Can BPD Be Passed Onto Children?

May 24, 2011

answers this very important question:

Question: I Have BPD. Does This Mean My Kids Will Get BPD Too?

I have been diagnosed with BPD, and now I am worried about my children. I have heard that BPD runs in families. If I have BPD, will my children get it too?


No. If you have BPD, your kids are at greater risk of having BPD themselves. But, there is also a good chance that they will not have BPD. And, there are things you can do to reduce their risk.

There is research showing that BPD runs in families. This is likely due to a number of factors. First, some part of BPD is due to genetics; if these are your biological kids and they have inherited a certain combination of genes from you, they may be more at risk to develop BPD.

Second, the types of environments that can put children at risk of developing BPD also run in families. For example, someone who is maltreated as a child is at greater risk to develop BPD. That person is also at greater risk of having difficulty parenting. It is hard to be an effective parent when you are struggling with BPD symptoms, and it does not help if you did not have good parenting models yourself.

However, none of this means that your children will have BPD. While there is nothing you can do about genetics, if your kids live with you, there is a great deal you can do about environmental factors. And, there is evidence that environment has a very strong influence on whether or not people with the genes for BPD actually develop the disorder.

The first thing that you can do is to get treatment for yourself. People who undergo an effective treatment for BPD under the guidance of a mental health professional can improve significantly. Some people no longer meet diagnostic criteria for BPD after they finish treatment. Having less symptoms means having more resources for effective parenting.

Once you are in treatment, you can also express your concerns about your children to your care provider, and ask them for help. Your provider can help you to evaluate your home environment and whether your symptoms could be affecting your parenting skills. They may even be able to refer you to programs that help people build skills to be more effective parents. People with BPD can be very effective and nurturing parents, but because the symptoms of BPD can be very intense, for many it does take some work.

The good doctor is playing it positive, but I still have my concerns. Children are fragile. Children of borderlines even more so. If adults can be harmed by a borderline’s abusive behavior, a child is certainly at risk. Any child of a borderline will tell you horror stories.

My initial concern is that untreated borderlines would use having a baby as a quick fix for life’s problems. Much like an insecure borderline would rush into marriage hoping to soothe fears of abandonment. To most of us that would seem outrageous. But to someone who is constantly looking to fill the void within, having a baby seems like an easy solution to a nagging problem. But the added pressure can only exacerbate BPD conditions. Even more alarming is another life will be affected by an untreated borderline’s erratic behavior and severe mood swings. And then the cycle continues.

16 Responses to “Can BPD Be Passed Onto Children?”

  1. exscapegoat said

    I agree, a person with a Personality Disorder having a kid may not be a good idea. The way they split people? Often, they’ll do it to their kids too. It’s what’s known as a scapegoat/golden child dynamic. One child can do no wrong, another can do no right. The rages? Imagine being a child with no place to go but your mind and fantasy world to escape them.

    It’s hard enough as an adult to cope with these symptoms and behaviors when you know on some level it’s not your fault and you don’t deserve it. And have the resources to set boundaries and get away from it if necessary. Imagine being a child without that knowledge and without those resources. Imagine being trapped with a parent with a personality disorder for at least 18 years. And often longer by societal pressure. I’m in my 40s. I’m in my 2nd cutoff with my mother, both initiated by her and there’s enormous pressure to reconcile no matter what the circumstances because “sheeee’s yoouuur moooootther!”

    To any guys thinking of having a child with a woman with a PD, consider that in addition to the impact on any children, having a child with her will tie you to her for life, first with child support/visitation and then seeing her at events such as college graduations, weddings and events for any grandchildren you may have.

    I’m not sure which precise personality disorder my mother has. She exhibits both traits/behaviors of both NPD & BPD. I was screamed at and berated for no reason on a regular basis. Before I was even in kindergarten, I was told I’d be prettier if I had blonde hair/blue eyes like a cousin. If I dared yell back, things would often escalate to the physical, with slapping, shoving, hair pulling and sometimes punching/kicking. I learned to appease early on to avoid violence with her. I was constantly on edge trying to anticipate what would set her off. It’s no way to live, especially for a child.

