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Signs of a BPD Mother: How to Cope

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BPD MotherIf your mother has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), it is almost a given that you’ve had a difficult relationship with her at times. A BPD mom can behave in any number of ways, ranging from neglect to over-involvement.

Even if your mother hasn’t received an official BPD diagnosis, there are some signs to keep an eye out for. Let’s take a look at some of the many ways BPD often manifests itself in parenting.

  • Neglect:  People with Borderline Personality Disorder can be so absorbed in their own pain that they are incapable of putting even their own children’s needs before their own.
  • Over-control: It is quite common for parents with Borderline Personality Disorder to attempt to control their children’s behaviors, feelings, and actions to a degree that inhibits their child’s ability to develop independently.
  • Rage: Parents with BPD can have reactions that are wholly disproportionate to the perceived infraction. Occurrences of prolonged rages and angry outbursts are common.
  • Criticism: Mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder often hurl put-downs and insults at their children. As children are often seen by their BPD mothers as merely extensions of themselves, this may reflect feelings the parent has about themselves and represent a form of projection.
  • Blame: A child of a BPD mother may be made to feel that they are to blame for their mother’s sadness or anger. People with BPD have trouble taking responsibility for their own feelings.
  • Enmeshment: People struggling with Borderline Personality Disorder have a deep fear of abandonment. Sometimes a BPD mother may develop a relationship with her child that is stifling to the child’s attempts to become an individual. She may look to this child for comfort and validation rather than the other way around.
  • Parental alienation: A mother with BPD may not be able to tolerate a loving relationship between her kids and their father. She may feel that this love threatens her own relationship with their children. Sadly, it is not uncommon for these mothers to speak poorly about the other parent in an attempt to turn their children against them.

Learning to Cope with a BPD Mother

Children who are raised by mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder can develop any number of emotional problems themselves. They face great hurdles in overcoming their dysfunctional upbringings and may need to seek professional help to work through their feelings.


Are you or a loved one struggling with emotions that feel out of control? Have you been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)? No matter what type of treatment you need, Clearview Women’s Center can help. With residential, day, and outpatient programs, Clearview is proud to be one of the only treatment centers committed to helping women suffering from the symptoms of BPD, emotional dysregulation, and other acute psychiatric disorders.

Clearview’s experienced intake counselors will help determine which treatment options is best for you. A team of experts will put together an individualized treatment plan focused on your specific needs. Call (866) 756-8819 now or complete the form below to get started on your path to recovery.


If you are one of these children, you may be struggling with low self-esteem, anger, or depression. Recognizing that you are not to blame for your mother’s behavior will be a necessary first step toward healing some of your wounds.

Talking to others will help. Find friends, relatives, support groups, or a therapist who can lend an understanding ear and lend moral support. There are websites with forums for people who have a loved one with BPD. Venting in a “safe” place and learning from others’ stories will let you release some of the pain and validate your feelings. Books such as “Understanding the Borderline Mother,” by Christine Ann Lawson, Ph.D., can also be helpful.

Educate yourself about ways to change the dynamic in your relationship with your mother. Learn to set boundaries and overcome feelings of guilt and obligation. It is possible to move past a painful home life and form a healthier relationship with your mother.

19 Comments

  1. BPD does have profound effects on relationships. It’s good to see specific relational challenges cited, and of course inclusion of coping strategies. Thank you for this post.

  2. Pingback: Understanding the Borderline Mother | Borderline Personality Treatment

  3. Pingback: Mothers with BPD Symptoms: Effect on Childhood Development | Borderline Personality Treatment

  4. I wish all these websites wouldn’t gear BPD specifically to mothers. For me it was my father. Either way the information still applies but it’s just a little pet peeve.

  5. EM…wish we could talk. My Dad is BPD and I am just coming to this realization. Dealing with his hair trigger anger…I’m at the point where I just shut down around him…I do my best not to engage, reply, share any point of view. But I feel like he will keep picking, trying to defeat my coping mechanisms. They are real pains in the arses….

    My dad needs some TLC since he had a knee replacement, but the last time I put my lips to his forehead to kiss him goodbye, I felt nothing. He is not a pleasure to spend time with.

  6. All of the books and resources I’ve found are for adults who have been damaged by their BPD parent and need help healing. I’m looking for a book geared towards children who are currently dealing with a BPD parent and how to help them get through it without becoming damaged.

