After several counselors, problems at school, relational difficulties, rages over nothing, irrational behavior, and now even a suicide attempt, Megan realized that something was terribly wrong with her 15 year old daughter. Finally, a therapist who specializes in personality disorders suggested that this behavior was an early indicator of Borderline Personality Disorder.
Because the official diagnosis cannot be made until 18 years of age, the therapist was stuck explaining the disorder without being able to diagnose. According to Megan, her daughter displayed all of signs and symptoms and she was desperate to learn how help her daughter. These are the parenting suggestions the counselor gave the mother.
- Parenting books don’t work. The typical parenting book focuses on behavior modification utilizing a reward/consequence system. While this is highly effective in schools and home environments for the majority of kids, it is not effective for budding borderline behavior. This method will cause further isolation of the child, increase their fear of abandonment, and incite even more problematic behaviors.
- Focus on emotion not logic. Instead of trying to logically explain the consequences of poor decisions, focus on the emotional aspect. Kids with budding borderline behavior need a lot of emotional support. They can hear the logic better after knowing that a parent understands and empathizes with their emotional needs.
- Passive is better than direct. Traditionally, direct parenting which encompasses short, sweet statements is effective. But with budding borderline behavior, being more passive is better. When a child acts up or has a problem say, “That sounds frustrating. How are you going to handle it?” Avoid providing solutions to the problem, rather draw it out of the child.
- Memory problems are dissociation. Dissociation is a defense mechanism that a person uses to mentally step outside of their body in an effort to avoid feeling intense pain. When a budding borderline kid does this, they often lose track of time and place. This explains their inability to accurately recall details of an event.
- It’s not about control. Budding borderlines children are not trying to be controlling when they act up, rather they are reflecting just how out of control they feel. These kids don’t want to be in charge and don’t even think that way. Instead, they desperately want someone to feel as deeply as they do about the same matter. This helps them to feel more normal.
- Lying is a consequence of dissociation. When a kid dissociates, they are not fully present and therefore do not have an accurate memory of the event. This often means that they are unable to recall just what they said and may even claim that they weren’t yelling when they were. This is not an intentional lie, they really don’t remember. Punishing for this generates feelings of mistrust and intensifies abandonment fears.
- Can’t logic self-harming behaviors. A budding borderline kid will do self-harming behaviors such as cutting, picking, bruising, hitting, brushing, and restrictive dieting. Using logic to explain why not to do these behaviors doesn’t work. The key is to understand their emotional trauma which has led to these behaviors.
- Attracts trouble around them. The propensity to engage in high risk behavior usually results in friendships with other kids who are troublesome. The combination of these friendships and a lack of awareness of potential harm frequently put the budding borderline kid in danger.
- Absorbs the emotions of others. One of the unknown characteristics of budding borderline behavior is the ability to absorb the emotions of others as if it was their own. When a frustrated parent claims that they are not angry, the budding borderline child senses their frustration and then becomes even angrier because the parent is denying their feelings.
- Intense fear of abandonment. The fear of abandonment is even more intense when there has been a parent that did abandon the child. This is not just physical such as leaving; it can be an emotional abandonment as well. A parent emotionally abandons when they ignore, don’t spend one-on-one time, overworks, lacks empathy, or is emotionally unintelligent.
- Push-pull relationships. A budding borderline kid will have a history of friendships in which they are extremely close, then suddenly distant, followed by close again, and then absent. This push-pull style of friendships reinforces a fear of abandonment every time the relationship is apart. It is typical for these kids to struggle with friendships within their own peer group.
- Be aware of early addictions. Any addictive behavior that begins prior to age 14 tends to be problematic for a lifetime. Addictions can be their phone, video games, alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, food, sexting, and sex. Allow professionals to confront and deal with any of these behaviors.
- Temper tantrums are typical. Generally speaking, most kids outgrow temper tantrums around age 5 but those with borderline tendencies do not. Instead, the rages intensify for no apparent reason. But for them there is a good reason. They do not feel heard, understood, and/or sympathized.
- Take suicidal behavior seriously. In order to meet the criteria of borderline personality disorder, there are multiple suicidal idealization and/or attempts. Most of these begin as early as 12 years old, escalating during the teen years. Each idealization or attempt should be treated seriously by a professional regardless of the reality of success.
- Show unconditional love and attachment daily. What budding borderline kids want most is unconditional love from their parents along with a deep attachment. This is a secure foundation in which their fears of abandonment can subside and they can feel safe. The key is to ask the kids if they feel this way, not if the parents are doing this. Remember it is the perspective of the budding borderline kid that matters the most.
It took a while for Megan to change her parenting methods but when she did, things got so much better. Not that the underlying behaviors or feelings went away, it was just that Megan’s daughter felt safer which lessened the intensity of her reactivity.