    My parents split when I was 12. I was then expected to be her best friend, confidante, therapist and maid. Btw, I’m not talking normal family chores, I’m talking cleaning her ashtrays, making her bed, putting her strewn jewelry and clothes from the night before in their proper places. I was also expected to watch my younger brother after school and get him to do his homework. I was also expected to watch him in the evenings if she wanted to go out. I was made to feel like a burden/inconvenience nearly anytime I wanted to do something with my friends. My social life was severely limited as a result. Yet I was blamed for not being more social! *speaking in Mr. Rogers voice* Can you say double bind? I knew you could!

    As a result of growing up in that environment, I have anxiety/insomnia and my therapist thinks I may have PTSD. My brother ended up in prison for a couple of years. As the golden child, he didn’t suffer many consequences from her when he misbehaved and learned the hard way from the courts & police.

    Personally, part of my decision not to have children was because I feared repeating that cycle. I didn’t want a child going through what I went through. Plus after years of trying to please others, I like the freedom to do what I want when I want to. Given all of that, I’d rather regret not having children than having them and regretting/resenting them.

    I hear from ignorant people that not wanting children makes me selfish. Nope, the ones who are selfish are the ones who have them when they don’t have the proper resources, especially emotional ones, to be good parents. Children deserve parents who will treat them well and love them unconditionally. If someone isn’t capable of that, they have no business whatsoever procreating. Children don’t ask to be born.

    But many people with PDs think a child will give them the unconditional love they seek. They tend to like infants and toddlers because they’re completely dependent upon the mother/father. But once they start establishing their own independence, they are seen as rejecting the parent. So a normal part of childhood development places the child in the line of fire from a person with a PD.

    A cousin of mine who grew up in an even more chaotic environment were talking about our decisions not to have kids. We agreed someone has to say, “the buck stops here” to end the cycle. We were also joking around about the old commercials with Susan Powter saying, “stop the insanity.” More people need to start doing that.

    • Deana said

      Wow, reading this is like reading a book I wrote about my childhood, with few differences. I was just told after nearly 30 years of therapy that my dx is actually BPD and not gen. depression/anxiety. I think I finally found the right therapist. This guy perfectly described me after knowing me a couple months. I couldn’t believe how spot on he was. In the past I’ve just expected this epiphany and suddenly I would be well. Well, that ain’t happening and at 40 I decided to really take my mental health seriously and really try. With dep/anx I could blow it off, I don’t feel this way anymore. I really want a family, thought I had plenty of time. Now what I’m struggling with is: clock is ticking, and how can I do this to an innocent child. I’m thinking I have to tell my partner that she will need to protect this child from me. How messed up is that? How can I do this?? This kills me every day. I still cannot make this decision. Day by day…

  2. savorydish said

    Thank you so much for saying what I’ve believed for so many years. I could not agree with you any more. This is an epidemic. PDs can only grow exponentially. I can see the growth in all our cities. I am relieved by your observations, because now I know I’m not alone. Why we aren’t part of a bigger chorus is beyond me.

  3. exscapegoat said

    I think much of it is a lack of awareness. I didn’t really become aware of PDs until about 2 years ago. My mother likes to tell people she wishes we had a closer relationship, despite the fact that she would rant at me as an adult with little or no provocation. I’d be willing to forgive the earlier abuse & move past it, but when there were so many reminders of it by her present (at the time) behavior, it made it difficult for me to do so. So I was trying for civil, but distant to keep the peace.

    My sister in law fell for my mother’s nonsense, decided to interfere. Which in turn, drove a wedge between me and my brother and we had a falling out. I got angry and the dam just broke. I said things I’d never imagined myself saying and making angry phone calls!

    I still didn’t realize what was going on. I thought I had an anger management problem so I went for therapy to deal with it. Because of a family history of alcoholism (both parents and my brother) , when I called the Employee Assistance Program for a referral, they sent me to someone who specialized in addiction and co-dependence (family members/significant others of alcoholics).

    He was the one who recognized I was being scapegoated and in doing follow up research/self-help reading on scapegoating, I came across PDs. And it mentioned how parents with PDs often scapegoat one or more of their children.

