Parents and Adult Children React to My Descriptions of Borderline Family Dynamics

Parents and Adult Children React to My Descriptions of Borderline Family DynamicsIn my post about the family dynamics of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I describe the role of the spoiler. A child or adult child of a family that exhibits the family patterns described in my posts on this subject begins to behave in ways which turns things around. The child invalidates the parents' efforts to "help" or "take care of them" in nasty ways. He or she essentially responds to invalidation by making comments that invalidate the parent right back. The reason the children do this is because they believe the parents need a child to be a target for their anger, and volunteer for the gig. They give the parents just cause by behaving in unreasonable and infuriating ways.When it comes to the people who make comments on my posts on this and similar subjects, it always fascinates me how parents usually think I am putting all the blame on them for the family problems, while the adult children with the disorder react to the exact same post by thinking I am putting all the blame on them! Family systems therapists used the term punctuation to describe these types of reactions. People take something that is an ongoing problem created by continual reactions to feedback from one another, and look at just one isolated segment of it - thereby breaking up a process artificially into misleading cause and effect relationships. They then react accordingly.Of course, there are readers who do see the whole of the patterns in their lives but still do not know how to put a stop to them. In many cases the problems continue in spite of honest declarations of personal responsibility and even apologies -because there continue to be underlying issues that remain unrecognized.I have reproduced two comments and my replies which illustrate these phenomena quite well. The first comment doubles as a description of spoiling behavior which illustrates it far better than I ever have.The Blame GameSubmitted by A Mother of a Possibly BPD Child on November 6, 2016 - 11:39amRegarding blaming the parents for "invalidating" feelings: I think it's a dangerous idea that all feelings are valid. Does anyone truly believe this?When you are dealing with someone whose thinking is so distorted that they misperceive all your motives and react to your natural withdrawal as abandonment after they have been screaming abuse at you for an hour, you will just distort your own thoughts if you try to get into their head. If I say to my daughter "When you told me X it hurt my feelings," she often perceives that as an attack and starts to mock me: "Oh did that hurt your feelings? POOR YOU!" This can often escalate, and soon she is telling me what a horrible parent I am. That she is in so much pain that she'd lash out at me like this (again) does *not* mean I was abusive to her. She did not learn how to talk that way from us. We would never say something like that, even though she tells other people that's how we talk to her, and she probably believes we do. We did not cause that pain. Her mind did.And this is the crux of the matter: just because someone perceives something as hurtful does not necessarily mean it's time to blame someone for hurting them. If someone trips and falls on you, and you scream, and they get mad at you for hurting their ears and making them feel ashamed with your tears of pain, should you feel sorry for them, since they honestly feel hurt by what you did? Should you feel mortified at yourself for inflicting such a nasty guilt trip on them with your tears? Some feelings *are* invalid! We invalidate our own feelings all the time. We *have to* if we don't want to be complete narcissists. A non-BPD person might feel a flash of anger at the ear-pain, but they would quell it, and then feel sorry they fell on you, sorry they hurt you accidentally. And if the screamer is non-BPD, they will probably be furious for a second at being fallen on, but then accept the apology and understand that it was an accident, perhaps even apologize for the loud sound they made - and everything will be fine afterward.But if it isn't like this, the non-BPD screamer might reflect that they shouldn't have screamed and they certainly shouldn't have cried, since that just escalated things with the BPD person. But they were just behaving the way they would to anyone who fell on them. The reason they might think they shouldn't have screamed though, was because it made things into a conflict they didn't want, and they knew they could have avoided it.This is CRAZY-MAKING.And here's something else that's important: if (in the scenario with the falling person being BPD) the screamer pretends nothing bad happened afterward and tries to be loving again as if the falling person had been apologetic and understanding, are they *enabling* this bad behavior? Spoiling a tantrum-thrower? And if the falling person is the screamer's child, is the screamer not providing a terrible role model for the child? Should the *child* learn to tolerate this kind of behavior in other people? Should they not stand up for themselves and have high standards for their own behavior and that of other people?Parents want to teach natural consequences, encourage empathy, and model the way one should behave in certain situations. BPD totally warps this. You start to think it's impossible to teach anything useful. You start to think that *ANY* response you have is doing irreparable harm to the BPD person. Walking on eggs to reduce conflict, or refusing to tolerate bad behavior - it's all bad. So what would be *good* for a BPD person? How would we recognize it?As parents, we are not mind-readers. However we respond to behavior, it should teach something (how to respond, how not to