Maria asks: “My question is not specific to dating, but it relates to emotional abuse, so I thought you could help. I have finally come to realize (I’m 49) that my mother is probably BPD. She will fly into a rage for no reason, then 10 minutes later it’s like it never happened and you’re not allowed to be upset about it. My dad is afraid of her, she bitches at him constantly, and she generally makes everyone around her miserable. She has never been “motherly”, and I’m sad to have missed that.
So here’s my question. Is it ok to have a do-over, even if I have to pay for it? I found a service where you basically pay for a substitute mom to call you. My impression is that the same mom calls every time, and you develop a relationship with a nice, supportive mom.
Is this too weird? Or should I try it? Thanks!”
Liz says: First, let me say that my heart goes out to you. Whether or not your mom has diagnosable Borderline Personality Disorder, her behavior has clearly left lasting effects on you.
People with BPD suffer severely low self-esteem and self-worth, and lash out at others when they feel especially inadequate. They need constant approval and affirmation, and the emotional instability is difficult on everyone around them, let alone the children who depend on them for security and love. The irony is people with BPD also suffer deep fears of abandonment, which their behavior can often cause. Self-fulfilling prophecy.
I once had a boyfriend who’s sister had been diagnosed with BPD. I spent only one evening with her, when I met his extended family at a get-together. My boyfriend and I played a board game with her and her boyfriend. We played in teams, and toward the end of the game it became apparent that my boyfriend and I were winning. We were having fun though, or so I thought. Out of nowhere his sister screeched angrily at us and threw her pen across the table at us, startling all of us silent. We sat there, astonished, because her outburst really was completely out of nowhere. Nothing had happened that would have warned you that she was angry. The craziest part for me, was that after getting over the initial shock, no one reacted at all. My boyfriend, her boyfriend, his parents, no one. It would’ve been perfectly reasonable to ask her “What the hell was that about?!” It would’ve been perfectly reasonable to quit playing the game, but everyone ignored it, and pretended it didn’t happen. The festive mood had soured, but that’s about it. I was floored at the time, but after studying BPD, I understood. They had all spent years developing coping mechanisms for her behavior, and had probably learned that saying anything just fanned her flames. So they quietly took her abuse. And her outburst may have been because my boyfriend and I winning made her feel dumb, especially in front of her new man.
You don’t say if you or your father have ever tried to get her help. If she did, maybe you could both be on your way to repairing your relationships. Even if she never gets help, you certainly can. There are many qualified professionals who work with adult children of parents with emotional and mental disorders, to help mend the scars lingering from years of abuse.
I’ve never heard of the “Substitute Mom” service you mentioned, and when I tried to search for it online I only came across services for helping single, overwhelmed moms with their young children, like with shopping or daycare. Anyway, it doesn’t sound like something I’d recommend. Instead, find a therapist you like who can help you heal your wounds, while offering support, guidance, and perspective. And surround yourself with loving friends and relatives.
Good luck and best wishes!
PS: Sometimes people mistakenly shorten Bipolar Disorder to BPD, but in the medical community BPD is Borderline Personality Disorder. Based on the signs you listed (and didn’t list) I figured you were using BPD accurately for Borderline Personality Disorder.