Emails from my mother

Okay, here’s what you need to understand going in: my mother is mentally ill, most likely with borderline personality disorder (characterized by certain patterns in a person’s social interactions). She is extremely passive-aggressive, as well as manipulative and emotionally abusive.

Around sixteen years old, when I was just beginning to realize how fucked-up my family relations were, I devised a rule for myself: information = ammunition. You see, anything my mother knows about my life will be twisted around and used against me. Today, tomorrow or ten years from now. And the end result, that ammunition, may bear no actual relation to reality. She takes these bits and pieces, turns them over in her mind, and makes what she wants of them. So my #1 rule of self-protection in this relationship is withholding.

The other thing you need to understand, I will go into below the emails.


A couple days ago,

Subject: [Mom’s rheumatologist’s name]

I had an appointment that got cancelled by him last week.

I finally saw him yesterday and had to have a shot in my arm, because it is in bad shape,
It is better today,
But the reason I am writing this
Is for two reasons

[Dr]’s  Mother passed away from a brain tumor , he was grieving very badly, he said his mother told him that he aught to be happy she was dying that he was wanting to be rid of her anyway, he said can you believe that, those were her last words to me, I can only hope that was the brain tumor talking.

We talked for 20 minutes or more, and he gave me a hug and told me thank you for talking to him.

The other reason is, I have to lose more weight, so he gave me the name of an all natural supplement that you can take called [omitted], bottle hold’s 120 pills,. That’s two month supply.  You can get them at [omitted], $28.99 if you do not have one in your part of the world, you can purchase them online, he assures me they will cut my appetite and help me lose weight and they will not harm me., and you can take them with Lyrica [the one medication my mother knows I take].

And then today:

Belly-Flattening Pork Tacos
Straight from our Flat Belly Diet, this recipe fires up your taste buds while melting off any unwanted flab.

So here’s the other thing you need to understand: Up until a couple years ago — after I moved across the country — I was super skinny. This was a huge point of contention in my family circle. All gather ’round Amanda to lament how unfortunately skinny she is and what must be wrong with her! I remember it when I was six, and twelve, and sixteen. I gained a small bit of weight when I was eighteen, after starting the Lyrica. That made me still-skinny, just not scary-skinny anymore.

Then I shipped all my belongings to Pennsylvania. I’ve returned home only once since — two years ago, for our wedding. In that two years, after a serious hormone treatment for my endometriosis, I’ve gained around 30lbs. But my family doesn’t know that, because there was never any reason to tell them.


I remember having a bit of a pudge belly when I was little (partly because I’ve always had a slumpy posture due to my chronic pain), even when I was super skinny. And my brothers (a generation older than I, and also mentally ill) teased me endlessly for it. I had no idea what to think. I mean, I was skinny, right? But I was being teased for looking fat? I didn’t understand, though I still felt the shame and self-consciousness.

I have very, very slim arms and legs (even now, slightly “overweight” — most bracelets/wristwatches dangle awkwardly off my wrist) with very wide hips. I remember when I was a young teenager, my mother, within a time span of about one month, criticized me for having “Holocaust legs” and then turned around and teased me for having my sister’s “thunder thighs.” My body had not changed an ounce in that time.

And now my mother — last she knew, I was still slim, remember? — is sending me weight loss tips.

And who knows what she means by it. I gave up trying to understand her thought process long ago. Again, it bears no relation to reality. Who would send their daughter passive-aggressive “tips” for weight loss (and oh, trust me, I have words for that doctor) knowing she struggled being underweight for most of her life? Perhaps she thinks that I have gained weight so now I need these tips. But there’s been no indication from me that I’m anything but the same skinny-minnie I was last she saw me — so if she thinks so, it was devised entirely within her own mind.

