PV MIrror, Mar 19-25, 2011, issue # 127, pg 21

Is someone you love a “Borderline”? Did you grow up with a “Borderline” Parent? Is your partner a “Borderline”? Are you “Borderline”? What is a “Borderline”? The diagnostic name is “Borderline Personality Disorder”. There is a specific list of DSM-IV (mental health diagnostic manual)diagnostic criteria. As with any diagnosis, some people have traits or characteristics without fitting the complete description. You may have grown up with a full-blown textbook “Borderline” parent and you learned some of the traits but aren’t as extreme as your “crazy” parent. If you grew up with one or are involved with one now, you certainly must feel like you walk(ed) on eggshells. One woman described growing up with her mother as never knowing “when the other shoe was going to drop”.

So what is “Borderline Personality” (BP)?I am only going to focus on some of the characteristics from the diagnostic criteria. Like many other illnesses, each person can be affected in varying degrees.

 “Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment”

They are terrified at the thought being alone. The moment the BP person thinks someone is going to leave them, they panic and react. Often times, they learned to cope with this fear by responding with anger instead. They cannot tolerate feeling vulnerable or out of control. Does this sound familiar?

“Pattern of unstable and intense relationships alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation”

Borderlines look to others to provide what they cannot provide for themselves, such as: self-esteemapproval, and a sense of identity. “They are looking for a caregiver whose never-ending love and compassion will fill the black hole of emptiness and despair they feel inside” (Stop Walking On Eggshells, 2nd ed, Mason, Paul and Kreger, Randi, (2010) New Harbinger Publications, Inc. pg 25).The potential loss of a relationship is like losing an arm. At the same time, they have such low self-esteem that they really don’t understand why anyone would want to be with them. “What do they see in me?” So they look for reasons (defects) why that person would probably leave them and often sabotage the friendship/relationship by pushing that person away.

The central irony of BP is:They desperately want closeness and intimacy but the things they do to achieve that, are exactly the things that drive people away.

Fluctuating between the extremes of idealization and devaluation is called “splitting”. They have a hard time integrating a person’s good and bad traits. Their current opinion of a person is based on their last interaction with him. One minute they are the superhero and the next they are the villain. “Don’t leave me, I love you, I need you, — go away, I can’t stand you”

“All or nothing” thinkingis very typical. Things are black or white; there is no gray; no in between. Things are right or wrong. There is only one solution. It is very rigidunforgivinginflexible, and causes them and the people involved with them a great deal of frustration and pain. They can be impossible to please. Once you work to fulfill one of their expectations, they want something else.

Never good enough

The feeling that they are never good enough is very common. Their entire sense of self is externally based on what others think of them or on how they compare themselves to others or on receiving recognition or not. They have often been verbally and emotionally abused and have come to believe and internalize all of the negativity. Their parent(s) were impossible to please, no matter how hard they tried, and they are still waiting for that positive recognition. Often times when they do receive it from friends, co-workers, or lovers, they don’t believe it. They reject or minimize the compliment. They judge others as harshly as they judge themselves.


Most people have varying abilities to control impulses and delay the need for immediate gratification and are aware of potential consequences, but Borderline’s  are impulsive and reckless. They may create an identity for themselves through such behaviors including binging, purging, alcohol and drug abuse or addiction, indiscriminate sex, and compulsive shopping.

Very poor boundaries

They never learned to set boundaries or to say “no” for fear of rejection or abandonment. They are usually “people pleasers”. They do not know how to protect themselves from abuse or from their own reckless and impulsive behavior. A good example is unprotected sex.

It’s no wonder that many characteristics of an alcoholic or addict, a codependent, an adult child of an alcoholic, all sound so similar to Borderline Personality Disorder. A significant percentage of BP’s also have substance abuse problems. Therefore, if your parent was obviously an alcoholic for example, he/she may also be Borderline. Growing up with both problems so overlapping, may have made things more extreme and confusing.

Next week’s article will continue with an explanation of the impact on anyone involved with a Borderline.