Family life that includes interaction with a borderline personality has the potential of creating a domino effect triggering toxic behaviors and relationship problems having the potential to disrupt, shatter or destroy social and family relationships. However friends and onlookers who do not understand, mysteriously ignore what is happening and the behavior goes unrecognized for years, with people, never questioning what is happening in daily interaction. A difficulty with this type of behavioral disorder is understanding that that, “Borderline personality disorder is a serious mental disorder with a characteristic pervasive pattern of instability in affect regulation, impulse control, interpersonal relationships, and self-image effect” (Lieb K., 2004, p. 453).
Further misunderstanding is magnified when there is not a distinguishable way to understand why behavior occurs or what it means. Unfortunately, families that borderline personalities are part of have relationship patterns that are characterized by toxic patterns of interaction that result in abusive and enabling behavior, thus disabling functionality with the individual as well as the extended family. Therefore, when families fail to recognize what these behaviors, patterns of relating develop naturally to adapt and manage what is misunderstood in ways that may not be beneficial.
The problem that is not understood contains a fundamental failure to construct healthy ways of living and relating effectively. Consequently, a relational mythology constructed paints a picture of perceived functionality; thereby establishing a group expectation that seems normal, but is it really?
The adaptive behavioral effects are cloaked by denial of the existing reality that something is wrong. The outcome demonstrates an inability to experience functional intimacy; thereby hiding the problem that is beneath the unusual behavior occurring. As a result, there is a life where secrecy, emotional abuse, codependency, and bullying behaviors are major themes accompanying the daily interaction within family life. Consequently, is the rule attached to a distorted self-concept. What results is a feeling of dis-empowerment fueled by belief that this can never change resulting in relating through acquiescing to dysfunctional patterns erroneously felt to represent a safety zone to experience life.
All families develop coping strategies for managing relationships, but often times those ways are not the best approach to address the central issues within a family system. It is a plausible reality that the family members inside the system do not understand clearly what is happening and are confused or in denial. Therefore, not being able to see the problem clearly results in a distorted sense of reality and skewed expectations of life. As a result, family rituals, expectations, phenomenology and internalized mores’ create demands for participating in family life, which contribute to social reinforcement of problematic behaviors. Therefore, enabling acceptance of anomalies that otherwise would be considered unacceptable. Indeed, everyone likes to believe that they are objective and that they are not contributing to destructive patterns of relating, that in effect are damaging, and many times destroying relationships. However, the question that participants in the system need to ask is what role is going to be played; will it be the enabler, the excuser, or the examiner? The person who decides to be a rescuer participates in the destructive behaviors excusing and then enabling by refusing to acknowledge there is something that is not right. Unfortunately, it is thinking and believing that helping means fighting to keep everything the same.
Motivators and Influences
One essential problem that is fundamental to misunderstanding BPD is that most people do not know any more about personality disorders than we do about cancer. When I think back upon my own experience with cancer and my wife who died from cancer; I often wonder why this went undiagnosed and untreated, while we were seeing doctors who should have understood. Also, knowing what I know now, why did we not pay closer attention to clear indications that there was a problem and do something about the cancer. The problem was that it was diagnosed too late for her to recover and the end result was that the cancer that was hidden destroyed her life. What might have been avoided, if we had taken time to think, brought an unimaginable reality and destruction of everything that was loved and hoped for in life. Borderline personality, for some people, is eating away at what creates and sustains healthy relationships and because it is not recognized or easily diagnosed as a result, it is misunderstood. Unfortunately, the unimaginable destruction is becoming a reality the longer the disease is ignored.
A problem existing within mental disorders is establishing what the relationship is between symptoms and the etiology of biological problems. Historically, an ongoing debate focuses upon the question of origin or cause. Can mental illnesses be inherited or is personality disorder caused by a negative impact of life events, trauma, stress, or other related symptoms? A source providing clarity is medical history connected to of the family of origin. Research performed about genetic factors of mental health indicates that, “There are several lines of evidence from family studies supporting a possible genetic association of borderline personality and affective disorders” (MacKinnon, 2006, p. 6). As a result, family medical history, mental health histories , and relationship history create a link to what is happening.
When anomalies in behavior occurs what can be made of the connection between biology and behavior? An assumption might be made that the borderline is angry or acting out. This is a behavior cue that something is seriously wrong and very puzzling–especially when family and acquaintances treat the behavior as unimportant. One response to what happened is in how the genetic-biological history of the person is organized. In general, science connects the conditions in the family history and suggests a link between the behavior that causes someone, who gives every indication that they are apparently honest and intelligent in other ways to engage in impulsive and reckless behavior without thought of consequences.
What causes emotional dysregulation to occur when there is a perceived, intense feeling of abandonment, rejection, or loss of control? It may be that what is hidden by a casual look at circumstances may be better understood through looking at genetic predisposition indicating what motivates a person who looks like an upright individual to suddenly rationalize extreme behavior, while totally disregarding the autonomy of other family members. It is perplexing at the very least to understand why BPD individuals act as they do. Consequently to sum it up, when there is a strong history that suggests mental health disease demonstrates significant patterns through family history, genetics, and systemic behaviors; there may be sound reasons to conclude that there is an identifiable systemic pattern for the behavior being elicited by the ongoing emotional dysregulation.
Unfortunately, denial and a fundamental lack of understanding creates a state of denial that promotes a false sense of security that life is under control. However, the great danger is that when behaviors suggest BPD and it is ignored, families convince themselves that it is not happening and live with constant confusion and disillusionment. A good question to ask is whether creating a mythology and magical thinking can negate the serious effect of what is really happening? A philosophers question about perception says: ‘if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound”? The moral is the quote reminds us to think about what may be happening around us that is actually happening, but we just are not aware of what is happening because we are not there to hear. The fact is that what is not heard or understood is often hidden in the secrecy of a family system where denial provides a false sense of security that creates a artificial safe zone where the noise of behavior is not being heard by those around the Borderline, but that does not mean BPD behaviors are not happening in the context of life.
Lieb K., Z. M. (2004). Borderline personality disorder. The Lancet , 364, 453-61, doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(04)16770-6.
MacKinnon, D. F. (2006). Affective instability as rapid cycling: Theoretical and clinical implications for borderline personality and bipolar spectrum disorders. Bipolar Disorders , 8 (1), 1-14. doi:10.1111/j.1399-5618.2006.00283.x.
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