This sort of thing I have been dealing with for years now. When I learned to withdraw, and when possible discuss nothing more personal than the weather with my mother, she had a prolonged fit. I went through six months of absolute hell living with her before moving out here, and I am one-hundred-percent serious when I say the only reason I didn’t commit suicide is because I had two sick cats to care for. It was a perfect storm of severe panic attacks, untreated anxiety disorder, and an emotionally abusive mother going through an adjustment period (to put it lightly) when her daughter suddenly stopped talking to her — started going places without prior notice and without filling her in on every detail, and reenacting every conversation so that she could “share” in her life with her — stopped engaging when she tried to pick fights.

That was my life then.

My life now is considerably calmer, and happier, because my only contact with my mother is by email. I ignore all her forwards, and occasionally I’ll email her to talk about the climate here in Pennsylvania, or what the cats are doing right that moment, and … well, that’s about it.

In fact, she thinks I live in Philadelphia. Even though I have explained to her more times than I can count on both hands and feet that I live in the Pittsburgh area, which is across the state from Philly, in fact a 5-6 hour drive which is about as close as she is to San Francisco. Still, she sends me stories about things happening in Nowhere, Philly Exurbs and remarks how she never sees anything about us in the Philly papers.

Maybe it’s better off that way.


Comments I will not tolerate: but don’t you realize fat is unhealthy; here’s a Helpful Suggestion on how to lose weight/manage your pain/make her mental illness all better; anything that demonizes the mentally ill or ascribes the abuse I, and others, suffered to the mental illness itself. Please use common sense and courtesy – thank you.

(Cross-posted at Three Rivers Fog)

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75 comments for “Emails from my mother

  1. rachel
    June 30, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    Hi amandaw, I’m not sure what to make of your mother’s emails either. I do want to say that I do the withholding bit from my mother as well. Every personal detail of my life she has used to attack me later on. It just became too much so I stopped sharing. This (and I’m not saying this is the case for you) has caused me to become a very closed person. It’s devastating because I would love to be close to her but that requires us to be different people. Anyway, I empathize with that bit.
    Is it possible that your mother could find information out about you through other people or through the internet and is using this information to comment on your life now?

  2. infoisammo
    June 30, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    I totally agree that “information = ammunition” with people like your mom. I have a very similar relationship with my mother, and I’ve found that the digs she takes are not necessarily related to what’s actually happening in my life. In other words, the subject of the day (weight, appearance, my job, whatever) that she decides to pick on is not necessarily correlated to the state of my life. it’s usually more about her and how she thinks the world should be.

  3. Ori
    June 30, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    I wish you strength in dealing with the painful memories of your mother, and success in keeping this toxic person out of your life. Be at peace with who you are and live life on your own terms, without this toxic woman’s influence.

    I can empathize with you, as I endured suffering in my youth thanks to my mentally ill mother as well. My mother was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, although I’ve long suspected that she also suffers from some sort of personality disorder (given her lack of empathy, self-absorption, manipulative behavior, explosive temper, delusions, etc.). Like you, I cope with this woman in adulthood by avoiding her like the plague and withholding any information that she could use as ammunition against me. The wounds such a parent leaves on offspring are deep, but with time and loving people in your life, the wounds can heal.

    I encourage you to read the book CHILDREN OF THE SELF-ABSORBED by Nina W. Brown for some good insights and strategies. While the book focuses on narcissistic personality disorder rather than borderline personality disorder, there is enough overlap to make it applicable to your situation.

  4. June 30, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    Rachel – with as personal as I get on the internet, there’s no way her passive barbs would be limited to Flat Belly Pork Tacos. lol. And please feel free to share your own experiences.

    It is devastating, and it shut me down emotionally for the time I was still living there. I even felt cut off from my own friends because of it.

    And certainly I don’t enjoy my relationship with my mother this way. I want to be able to share with her, and laugh and have fun, and sympathize and support each other. But I can’t do that. I can put in my half, and end up getting abuse and manipulation back. So I don’t bother putting in my half anymore. I hate that. But that’s how it has to be, if I’m to have any contact with her at all…

  5. June 30, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I want to be able to share with her, and laugh and have fun, and sympathize and support each other.

