle having a mother who is so wounded.
Finally, I hope you know that it’s not being disloyal to your mother to like and respect your stepmother. Your relationship with each of these women in your life will be different. I hope your stepmother provides some of the stability and predictability that your mother lacks.
I wish you well.
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 Jul 2010
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Could my mother have Borderline Personality Disorder?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 29, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/07/12/could-my-mother-have-borderline-personality-disorder/