  7. KATHY Yebba

    Wow, when my son sent this to me and I read it I felt I was writing a letter about myself. I never had self-confidence, I never felt loved. I wanted everything my way. I could go on …

  8. It’s only now at 35 that I realized my father might have BPD, and so do one of my brothers and two of my sisters. I always knew my siblings and father are angry people, but didn’t really understand why. Criticisms, put downs, rage, invalidation were all I can remember from my childhood, and I thought it was normal. My father can just come home from somewhere and meet me with anger if he isn’t in a good mood.

    I remember myself always ready to run to the back door if I heard someone coming in cos I might get attacked, depending on his mood. I did hide inside a closet hearing my brother come in, too. He can easily rage on me without any reason. Fear and pain was mostly my dominant emotion as a child, and shame too. My brother used to behave in a way that can bring me so much humiliation in public. When I hear anyone telling stories about what he did, I always wished I’d disappear right then. Shame was more than I could bear back then.

    At the present, the dysfunction is very visible between us siblings. But luckily I was able to overcome anxiety, depression, and anger. I’m so much better and happy now. Thinking about totally and officially divorcing my siblings.

  9. I do my best to avoid my mother. She’s 69 year old today and I have dealt with her for 45 years now. From watching her point a gun to her head, through two divorces, and to the frequent stay in hospitals, I have had enough. I’m a diagnosed sociopath and without doubt it’s her fault. Amazingly she’s always been there for me. Sometimes having a monster is better than not, well maybe not. The only parent I had growing up. The price tag of her giving isn’t worth it.

  10. I agree with Jon and Jane. Why pay and pay and pay and end up feeling robbed and worthless? My mother is a witch and a waif, always pretending to be a victim when my father and others are around, and then turning into an evil witch when just the two of us are present. She didn’t bother to show up at my wedding, but now she’s making all the arrangements and even paying for my brother’s wedding. Well, my father is paying as she would have nothing without him. She says that I’m the expensive one, but then she also said that I was never planned or wanted in the first place. When I was little she’d criticize the way I cleaned the house or whatever she made me do, even punch me in the face and then go into victim mode, feeling bad about how I constantly triggered her to lose her temper. Very costly indeed.

    My brother and I have never had a healthy relationship and we barely talk. At least she did tell my wife behind my back, “What will you do when my son cheats on you?”

    When confronted, she always says that it’s all in my head or that she never said such a thing or can’t remember etc, and then she continues to turn family members against me. My dad takes her side and my brother is just like her. Needless to say, at 39 years old I’ve tried everything. I haven’t spoken to her in seven months now, and I don’t think I ever will. I’m done with them, and I’m not going to fall for the waif-bait or excuse any of their behaviors anymore. She’s a former family therapist and a marriage counselor. She knows exactly what she’s doing. My father allows it to continue, and my brother benefits from the whole thing.

    The only thing I’m missing from this article is a more clear-cut approach on how to cope with this kind of abandonment. The best book I’ve read about coping strategies is Susan Anderson’s Taming Your Outer Child.

    I know the abuse is a way for the mother to abandon the child over and over again, oftentimes as a coping mechanism for her own abandonment issues. But I am reacting to a problem and not causing it, although they see it as me shutting them out and being disrespectful and ungrateful etc. I trust myself now. I know what’s real. But it’s still very hard to accept that your mother deep down doesn’t care one bit about you and wouldn’t mind it if you killed yourself. The bigger the problem and the weaker you are, the greater the pleasure for her. And the more vicious the attacks.

    My new family – my wife and my in-laws – are loving and supportive people. And my wife and I now live 10,000 miles away from the borderlines. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The farther away from them I am, the better I feel.

    My best wishes to you all, and thanks for sharing.

  11. Oz, I read your comment and it could be my exact story…My mother is forever accusing me of things that never happened, tells family how awful I am, my sister doesn’t speak to me (I think she also has BPD), my dad takes my mother’s side, tells me I should just apologize and make her happy and that will fix everything. It’s destroying any good relationship I have with my dad, but I realize that’s on him, not me. My mother’s behavior has gotten so bad that only one sister speaks to her, her other siblings stay away because they are tired of the abuse.

    I hate what it’s done to our family. My dad knows she has a problem but thinks giving in to her is the way to fix it. She needs real help and won’t get it. It’s never her fault – we are just so mean to her.

    I’ve decided that we will no longer go home for holidays, it’s too stressful. My mother flat out told me that I am not welcome in her house, anyway. It’s still incredibly hurtful that you know you can’t go home because your mother doesn’t want you there. I wish someone could tell me some good ways to cope this time of year when there’s so many unrealistic expectations for families.

