As always, I have been doing a lot of thinking, and as I watch my parents with my young daughter, things seem to be becoming a little clearer in my mind.
When looking at how a condition like BPD develops, I do believe that there are many elements to each case – firstly you start with someone who is predisposed (either genetically or otherwise) to poor mental health, followed by being raised in an environment that is conducive to the development of the disorder (normally an invalidating and/or abusive one). Add to that potential traumatic events such as abuse, an attack, a bereavement or anything painful and a lack of support and/or the proper, early treatment of the problems encountered – hey presto, you could soon be dealing with a full blown case of Borderline. Of course, there are many other mental health conditions out there and therefore there must be something specific that triggers this particular one.
It is my personal opinion that although a genetic predisposition can lead you to mental illness, it is the impact of your parents and and their parenting style that pushes you towards BPD. It stands to reason that your upbringing has an affect on your behaviour, so why not your underlying personality?
I don’t want this post to come across as me slagging off my parents, as that is not what I am trying to achieve. They did what they believed was right and they gave me a good start in life. They provided me with all of the things I needed and much more, and I will always be grateful to them, and I love them both very much. Sadly for me, I believe it was a combination of a predisposition and an invalidating environment (that they were unaware of creating) that caused my BPD to manifest itself. Making my parents see this would not help them, and it would not help me, hence I am using this blog to express my feelings and thoughts on the subject.
As I have very little memory of my early childhood, I can only assume in watching my parents interact with my own daughter, that this is how they interacted with me. Several things have become clear to me and I will explain them here as best as I can. Firstly I would like to say that my parents do not agree with my style of parenting (very gentle – I will do a separate post on that in good time) and feel it necessary to give me (unwanted) advice on a regular basis, which I find irritating and frustrating.
Here is an example of an interaction between my Dad and my daughter (who if you are a new follower, is just over six months old).
1) We are driving in the car, my dad is driving, I am in the passenger seat and Evie is in her carseat in the back. Evie starts to cry, and it is one of those really traumatised cries, rather than a “I can just about cope until we get home” cries (If you are a mum you will know what I mean!). I can’t reach her in her seat to hold her hand or stroke her face, and talking to her isn’t working, so I ask my dad to pull over when he can so I can get in the back seat next to her.
“Don’t be silly, just ignore her. She only wants your attention” was his response.
This one sentence is so, so revealing to me, and it will probably be to you too if you are in a similar situation.
First of all, the phrase “don’t be silly” is very telling in itself. I am genuinely worried about the situation, and by using that phrase he is belittling me, and more importantly, invalidating my feelings – creating that invalidating environment that is linked to the development of BPD. What may only be a “silly” turn of phrase to him, could have been catastrophic to me. Maybe not in the situation where I am older and able to understand her doesn’t really “mean what he says”, but as a young child this could have been very damaging. This is the reason that when Evie is upset, I avoid using phrases such as “There’s no need to be upset” (How do I know? How do I know how she feels? Who am I to belittle her big feelings?) or “Don’t be silly” (She’s not being silly, her big feelings are hard enough to deal with without me poking fun at them). Obviously at 6 months the words I choose to use are irrelevant as she doesn’t understand me, but I am giving myself the time to change how to communicate. Often I catch myself saying invalidating phrases such as the ones above “There’s no need to be ……………..” – obviously I am well meaning, but now I know better I try to change them for less damaging alternatives. Evie obviously feels the need to feel that emotion, so why am I telling her there isn’t a need. It is invalidating those emotions. Starting now means by the time she is old enough to understand, I should be a lot better at it!
The next part of what he said is particularly telling. “Just ignore her, she only wants attention”. All through my late childhood and teens, I was given the label of “attention seeker”. I remember clearly being told “You are an attention seeker. Everything you do is for attention.” I remember thinking I was a bad person because of it, even though I couldn’t control it. I started self harming at age 12, and I remember cutting my arms with scissors, putting plasters on them and pulling my sleeves up just the right amount so people could see them. At the start, self harming for me was purely about attention – in fact a lot of my problems were – which leads me to wonder why I sought it so desperately through all these inappropriate means? Was it because I didn’t have enough from my parents or was I born needing more than other people?
It wasn’t until I was much older I actually asked this question of WHY I was seeking attention in the first place – and this simple thing that my Dad said could actually hold the answer. The way I see it, if Evie is crying for attention, then surely I should respond to that like any other need such as food, or a dirty nappy. What if I wasn’t responded to in that way? What if my need for attention was ignored? Perhaps this lack of attention when required combined with feeling invalidated and a genetic predisposition to mental illness was enough to lead to the development of my BPD?
I guess I am never going to know the answer to most of these questions, although by assuming it was the choices my parents made that led me to become a BPD sufferer, I can move on and make the right choices in my own parenting to hopefully help Evie stay happy and healthy for the whole of her life.