    Once I read up on PDs, so much of what was going on made sense. Among other things, why my mother’s behavior was still so awful when she hadn’t been drinking since my 20s. My dad’s behavior improved dramatically when he stopped drinking (during my 20s as well). I think in his case, it was just addiction, while my mother’s addiction was co-morbid with a personality disorder. The drinking stopped, but the PD is still there.

    That therapist and I made a lot of progress for a year and a half, but I ended up switching to someone who’s more of a generalist and who has more experience with people with PDs.

    Obviously, since they’ve never evaluated her, they can’t diagnose her, but they think based on what I’ve told them, she may have a PD. They recommended learning about them.

    I think it’s possible I may have a PD myself, but I think if anything, I tend more to the “Cluster C”, avoidant/anxious.

    Getting back to parents with Personality Disorders, I think people need to realize parents with PDs/people who procreate with parents with PDs aren’t just condemning the children to dealing with a parent with a personality disorder. Due to the parent’s smear campaigns, at least with Cluster B PDs such as NPD & BPD, they are condemning the children to either appease the parent by walking on eggshells or lose a substantial part of their family. Not only is the parent/child relationship affected when the adult child refuses to accept the abuse any longer, often other family of origin relationships are disrupted as well. Such as siblings and the non-PDed parents. They often experience the loss of extended family who side with the PDed parent or diminished closeness in those relationships.

    In my experience, refusing to take the abuse ripped the family I thought I had apart. I have a niece I’ve never met. I shouldn’t have had to choose between continuing to accept abuse and having a relationship with my brother and SIL. But that was the choice and continuing to accept the abuse was too high of a price to pay to be part of my family of origin. I talk about it online in several forums/blogs, but I’m selective who I tell offline as I find people will judge me harshly for it if they don’t understand.

    I think awareness is really important. If people can be educated about warning signs, they can know what red flags to look for. And hopefully, the people with PDs can get treatment to help them cope with their initial traumas and their ongoing challenges. And people who have been abused by people with PDs, especially children of people with PDs need help in coping with it too.

    If I’d known what I know about PDs back in my 20s, I would have made some very different choices in my life. One is that I never would have allowed my mother back into my life after my first estrangement. All I knew is that she’d stopped drinking and I wanted to be supportive of her & her sobriety. I didn’t realize she’d continue her bad behavior only getting more sneaky & subtle about it.

    • savorydish said

      My experiences have not been as traumatic as yours, but I can totally relate to your feelings. I know that feeling of being betrayed after supporting and believing in someone who didn’t deserve to be trusted. The frightening thing about PDs is finding out what you had been exposed to was just the tip of the iceberg. It’s not until a borderline cuts you out of his/her life that you realize how severe their disorder is. To an untreated borderline this is perfectly acceptable behavior. The problem is you know too much about your mother. That is why she cut you out. A borderline in denial is running from the truth. Literally.

      I too didn’t learn about PDs until recently. I also believe awareness makes all the difference in the world. Especially, since the ones in denial are the one who are actively abusive. I also believe my life would have been very very different had I known about these disorders. I have had to accept my role in choosing disordered lovers. And this is why I have pushed off marriage and having children. I realize this is avoidant behavior, but the alternative would be being trapped in a loveless marriage with children. I would never do that to a child. I love kids too much to do that.

      It’s not all gloom and doom for parents with BPD, there is hope as long as they are educated in how to deal with their disorder. But even then it’s a challenge. Thanks for sharing your story.

  4. savorydish said

    On a separate but related note, I’ve been following the Casey Anthony story. It’s a heartbreaking story but it reminds me of the dangers of PDs and parenthood.

    Today, her attorney dropped a bomb- alleging that Casey was sexually abused by her father for years. This doesn’t surprise me. Sexual abuse is very common amongst PD women and it is why I have begged rape advocates to take it more seriously. But they have yet to even acknowledge it.

  5. savorydish said

    Untreated borderlines often do things for all the wrong reasons. My borderline ex was no exception.

    She jumps into relationships because she’s afraid of being alone.

