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Understanding the Borderline Mother

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BPD motherThe relationship between mother and child is one universally recognized as one of the single most influential factors in a person’s physical, psychological, and emotional well-being. When a mother has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), her influence over her child can be extremely damaging on many levels.

There are several different types of Borderline Personality Disorder mothers, as explained by Christine Anne Lawson, Ph.D., in her book “Understanding the Borderline Mother.”

It is understood that those suffering with Borderline Personality Disorder generally fall into two categories: low functioning and high functioning. Low-functioning people with BPD tend to demonstrate more helpless and depressive symptoms that can result in them seeking help.

Those who are high functioning generally do not reveal their symptoms to those outside of the immediate family and are less likely to seek any help at a Borderline Personality Disorder treatment center.

Lawson further breaks down these categories into four types when describing BPD mothers:

High-Functioning BPD Mothers

  • The Witch: This type of mother with Borderline Personality Disorder seeks power and control over others, and reacts with rage that is unpredictable. Children and other family members live in fear of triggering her, and find that trying to behave as she wishes is pointless since it is not their behavior that precipitates the rages, but the mother’s own fear of abandonment. It is not likely that the Witch will ever seek BPD treatment or recognize her damaging behaviors. It is not uncommon for their children to develop depression, shame, and insecurity. They may even suffer with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) further along in life.
  • The Queen: Queens need to be the center of attention and view others as a means to serve that craving. Children are mere reflections of the mother and must validate and agree with her in order to assure her that she has their respect. Queens can be manipulative and vindictive. They cross boundaries without recognition or regret. Children of Queens are not permitted to have their own needs or opinions, and are not encouraged to become individuals in their own right. Later in life, these children may begin to show signs of BPD themselves. At the very least, they suffer severe self-esteem issues.

Low-Functioning BPD Mothers

  • The Waif: Waifs feel worthless and victimized. They can suffer from depression, anxiety, irrational fears, and feelings of vulnerability. Waifs feel helpless but reject attempts by family members to help them. In this way, they passively control others and are generally unable to nurture others. Children and family members may feel that they can help if only they do more, learn more, and give more. Unfortunately, this can lead to extreme frustration as the Waif continues to stay helpless as a means to control and avoid abandonment. Children may feel angry and alone, even as they are inextricably enmeshed with their mothers. They may develop codependency issues as adults.
  • The Hermit: Hermits feel constantly betrayed by others and take criticism as a condemnation of who they are. They are constantly criticizing others to mask their own inner shame. They may socially isolate to quell their own fears and paranoia. Perfectionism is a hallmark of the Hermit, and they can rage or criticize when others fail to meet expectations. Like the Queen and the Witch, Hermits conceal their BPD symptoms from others outside of the family. Children of Hermits can develop their own mistrust and fear of others, as well as deep-seated fears of failure that can prevent them from developing as autonomous individuals, as they fear new situations and people.

Understanding the Borderline Mother” is an excellent book that illuminates the intense and difficult dynamic between borderline mothers and their children. For adult children of BPD mothers, reading it is a means of further understanding what issues they face as a result of their upbringing, which can lead to important realizations and healing.


  1. Pingback: Treatment of Parents with Borderline Personality Disorder: How to Get Help | Borderline Personality Treatment

  2. Catherine

    Hello. I am a Borderline Mother myself and I have read the book – in German because I live in Germany.
    My opinion – this book is nothing but a whole bunch of nonsense! It may be true, that what she describes fits on many – but this ist absolutely not standard.

    I myself must say that my children are very healthy kids and I am very proud to say that i even am a single mom. And whenever this *Borderline-Monster* comes out and tries to *take over* – I do absolutely everything I can to shelter my children from it – yes it took me a long way to figure out when it starts and when it’s over, but I have been always aware to do that before I harm my children with my issues – because those are MINE – not theirs.

    I am always working on it.
    My opinion is: If you are aware that you have these issues and you have children – GET HELP!!! Because YOU know what it is like being a person with Borderline Personality Disorder.

    Those mothers are not always BPD, I have seen so many which treat their kids like sh** and they don’t have anything psychological going on – everyone can get help! For the abuse of children are NO excuses – BPD sure isn’t one!

    Just my 2 cents…..

    Have a nice Day, Catherine

  3. The article author is naive and doesnt understand BPD. I would suggest
    BPD is genetic. In some sense everyone is a little BPD. Those with strong
    BPD behavior would pass it on as well as low BPD behavior. We need to
    STOP judging BPD individuals by the worst 5 percent mental health
    professionals and the other 95 percent which live in the world unnoticed.