respond, natural consequences, etc.) If the behavior is terrible and entirely lacking in empathy and remorse (just self-loathing, which doesn't do a darned thing to enact change), and if normal parenting only makes it worse, that cannot be - and is not - our fault for not knowing what would set the kid off this time. Of course we guess, of course we suspect - but we don't *know*. If we knew, we would necessarily be mentally ill too!If we as parents caused this escalation by "invalidating" some feelings that originated in a distorted version of reality, or if we offended the child by refusing to be her punching-bag, that means LIFE itself would have provoked the same outburst. We just happen to be here trying to get her to have some self-knowledge and resilience. We are trying to help her learn how to deal with the real world. The real world will never be as careful as we are trying to be. The real world will never ask itself "Should I try not to take this personally, since she's clearly in so much pain she doesn't know what she's saying, or should I just react the way I normally react, since those are the natural consequences??"The real world will react to BEHAVIOR. Often wrongly, often nonsensically, often (sad to say) maliciously. We are supposed to prepare kids for this! And as parents, we are supposed to train our kids to control their behavior and take responsibility for their actions. But what if, despite our best efforts, they don't learn this?Many of the families that seem to shun someone who stops behaving so abusively were probably put through hell and just can't take any more. It's like they were holding up the car out of sheer adrenaline, and now the car is gone, they are burned out and need a break. Castigating them for shunning the person is asking way too much of them. Those were the natural consequences. Natural consequences usually teach non-BPD people how to control themselves and take responsibility for their actions. But what works with BPD people?Parents of BPD kids need support and skills, not blame. They need tools to cope with a situation that is literally crazy - and quite possibly crazy-making.·reportblame game - my responseSubmitted by David M. Allen M.D. on November 6, 2016 - 4:21pmHi A Mother of a Possibly BPD Child,"Blaming" and finger pointing are counterproductive, but all adults - both parents and adult children alike - have to take responsibility for their part in the family dynamics if these dysfunctional patterns are ever going to stop.What you have written is a beautiful description of spoiling behavior by a child (or an adult child) with borderline personality disorder. It is designed on purpose to invalidate YOU. The child thinks for various reasons that you need them to do that, believe it or not.For an explanation of how this seeming crazy situation may arise in families even if there is no obvious abuse, see the posts,and to Estranged ChildrenSubmitted by Ria on November 12, 2016 - 2:10pmI am so grateful for the comments of adult children on this page. It gave me insight in the feelings and minds of adult children who cut off parents. My daughter has cut me off a year ago - it happened a few times before she had children, I always reached out and tried to mend the relationship, but now the grandchildren are used as pawns. Although I am broken with the loss of my daughter as well as grand children, I have decided it is final this time. I was not the perfect mother, not even a good one. At 64, after many years of therapy, after two marriages, I understand that. I know my daughter is angry and anxious and use this cut-off defense after irrational anger outbursts - this time in front of the kids, which was the final straw for me. But you cannot cut off love and wipe out precious memories. I wonder all the time if she is happier without me in her life. Perhaps she has a better chance of growth, sorting out her own anger and pain without me. I want her to be happy and content within herself. It saddens me even more when I read of the bitterness and pain adult children express here and I cannot help to think: is there anything more I can do for her? Can I help her? Or is letting go the better option? I know no one can really answer, but let's talk about this. I know there are really evil people, but many parents were simply damaged as children. When they have children, usually when they are very young, they have no skills or boundaries or knowledge of parenting to care emotionally for their young, especially 38 years ago when information and education was not a given. The result is emotional abuse, neglect, and / or physical abuse. The horrible old cycle - how do we break it?

Communication - my response

Submitted by David M. Allen M.D. on November 12, 2016 - 2:42pmHi Ria,Of course I can't say anything about your situation in particular, but in general, of course it is best for parents to acknowledge their problematic behavior in the past, explain what they had experienced with their own parents, and apologize.However, if the parent then goes on to continue to feel too guilty and beat themselves up for their past flaws, that may backfire. The adult child may then start to think that the parent is better off without them - just as you say you wonder about your kids being better off without you - because the child sees that his or her presence makes the parent feel really bad. In response, they may continue to avoid the parent so as not to add to the parent's burden. Additional point not in my original reply: Alternatively, they may act nasty to feed the parent's guilt because they think the parent wants to be punished for various sins - or they may go back and forth between the two depending on whether the parent seems to need to be punished or then starts to feel too guilty.


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