A Family Behaving Badly

November 23, 2010

Borderline Personalities don’t just pop up out of thin air, they come from chaotic backgrounds and dark pasts. They come from dysfunctional families where love and hate is separated by a very thin line. Andrea came from just such a family. From the outside, they seemed like a picture-perfect family. Borderline families are very good at putting up appearances. Though Andrea’s father doted on the two children, he was often emotionally abusive towards the mother. When he wasn’t belittling her, he would ignore her.

Andrea’s mother retaliated by having male “friends” on the side. Humiliation and passive-aggressive behavior is how they punished each other. These are patterns Andrea would repeat in her own relationships or the type of behavior she would look for in partners. Andrea had a taste for emotionally unavailable/abusive lovers, and would run away from ones who were too attentive. It is common for borderlines to replay the drama of their childhood. This is why their lives are filled with unending tragedy.

Her troubles with relationships were exacerbated by Andrea’s experiences with sexual assault. Andrea dated both men and women, but neither of them were able to satisfy her impossible emotional needs. Her relationships usually never lasted for more than a year. In her longest relationship, she was engaged to be married to another young woman after only months of dating. But this ended in the same turbulent way that all her relationships end. Borderlines repeat destructive patterns over and over again. Self-awareness is difficult, when you jump from one relationship to another.

One time, her mother caught Andrea’s father making out with Andrea’s fiancee at a family party. They were both drunk and neither of them remembered the act of indiscretion. Andrea would not find out about this until a year later. She and her mother were mortified, but neither of them brought it up for fear of unraveling the family. Weak boundaries are typical of borderline families. A month later, Andrea would commit a similar act, publicly embarrassing herself and her then boyfriend. Borderlines always have an excuse for their bad behavior. “I was drunk”, “I’m messed up”, “You made me do it”. This can be frustrating for a partner who is essentially denied the right to be mad at them.

At the time, Andrea cried and begged for forgiveness. She even promised her boyfriend that she would give up alcohol, commit herself to therapy, and would never do something to hurt him again. Months later she would quit therapy, went back to drinking, and found a way to hurt him even more (this time she was sober).  And even then, she blamed the failure of the relationship on the partner who was foolish enough to take her back. Andrea had short-term memory when it came to her misdeeds. In the end, it was always someone else’s fault. Andrea only showed remorse, when she thought it would get her off the hook or buy her sometime until she could find a replacement. It was always about what she wanted.

Andrea had a habit of being hot and heavy in love one moment and ice cold the next. Andrea was a pro when it came to sabotaging relationships. She turned her feelings off when she knew a relationship was on the rocks. She became abusive and hot-tempered when she wanted to sever ties. This is how she avoided pain but ultimately it is why all her partners kept their emotional distance.

This gave her the unique ability to walk away from a serious relationship with no emotional strings attached. Towards the end of all her relationships, she would badmouth her partners and devalue the relationship to make it easier. Often she would play the field even before her current relationship was over. Betrayal was how she killed feelings of attachment. Instead of making amends and fixing what she had broken, she would just get frustrated and “start fresh”. This is how she avoided feelings of abandonment. She justified her lack of compassion by saying she was “moving on”. But in fact, she was running from her fears. Fears that developed from watching her parents fight constantly.

With Andrea, intimacy was a cog that could be replaced by anyone. There were no feelings of loyalty or remorse with her. This is also what she had learned from both her mother and father. She was just going through the motions and jumped ship if intimacy became too much to handle. It didn’t matter who she hurt, as long as she wasn’t the one who got hurt. She pretended she didn’t care that she had a reputation of being a “cold-hearted bitch”, but deep down it added to her scars and low self-esteem.

Of course, her family never said anything. Even though they would watch her torment one person after another. If Andrea could care less, her family cared even less. Personal responsibility is not a lesson taught in borderline families. Intimacy is a cutthroat business- you hurt me, I hurt you. There is no sense of right or wrong, just “you vs me”. They never encouraged her to seek therapy because they were in denial about how messed up she was. They didn’t want to feel like they had failed.

And besides, they didn’t want to tarnish the family image. It was more important for them to cover up her tracks, then it was to fix the problem. But the truth is they had already tarnished their reputation. When families behave badly, people talk about them behind closed doors. This isolated the family, making them more paranoid, and more hostile to the outside world. In other words, a borderline family goes on behaving badly. And Andrea would just move to another city to “start fresh”.

To be fair, we all have a little borderline in us. This is the dark side of human nature. But add to that- sexual and emotional abuse, alcoholism, and a chaotic family life- and you have a recipe for disaster. This not only adversely affects the family but those who come in contact with them. Until a borderline commits to long-term help from a BPD specialist, the disease gets passed on from one generation to the next.

One Response to “A Family Behaving Badly”

  1. […] not to mention the horrible fights. While we were still dating, her mother told her about her father’s act of indiscretion. It literally put her into a state of shock. She couldn’t even process the […]

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