  12. I’ve been struggling with drug abuse problems since I was a pre-teen. Her behavior is so bad and twisted and sick, now as I confront sobriety I realize I need to stop escaping from the pain of this. She has told me that my pain means nothing, my knowledge means nothing, that boys only hang around me because I “put out”. She has called me naive, and when my partner tried to rebuke this to her, providing evidence, she simply told him that he doesn’t know her like she knows me. When I try to tell her my feelings about anything, may it be life, philosophy, or love; she tells me I know nothing. Or she will very sternly say the word “No.”. She and my father got a divorce and she continues to bad mouth him to my sister and I. And most frustrating of all, when confronted with any of the things she has said or done in the past, her angry outbreaks, her drinking during family events, her refusal to be the nurturing mother I wish she was, she either denies or says it was my fault. She especially likes to list the things I have done as a young adult that she sees as mistakes to put me down like the story of how I lost my virginity… These people have no bounds. Everything you say that disagrees with them or breaks their sense of control starts a war, and they do not fight fair. Her fear of rejection makes her invent things that are happening in my day to day life, she puts words in my mouth, thus starting fights because she refuses to see things clearly. A normal conversation about being late becomes “You told me you would be here.” and “if you don’t want to come, then don’t”. I’m done playing mind games with this woman. And this begins the roundabout battle between Who actually started this fight here? She denies and denies, says it was all me. Living with a parent with this illness you believe every bit of it until a breakthrough occurs as an adult. It is impossible to have a positive self esteem while living under her roof, and my fear of abandonment and criticism has come a long way since living on my own. You never know how deep the seeds of abuse root until you painfully face it, over and over again. My partner told me in the car the other night that he is sorry that she puts me down like that. “But that is my mother”, I responded, and yes, people with BPD parents are most hurt because out of anybody in this world that would ever put us down in such visceral ways, it is our birth mother. To us it is the ultimate heartbreak. The ultimate rejection that I am still trying to medicate, but since realizing the cause of my pain – my fear, my low self esteem where others commend me for my artistic ability, otherwise the only thing I have going for me when my mother is not belittling my art and trying to take it from me, I am trying to grow. I am trying to have healthy relationships and possibly even friendships some day. For all of us it is a journey and a struggle to succeed in something that should be second nature, but is not. Thank you for reading.