    She got married because she needed security and assurance.

    She became a feminist not because she loves being a woman, but because she hates being a woman. She hates everything about herself. She needed someone to make her feel better, especially feel better about her rape. Someone to tell her she’s ok. To tell her everybody else is crazy except her.

    She fights, not for social justice, but because she loves conflict and chaos. Because she needs a sense of purpose. Because she secretly hates all men. But mostly because she hates that she is so dependent on them to feel whole and for validation.

    She pretends to be everyone’s friend and lover. Not because she is good with intimacy, but because she is so bad at it. She lacks the ability to care for another’s well-being. She is faking it for all the wrong reasons.

    This wrong-headed thinking is not from a lack of intelligence, but the result of a mind clouded with intense emotions. It is the result of a person who is crippled with insecurity and uncertainty. It is the reason why I fear she might have a child for all the wrong reasons.

  6. savorydish said

    If you have a family history of PDs or alcoholism, please seek treatment before you make the decision to have a child. Otherwise you are passing on the disease to a child. If you are reading this, you no longer have the excuse that you didn’t know any better.

    I know we live in a culture where getting piss-drunk with your kids makes you a cool parent. But this is a sign that there is a profound lack of boundaries. Don’t be surprised when those kids grow up to live lives filled with tragedy.

  7. savorydish said

    My borderline ex was a hip hop teacher for kids. And to be honest, she was great with the kids. Mostly because she could regress to being a kid. I now attribute this to arrested emotional development.

    But those were other people’s kids and that’s an entirely different thing then having your own kids. It is one thing to know a borderline’s public persona. Quite another, when you are exposed to the dark side.

    When she told me horror stories of her parents, I could remember being concerned. Concerned not only for her mental health but also for the future. I thought if she ever had children of her own she would expose them to the same emotional roller-coaster.

    BPD has genetic components. But in my personal opinion, BPD is a condition whereby an already sensitive child is exposed to extreme emotions. I would be reluctant to classify this as child abuse, but I believe it has the same traumatic effect.

  8. savorydish said

    There is a reason why my borderline ex is so screwed up. Even before she was allegedly raped, she was a troubled teen cutting her wrists and struggling with an eating disorder. These are signs of a person who has been repeatedly traumatized.

    Even if her parents weren’t responsible for this condition, they certainly didn’t help. Not once did they suggest she should seek therapy. Her father is a counselor for troubled kids. It never occurred to him that his daughter needed help. The whole family acts like nothing is wrong.

    Worse yet, they are actively covering up her disordered behavior. And anybody who would point out this obvious problem is quickly dismissed. Is this denial or negligence?

    It is this lack of responsibility that has me concerned. Because these are patterns of behavior that are passed from one generation to another.

  9. savorydish said

    It would not be uncharacteristic for a borderline to have a child to insure herself against abandonment. But once again this is wrong-headed thinking.

    It doesn’t matter how loving that person is. When a person is struggling to control their fears, it makes it difficult to attend to the needs of that child. That child will internalize its parent’s fear. That child will grow up in an environment filled with instability and uncertainty. The parent’s fear of abandonment will then be passed onto the child.

  10. savorydish said

    When someone is a trauma survivor and has a history of escapism. The motivation for having child should always come into question.

  11. ashley said

    I know this is an old post but I’d like to write out to anyone out there who happened upon this same page and give you some hope.

    From the time I was 13 I knew I had BPD. My mother had it also. A lot of my problems stemmed from my parents. My father has NPD and was in and out of jail a lot. Luckily my grandmother raised me in a good home with good values but somehow that BPD got passed on to me anyway. Looking back I wish sometimes that she would have just kept both of my parents away from me altogether, and wonder if that would have made a difference.

    Anyhow my symptoms were the classic of a BPD. I was a cutter, I was hospitalized a few times for drug overdose (prescription anxiety pills not heroin or cocain) I hated who I was.

    However, unlike many BPD’s I was able to keep a job. I got a job at 18 and am now 22 with the same job, just moved up a few spots to supervisor (YAY me!) and I did end up getting pregnant with a guy that I hardly knew.

