Understanding the Borderline Mother

Christine Ann Lawson, Ph.D.
Jason Aronson, Inc.; July 1, 2002

This is a "putting the puzzle pieces together"  book for anyone growing up with a parent they suspect may be suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder.  This book is very useful for children and husbands. It is both validating and eye-opening for those who have lived this life, and is a very good introduction to Borderline Personality Disorder and its effects on the offspring. 

Christine Ann Lawson, Ph.D. writes about the disorder with easy to understand passages and describes many situations and feelings that, if you grew up with a BPD parent, you will be able to relate to.  Growing up in a family with a dysfunctional parent can leave children with a very confused vision of normalcy. Being the child of a parent with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can leave the child with many developmental issues as they enter adulthood. Research shows that children of a BPD parent are at risk for developing traits of this complex and devastating personality disorder, or for facing other challenges. The effects of this disorder on the family are insidious - and damage to the children can leave life-long scars if not understood.

A BPDFamily.com member said "I just read this book this past weekend. I found that I could read a few pages, and then I'd have to put it away for a while. After cooling down, I could return to it again for a while. It struck very close to home".

After reading the book, we see it as having three major sections.

The first section (6 chapters) presents a typology of borderline mothers:

  1. Waif The first type of mother, the Waif, is said to feel victimized and depressed; as a mother, the Waif has difficulty caring for her children and may be alternately neglectful and overindulgent of their emotional and physical needs.
  1. Hermit The second type, the Hermit, is described as fearful of others, yet wanting to belong; her parenting style is possessive and over-controlling.
  1. Queen The third type, the Queen, lacks empathy and is critical of others; as a mother, she is more concerned with her own needs for attention than with those of her children.
  1. Witch The last type, the Witch, is described as sadistically evil and as having an authoritarian parenting style in which she expresses unpredictable rage toward her children.

In the second section (chapters 7 and 8), Lawson examines three common behavioral patterns in children of borderline mothers (regardless of type). "All good" children are trained to rescue and protect their mothers and may function as "little therapists" in their families. In adulthood, such children are said to be at risk for depressive and anxiety disorders, but not for developing Borderline Personality Disorder, because only the idealized parts of the mother are projected onto the child. In contrast, "no-good children" unconsciously remind the mother of a hated or unloved part of herself, and are at risk for developing Borderline Personality Disorder in adulthood.

Emotional intensity, impulsivity, unpredictability, and fear of abandonment are symptoms observable primarily by those who have an intimate relationship with the borderline. ~ Christine Ann Lawson, Ph.D.

A third group, characterized as "lost children", is said to be lacking a sense of control over their lives, strongly defending themselves against attachment; these children have difficulty being reliable, consistent, or dependable in adulthood.

In the third section (chapters 9 to 13), Lawson shows in constructive terms how to care for the waif without rescuing her, how to attend to the hermit without feeding her fear, how to love the queen without becoming her subject, and how to live with the witch without becoming her victim. 

"Don't let the Queen get the upper hand; be wary even of accepting gifts because it engenders expectations. Don't internalize the Hermit's fears or become limited by them. Don't allow yourself to be alone with the Witch; maintain distance for your own emotional and physical safety. And with the Waif, don't get pulled into her crises and sense of victimization. Pay attention to your own tendencies to want to rescue her, which just feeds the dynamic.” ~ Christine Ann Lawson, Ph.D.

Read sixty BPDFamily.com members comments here.

Christine Ann Lawson, PhD., L.C.S.W. is a graduate of Purdue University (1992). Her thesis was entitled "Getting away with murder: An analysis of maternal sexual abuse in the case histories of four serial killers of females". Lawson has previously served as adjunct faculty at Indiana University – Purdue University complex (the urban campus of Indiana University and Purdue University in Indianapolis, Indiana) and Butler University (Indianapolis, Indiana). Lawson's practice is located in Zionsville, Indiana and she specializes in clients who have experienced trauma either in childhood or adulthood. She is trained in "Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing," Level II and incorporates the use of EMDR with traditional psychoanalytic talk therapy.


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