Parenting children in it of itself is a difficult task for anyone. Couple that while you deal with your own mental health ailments such as Borderline Personality Disorder.
The National Institute of Mental Health states that BPD is a condition characterized by difficulties regulating emotion. This means that people who experience BPD have intense emotions for extended periods of time. It is also harder for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally triggering event.
Recent studies show that 1.6 percent of the adult American population or more than four million people have BPD. Nearly 75 percent of people diagnosed with BPD are women. However, recent research suggests that men may be equally affected by BPD but are commonly misdiagnosed with PTSD or depression, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Looking over those statistics, one could logically infer that of those four million people, many are parents with at least one child.
However, the disorder does not permanently have to define the way we parent our kids according one person living with BPD, Rebecca McElheney, mother of two daughters, and U.S. Navy veteran, said in a recent interview.
McElheney said that the condition led to her making poor decisions before being diagnosed by a mental health professional.
"I made a lot of bad choices due to my untreated disorder," McElheney stated. "I tried to commit suicide. I was in a very bad relationship that was abusive and toxic and I thought keeping my children away from the pain and negativity was keeping them safe from what I was experiencing. But it ultimately hurt our mother-daughters relationship and I ended up losing custody of both children."
Even though she tried to separate her kids from her BPD episodes, McElheney noticed that her oldest child was taking on some of the nine traits or symptoms of BPD, specifically anger outbursts and impulsiveness.
"I feel witnessing my 'up and down' mood swings, screaming and crying, my oldest daughter took on [the traits of BPD] in her everyday life," she said. "She's had more violent outbursts than I have and because of her behavior, she has been expelled from two elementary schools within the last five years."
Melissa O'Neil, director of clinical operations at Timberline Knolls, a leading residential treatment center in the Chicago area that works with women and adolescent girls struggling with BPD, said the condition can be one of attachment.
“Ultimately, BPD is a disorder of attachment, so the most likely place for it to play out intensely is in the parent child relationship,” O’Neil said. “In particular, the difficulty with interpersonal relationships is most likely to manifest in the grown children of those who struggle with BPD. If there is a stable attachment figure, in the form of another parent or other family member, this can serve as a buffer for the developmental impact on a child and potentially prevent traits of BPD being developed within the next generation.”
McElheney said that her husband, Casey, is a great help when she does have a BPD episode.
“Some days my head gets over run with negative thoughts,”McElheney said. “They are quick and come out of the ‘blue.’ One minute I’m laughing and playing. The next minute I’m screaming and crying my eyes out. Casey is good at handling these situations. He’s attuned to how I’m feeling and if he thinks there is a problem, he takes the girls out while I pull myself together.”
O’Neil said that the traits of shifting self-image, impulsiveness, and unstable relationships does not have to continue from parent to child.
“The traits do not have to continue into the next generation,” she said. “But are more likely to do so if the parent who is struggling with BPD struggles throughout the critical developmental periods in the life of a child. The earlier periods of recovery begin for the parent struggling with BPD, the less likely the cycles will continue.”
BPD is a little bit of “nature” and “nurture”- but in the next generation, the “nurture” is the most powerful part. Creating cycles of stability by getting your own treatment and ongoing support and living in “recovery” is the most powerful factor in preventing the cycle from continuing, according to O’Neil.
But over time and therapy, McElheney said that the relationship with her children is getting better.
“Talking to mental heath professionals has really helped me get in touch with my pent upped emotions,” she said. “My life is making a turn for the better. I just got primary custody of my youngest and my oldest daughter wants to come to my location for high school. So despite living with BPD, I am living life to the fullest and things are looking great. I will be doing my best to manage my behavior around my children because they are my future.”