    Wow, does that *ever* describe the relationship that I would *like to have* with a few of my relatives and cannot. I grew up in a family that was adversely affected by a lot of things (in my fam’s case: substance abuse, depression, et cetera) and all the behavior patterns that come with these things (passive-aggression, manipulation, codependency–to name but a few). I am still dealing with the emotional fallout that those things have caused me.

  6. Dymphna
    June 30, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    I gave up trying to understand her thought process long ago. Again, it bears no relation to reality.

    That is my relationship with my mother in a nutshell. She’s never gotten an actual diagnosis, but I’ve suspected BPD and /or a severe kind of disassociative anxiety disorder.

    And it took me years and years to really accept that she was operating essentially in a world of her own creation and the way she thought of me was a) inconsistent with who I really am and b) inconsistent from day-to-day or hour-to-hour. I used to think I was some kind of horrible liar because I would withhold so much information from her in an attempt to protect myself. Didn’t talk to her for two years, kept my address from her during all of that time. The only way I can tolerate her now is if I refuse to engage the hurtful things she does (like literally, I go silent on the phone if she gets nasty with me … which never fails to cause her to completely change her tone).

    And she’s obsessed with weight issues. She has a running commentary going on my and my husband’s weight. At least she’s more direct about it than the mystifying e-mails you have received. I’d speculate about what she was getting at in that first e-mail, only I don’t want to be presumptuous and, at least with my mom, it’s pretty much a futile effort. I sometimes think that she gets cryptic and passive with me on purpose sometimes to cause me to expend energy – any energy – on her when she’s feeling neglected.

    Not sure what my point is, just expressing recognition and sympathy. Hope I’m not sounding like I don’t have compassion also for people who suffer from this kind of condition. My heart aches for my mother, only it is also sometimes very angry too.

  7. June 30, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    wow. you’re like my internet twin or something. i’ve also always had wide hips, and my family has often pointed this out. they also think it’s fun to poke my sides and comment that i’ve gotten pudgy since the last time they saw me. when i’ve pointed out to them that i don’t like it, and they’re making me feel bad, they accuse me of oversensitivity and not being able to handle a joke. well, jokes shouldn’t whittle away at my self-esteem. (oh, and let me mention that my parents are both larger than i am…). they also think it’s funny to make fun of my small breasts, which i still cannot understand. just when i really regain my confidence, they always manage to say something that will snatch all that away in a moment. it’s very frustrating when the people you love and the people you think love you manage to make you self-conscious and doubt your own beauty. and we wonder why people have identity issues…

  8. Dymphna
    June 30, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    And certainly I don’t enjoy my relationship with my mother this way. I want to be able to share with her, and laugh and have fun, and sympathize and support each other.

    Yes yes yes yes!

    It is a continual struggle for me to accept the mother that I have rather than the mother I wish I had (not even sure “acceptance” is the right word … “feel at peace about” maybe?). It makes me dizzy to think of it. It is like mourning a person I’ve never met, or dealing with a loss that keeps replicating itself over and over again.

  9. jemand
    June 30, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    I’m sorry amandaw. I just moved away from home– having spent the last year and a half being tortured for losing my belief in God… I feel so so guilty that I ignore calls from the parents and really really don’t want to go back to visit even for Thanksgiving and Christmas… Do you ever feel guilty? How do you deal with that?

    But whereas I was thinking I needed professional psychiatric help at home… three weeks here and I’m already calm and happy again. I wonder how much mental illness is created in individuals by emotionally abusive parents– prolonged stress and the necessary defensive mechanisms to survive in that kind of situation seem likely to me to be capable of leaving a profound mark on brain chemistry and function– I’m lucky that the worst of it was triggered only a year before I could get out.

  10. June 30, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    This post was so hard to read I really just skimmed it. The process I am in with my mother right now has a lot to do with me really dramatically giving up on any amount of change. My mom’s diagnoses change with her mood. It’s a very long story and right now a really painful one.

