What It’s Like to Be Raised by a Mother With BPD

Why Is Parenting Style Important?

Although mothers with borderline personality disorder (BPD) can significantly disrupt normal childhood development, researchers have only recently begun to examine the link between being raised by a parent with BPD and child outcomes. For many children who are raised by borderlines, the negative outcomes extend into adulthood; thus, it is important to understand the parenting style that researchers have identified among mothers with BPD.

How Big Is the Problem?

Approximately 75% of individuals diagnosed with BPD are women. At this time in the United States, there are estimated to be over 6 million women who have the disorder. BPD is a personality disorder with a specific pattern of behavior that frequently includes the following:

  1. Uncontrollable anger
  2. Poor impulse control
  3. Intense and stormy relationships (not limited to romantic relationships)
  4. Affective instability
  5. Identity and cognitive disturbances

Some individuals with BPD make suicidal threats or attempt suicide. The functional impairments associated with BPD influence the way women with BPD treat their children and can lead to many negative outcomes in adulthood, including the development of BPD in the child.

Primary Parenting Style: Inconsistent

Because BPD can often occur with other disorders, such as depression or anxiety, it is difficult to determine what parenting practices are specific to mothers with BPD. To help answer this question, scientists will often conduct a study where some of the participants have BPD and others have another diagnosis to tease out what parenting practices are specific to BPD.

Both Over- and Under-Involved

Based on the overall body of scientific evidence (that includes several groups of mothers in the analysis), it was found that the general parenting style of mothers with BPD oscillated between over-involvement and under-involvement. In other words, mothers with BPD are either too involved and overbearing in their child’s life or they are disconnected and uninterested. Sometimes, children of mothers with BPD will experience both types of parenting multiple times within a day or even within an hour. These inconsistencies in parenting contribute to a chaotic and confusing childhood.

Over-involved parenting can include intrusive behaviors, overprotection of teenaged children, or trying to control children through guilt. Under-involved parenting can include withdrawing attention or affection from a child or avoiding the child (aka the silent treatment). Mothers with BPD may also alternate between being cold to their children and exercising hostile control, perhaps through “borderline rage” or other manipulative behaviors.


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