    Bad science produces bad results and incorrect assumptions.

  4. I am far from what this article stated. Well done Catherine I agree 100% with you. Awareness is key n this is far from the true.
    BPD mother of two

  5. I think my mom might suffer from BPD she is a chronic liar. She gets extremely jealous of my relationships, with friends and aunts. She constantly talks bad about my dad, who’s been dead 16 years and she was divorced over 30 years from. She was cruel to him and accuses him of beating her, which I never saw. She steals things from me. Example she like a pair of shoes I am wearing she claims they are hers. I wear a size and a half smaller then her. She is extremely mean to my sister, sees her as all bad, she gives it back to her. An example she didn’t go to her son’s graduation. She took off work to go to my ex-boyfriend’s brother’s grad party that caused grief for me. She gossips constantly. I get depressed dealing with her. When I try to explain it to my therapist, it’s like they can’t understand and treat me like I am overreacting. I feel irritated with her most of the time, even when she isn’t acting out demanding attention. Help on how to deal with her would be great.

  6. Vicky taylor

    My mother tried to convince me that my father never wanted me. She lived with my family and I the last 20 years and made all of us miserable. She died over a year ago and I did not mourn like a normal daughter should. I don’t miss her, which is sad.

  7. Once a borderline views you as bad. Cause there is no middle ground.. high abuse comes.. your not even aware what borderline means.. it’s borderline psychosis

  8. My therapist who specializes in BPD just told me about this book and I cannot wait to buy it. My mom is absolutely the Queen “type” described above.
    I cannot tell you the heartache me and my siblings have gone through with our mom.. How to describe it….the whole behaviour is so confusing, alarming and makes me feel so depressed and scared about my own life, even when everything is going OK in my life.

    It is a , “dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t” situation. Case in point. Usually leading up to mothers day, mom tests all of us, threatens she won’t be around, says we all don’t care about her etc. So this year, I texted her to ask if she was taking calls because she swore up and down we would not see her etc. I was trying to be respectful but also to protect myself from her.

    Then she went nuts on me on said I was selfish etc… you just can’t win.
    This was the first year only one of us kids contacted her on mother’s day. It is sad but we have all reached our breaking point and it has deeply affected our own mental health and happiness. I am thankful I have a very close relationship with my siblings – it has taken us banding together to protect ourselves from her. It is super sad. I just want to have a right to be happy and not always feel guilty for living my life at 45.

  9. Well said Catherine! I am so tired of hearing we are bad people because we have a BPD dx. I was a single mom half of my sons life, did I make mistakes, yes. But what parent is perfect? I didn’t abuse my child. If I am guilty of anything it’s of loving him to much and catering to him, now he acts kinda spoiled as an adult, and doesn’t take responsibility for his actions at times. It’s not like we asked for this, nor is it our fault. I believe that I have BPD by being mentally and sexually abused as a child/teenager. I think most BPD’s have suffered some type of trauma or abuse. They always said it wasn’t genetic now they are saying it can be? Make up your minds! I was dx’ed early as a teen. Then over the years they changed it to bipolar, and then back to depression and BPD. The Drs don’t even know half the time what’s wrong with us, how are we supposed to get any help? I definitely do not fit the bipolar dx they tried to label me as years ago, I don’t get manic. Why do we have to all be labeled as “bad”? I didn’t read the book but from what I have read about the so called “types” I think it’s utter BS, and just another book telling us how we are bad people. What about compassion, and empathy for us suffering from a mental illness we didn’t ask for or want?!?!?! Everyone else with a mental illness with the exception of a Narcissistic personality is not portrayed as evil or bad.

  10. Borderline mothers who get help of course wouldn’t be like this because you know that you have a mental great issue. It’s the ones who don’t know and don’t make the distinction between your and their issues that are the problem.

  11. I grew up under a BPD mother and the damage she inflicted was unimaginable. So, when I hear a bpd mother protest their innocence, it’s almost like listening to a murderer proclaim their’s. it’s empty words, I believe people with this disorder should take responsibility of the they have inflicted. And if you want the truth: ask the child, not the parent!!!

  12. Elizabeth A.

    My mother fits The Hermit description almost to a tee. At 83, she is suffering, and causing suffering to her spouse, more than ever. She did get therapy for years. She liked therapy because she could bamboozle therapists for a time and get validation for her paranoia. Everything was everyone else’s fault! When a therapist finally figured it out, she fired and bad-mouthed them.

