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Rose Iphone 5 Case
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Saved 1/28/13 to Group Therapy

help - I think my mom has a personality disorder


I am 27 years old and have a 53 year old Mom that I love dearly, but am very worried about. She has been emotionally unstable for as long as I can remember. When I was growing up she was prone to extreme emotional outbursts and mood swings - at her worst, accusing me of not loving her when I was 6 because I wanted to go play in the pool instead of staying on the beach and throwing a ball with her, freaking out to the point that she packed her bags and left our family vacation, only to come back later that night in hysterics, crying and saying she was just so stressed at work and would never do that again. (She did.) In less extreme times she would be set off by the smallest thing - dishes not being put away, rooms being messy, etc., saying it showed how little regard for her we had and how much we didn't appreciate her - locking herself in her room and crying for hours. I chalked this up to normal stresses of parenthood - surely all moms have felt under-appreciated and frustrated by messy kids who don't seem to respect their hard work? On top of all of this she was unhappily married to my father for 18 years, so that was a constant source of stress and I blamed many of her outbursts on that root unhappiness. To further complicate things, these bad episodes (sometimes they were for an hour other times for a week) were outnumbered by the good or great ones. My dad traveled a lot and when he was gone, my mom was a different person - happy, carefree, fun. Then when he was about to return home things got incredibly stressed - she blamed all of this on my dad, saying he would be grumpy if things weren't just so. It was as if we were living a bipolar existence. 

I was always a very smart and intuitive kid, and picked up on my mom's moods quickly, doing everything in my power to make her happy so things didn't fall apart. She confided in me about everything from an extremely young age (once admitting that when I was learning to talk she feared I was getting too close to my dad and would quiz me about who I loved more). Lots of this was about her marriage - she said she had never really loved my dad but wanted kids and he seemed like a "good guy", but then also blaming him for the fact that they weren't happy together. There was never, to the best of my knowledge, any infidelity or drug problems or anything crazy like that. Just two people who didn't seem very in love (if my dad ever loved my mom or did any more, it was hard to tell - he is not an emotions on the sleeve kind of guy).  Most of their fights involved my mom screaming and my dad doing nothing. She threw things occasionally, and one night he snapped and pushed her into a door. I'm not making excuses for him, but it was definitely a one time incident and though never warranted, my mom can push buttons like a real pro. Instead of accepting her responsibility in this, she dramatized it. To this day she says that my dad always emotionally abused her, and then the abuse turned physical. Again, I am in no way condoning physical (or emotional abuse) of any kind - he was wrong. But from where I was sitting she emotionally abused him for years, and while he was not an innocent party overall, people snap. 

When my parents finally divorced (I was in high school), my mom blossomed into a new person. She was dating and having fun and seemed so happy in a way that she wasn't before, enforcing my belief that the unhappy marriage was the cause of most problems. Of course, there were still issues with my dad (and looking back these are more clear) - he didn't do himself any favors in terms in not making an effort with my sister and I - but my mom really relished the fact that he was such a "bad, absentee father" while she was a great mom. She always said she wished it wasn't the case but it was just reality...though whenever we started patching things up with my dad she laid guilt trips on like you could not believe - saying she had always been there and ultimately we had to choose because she wouldn't be disrespected like that. Recently I have spent more time with my dad, and though he will not say a bad word about her, saying its not his place, I see how much it hurts him and realize how hard living with her must have been for him. 

This was almost 12 years ago. Since then my mom has gotten some therapy and calmed down quite a bit, definitely got some of her anger issues in check, but I would say is as emotionally unstable as ever. She has dated up a storm and cycled through relationships, each more unstable and faster moving than the last, throwing her into months or even a year long period of mourning and depression, extreme his and los. It's not just her love relationships - friends and siblings go from being #1 in her book to being out to get her and terrible people. One day she called me out of the blue to say my sister's fiance - who she had always loved - was a terrible person and maybe my sister shouldn't marry him. Because he was grumpy one night after his favorite sports team lost!

