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David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
"I Just Learned My Mom Has Borderline Personality Disorder"
by Dan Greenfern in Psycholopgy Today. (Post 1 of 2, titled "The Key")
March 2, 2013

How one man's discovery of his mother's disorder changed his life.

"Your mom has borderline personality disorder,” said my aunt as we sat in the restaurant waiting for our server.

The words hung around the table as my searched through my spotty memories of psychology classes in the late 90's. Borderline…where had I heard that before?

"Borderline to what? What does that mean?" I managed.

"It's a personality disorder characterized by chaotic emotional states. There's a longer list of criteria that's attached to it, but I've suspected that she's borderline for a long time."

Aside from one brother, I hadn't seen any of my family in about six months. Making the decision to go "no contact" with my mother and father was an arduous one. My mother is a very defensive and reactive person. She is also very accomplished at subtle manipulation. I really didn't know if I could trust Aunt Sara to meet with me when I called her a week ago. As far as I knew, she could be just as treacherous as my mother is.

I had sent her a carefully worded email asking whether or not meeting me would conflict with any of her "sisterly loyalties." I didn't know her very well, but I had heard she worked in the mental health field. This gave me hope that she'd at least listen to my story. She had answered back a day later saying she would meet me for lunch and not to worry about loyalties.

We met at a nearby restaurant a week after I sent the email. I had gotten there early and chose a table that offered me a good view of the front door and the parking lot. I had half expected to see my mother walk in with Aunt Sara ready to do battle. Thankfully, my aunt arrived alone.

I’m sure it was evident by the expression on my face I was in no state for small talk. Told her about the last couple of years, which had been terribly difficult. Although I had always strenuously avoided spending time with my parent since college, financial difficulties lead to me taking a job at their furniture store. Now at 31, I was back to seeing my mother every day - as my boss. It wasn't a large space and the back office was cramped. While I had chosen to forget about her craziness, it was brutally reintroduced to me over the course of the next year.

As I related the jumble of story fragments to my aunt, the granite ball in my stomach became too heavy to hide and I started breaking down. She was so kind. She gently told me it was okay, and that she believed me. She told me then that she had all but cut off contact with her sister due to her intolerable emotional toxicity. They still spoke occasionally, but only when necessary. She even shared a few stories of her own about my mother's crazy that I hadn't known, but which paralleled my own.

That’s when she said what would become the six most important words ever told to me.

"Your mom has borderline personality disorder."

Aunt Sara nodded at my confusion. “Borderline personality disorder is a very slippery idea to get your head around,” she said. She filled me in on the basics, While it was complicated, once I got the gist of what she meant, I felt something for the first time in my life: Validation. It slew me. She knew what I was talking about. She supported my decision of no contact.

The big catch-22 of BPD for some people with the disorder is that you can't tell a sufferer that they have it. They are so cemented in the belief that what they feel is true and real that getting them to believe otherwise is a fool's errand. I wasn't eager to confront my mother or see her for any reason, but the full gravity of this dichotomy wouldn't hit me until later. For now it was enough that my nightmare was, in fact, real; and it had a name.

I asked Aunt Sara if she thought I had BPD. I definitely felt crazy.

She smiled and laughed, "No, you don’t.”

"Well, if I did, would you tell me?" I asked pensively.

She laughed again and said, "The fact that you're willing to entertain that possibility knowing what you know about her tells me you're a survivor of a BPD mother, not someone with the disorder.”

I still had my doubts. But at least now I had something to look up, an idea to chase. We talked for about two hours more, trading stories and sympathizing with one another. We left as the dinner rush was ramping up; a fact not unnoticed by the poor waiter who got to serve us iced tea and hurry away. (I left him a fat tip to make up for being the awkward table that didn't order food.)

That night my girlfriend and I searched online for a few hours and ordered a few books on the subject. A week later, I picked up Understanding the Borderline Mother by Christine Ann Lawson. That book turned out to be the crowbar that pried open a whole new world of understanding that so perfectly described my childhood. What would come next was a hurricane of memories I was in no way prepared to weather.

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