    I have to say that having a child CHANGED MY LIFE! I didn’t go to therapy, I didn’t get on medication I struggled and it was a HORRIBLE struggle. I am not “cured” I still have symptoms flare up sometimes but from the moment I found out I was pregnant I stopped cutting. I stopped taking pills. I stopped being permiscuous. Unfortunately the relationship like many others of mine ended (he ended it because of the BPD actually!) My pregnancy brought out a lot of the insecurity and trust issues making it impossible for us to live a regular day to day life without arguing or me breaking down.

    I moved in with my mother and when I was 7 months pregnant I started talking to an old friend (a guy of course) long story short we ended up getting married (we were together a year before we got married so calm down! lol) He has taken in me and my daughter wholeheartedly and I am now pregnant with another child!

    Me and my daughters father are now on really good terms and are able to be friends. Sometimes my symptoms flare up but I never let my daughter see them. When I get really upset I find that talking to someone I trust helps a lot. So I will go in my room and call a friend. And talk for as long as I need. When me and my husband argue we do not do it in front of my daughter and we have learned that we need to be apart when we are angry because of my emotional rollercoasters.

    Another trick I’ve found is I do NOT spank my daughter. I don’t even pop her hand. I would say that somewhere deep down I have a lot of anger surrounding my parents and I would never want to take that out on her, or anyone else.

    I love being a parent and having my daughter really opened my eyes. I do not want her to grow up with the same affliction I did so I do not let her be in any type of situation that would cause harm to her mental health. I let her see my mother ON OCCASION. But I don’t allow them to be close because my mother is still very much consumed in her BPD.

    We don’t let her be around fighting, or drugs, or yelling, or drinking, or even watch horror films. I know it might seem like I’m a helicopter parent but if I can shield her from the awful things in the world for as long as possible I’m definitely going to.

    I just wanted to give some hope to those of you who have BPD. Don’t have a child because you think it will keep you from being lonely. I’m married, have a child, good friends, family and I’m pregnant and oftentimes I STILL feel alone! Thats just a feeling of normalcy for someone with BPD but when you learn to care about yourself being alone doesn’t have to be a bad thing anymore!!

    • Mary said

      It makes me beyond happy to read this! Anyone with a mental health issue can be a hazard to a child, even someone with depression. (My mother would often get super depressed) But, if said person are in control of themselves, and have happy, healthy relationships, then I see no reason for them to not have children of their own. I was diagnosed way back when I was only 12 years old. Since then I have gone through so much therapy with many good therapists and only a couple bad. (You can’t fix BPD with medication alone, wish they could have known that) Now, as an adult looking back I can’t believe what a horrible person I was. I hurt people. I lied. I manipulated. It all suddenly clicked for me when I met my husband. Stopping the cycle. That one thought that makes you think “Hey, he/she is trying to hurt/leave you” leads to disaster. I just take a step back to think objectively. Are they REALLY? No? Okay then move on. I refuse to play the victim to this illness. Another thing is my husband does not put up with my crap. If I get angry over something small he just gives me this…look I suppose is the best way to describe it. That’s not to say he won’t admit when he’s in the wrong though, (He once left the door open while I was away shopping and our then 1 year old daughter took a stroll down the street dressed in nothing but a diaper, scared the heck out of me when I saw her but she’s fine so now it’s just a funny story lol) As far as how I think I got it, well, I do believe part of it is genetics. I hear that my birth father had a LOT of mental issues. But my mother (who adopted me) would get so angry sometimes if things didn’t go exactly her way that she would scream at me cursing all the while. My dad just sorta turned a blind eye. At any rate, some tips for those of you who have BPD people in your life. Don’t put up with any of their bs. Set strict rules and lines that they can’t cross. Stick to your guns no matter what. If they are upset over something that is small or just plain silly (or unfounded) tell them! Don’t just say “You’re being crazy again” try “You do realize you’re upset over (insert crazy stupid thing here)?” Also recognize one major factor. Just like any mental illness, just like any drug addict, they HAVE to want to get better. If they don’t, or just flat out refuse help it may be best for you to just cut them out of your life.

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