    This is a brave post. I will probably tiptoe back a few more times. Thank you.

  11. June 30, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    I wonder how much mental illness is created in individuals by emotionally abusive parents– prolonged stress and the necessary defensive mechanisms to survive in that kind of situation seem likely to me to be capable of leaving a profound mark on brain chemistry and function– I’m lucky that the worst of it was triggered only a year before I could get out.

    Oh, so much to say on this subject. Short answer: yes, it can. Given that between my three siblings, there are two diagnoses of bipolar, one of schizophrenia, two of psychosis, and severe depression or anxiety for all three — it’s kind of unlikely that, genetically, I’d be completely free of any sort of mental health condition. And, turns out, I have anxiety disorder (NOS).

    But there is no doubt in my mind that much of my anxiety, and the panic attacks I get that are triggered by contact with my family (go figure, right?) developed specifically because of my situation growing up. I developed defense mechanisms that weren’t really healthy, but which were the best thing I had available to me. When you’re being constantly harassed from all different sides (see the total incongruity between Holocaust legs and thunder thighs), all through your formative years, you’re going to end up being chronically nervous about everything about yourself.

    And my family sowed the seeds of self-doubt and self-hatred pretty well; I wasn’t allowed to have my own opinions, preferences, or desires. I was totally disconnected from that “still, small voice” inside that told me what *I* felt. It was all about what *they* wanted me to feel, or thought I felt. I was completely removed of my own personhood.
    Given that, was I going to trust my own feelings, my own intuitions and suspicions, my own desires, my own thought process? In a word, HELLLLLLLL NO.

    And that fed into everything above.

  12. Dymphna
    June 30, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    I can’t imagine how it would be possible for a child’s developing brain not to be profoundly affected by a constant bath of anxiety/stress hormones. Certainly mine has been. Though, oddly, my brother seems totally normal, so maybe for my family it’s a combination of biological crap-shoot and family environment.

  13. RMJ
    June 30, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    I’m sorry your mother is so obtuse. It makes me value my own, though. One of the great things about my mother being a feminist is the complete lack of messages like this.

  14. June 30, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    Yep. And, to be clear, the distinction between genetic/biological and environmental isn’t necessarily always a useful one. The condition is just as legitimate either way. You’re going through the same pain inside either way. It just makes it a different background story is all.

  15. rachel
    June 30, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    So much of what everyone is writing resonates with me.

    My mother, without going into specifics, was emotionally manipulative. Keeping me from interacting with others by making me feel shame. This didn’t really occur to me until I left home. I just thought this was ‘normal’, as other people in abusive settings do. Once I left home and had close, healthier relationships with others did I realize how much it affected my self-confidence and relationships with others.

    amandaw, I completely understand and respect the boundaries you have set in your relationship with your mother. Good for you for recognizing the manipulation and changing the situation. I’ve had to do the same, which means she misses out on so much of what is happening in my life. She still regards me as the same person I was as a kid, and has tried to keep me in this position.

    Anyway, I have a broader question for everyone responding to thread. Just recently, I’ve found myself acting or reacting to certain situations in the same way that my mother would. This means I’ve tried to be manipulative, I’ve been needy (to the point where I don’t even recognize myself, I never saw myself in that way). What do you do to stop these behaviors from repeating in yourself? How do you handle it?

  16. June 30, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    I can only wish my mother didn’t know where I live. I totally get the information = ammunition thing. It’s exactly what I grew up with and I have set some major boundaries with my parents (what time they can/can’t call, subjects they cannot bring up) in order to stay sane myself. I wish you the best in your dealings with your mother. I know it’s rough.

  17. Ori
    June 30, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    Rachel — To answer your question, a certain degree of mindfullness and detachment is necessary. Step back from your behaviors and ask yourself if they’re healthy, or if you’d want someone doing that to you.

    It’s tough to break out of old patterns of behavior. Your parent modeled these behaviors, and it’s not unusual to manifest them, even if you don’t mean to.