She recently went through another breakup and the patterns are the same. She goes from being the world's most persistent optimist to sobbing that she will be alone forever and why can't she catch a break. Her finances are a mess. I could go on. I was researching bipolar disorder when I came across a borderline personality disorder summary on wikipedia - it was like someone was describing my mom to a tee. I was shocked, and strangely relieved. I know I am not qualified to make this diagnosis, but honestly I have a hard time imagining what else it could possibly be. 

To be clear - 95% of the time my mom was very loving, very supportive. She encouraged my sister and I to do great things, travel, live in other cities, and was always so so so proud of us. I think the fact that she could be such a great mom really clouded me from seeing the underlying problem, especially when it would go  away at times. I was never very close with my dad - and enjoyed such a close relationship with my mom - that I was more willing to overlook the problems. But all the constant drama has really changed and damaged our relationship. I am scared for her future and I am scared that I won't have the mom I know and love, or my kids won't enjoy that person as their grandmother. 

So now the question is - what do I do? My mom has been in therapy but definitely refuses to acknowledge and in turn treat the real root of her problem. She functions day to day but I'm concerned as time goes on she will really lose it. I'm also realizing the extent to which this behavior has impacted and shaped me and how much I need to address that.  I am terrified that anxieties I have in my current (fantastic) relationship are not only learned behaviors - I have been actively addressing them - but hereditary, What if I have BPD too? I definitely have a fear of abandonment or getting hurt, and when I read the description I generally don't think I fit it, but this all has me pretty freaked. Has anyone been here before? I really need some advice on how to get my mom the help she clearly needs without making her hate me, and also how to begin going about unlearning these very very unhealthy behaviors. Thank you in advance for any of your help. 

