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Setting Boundaries with a Parent with Borderline Personality Disorder

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Boundaries BPD parentAs a child of parent with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), you were probably parentified. The roles of child and parent were reversed — you gave up your own desire for comfort, attention, and guidance to accommodate your parent’s emotional needs. This role continues with your parent with BPD, as well as in your other relationships. You become a caregiver for everyone, excluding yourself.

Thus, it is very important that you create boundaries so you are not tangled up in your parent’s emotions and don’t lose sight of which emotions belong to you and which your parent projects.

“It is important for an adult child of a parent with Borderline Personality Disorder to set clear boundaries because boundaries with those with BPD are often blurred and may affect the adult child’s own attempt at individuation and independence,” said Dr. Carla Sharp, associate professor in clinical psychology and director of the Developmental Psychopathology Lab at the University of Houston. “It is important for parents to ‘let children go.’ This may be hard for individuals with BPD who struggle with fears of abandonment, emptiness, and aloneness. In some cases, parents with BPD may hold on too much and not allow their adult children to individuate and separate.”

Setting Clear Boundaries

When you begin to make boundaries with a parent with Borderline Personality Disorder, more than likely you will be met with resistance. After all, your parent is not used to you telling them what you want or do not want. You need to be firm, make consistent boundaries, and not back down, even in the face of anger or guilt.

Setting clear personal boundaries is the key to making certain relationships are mutually respectful, supportive, and caring. Think of boundaries as lines you draw to defend your values. They are not walls that shut people out, but rather limits that keep the unwanted behaviors of others from entering your space. Without good boundaries, you are allowing other people to get away with anything they want.

Types of Boundaries

There are two types of boundaries to set with your parent with Borderline Personality Disorder — emotional and physical:

  • Emotional boundaries help protect you from hurt and verbal harm. Examples are your beliefs, feelings, choices, interests, relationships, and responsibilities.
  • Physical boundaries define who can touch you, or how close physically they can approach. Examples include your safety and physical space.

Your boundaries may change as things change in your life. Redefining your boundaries may mean exchanging one belief for the other, such as changing “I want to please others” to “I value my time and want to keep some for myself.”

Respecting Boundaries of Others

In addition to enforcing your own boundaries, you need to recognize and respect the boundaries of others. Everyone has the right to express their needs and preferences, but nobody has the right to hurt others in the process. For example, it is OK for you to tell your parent they need to respect your space when they violate it, but it is not OK to be verbally abusive to them.

Setting and enforcing boundaries with a parent with Borderline Personality Disorder is not always easy. However, the payoff is great, because when you make healthy boundaries it strengthens your self-esteem and your relationships. You build confidence by knowing your decisions are right and are consistent with your personal values.

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