  18. dehka
    June 30, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    Our grandmother acts in a similar way, amandaw. We hear almost nothing from her except her remorse at our moving to another country, forsaking the family, etc. Another problem reported to us by my sister that chose to stay is that her mental condition is deteriorating greatly. We think it may be similar to what your mother suffers from.

    Recently we got our first email from her in months. Apart from the usual guilt trip about living so far away, there was a detailed recipe for this wretched 5 bean soup. She ranted and raved for half a page on how this recipe would slim us down real quick and get rid of our double chins, thunder thighs, you get the idea.

    So in conclusion of this silly rant, I understand your situation a little bit. We would love to be able to communicate with the family back home, but its just too much trouble to deal with everyone’s problems with our lifestyle. Anyways, I enjoyed the post greatly. Your insight is quite eloquent.

  19. Chryslin
    June 30, 2009 at 5:14 pm


    Therapy with a GOOD counselor will help. Ori was right on. Setting boundaries with others OR ourselves doesn’t come naturally when we’ve had NO boundaries held up as a model for us all our lives. The fact that you are recognizing these behaviors is a great thing. The next best thing is to try not to beat yourself up when you see them come out. Then try to identify the emotions that are behind the behaviors – fear, anxiety, anger. Try to figure out how you can deal with them without using the weird and manipulative tools you’ve been taught to use. This is where the counselor comes in — they’re really good at showing you alternative tools to replace the old, heirloom ones. Anyhow, good luck.

  20. June 30, 2009 at 5:14 pm

    Oh man, I went through something similar with my Grandma (my primary caregiver when I was little) … I was never slim enough, long-nailed enough, clear-faced enough … you name it. After she threw me out for considering moving in with my then-boyfriend-turned-fiance, we didn’t speak for over two years.

  21. M.
    June 30, 2009 at 5:20 pm

    I am so sorry and my heart goes out to you. “information=ammunition” is all to familiar.

  22. June 30, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Thank you for writing this, amandaw. And thanks to the others contributing their stories. It’s helping us all feel less abnormal, I’m sure.

    I share some of the experiences everyone’s been talking about. I don’t know yet whether I would label my ‘rents’ behaviors as abusive or flawed. I do know now that they both have mental illness challenges (one terrible depression, the other… undiagnosed but very impactful.) As children, myself and my siblings where never sure if our behavior was going to warrant praise or angry tirades. And like many others, strict religious beliefs were in the mix.

    Two of my siblings suffer from depression much like our father, and one sibling has severe schizophrenia. I struggle with depression and disabling anxiety/panic attacks. Genetics? Nuture?

    I too recognize problematic parent-esque behaviors in myself. I try to check in with close friends and ask them what they thought of my behavior in certain situations where I am worried I behaved badly. A reality check, I guess. I’m sure an understanding therapist could also help some people identify and correct problematic behavior.

  23. Sam
    June 30, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    My mom is also mentally ill and she is not receptive to any treatments. My sister and I survived several years of just about every form of abuse from her and then she just ran off one day. My father and sister were better for it and I’d already moved out and into my own life by then.

    Several times over the years I’ve tried to mend with my mom, tried to allow her into my family and tried to forgive her as they say you’re supposed to. It wasn’t so easy so I can understand your pain and your sorrow a bit as well.

    One day, after several years of unsuccessful therapists who almost seemed to want to lay the blame on me for being a bad daughter or something (how? I didn’t DO anything to her OR about the abuse? But it was the 80s & early 90s, they were male and I was a bit of a rebel–medicine & psychology were notoriously ignorant of the feminine state) I sat down in yet another office and expected yet another lecture on what I was doing wrong and how I could do more, etc.

    I didn’t get that.

