Matthew 10:35

I’m dealing with a mother who has a mental illness. How does this tie into a year without sex? The self-awareness I have gained by living a celibate life over the past fifteen months has provided me the courage to set personal boundaries. I always suspected my mother was sick – she was oftentimes cruel and seemed concerned only with her own needs rather than those of her children. Any disagreement on our part resulted in terrible consequences ranging from the silent treatment to threats that she would leave, to accusations that I had driven her to attempt suicide, to disowning (which was conveniently forgotten once she decided to re-establish contact).

Any attempt to describe my situation to others was met with misunderstanding and disbelief. Most people have normal mothers and can’t imagine the above behaviour, so they either minimize it or literally believe you must be exaggerating. “But that’s your mother” they would say as if that meant she had carte blanche to treat me as she pleased. My trouble setting boundaries started with my mother because I learned early on that if you don’t give people what they want you will suffer severely. I learned that love is conditional on you doing what other people want you to do, and that you are only lovable if you are perfect. I learned that anger is unacceptable and that my feelings are not allowed.

My mother asked me to read the manuscript for a novel she had written. I had neither the time nor the inclination to undertake such a task but if you’ve been reading you’ll understand why I didn’t say no. When I opened the document I discovered my mother had written herself as the central character of the story: it was an autobiography with the names changed, rather than a novel as she had described. I did not feel equipped emotionally to read my mother’s autobiography and suspected much drama would be held therein. I closed the document and planned my next move.

What could I tell her that would not incite her rage? Here again is where my needs move to the back of the line. My emotional safety is at risk but instead I’m thinking of how to protect my mother (from me?). I thought about lying and saying I didn’t have time to read it. But I promised myself I would be honest at all times and, anyway, that response would only delay the inevitable. I decided to tell the truth and let the hand grenades fall where they may. I wrote back saying that I opened the document and it appears to be her autobiography. I explained that I wasn’t prepared to read her life story at this time and wondered if she would mind getting someone else to read it. That’s it, almost verbatim. I was shaking when I sent the email and could think of nothing but the vitrolic response that was sure to come back. My mother had turned family members against me in the past, had sabotaged me at work and humiliated me in front of my friends. And that was when I was doing exactly what I was told. Now, here I was saying no to a request. What would become of me?

The next morning the email arrived from my mother with a simple “Thank you.” You might think relief would be my emotion, but I know my mother would never let me off that easily. Dread became my new state of mind as I waited to see what punishment she had concocted specially for me.

I am the author of another blog which has become quite popular with about 500 views per day and a loyal following of readers. Once in a while I post an uplifting message on the blog to give my readers some inspiration and that day the quote I used incorporated the word “God” but mainly it was about gratitude. My readers are respectful and even when they disagree they do so in a highly civilized manner. When I checked the comments section that morning, however, a reader had left an exceptionally hurtful comment about the post: “Found the religious statement to be somewhat ‘in your face,’preachy, even borderline fanatical…could possibly lose the blogger readership.” And then I looked at the name and saw it was my mother.

I won’t go into the range of emotions I felt for the next two days but I will say that the comment represented a turning point for me: the proverbial straw. I consulted with a mental health professional who suggested my mother is suffering from borderline personality disorder. When I investigated the symptoms and read testimonials from adult children of parents with the disorder, I knew I had finally discovered what was wrong with my mother. Of the 9 symptoms of the disorder, a person is diagnosed with BPD if she shows 5 of these. My mother shows 8 and possibly even nine (the ninth is about disassociation which is a type of emotional blackout that occurs during periods of high stress. My mother has always “forgotten” things she has said and done and I believed her to be lying or questioned my own memory of the incident.)

I know I have a battle ahead of me, mainly because I want to continue having a relationship with my mother in a way that is least hurtful to both of us. I understand she is not in control of her behaviour and that if she were she would not choose to hurt me or others close to her. I write this because my mother’s BPD has caused me a lost childhood, post-traumatic stress, and eroded self-esteem. One book I read described the child of the borderline parent as “trying to keep her head above water and having her parent throw her a boulder.” If this is your experience and you see your parent’s behaviour mirrored in the symptoms below, please contact me so we can provide mutual support. I am quite anxious about what lies ahead and want to do the right thing:

A person with BPD will often exhibit impulsive behaviors and have a majority of the following symptoms:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation
  • Identity disturbance, such as a significant and persistent unstable self-image or sense of self
  • Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving,binge eating)
  • Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior
  • Emotional instability due to significant reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days)
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
  • Transient, stress-related paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms
Published in: on November 3, 2011 at 1:27 am  Leave a Comment  

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