  13. I feel so much better reading the comments knowing I’m not the only one. These mothers are the worst because they deny everything they say and do making you out to be crazy or a liar. I grew up being physically abused by my father who probably has borderline too, and is definitely sociopathic, he would just turn on you in a blink of an eye in pure violent rage over nothing, and my mother would just allow it, so long as it’s not geared towards her. One day my father violently best me up to the point I thought I was nearly dead he punched me until I could not breath and threw me from one end of the room to the other no one witnessed it which is probably why it was so bad, he repeatedly called me a dirty little scut and only stopped when he was tired and got all his pent up aggression out. I was 12. And the reason why he beat me was because I didn’t go to church when I was supposed to, but of course it was never about that, bullies don’t need an excuse. To me my father was a psychopath my mother was more borderline. I was always told not to tell my mother every time my father lost his temper, but the one time I told her and went to her for help because I was left with a black eye and I didn’t know what I would say in school and she kept on questioning my eye so I told her, well her reaction was the ultimate betrayal, she said she’d speak to him and so she did to come back and tell me in this cold and dismissive aggressive voice that it was my fault that I had “provoked him”. My father had told me he was sorry that he lost control but he was never sorry it was always my fault, she in my opinion is kinda worse because she let him do that and defended his actions. She later denyed that she ever said that and claimed not to know much, selective amnesia. That’s what I hate most about her behaviour is she would say the nastiest things ever then if you ever think to bring it up later she denies that ever happened. They are crazy makers. She makes out she’s the best mother in the world and treated my sister so different to me to say she turned out well and has no complaint so it must be just you. I think borderlines hate the child who is the most honest and who highlights the dysfuntionality of the sick family. My mother hated the fact that I could blow the whistle on my family abuse anytime so she demonised me. She would even put me down to teachers at school to have them against me too. Never not once did she show any empathy real love care or compassion as she wasn’t capable of it. Borderlines are great actors and are literally two different people. In front of extended family she’s the devoted mother who plays the martyr and victim but when it’s just me and her she tells me I’m worthless selfish that I’m a bitch and she’s glad I don’t have children as she says I don’t deserve them, if that’s not projection I don’t know what is. I’ve suffered a lot of depression and there have been times where her words would really stick in my head and make me feel like I was worthless and no one would ever know how mean and cruel she really was. So many times I just wanted an apology but she just pretend like she never said anything or blame me. I noticed my mother has never ever had to take responsibility for her behaviour or her actions. My father and her are like a two team, whatever he does she excuses and blames the victim of his cruelty as being a bitch. She will go crazy at the thought of ever being exposed. And my father no matter what she would say or do would say that “she doesn’t mean it” and I should just be nice to my mother. Never once did he say that she shouldn’t say such cruel things. What these type of parents do is condition you to except disrespect and cruelty from others and you learn to not own your true feelings because your brainwashed to believe your feelings do not matter. Psychiatrists don’t fully understand borderlines they even call it a mental illness and believe it’s hereditary it’s not an illness or a disease it’s a learned behaviour. My mother was an emotionally immature child when she didn’t get her own way she would behave like a toddler throwing her toys out of her cot. She had the same mentality as a toddler if you didn’t do what she wanted and you didn’t do what your told even when your an adult she would say she hated you and you were the worst person in the world that’s what toddlers do! Borderlines are crazy makers the older they get the worse they get and more in denial about their actions. The best thing you can do is remove your self from them completely because whenever you let your guard down and excuse their behaviour you r letting down your self and they strike again just when you think everything is fine. As children we been conditioned to put our parents emotional needs first and we loved unconditionally no matter what they did to us we were like loyal dogs who always stayed close to our masters, but there comes a time when we need to wake up and face reality these people never loved us unconditionally, they had us to fulfill a need inside them or to gain status as a mother or father, as soon as we showed any individual autonomy they went mad, how dare we have our own minds, we are mere property to them. They tend to idealise one child though who is the golden child and who’ll they will tell everyone is “the good boy or girl” they often do it in front of the scapegoat to show how they think highly of that child in comparison. They play cruel immature mind games all to massage their ego, they also thrive on drama and know how to push their childrens buttons and get to them. I really wish people were vetted before having children. If you were the scapegoat know that you were prob the one they felt threatened most by or the baby that they just didn’t bond with and so they became angry and developed an irrational and crazy hate because they hate to feel rejected. I only discovered this borderline had an actual label recently and since I’ve really woken up to how crazy and insane both my parents were and it’s no wonder I was depressed and felt so down. If you grow up in such a crazy hostile and mentally draining environment with an aggressive mother who constantly shouts at you and puts you down or if you grow up with a father who has sporadic fits of rage and you are meant to believe “it’s your fault” I think that is my mothers favourite line… Then you will suffer with major post traumatic stress syndrome. If you can see any of the negative traits you inherited from them don’t worry as long as you recognise them you can change them. My mother will NEVER change as according to her she’s the perfect mother and she’s managed to do enough self publicity to convince others she is a saint so she’s deluded and in total denial and she will never take accountability for ANYTHING as it’s much better to blame others. But the fact that we are aware means we can try never ever to be like the spiritually sick unbalanced nut jobs who we were born into. I’m going to keep in reminding myself she’s never going to change. My father I’d never ever forgive but my mother I always make excuses for because she always looks so innocent and we have all been brainwashed to love our mothers unconditionally it’s a shame that love doesn’t run both ways. Accepting the reality that your own mother never cared for your feelings or wanted to protect you gives us major cognitive dissonance but the only road to sanity is to love ourselves enough to let them go and start living a life without ppl who only will bring us pain and misery.

  14. These past days I’ve finally realised a lot of things that happened to me were not my fault. Today I found this page and while I’m glad I have answers to all the questions I kept asking myself, it feels weird to know I’m the child of a mentally ill person. It is the first time my thinking progress is not influenced by my mother. I’m embarrassed to realise how dominated I was, but I’m glad that I know now. I am my own person and it is a great feeling. I wish strength to everybody here, I really believe what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger (if you try to live consciously)

  15. How would you talk to a pre-teen child about his/her mother (BPD) problem? Would you focus on the disorder, the diagnosis, or just explain how does she function?

