Does anyone have any advice for being a BPD parent? I’ve only been able to find stories and information from the children of BPD parent not info about ways to help when you have BPD and are raising a child.
Thank you for your question. It is a tough one. Not because I don’t know how to answer it, but because the answer is so very complex and so I am going to apologize in advance for the very long article.
I will start by saying that having a parent with BPD is both a blessing and a curse. Parents with BPD are known to be loving, involved, self sacrificing, and overall amazing. The trouble comes when a parent has undiagnosed or unmanaged BPD, not from the BPD itself.
I am a trifecta of sorts. My mother has undiagnosed BPD, I have diagnosed BPD and my oldest daughter has BPD traits. I knew growing up that I did not want to belike my mother, but I didn’t really understand what that meant. I wanted to be more emotionally stable. I did not want to overreact at every small hurdle life threw at me. I wanted to have friends for more than a short period of time. I wanted so much, but most of all I didn’t want my kids to struggle the way I had. There had to be a balance, but how could I find it?
First was letting go of the should’s and would’s of parenting. Changing my expectations for my family and myself was a relief. It gave me the opportunity to be gentle with myself. Yes, I want to be Martha Stewart and make every interactive toy I’ve pinned, but that is not my reality. In fact, it’s not most parent’s reality, BPD or not.
Once we let go of the big overwhelming picture of parenting we need to focus on the day to day. In my experience of parenting it is a never ending round of evaluating HALT and DIRT in both myself and in my children.
We all know outbursts are an outward expression of an inward discomfort. HALT addresses the most common inward experiences that cause discomfort.
Identify and validate
Learning how to de-escalate an argument, identifying and validating the trigger, resetting and trying again helps minimize outburst, both in ourselves and our children, which is important to having an overall good day.
In order to use these skills we need to have a few tools.
Understand your triggers.
For most of us we grew up in a home environment that was invalidating, neglectful, and dysfunctional. When we begin our own family we need to evaluate the dysfunctional patterns of behavior we learned and how we react to them so we don’t repeat them.
We need to remember that our kids do not understand our struggle. They do not know what our situation was growing up. They do not understand that we may have been bullied, abused, neglected. To them we are perfect.
Most of the time when they push our buttons it is not intentional. Kids are crude and rude and learn social norms from us. If they see something they are going to point it out. They have no filter when they are born, but learn it with age and experience.
Here is an example from my own life:
My daughter walks into the kitchen: Why is there never anything to eat in this house!
My reaction: I’ve been to the store three times this week! You may not want anything you see, but there is plenty of food! The outburst would continue from there and usually end with one or both of us crying.
Why did I react in such a way? I grew up in a food insecure home so I make it a point to have food in my house. It’s a big deal to me, but she doesn’t know that. All she knows is she doesn’t want anything she sees. My reaction to her was based on the past, not the actual situation.
To me, this is the most intense and tricky part of being a parent with BPD. Kids, by their very nature, are born emotionally deregulated. We, by the very nature of having BPD, experience emotional deregulation. In essence we are the experiencing the same thing, but our children are looking to us to teach them how to behave and react to emotions.
When an emotional situation arises, first identify whose emotion you are addressing. It is easy as a parent with BPD to mirror our child’s emotions. We have to constantly remind ourselves that their emotions belong to them. Sometimes they vent and it is for their mental well-being not because they want us to do something about it.
If your child is having a tantrum help them label their emotions. When children experience emotions such as jealousy, rage, and humiliation for the first time, they often call those emotions “sadness” or “anger.” Labeling and validating particular emotions can help demystify the experience and make them more manageable for both of you.
Learn to Reset:
Kids move on. They expect us to too, but once triggered we can be in a state of distress for quite a while. Learning how to reset quickly is imperative in parenting. For each of us our reset will be different, but here are a few skills to try.
- Comparison– Remember a time when you have had a similar problem and compare them. Remember when you felt worse and how you were able to feel better. This is not meant to invalidate your pain, but to remind you that what you are experiencing is on a spectrum of distress.
- Pushing Away – Pushing away allows yourself time to accept and deal with emotions or thoughts. It is not meant to deny or invalidate your thoughts or emotions just accept that they need to be placed away from you so you can gain perspective. Once you have placed the problem far enough away, take your time evaluating it and bring it closer again in small portions that you can process.
- Remind yourself that all emotional states are temporary. Intense pain, as well as intense joy, are not permanent. We shift in and out of emotional states.
- Deep breathing. Mindful breathing will re-center our thoughts and focus us on the here and now.
- Take a walk. My 14 year old daughter often employs this method to reset. She will ask if we can walk to the beach (it’s two blocks away) and sit on the sand so she can read for a while. When we return she is often like a new person.
- Listen to music. This can be fun if you and your child have a silly dance contest.
- Aroma therapy. Inhaling a pleasant scent is an exercise in mindfulness which soothes our response to stress. Here are a few to try:
- Lavender has calming properties that help control emotional stress.
- Cinnamon helps to fight mental fatigue and improve concentration and focus.
- Coconut. Most people associate the smell of coconut with pleasant experiences of the tropics, beaches, and fun summer days. The mere memory of pleasant experience can reset our mood.
- Any citrus fruit is uplifting, refreshing, cleansing, and are helpful when you’re feeling angry, anxious or run down.
- Vanilla has a relaxing and calming effect on the brain and the nerves that provides relief from anxiety, anger, and restlessness.
- Natural aroma of cedar, pine, sandalwood, or any other tree based plant evokes a feeling of inner strength and centeredness.
Many major retailers sell products that can be used for aromatherapy. I use the type that plug into the wall and buy varying scents for various rooms. The bedrooms have lavender, the kitchen citrus, the bathroom vanilla or coconut. Try them out. See what helps.
Also known as cognitive restructuring, reframing helps us look at the situation from more than one angle and is a useful technique for challenging our automatic beliefs about ourselves and our ability to parent.
With BPD we often have automatic thoughts that we are “bad parents” “unlovable” “stupid” etc. These interfere with our parenting in that we believe what we think and that limits our effectiveness. When we constantly undermine ourselves we cannot be effective parents. It sends our children mixed messages and makes us look unpredictable. Learning how to dispute automatic thoughts will help us to trust our wise mind in parenting.
To use cognitive restructuring, work through the following process:
- Find a quiet place and center yourself.
- Write or think about what triggered your automatic thoughts.
- Write or think about the automatic thoughts you experienced.
- Identify the moods that you felt in the situation.
- Evaluate evidence that supports these thoughts.
- Evaluate evidence that contradicts these thoughts.
- Formulate a balanced reflection about the situation.
- Decide on your next steps.
Go through this process when you experience a negative interaction, or when you feel fear, apprehension, or anxiety about being a parent.
Raising a child is a learning experience for everyone involved. The most important things about parenting is to take any and all advise with a grain of salt. What may work for one family will be dysfunctional in another and some of the most outwardly dysfunctional families are actually very emotionally healthy. Learn to trust your wise mind and go with your gut. Don’t be afraid to seek professional help for issues specific to your family. But most importantly be kind to yourself.