    Through the decades of accusations and emotional manipulation I finally found meditation that helped me, over 14 years, develop a genuinely healthy boundary with her. I turn 63 next week -recovering from her is a life’s work and I would not wish it on anyone. I still minimize contact, because I have no interest in the drama-du-jour.

    The experience of children of mothers with untreated BPD is genuinely confusing and painful. I learned at a young age that I had no reliable back up in life. I was on my own, because she absorbed everything around me, everything that was rightfully mine, and yet ignored me except when she invaded me.

    To the borderline mothers who are posting here, I am happy that you are aware of your situations and work to protect your children. However, blasting the book and making it all about you does not make children of borderline mothers feel very good about you. This is not about you, this is about the experience of the children. This book is helping us make sense of our experiences. If you’re reading this is too difficult for you, stop reading this. Defensive comments only serve to make those of us who are surviving such mothers feel unsympathetic, at best.

  13. Deborah Rosach

    I am the borderline daughter of a single mother with aspd. I think there is a lot of reluctance to understand and forgive here. ASPD people go out of their way to inflict pain and misery, – sexual abuse, mental tortre, emotional abse, you get the picture. The worst thing is that because they are aware of themselves,and can act ‘not crazy’,outside people think they are wonderful and charming.

    Having such a mother naturally gave me borderline. I brought up my own daughter with a very good knowledge of child psychology, experience, LOVE and I always admitted if I messed up. She is absolutely fine and we have a good relationship. I have co-morbids of sza, ptsd, ocd and more but luckily I was in the system by age 14.

    I put it to you that aspd parent knows what she is doing, the borderline parent is genuinely living in an extremely difficult, hellish and painful world that takes great strength to overcome, with the lve and support of others.

    I furthur assert that there are non-morbid parents who neglect an abuse their offspring in unimaginable ways, just as there are -morbid people who do not.

  14. Victoria Jolina

    issue here is this : many of the different types can be a bit ‘ tricky ‘ to know exactly which type because all symptoms together it just looks as a standard description of my ow so ” awesome ” bpd ma , however it is to me clear what type she is , first of all because it is just simply written here above and you cant miss it , secondly because it is confirmed in the past when she finally was forced admitted into a psych facillity after scapegoating me and telling the lie I d suffer from anorexia and boulemia which was just a hard time in being depressed due her suicidal behavior and constant alertness and watching over siblings plus the fact i got sick ( psychosomatic symptoms ) , she told my father she had found me in the bathroom every day vomiting on purpose which never even occured but fine she was admitted , back on topic then ( how hard it suddenly looks due serious nervs etc ) , plse 4 give me this little …
    So if you go trough all these types and you just match ALL symptoms on a list and start to see what is to be marked with a check or a cross , I almost have to cross all the symptoms from low to high , altough it is then again clear she belongs in the category ” witch ” , her psych had a talk with me as well to explain her illness but I really was too young tough I d find , he told me that in borderline there are different types and that there were certain terms used that I was not ment to use to any conversation to her , now I have for a bday given a nice gift from a psychologist , called ” practicionors handbook BPD types + a look on the DSM ” where all is very clear explained just like here but also they refer the witch as the ” ratmother ” , how come the word ” rat ” ??? Kind regards , VJ

  15. Thank you, Elizabeth A! I am a 50-year-old woman, who was physically, emotionally and mentally abused as a child by my mother, and continue to be abused emotionally and mentally. My mother was also abused as a child and had a very rough upbringing. She refuses to believe there’s anything wrong with her; she claims to be “perfectly normal.” Anyone who really knows her will agree she’s definitely not. She will go to her grave without a diagnosis. All I know is that a therapist once told me (based on my accounts only) that my mother is full blown BPD. Honestly, I think she may have a combination of diagnoses.

    In reading the descriptions, my Mom sounds like all four of them! If I had to choose one, I’d go with The Waif. Everything is doom and gloom; she can turn a positive into a worst case scenario in an instant. She constantly presents problems, and when I offer solutions, every single one of them is automatically shot down. She wants to be rescued from herself and then refuses – especially if any of the suggestions involve any action on her part. She takes and takes, but has absolutely NO nurturing to offer in return. She cannot accept responsibility for her behavior and blames everyone else. She even blames beating me on me – I was “a bad seed,” as a kid.

