Mom May Be Borderline But Refuses Help

By Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW

I’m looking for a little advice for my mother who may have Borderline Personality Disorder. Long story short, I feel like this is the last straw and I’m starting to lose patience.

Issue: We’ve been bearing with her, but it there doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel without professional help. My mother seems to be too proud to accept any type of ‘weakness’ even if it’s a medical illness. She has attempted to take medication in the past but that resulted in suicidal episodes and she became zombie-like at times. There seems to be communication barriers as well.

About her: My mother is an extremely proud woman who is hard on accepting the possibility that she is ever wrong – in fact she is almost always right in her eyes. She is extremely irritable and her temper rises as fast as a moving train. For instance, if my father is late because of work issues, she will throw a tantrum and start to mumble about his irresponsibility. Depending on the situation she will run through a wide range of emotions starting with anger, sadness, depression, and then rise back to anger.

She experiences periods of extreme mania and depression. We believe these swings may be tied to her eating habits and that she is extremely self-conscious of her self-image. Her mood tends to swing in a 1-2 month cycle, after 2 months we can expect an outburst, tantrum, or cry for attention. She has attempted to take her life in the past by ingesting a full bottle of Advil followed by a bottle of wine. At earlier stages she would bring herself to a haze with alcohol, but that has subsided and she now drinks on special occasions.

She has extreme anxiety issues. For example, she will ask if the stove has been turned off a few times before leaving the house, again once we’ve left the house and fear that the stove hasn’t been turned off even after we’ve assured her. The same scenario can be applied to closing garage doors, icy weather conditions, family/friends safety, and a belief of a cheating husband.

She grew up with a bit of verbal abuse in her family and she felt like she could never measure up to the expectations set. She’s always been placed on the side since in older traditional Chinese families, if you’re not a male child, you’re just an outsider. She rarely had a father figure. She’s worked the majority of her childhood and continuously feels like her worth has diminished because she never finished college.

There is so much more, but I can’t seem to put thoughts into words. My father has been attempting to ease every one of her episodes, but I fear that may not be enough. My brother seems to avoid all issues, acknowledges there is a problem, and pretends all is well with the world as long as we don’t stir the hornets nest. I’m not sure if it’s the right thing to do, but I’m seeking any and all advice, help and references I can get.

Thanks in advance for your help.

A. It is very difficult to watch your loved one suffer and refuse to seek help. It is additionally challenging and understandably frustrating when a loved one’s problems negatively impact the family and everyone suffers as a result. This seems to be the case in your situation.

Undoubtedly you are faced with a very challenging situation. There are no easy solutions. When someone refuses to seek help, then it is the others around them who have to make the adjustments. That may mean limiting your interaction with your mother. If she won’t modify her behavior, then you may need to modify yours. You have to protect yourself. Self-preservation is not a selfish act; it is a necessity. It is important to do your best to help your mother in every way possible but it is also important that you do not let her problems destroy your life.

I have three main recommendations for you. One would be to consider family therapy or individual therapy. Family therapy may be an option if she is willing to go with you to counseling. Even if she isn’t, therapy could teach the family the necessary tools that are needed when caring for a loved one with mental illness. It could also facilitate consistency. Working together as a family may also provide the leverage needed to gently urge your mother into treatment.

There are other possible advantages of family therapy. If the rest of the family is open to counseling, then she may be more willing to go to treatment. If everyone else is willing to make adjustments to their behavior, then she may be open to doing the same. It also sends the message that she isn’t “the problem” and that the family unit as a whole could benefit from a positive intervention.

Individual therapy could teach you how to better and more effectively interact with your mother. The therapist could help you to understand the importance of boundaries and teach you the logistics of how to achieve this important step. In addition, he or she can also help you deal with the psychological and emotional aspects often associated with caring for a mentally ill family member.

The second suggestion involves contacting a local National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) support group. NAMI is an advocacy group that is dedicated to helping individuals with mental illnesses and their family members. They are particularly well-versed in the challenges of having a family member with a mental illness. Most communities across the country have a local NAMI support group. Visit their website for more information.

My third suggestion involves psychoeducation about borderline personality disorder. Pay close attention to educational material designed for the family members of individuals with borderline personality disorder. There are many resources available. One popular resource is The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder: New Tools and Techniques to Stop Walking on Egg Shells by Randi Kreger. You may also want to try the Family Connections program.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. I wish you the best of luck. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 Mar 2011

APA Reference
Randle, K. (2011). Mom May Be Borderline But Refuses Help. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/03/10/mom-may-be-borderline-but-refuses-help/