  16. It has been so helpful for me to read all of your comments today. Today is my birthday, I’m 58 years and I’m now the sole caregiver of affairs for my 85 year old mother and her affairs. I don’t enjoy it, but am arranging to remotely engage in her care through the new care provider who will be coming in part time during the day and also begin work with her to balance depression and keep the senior mind active. It’s early days yet so I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to extract myself from communicating with my mother and work solely through the careprovider. It is no picnic with a parent who is severely impaired with mental illness: bpd, bipolar, splitting, grief and slight dementia. It has impacted me since the age of five or six, on through the years. My younger brother and her had a highly emotionally incestuous relationship. I saw it then, and know why he became a reflection of my mother’s inability to cope in life, and the reason why we were unable to cope in our adult relationship, once I was no longer home and looking after him and my unstable mother. My older brother is eight years older than I and came to the reality sooner that he wanted distance between my mother and his family. They live about four hours drive away from my mother, I live across the bay from her. He tried to be there and in his own way, to support me when I am in a gruesome situation and challenged in helping our mother. I think he’s waiting for the day that she’ll be gone and it will be just he and I. She continually triangulates with her daughter in law, even to this day I hear things that come from her mouth, in a side winding way, just to hurt me and fulfill a sick void. She’s all about striking out and fighting and openly admits it. I know that I have also picked up some of those tendencies and have acted out in my own relationships. The best thing I can do now is to work on myself. I don’t believe that my mother will ever become aware or change at this stage of life. I feel used and discarded when I’m around her. She is Jekyll and Hyde, and I have to say it takes a lot of compassion, for me to look into her eyes these days and see through the behavior and want to help this aging individual, who has never been able to function in society without violence, shame and fear ruling her actions. I see her sickness has manifested in her resting facial expression. Not a pleasant sight to behold. I’ve heard her childhood traumas and meltdowns from unresolved abuse since I could be old enough to be taken by the shoulders and shaken into submission for crying. I won’t allow her to emotionally dump on me so usually say, “that sounds like something that you should be talking about with your counselor” I doubt that her 85-year-old self is talking to a 45-year-old about her unresolved issues from war and parental neglect. Ive had harsh exchanges over the years filled with resentment and hurt. I have been in recovery off and on for 25 years, more recently in adult child of dysfunction group recovery. It’s helpful to read all the comments in this thread. I’ve excepted that I never had real modeling or parenting. I stopped believing that one day my mother will somehow show up to meet me at least part way. I am getting stronger, learning my own self partnering, meditation, and writing help, learning to say no without feeling ashamed or guilty about standing up for myself worth and important boundaries. Sometimes I slip up, but at least I know now it’s temporary and not the end of the world. It’s a long slow road and the strange place I’m in is ok, just a new perspective. It’s one day at a time being careful of emotional vampires. I’m not alone, and if I could, I would give you all a big, long hug.

  17. Victoria Jolina

    I’m such an IDIOT ! I never googled but went to a library and even got myself admitted into a psych facillity because of my ” mother ” , I knew already from age 12 thus all this info and that she was a bpd , I read psychology as a child too untill still today as an addiction or so but I told it to my dad and thats the day they fought and I was send away to a psych ward , not it makes sense , why didnt I just google ???????!

  18. Lady Jay

    For years I wondered why my mother would try to leave me in a department store in the mall and when I had the cashier call her on the loud speaker, she came back, but she said she had it in her mind to leave me there and get in her car and drive home. In my teenage years, I went through a traumatic experience and I received very little to no support and I never understood why the hate towards me or the perceived hate towards me increased after I fell in love and moved out to be with the man that I am now married to, and have beautiful children with. Due to me leaving home, she turned everyone against me and her behavior towards me would alternate between love, and hatred and I never understood why until I thought about a letter she sent me recently telling me that the same thing that happened to me, she didn’t say it directly that SHE went through it, but she said others in the family have gone through it, and I put two and two together last night because a good friend of mine is going through some stuff with his significant other and her behaviors are all signs of stuff that happened in her past as well. Anyway, after realizing that it’s not that my mom hates me, it’s just that she is sick, it’s not her fault. But at the same time, I don’t think I am strong enough to endure the abuse anymore at the age of 35. Her condition is untreated.

  19. Elizabeth

    What is not mentioned is that borderline mothers were coming from an abusive dysfunctional background themselves. My mother was an alcohol dependent single mother prone to sudden rages and I was definitely scared of her. In later life I looked after her and provided her with accommmodation but was conflicted about it. However when she died I really regretted not looking after her more and being more sensitive to the problems of aging.

    Lately i have been physically sick and noticed that I am now more prone to temper outbursts (yep I threw something once) and somewhat borderline behaviour (Threatening to go away in response to my husband’s bullying- once I did actually sleep in the car) although usually at my controlling bullying husband, certainly not my daughter. I know i should try and not react to him with my daughter present but it is very difficult. This is a man who calls me a lazy slug (joke right), controls our shopping, shouts at me if I buy the wrong brand of something and plays mind games such as messing up drawers or cupboards that I have just tidied, something which he recently admitted.

    However my young daughter has now began to act out, blame me for everything and hit me. No doubt she will blame me for any problems later. I am not sure what to do, but I feel that just advising people to have nothing to do with their borderline mother is not an answer and will continue to propagate the cycle for future generations. the issues are far more complex.

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