    This man looked me straight in the face and said “I’ve read your files, I understand that you wish to work on you today, while that does encompass you from the past and the past will come up, you need to understand and accept that sometimes you must walk away from the abuser in your own way. Being blood related is not a license to abuse or to let yourself be abused, you’re only expected to take so much and then it is perfectly natural and healthy to protect yourself and step away from the abuser”

    I’d never heard that before, it was so simple and honest. To be completely truthful to you today–I have not heard a better piece of advice in all my years since. When he said that–I was finally able to forgive myself for all the years of guilt and self loathing and I was finally able to come to terms with the fact that my mom was who she is and there was very little (if anything) that I could do to change her.

    My situation isn’t the same as yours and I don’t presume to tell you that I know anything at all about your very unique dynamic with your mom but you’ve inspired me to share this piece of me with you and perhaps someone who reads this may derive comfort.

  24. chava
    June 30, 2009 at 5:34 pm

    OK, I may be throwing myself into the lion’s den here, so just keep in mind that this is ONLY my perspective on the issue:

    I find it comforting to ascribe some of my mother’s more upsetting behavior to the mental illness. A ‘blame the illness, not the person’ kind of thing.

    I think that your strategy of disengaging from certain forms of communication is spot on and good on you for doing so. It takes a lot of strength to do that and not hate yourself.

    As far as illness running in families:
    And again, perhaps not the “correct” thing to say and hopefully I do not come across as ableist, but I was afraid, seriously, panic inducing afraid, that I would develop similar symptoms and still mark the anniversary I passed the oldest age at which I would be likely to develop them. I don’t see it as insulting my mother; if she had cancer, I would feel the same way about possibly having the BRAC gene.

  25. chava
    June 30, 2009 at 5:41 pm


    I did want to add that I can see how “Blame the illness, not the person” can also be seen as taking away agency from the person and their ability to control their own emotions, and infuriating in a certain kind of situation where your own reactions or emotions are never believed as genuine but rather a result of your illness.

  26. Lindsey
    June 30, 2009 at 6:09 pm

    Amandaw — I want to thank you for writing this post. I can’t tell you how it made me feel to read another young woman articulately describing the same relationship I have with my mother due to this illness and its impact on her life. I, too, have only found peace and a semblance of healing through estranging myself from my mother. As hard as miserable as it is, your writing has made me feel a bit stronger just because I can understand what you’re going through. I hope that you, too, will find some comfort as a result of this and will be able to remind yourself that you’re not alone.

  27. estraven
    June 30, 2009 at 6:23 pm

    Thanks to everybody who contributed their experience for helping me feeling less weird. The first time I thought “Everything you say will be used against you” about my mother I was in my early teens. Now, in my forties and a mother myself, I finally collapsed and after mild depression and severe panic attacks I have started therapy.
    The woman is still abusive, and has an ability to distort the past which never ceases to amaze me.

    Dymphna wrote:
    “It is a continual struggle for me to accept the mother that I have rather than the mother I wish I had (not even sure “acceptance” is the right word … “feel at peace about” maybe?). It makes me dizzy to think of it. It is like mourning a person I’ve never met, or dealing with a loss that keeps replicating itself over and over again”.

  28. June 30, 2009 at 6:24 pm


    it’s messy. Really messy.

    Mental illness, abuse, trauma, childhood and relationships, it’s all mixed up. And in the actual on-the-ground experience — we’ll never be able to separate out what comes from what.

    It was a huge comfort to me to understand what was going on with my mother, to be able to identify certain patterns, and understand what was probably behind it.

    OTOH, ascribing every unsavory behavior to illness is definitely inappropriate. There has to be a distinction between a condition that makes for a different way of thinking, and behavior that is harmful to others.

    Sometimes that distinction is really hard to see in our individual lives. Like I said, things get messy. But it is there nonetheless.

    (It is just as inappropriate and damaging to pretend it is as easy as cleanly separating out What They Decided To Do With Their Full Agency and What Their Illness Made Them Do That Totally Isn’t Their Fault. I may try to post more on this later. Just remember, it is a different mode of thinking that makes things difficult in a world built another way.)