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danizzle danizzle 1 year 31 weeks
I am a mental health professional. Ill let you in on a secret..personality disorders are not hereditary! BUT if you have modeled her behaviors, then you could see why you might classify as a personality disorder too. We learn much of our social interactions from our immediate family and if she taught you, lets say to scream and yell when something doesn't go your way, then you would model that behavior. Get it? The problem with people who have PD is that they can not be treated by a magic pill or by normal therapy like those with, lets say, depression or anxiety. People who have PD need intensive therapy with INSIGHT - which is the key to any change. You are aware of these issues with yourself and you seem to have insight on what behavior isn't "normal", so you can work on changing. Another problem is that since they do have a PD - they think that everyone else is the problem except for them. I too have a mother who would fit the DSM criteria for BPD, and even though I am a professional with training, she will NEVER see that she needs to change. She has the same symptoms as your mom - irritable mood, unstable relationships, etc. Over the years, I have given up trying to help her since apparently I am the problem, and my dad was too (when he was alive). This does not make them bad people. This just means that their set of coping skills is irrational to the rest of us but you know the saying - its hard to teach an old dog new tricks. The way I deal with my mother since she wont get help? When she acts irrationally I just simply ignore her. I know it sounds harsh, and she was a good mother too, but when she gets out of line I simply ignore her and do not respond to her. It doesn't really help the situation, but after causing me pain and stress for years saying WHY IS SHE LIKE THIS I have realized that shes not going to change. The only thing that can change is the way I react to her. I know my mom is going to be a sad lonely old lady, but she made her bed. It sounds cruel, but sometimes you must put yourself first. If someone doesn't care to get help, even if its for the sake of their own family, then what more can you do? My supervisor in grad school wouldn't even let us work with PD during our internship because he called it pointless (I don't disagree - but I don't totally agree either). Unless the person presents with a desire for change (which is usually a family member bringing them to therapy saying "this is whats wrong please help") then they will never change. If she is willing to go with you to a professional and listen, then there may be hope. Good luck!
Bubbles12 Bubbles12 1 year 32 weeks
Ugh, I could write a book. I'm sure so could you. There are two books by the same author I recommend: "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. It's about what it means to have fidelity to yourself. And his other book "People of the Lie" which is about the personality disordered, but I don't recall him naming all the labels we use today -- it basically gave me permission to simply recognize when someone could not be in a mutually beneficial relationship. Henna is so right, get professional face-to-face expertise to help you separate from your mother and focus on your own life. I can really relate and my best advice is this: learn to always have your own back. It's ok to separate from people like bosses, spouses, even your parents, who create chaos or take care of themselves at your expense. Easier said than done, you need a few people who can help by validating your experience and your efforts in self-care. You need someone who knows you and you can trust to tell you what is happening to you. You might have learned some behaviors from your mom, but if you're not disordered you can recognize them fairly easily with help and work to change them more readily than she ever could.
henna-red henna-red 1 year 32 weeks
"she couldn't face doing this with a stranger..."
henna-red henna-red 1 year 33 weeks
You can encourage her to deal with the issue. That's it. That's all you can do at this point. I'd also like to caution you against diagnosing your mom, you are not qualified to do that.....BPD and Bi Polar disorder have much in common, and sometimes come as a packaged deal, with a big swallop of narcissim included. Did your article say that? She may lose it at some point. This is one of the most difficult things for us as children, when our parents have a mental health issue. Unless they are certifiable, which, I believe, usually involves a risk of self damage or harm to others, we cannot force them to seek treatment. We can sit down and actually try to talk about the issue, but as you have observed, denial is frequently part of the issue. There are a lot of mental health issues where the sufferer specifically avoids medication and refuses treatment. And even when some one recognizes their mental health issue, they may still refuse treatment....they have the right to refuse treatment. My suggestion to you is that you seek therapy for yourself with someone who specializes in this issue, and possibly a support group for children of parents with mental health issues. Seeking therapy yourself is the best way for you to begin recognizing those learned behaviors and to begin to learn better behaviors. The thing you seek for your mom, is the thing you need now, to seek for yourself. You have a choice to help yourself. You do not have a choice to force her to seek help. I know that's a really difficult thing to hear, and a really difficult thing to deal with. Your fears for the future may very well be realized....so talk to a professional to again, learn what your options are and how best to coexist with your mom and her behaviors., and how to anticipate or deal with future possibilities. You can certainly continue to research the issue online, but it may be best to get resource info from a pro. I'd like to suggest to you, that although your mom may have been a terrific parent in some ways, she had some very serious boundary issues. A lot of the behavior you describe....the sharing intimate things from her relationship with you since you were a child, in particular, suggests to me that she has taught you some of her very disfunctional boundary issues. Those issues seem to be showing up now, with you not realizing that you can't "get her" to address her core issues. I'd also like to recommend a segment of Law and Order, special victim's unit. Stabler's daughter is showing signs of a mental health disorder, and his mom, played by Ellen Burstyn, also has the issue. Check it out, it may strike a chord with you. My mom, like a lot of women her age and in her circumstances, was a hoarder. There was no, reasonable way I could deal with her issue. I couldn't buy into her method for dealing with the stuff....she wanted me to sit with her while we went over every single piece of whatever, while she decided what to throw away (not much), and what not to. I was allowed to be the one to try, because there is a lot of shame that comes with this issue....you couldn't face doing this with a stranger, or professional or friend, because that would expose the enormity of her issue to someone other than my sister and I. I couldn't do it. I could change the litter box, and do dishes, and take out everyday grocery trash....but the rest wasn't dealt with until after mom passed. I found myself in the place you find yourself, wanting to and wishing I could force my mom to deal with this issue. I knew for a long time, that this was something I was going to have to deal with after her death. It's something I dreaded for years. I got through it with a whole lot of help from friends, who loved us both, and didn't judge. My mom was an incredible woman, intelligent, well read, with terrific friendship skills. An incredible woman with a huge issue. sigh. I feel for you, and it's so great you are looking for some help....but you need to change your focus from your mom, to yourself. As you learn about dealing with your own issues, you will also gain insight into your mom, (and your dad, too.) No one who grows up with a parent who has mental health issues, and parents who have a horrible relationship, escape without issues of their own. No one. But we also have some advantages, and it sounds to me as though you have a good portion of those advantages. You're a survivor girl. You've taken on some of the best of your mom, and I'll bet, some of the worst....those learned behaviors.... just like we all do. Get some help. Professional help. Qualified help. Get some professional perspective. And remember, there are things in life that we can't control. We can't control the behavior or choices of others. We can only control ourselves, and our choices, and how we choose to respond to the things in our life that we can't control. blessed be darlin'. Don't let the fear rule you. Don't give in to the anxiety, instead educate yourself and deal with what you can deal with. very best of luck and love to you, and your sister, and to your parents.