The research literature and training materials for mental health professionals make references to the purported incidence of abuse—intentional or inadvertent—occurring among people diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. It is very hard to sit face to face with medical professionals and not wonder if they are thinking that you are the cause of Borderline Personality Disorder, just as it is hard for clinicians to face people who may well have contributed to the distress in their patient.
And this question often looms with family, co-workers, and friends as well.
In a study conducted by Marijn A Distel, PhD of 5,496 twin siblings, 42% of the people with BPD were reared in the same environment as siblings without the disorder. This suggests that there is a genetic predisposition for BPD [Heritability of borderline personality disorder features is similar across three countries, Distel MA, Trull TJ, Derom CA, Thiery EW, Grimmer MA, Martin NG, Willemsen G, Boomsma DI. .Psychol Med. 2008 Sep;38(9):1219-29. Epub 2007 Nov 8]
So is it possible that our parenting style was ineffective or damaging enough to lead to the manipulation, fears of abandonment, self-mutilation, or attempted suicides?
Most clinicians will tell a concerned caregiver that “no, you are not the cause of the illnesss” and “yes, you likely did things that were harmful to a child with a BPD predisposition“.
It’s a complex answer.
What is not complex is that our child is truly struggling and, as their parents, if we don’t try to help no one else will. Dixianne Penney, PhD says, “right now it is difficult to do what you must do and that is, to put your own feelings aside and focus on getting the help needed and providing the support the person with Borderline Personality Disorder requires“.
What role we had in this could be anything from spilling some of our “grown-up” adult struggles onto our child, to simply not knowing that we had a special needs kid, to everything in between. Part of helping them and helping the family is to learn what it was that we did or didn’t do and be willing to admit it and be open to change our approach to the relationship for the betterment of all.