    When I was 14, the abuse was escalating and finally, she threatened to kill me if I didn’t move with my Dad. I was an athlete who had worked towards college scholarships since the age of 4, and loved my home town. My Dad was in the process of moving to a far away state. I didn’t want to go, but I was beginning to think she may actually kill me. She had already pulled knives a couple times. So, I went, and when I did, I lost all of my athletic achievements. To this day, she blames ME for leaving her. Every time we start arguing, she throws this at me.

    I’ve done a ton of work on myself and overall, I lead a happy, fulfilling life now. I can get past the old abuse, but it’s hard to let go when those same old behaviors are play. When I’m with her, all those old memories get triggered and I turn into a person I do not want to be anymore.

    Today, she is a very lonely woman, and I am one of two people who ever shows up for her. She lives in poverty and I have bent over backwards to help her, but no matter how much I do, it will never be enough. I give and give, and I really don’t get anything positive in return. When I need her for any type of emotional support, she tells me no – usually always because she can’t miss her television show. I think I’ve reached my breaking point. I’m debating whether I should just walk away for good and let her die in her misery. I feel sorry for her and hate to think of her this way, but for my own self-preservation, I’m running out of options.

  16. Thanks Elizabeth A.! You’re spot on. My own mother is a Queen, who turns into a witch when she doesn’t get what she wants. There is no middle – you’re either good or very very bad. Apparently, by marrying I have betrayed her. I chose my husband over her – and there is no forgiveness for this. She has turned our lives into a living nightmare, and I had to leave this relationship. I haven’t talked with her in 2 years, and been in therapy for 4. When I tried to be honest and have a conversation with her – she told me that I am delusional, and she will die soon because of me.

    Therefore, I find comments of BPD mothers above classic – we are not bad, it’s not me – I gave my child everything. Are you even capable of owning what your behavior and disorder done/doing to your children? Sadly, in case of my own mother, the answer is no.

  17. Hi Kelly, I honestly found that therapy and anxiety medication helped me be calm enough to deal w/my mother. I am not certain how else one can deal with the abusive dynamic.

    They are not going to help themselves, and she sounds very ill-tempered indeed. After this much time, the only thing for sure is, you have to do what’s best for you else she will drag you down with you. If you really must aide her, I implore you try pharmacological help to deal with her.

    Else she will be guilt-calling you, am I right? And that might just drive you up the wall depending on your situation. Good luck. The medication helps you decide on how best to build distance to the verbal abuse. You can go in silence for duration of time w/her and leave the house w/bliss and maintain your sense of self regardless. It really does keep your sense of self stable around them.

  18. Andrew i couldn’t agree more! It is typical for a BPD parent to get defensive and not see what damage she causes her children. It is a serious disorder that it is almost impossible to treat. Even therapists find them impossible that’s why a lot of therapists refuse to treat them. No one sees what the children go through bc BPD parents act diff in front of other people. We live in shame, guilt, and fear everyday and no one can see it besides your siblings. It’s hell! Reading this book has helped me validate my feelings.

  19. I can’t believe how many people have experienced this. I read all the above experiences and could relate to all of you. My mum was horrible!! It’s only now that my dad finally left her and I could move out with him that after a year without her the reality of what she did has struck. Every single day was a struggle. ALWAYS complaining. Nothing was ever good enough. Our house was ugly, we didn’t have enough money, we are ‘spoilt brats’, she accused my dad cheating on her with multiple different women but never had a single bit of proof. She was manipulative. She would cause arguments with me every single night. She would push and push until I snapped. Usually just burst out in tears, run to my room and cry my self to sleep every night. I’m currently going through therapy. My anxiety and depression was so bad before. I feel as though everything is creeping up on me and I’m just going to go crazy with all the horrible memories I try to forget of what she said and did to me and my dad. I have two brothers and they never saw it like me and my dad did. Did anyone her only have it to just them? I wonder if it was because I was the youngest or because I was the girl? I guess it doesn’t matter.
    I’m for all the suffers. To all of us who no one understood why we didn’t like our mothers because ‘she seems so nice!’. To everyone here who will suffer repercussions from our abuse, but may we come out on top. Most importantly, be the best mother possible.

  20. Andrew, I very much agree with you. I don’t think having BPD means you’re a bad person. It means the emotional turmoil your spouse and or children will accept and deal with is going to run all the way to their core. It may and most likely will be very difficult to get through. For you as the borderline and even more so for the ones that love you.
    This book, in my opinion, is very well detailed and spot on in ways I never knew weren’t
    “normal”. It is helping me have a better understanding of the confusing and frustrating “love” my mother has manipulated me into.

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