Personality goes a long way


Borderline Personality Disorder: What a parent can learn from a therapist’s experience.

I was lucky enough to attend a really fascinating workshop on this personality disorder recently and I realised that as a therapist the insights gained were incredibly useful in themselves but I also realised that there was a lot of learning for mothers (caregivers) with children.

It is important to realise that people suffering with borderline personality disorder have invariably experienced early neglect, early emotional or sexual abuse and that they subsequently have defences in place which they now need until the experience and defence can be thought about in a safe place with a professional. These compensatory ways of behaving may take the form of addiction, for example, drug, alcohol or sex addiction. As a therapist (or loved one), it’s important to keep in mind that these defences bind a very fragile sense of self together and without these their fears of breaking down or going mad might really happen. As the early trauma was likely to have been experienced so powerfully and violently, without proper understanding of the new personality structure and without the right containing therapeutic space, removal of the defence would leave a very exposed and vulnerable childlike person.

The learning for parents (caregivers) is that it is crucial to be aware of how we are and how we respond to our children. For example, a baby will know if they feel they need something or don’t feel good. Perhaps they have a wet nappy, perhaps they feel a need to be held close and soothed or maybe they are hungry. A baby will try and let you know and they will let a sound out. It is important that the emotion of the baby can be put into you as a parent and it is important that we, as parents manage what feels unbearable and that we don’t fall apart. Hopefully we can communicate this feeling back in a more organised way – one which has meaning, is helpful, is soothing.

2 Responses to “Personality goes a long way”

  1. Claire Calvey

    Interesting article which covers some issues I’ve wondered about myself. You talk about very early experiences having effect on the adult but what about experiences later in childhood, for example, moving abroad? I wonder this because of my own experience in childhood (leaving a happy life at 10 for an equally happy life elsewhere but without the family network which had existed before) and my own ensuing bulimia. I also wonder about the effect of moving abroad on my own children and worry there will be problems further down the line for them. In short, is it only very early experiences which can cause these problems later in life, or is it reasonable to say disruption later on, after the personality has been established, can still cause life long problems? (And apologies if this will be covered in a later blog…)

    • Rebecca Eyre

      Thanks Claire,
      Sorry, I only seem to have seen your email now.
      It is the very early experiences that have the most dramatic impact on us as we are highly vulnerable and our brain is developing so rapidly as is our personalty and expectations and way we view ourselves, others and the world. Our ability to process and manage our experiences when we are young is not sophisticated to say the least. Our early experiences are often encoded into the implicit memory system rather than the explicit memory system which is when we are able to remember experiences from say about 4 years old. As a result, these experiences drive decisions, thoughts, defences etc but aren’t easily remembered or understood. Of course, later events will have an impact too, particularly severe and highly damaging ones such as abuse. As regards your experience, it is interesting that you experienced moving at a young age and now your children are too. Often issues, such as eating disorders can be triggered by life events but often have their origins in early experiences too. I think being mindful of our own histories and also of the impact of decisions in the here and now is crucial. Being as open and aware as possible to feelings around these is a great step forward in preventing mental health issues springing up seemingly out of the blue. Good luck and keep well.


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