When Your Mother is Emotionally Unstable
Family & Relationships

When Your Mother is Emotionally Unstable

Dr. Margaret Rutherford

1 week ago

We are headed into Valentines season, where we focus on love and relationships. And we don't always come away feeling warm and rosy about how we're loved, or how those around us treat each other. 

When Your Mother is Emotionally UnstableKaren wrote in about growing up in a family where one parent hated the other. This can happen with divorce obviously, but it also can occur, sadly, with an ongoing marriage. She states that she has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, (BPD) which is a serious mental condition that is "marked by a pattern of ongoing instability in moods, behavior, self-image, and functioning." People with BPD can be very impulsive, as intense emotions often govern their choices. If you had a mother who was emotionally unstable or had BPD, (BPD is more common in women, although men can suffer as well), your childhood was far from easy, and the way you learned to cope might cause problems of its own.

Karen writes:

My beloved daddy was my "strength" within a fractured family. My mother made it clear for many years she hated him. He had terminal cancer and took his own life. My security was gone and I was left with a mother and brother who delighted in verbally abusing me. Is it any wonder I have Borderline Personality Disorder? I am working on this with a very good therapist.

My brother and I were never close and I was so relieved after Mother died he disappeared, Everyone thinks I am an only child. 

Dear Karen,

There is much loss in what you write. Your dad was seriously ill, and took his life. Your mom was vicious and spewed hatred against your dad. You also suffered verbal abuse by other family members, including your mom, who perhaps had BPD herself. All of that paints a very painful picture of what your life has been. You were secure in your dad’s love, perhaps for not as long as he or you would have liked, but it sounds like a wonderful relationship. I hope that those memories and the safety you felt in his love have stayed with you, and give you comfort in the present.

You relate that you've been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which is a very difficult disorder to have, and I'm impressed that you've worked and found a therapist who knows how to help. Good for you. He or she may be using what's called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, which has been shown to be very useful in learning how to let your mind help guide and govern the dramatic mood swings, fear of abandonment, and self-loathing that can be part of BPD. If your mother also had BPD and never received treatment, then that could explain much of her volatility. Not condone it - but explain it.

It’s strange sometimes when a parent dies with whom you’ve had a bad relationship. The feelings can be very complicated. You can be angry with their treatment of you, and glad that the abuse has ended. Yet there’s no hope anymore that anything can be better, and that realization has to be grieved. You're grieving not only what was, but what will never be.

I hope you've created your own chosen family. Many times, friends can become the family that you didn't have, and those relationships can help to heal the abuse. Perhaps there are others within your father's family, who could be supportive.

Here are some references for you. I wrote a post coping with the pain of having an emotionally unstable mom When Mom Is Emotionally Unstable. 7 Ways To Heal. And there are several books on the topic, “Understanding The Borderline Mother” and "Stop Walking On EggShells" are two.  Good luck to you and your therapy.

If you've experienced abuse like Karen, I hope that you'll seek treatment and help. Thanks so much for reading, and I'll look forward to your questions and comments. Fill out the form below and I'll get back with you, and perhaps feature your question (with anonymity guaranteed) here on Vibrant Nation!

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