When I speak about the origin of Borderline Personality Disorder, I dish out some tough love. I make no effort to soften truth. I describe the parents’ responsibility and guilt (not shame, but guilt – they’re not synonymous) in direct terms.
It’s harsh, not because it is mean, but because people aren’t used to being talked to that way. Therapists tiptoe around these issues, worried they may lose clients, or cause a person to shut down and not listen.
My policy is that I am not responsible for your reaction. Only you are in control of your reactions, and only you can cause yourself to shut down, not me. I’m not inside of you, I have no power at all over what you do or do not do. So I just put the information out there, and people are free to feel how they will about it.
Furthermore, when I write, my target audience is those who are already sincere and receptive. This means that the person I am directing my words to is already primed and receptive. I am not in the business of using my time to argue, or to try to ‘convince’ anybody of anything. I feel strongly that people who are sincere and receptive can not only handle the truth, but that they will value having it given to them in the plainest terms possible; that this is the most effective path for these ones to enlightenment.
In regards to the subject of Borderline Personality Disorder, and emotional disorders in general, nearly everybody in these families have lived lifetimes clinging to denial as a way of life. All of the players are powerfully entrenched in an atmosphere of denial. So it simply does not make sense for me to assist their denial in any way by ‘softening’ truths and thereby giving people - who are already inclined to look away from things - an escape from facing the truth head on.
Imagine it like this: I can describe the sky by saying, “It is a pleasant color, soothing like a warm mountain lake, prompting thoughts of calm, clear water in the Bahamas.”
This is open to each individual’s interpretation – by the images or thoughts it conjures in each person’s mind, depending on personal, past experience – and it allows room for dispute and bias.
Or, I can say, “The sky is blue.”
Is it mean for me to say the sky is blue? Is it harsh? No, there’s no judgment to it at all. It is a simple statement of the bare facts.
This is also true when I say, parents, if your children have Borderline Personality Disorder, you are responsible for it. This is true if they are minors, adolescents, or grown adults with their own families.
You are responsible for their Borderline Personality Disorder, because your own unhealthy attitudes communicated to them, when they were in a developmental stage as children (and therefore completely dependent on you for their emotional education) that their feelings are inherently irrelevant and shameful, devoid of worth.
You either communicated that message, or you did not stop it from being communicated (which is the same as communicating it yourself), and your children were dependent on you.
Once your children grow into independent adult free agents, you are still solely responsible for their having developed Borderline Personality Disorder. But now they themselves are solely responsible for what happens next; whether they will continue to live with the disorder or not, and whether or not they will pass on the same emotional unhealth to their own children. But any opportunity you had to ‘help’ them - in the unhealthy sense of trying to ‘fix’ what you don’t like about their lives - is long gone. You don’t have any right to meddle in their choices for living anymore. Fix yourself.
Now that I have described my attitude, and the manner, in which I talk about parents, let me get to the point of this whole article.
For parents who follow my work, I feel a lot of pride when I think of you, and this is not just flowery talk. It’s not easy to look these things in the face and address them frankly. I hold in very high regard all parents who are making an effort to truly understand their mistakes, and correct the underlying causes of those mistakes. By contrast, I have very little sympathy for parents who fail to put in any genuine effort to do this.
I suspect I have many followers who are parents. Perhaps many hang back as observers and follow my work from the sidelines in an attempt to understand what their children are dealing with. Why? Because they genuinely care for their children, and they have real regrets that they didn’t parent in healthier ways.
If you are one of these people, should you continue beating yourself up? Are your past failures the measurement determining your overall goodness or badness as a person and as a parent?
Your past actions alone are not what define your overall goodness or badness.
It is your willingness or lack of willingness to examine yourself in a sincere way, combined with genuine demonstrations of remorse, or the lack of them, which is the true factor determining your overall goodness or badness as a person, and as a parent.
That you are invested in my work is a genuine demonstration of remorse.
Every time I look you in the eye and say, “Your child’s Borderline Personality Disorder is your fault,” and yet your reaction to this is a real desire to know more - this is a genuine demonstration of remorse.
Any effort you make to educate yourself about what you did, and then understand why you did it that way - whether it is through my work, or through any other source - that effort is a genuine demonstration of remorse. It is a reflection of sincerity and authentic willingness to examine yourself and fix whatever needs fixing.
Guilt is a constructive emotion. It says, “I have made real mistakes. And I must correct them and do better.”
Shame, by contrast, is only destructive, all the time. It says, “I am shit. I can’t believe I am such a shitty person.” It doesn’t identify anything for you to fix, because it says that you yourself are inherently the problem. Therefore it robs you of any positive, practical, constructive path forward.
Parents, don’t confuse shame for guilt. If you are feeling ashamed, work to convert it into guilt. And once you have recognized your past mistakes as just that – past mistakes that you are making a real effort to identify and fix – forgive yourself. Even if your grown children are still suffering some of the consequences of those mistakes, forgive yourself.
On what basis? On the basis of the positive demonstrations of remorse that you are willingly engaging in now, which is a true measure of your overall goodness.
Good people, even emotionally-healthy people, make mistakes, sometimes terrible, unthinkable mistakes. They then feel guilt. The guilt is information of what they need to do. They listen to that information and do it. Then, the guilt goes away, because it served its purpose, its job is done. The emotionally-healthy person becomes comforted by the positive steps they are now engaged in, which the guilt made possible.
Remind yourselves often, and take solace often, in the goodness you are demonstrating now, and use it to fuel your positivity and optimism, rather than becoming overwhelmed by the mistakes you made in the past.
Have hope and confidence that your example of how much work you are putting into your education and your self-improvement now is truly the best way to help your grown children. Do not underestimate the power and effect that this authentic demonstration of love towards yourself will ultimately have on them.