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A Mother Speaks out On BPD & Environment

I am always a little uncomfortable (okay, more than "a little") to read that we, as parents, or more specifically, we as mothers, somehow contributed to our child's BPD.

I am writing to address this wide-spread unproven theory promoted by some professionals that families caused/contributed to this illness by their "invalidation" accepted as truth, and because it's stated as fact, being blindly accepted by the families.

I do agree that there are skills we can learn to help us deal with this illness, but I don't believe that because our children were born with no emotional skin that our parenting caused it --or even contributed to it. I think it was pretty much going to happen no matter what we did or didn't do. We've certainly been told that we've caused it, or contributed to it (by our "invalidation" of our children) by the professionals. This just doesn't fit for me, in my experience, or most of the families I've spoken to, it just doesn't fit.

My daughter showed signs of something by 3 years of age. Her nursery school teacher commented that something wasn't right." I had already seen it (I have an older daughter, and I knew this was "different") --she was SUCH a sweet child, but seemed inattentive much of the time and lost in her own world. She would only wear pink, and we obliged (we thought it was just one of her many "quirks"-- does that sound like tough parenting?).

She needed so much attention -- and she got it. I guess that's why in part this "invalidation" piece is so distressing to me. Every picture she made got hung up on the wall (as an indication of her acute sensitivity, she would become upset when I had to take down a picture to make room for a new one!). We saw her high sensitivity, yet didn't recognize it as a harbinger of things to come. We respondeded to it in what I considered a very loving way (I'm sensitive myself, so it wasn't a hardship for me to understand that need and try my best to accommodate her).

If there was an area we/she had the most difficulty with, it was in disciplining. You just couldn't explain things to her (my method, I didn't physically discipline my kids). She'd do the same thing again and again (once again, I had no idea that this was a sign of the impulsivity I'd see manifest in far more serious forms in the years to come). And I'm talking from age 4. Time-outs didn't work. We tried reward charts and many other suggested ways. Again, all those years ago I did not know she couldn't think about something days away. She responded to immediate consequences best. For example, if you continue to run into the street, you have to come in the house.

Other parents I've spoken with have similar stories.

Haven't we all at times been invalidating? Oh sure, we're human! But we've all been invalidated ourselves, have invalidated others, and we don't all have BPD!!! Some of us with more than one child feels this invalidating environment defies logic. How come they aren't all sick?

The reason given is that it's because they don't/didn't experience the environment in the same way. But now we're into the chicken and the egg. And I say my child experiences the environment differently BECAUSE she has BDP; she doesn't have BPD because of her experience of the environment.

And what's the criteria for invalidation. I love the example always given of how the child says "It's cold," and the mother says, "No, it isn't, honey. It's warm in here." That always makes me laugh. That's the reason why the kid has BDP??!!!

My daughter began to improve when she was put on a cocktail of medications and when she started DBT. IN THAT ORDER. As much as I feel the skills have been helpful, I do not believe she could have even attended DBT classes without her most problematic symptoms under control. The meds addressed these, which then allowed her to have the control to take the class.

I think that speaks clearly for the biological aspect of the illness.

At one time, mothers of children stricken with schizophrenia were blamed because they were perfectionists ("schizophregenic mothers"). Mothers of children with Autism were blamed because they were cold ("refrigerator mothers"). Science has proved those theories wrong. And yet, here we are, blaming the families for contributing to BPD -- why?

When environmental cause is mentioned in conjunction with biological cause or genetic vulnerability, for the other illnesses they mean possibly a virus, pollutant, stress, drugs, etc. Only with Borderline Personality Disorder are the families given this dubious honor.

I think it's time we re-think this line of reasoning we've been given -- that we've contributed to the illness. And when you are told that the family has been (or created) an invalidating environment to that child your parenting has certainly been questioned. I don't care how sweetly the comment has been sugar-coated. The implication is that had they been raised in a more validating environment they wouldn't have gotten this illness. How is this helpful? I think it was originally intended to validate the person with the illness and to concur with their experience of events. I do sincerely believe that people with BPD have experienced certain events in the family as invalidating -- but other family members have perceived them differently. Can't this just be accepted as a difference in perception? That the person perceives certain situations/events as having been invalidating? It doesn't mean it was necessarily so, just that it was experienced that way. That would be respectful to both parties -- and I believe, more accurate.

You're talking about a group of people who because of the symptoms of their illness (and especially under stress) have black/white, distorted thinking at times. And is it just me, or are there other environments the child has been exposed to that are never mentioned or given equivalent weight? For example, a bad school experience perhaps?

The funny thing is, the families that I have spoken to, while not perfect, (who is?) and all imperfect families don't have kids with this illness -- are the most loving, compassionate, and resolute (and tired) bunch I've met. I shudder to think where some of these kids would be had they not had the parents they have. We should have professionals helping us, being compassionate and professionals who are compounding our suffering by implying we caused it in any way.

I can (somewhat) help my daughter, and help our relationship. I know DBT. I use the skills. I would do anything for her. If she had been diagnosed with BPD from the start, and I was taught the skills at that time, things probably would have gone smoother. I would have known how to handle her various mood (emotional) dysregulations in a more effective manner and how to handle myself better in those situations. Yes, I've yelled, I've exacerbated and escalated arguments!. But she'd still have the illness regardless, wouldn't she?

We parents deserve compassion, understanding and support. Something we will not get from mental health professionals if we allow them to continue to demonize us in this way. And our children with BPD will not be well served if bad parenting is continued to be thought of as a cause of this illness.

Remember the four C's:

               1) I didn't cause it 
               2) I can't cure it 
               3) I can't control it. 
               4) All I can do is cope with it.


as of December 9, 2003