Empathy for people with borderline personality disorder, an all too rare find

| February 28, 2011

Though new to the field of psychology, I am already quickly learning the amount of stigma and fear associated with the word “Borderline.”

It doesn’t take long to realize that people (often women) who get assigned the label or diagnosis of “Borderline Personality Disorder” evoke strong feelings in others, even among people in the helping professions.  I have often heard psychologists, professors, social workers, and therapists make statements like, “You don’t want to have to deal with a Borderline patient” or “Borderlines are the worst.”  I admit it made me curious about what this disorder was all about and why the word “Borderline” is so loaded in this field. So I asked around and was given a book recommendation that I have found quite fascinating:  “Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship” by Christine Ann Lawson.  The book not only helps de-mystify the word “Borderline,” but it also focuses specifically on mothers with BPD and the struggles their children go through.

The book definitely sides heavily with children of BPD mothers and the struggles they go through, which is certainly important to understand and validate.  But what I find equally imperative is that this book can also be viewed as a wake up call to people in the psychology field.  Perhaps if therapists stopped dismissing and stigmatizing people with BPD, then there would be more support and help possible for people with this disorder.  People with BPD have generally experienced deep trauma or loss and they deserve empathy and help, not ridicule and blame.  They can be challenging patients to work with undoubtedly, but this is no reason to turn them away or give up hope.  Maybe if there was more support and empathy offered to mothers with BPD, then their children would struggle less as well.  Helping the mother inevitably helps the child.

“Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship” by Christine Ann Lawson is worth checking out.  We have it here at the library (Call # RC569.5.B67 L39 2000) and I definitely recommend it.  It is truly heart wrenching to read about the trauma and pain many children experience who have mothers with BPD.  In case you want to read some of the reviews on Amazon, here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Borderline-Mother-Unpredictable-Relationship/dp/0765703319.

If you do check out this book, your first instinct might be to blame the mothers, especially after hearing how cruel and seemingly heartless mothers with BPD can be at times.  And wanting to blame these mothers is a natural reaction to the book.  However, I believe that the issue is much more complex than it seems, especially when you consider the way “Borderlines” are talked about and ridiculed behind closed doors in clinics,classrooms, and training institutes.  It certainly leaves me wondering, what has been the cost to not only mothers with BPD, but to their children as well?  And why is it is so impossible for many helping professionals to empathize with people with BPD?  Sometimes I think that in the field of psychology, the Borderline Patient has become the Scapegoat for alot of pent up frustration and therapist burn out.  So my hope is that books like Christine Ann Lawson’s can serve as a much needed wake up call to all therapists, psychologists, professors, and social workers to open their hearts and minds to people who struggle with BPD.  If we could help mothers with BPD seek some relief and suffer less, they would in turn inflict less pain and hurt onto their children.

Find empathy for the mother who suffers from BPD, and you may save her child from years of trauma and pain.