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Mothers with BPD Symptoms: Effect on Childhood Development

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BPD mothers child developmentChildhood is full of challenges and discovery. It is the time in our lives when we are most vulnerable to the environment in terms of our development. Add to the usual challenges the effect of having a mother with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) symptoms, and the uphill battle of growing up gets even steeper.

In a call-in series for the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder (NEA BPD), Dr. Jennifer Macfie, associate professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, describes the early attachment that infants form with their primary caregivers. This attachment will inform the way a child relates to others throughout his or her adolescence and then, eventually, adulthood.

3 Types of Childhood Attachment

Macfie describes three types of attachment formed by infants with their primary caregiver:

  1. Secure attachment, in which the infant is given focused care and sense of security
  2. Insecure attachment, in which the caregiver is unable to give the infant the full sense of safety and care
  3. Disorganized attachment, in which there is no attachment at all

How BPD Symptoms Effect Childhood Development

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), children of mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms should be considered high-risk due to the wide array of poor psychosocial outcomes that have been found in these children.

Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms include a pattern of intense and stormy relationship, inability to control anger or impulses, and recurrent self-harming behavior, including suicidal behavior. When a child witnesses the manifestation of these BPD symptoms in his or her mother, there is little room for the stable and secure environment needed in order to develop healthy attachment patterns.

It is important to remember that each child experiences ups and downs in childhood. There is no such thing as a “perfect” mother, whether or not BPD symptoms exist.

“There is no such thing as a ‘normal’ childhood. Researchers have figured that out,” says Macfie.

Learning New Skills 

But a mother with Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms can seek BPD treatment in order to give her child a better chance at experiencing a sense of security and lay a foundation for stable relationships, stopping the pattern of Borderline Personality Disorder from carrying on to the next generation.

From an article on the NIH website titled “Children of Mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder: Identifying Parenting Behaviors as Possible Targets for Intervention,” it is argued that mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder need education regarding child development and recommended parenting practices and skills for providing “consistent warmth and monitoring, including mindfulness-based parenting strategies.”

Mindfulness and emotional awareness are a few of the skills developed in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), one of the therapies found to be effective in recovery from Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms. Mothers with BPD should seek treatment at a Borderline Personality Disorder treatment center with a strong DBT treatment program so they can recover from their BPD symptoms and form a better attachment with their child.


  1. Any tips for what I can do to help my daughter? She is 5 years old, he mother and I are separated and she (my daughters mother) is an undiagnosed BPD. My daughter is already overprotective of her mother and I know from what I have heard that my daughter ends up being the emotionally stable person. She comes home from her moms (currently her mother is couch surfing) mentally drained and just wants to play and not listen to me. I have a feeling she doesn’t get to be a kid with her mom as she is dealing with her mothers anger and or crying. Of course this is not all the time, but it is frequent enough that I am concerned for my daughters mental health. I know her mom has no filter when she is angry either and I know she has slapped her two older boys in the face, I just hope she hasn’t started doing that to my daughter… What can I do?

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