  29. Dymphna
    June 30, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    Having just spoken with my mother on the phone, I am reminded of a few things:

    Chava, for me at least the balance of “that’s the illness causing that” and “that’s my mother’s agency” is hard to strike, but I’ve found a useful line can be drawn between it being her fault and being her responsibility. It’s not her fault she has the problems she has, but it was and is her responsibility to do something about it when it harms those around her (especially since she’s not impaired enough to be unable to participate in treatment). For a long time she was in denial that there was a problem (she only just recently admitted that she may have a mental illness), but the denial was also, on some level, a choice not to deal with the problem. Also, she has no choice about what her brain chemistry is doing to her ability to reason and interpret reality, but she does have a choice (albeit possibly a more limited range of options than others would have) within the limited context of her experiences about how to act in the world as she perceives it.

    One thing I have noticed that is emotionally very difficult is also that sometimes she can seem quite normal. Today, for instance, she did not overreact and guilt-trip me for not feeling physically well enough to attend to her needs today. She was actually quite kind and sympathetic. I felt a tremendous rush of relief, because on other days, depending on her mood, I would be in for a boatload of shame if I admitted such a thing to her. The unpredictability is one of the most difficult parts, because I can fool myself into thinking that she has changed for good. Then I let my guard down and – bam!

    Also, re: family context being a significant contributing factor in mental illness, I noticed that my mother’s symptoms improved substantially after my (abusive) father passed away. Not surprisingly. She still has problems, but they are less persistent and usually less severe.

  30. June 30, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    There is tension, too, between being a child of (the mix of severe mental illness and abuse) and having very radical disability politics. But it is tension, not necessarily conflict. It was very hard for me to reconcile these things at first. But I have found it has helped me immensely as I’ve come to understand things more. I’m really too tired to go into it at length but I felt like making a note of it here.

  31. Cyan
    June 30, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    My heart goes out to you, amandaw. I often wonder how my mother’s personality would have developed had her mother not had BPD. My grandmother was a real piece of… work.

  32. June 30, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    … radical disability politics tell me: That person with mental illness, treated or untreated, still has agency. And radical disability politics tell me: the problem with mental “illness” is not the condition of that individual, but society being built around the needs of the mentally “healthy” person. And radical disability politics tell me: There may still be issues with this condition that make life genuinely hard, that cause pain and hurt to that person, and we must acknowledge that. And radical disability politics tell me: The pain and hurt is not the whole story. A thing can be both good and bad, benefit and harm at the same time. “Normalness” is such a thing, surely, as well!

    All of these things really, really help me put my family history in perspective. There is a line that was crossed, tho it is impossible to pinpoint exactly where. But my family had agency, they had no obligation to undergo treatment for anyone’s sake, but they still had responsibility, as everyone does, to make sure they are not doing harm to anyone.

  33. Dymphna
    June 30, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    What you are saying about radical disability politics — it’s odd, because I read that and think of my husband (whose current dx is depression with psychotic features/ADHA) and nod my head. Then I think of my mother and … much harder for me to be open to going there. Which I’m sure has something to do with the specific relationship I have with her as her child and within my specific context. But I never thought really to look at her through that lens, whereas with my husband that’s a big deal for us.

  34. Dymphna
    June 30, 2009 at 7:05 pm

    *ADHD I mean

  35. June 30, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    I am one-hundred-percent serious when I say the only reason I didn’t commit suicide is because I had two sick cats to care for.

    amandaw, I’ve been in this place. And it sounds like for a lot of the same reasons — my grandmother and aunt are pretty toxic. My brother doesn’t understand that information is ammunition, and until I learned to be able to deal with them by myself, I couldn’t trust him with anything important either and it hurt a lot. I wish I could get as disentangled from them as it sounds like you have from your mother, but so far it just hasn’t worked.

  36. June 30, 2009 at 8:02 pm

    My grandmother and my mother had this type of relationship. By the time my grandmother died she was like a completely different person. It was only as her behavior got more out of control did my mom start to open up to me about what she would do to her. Not allowing her to go to college, making my mom at 10 deal with her alcoholic dad while she went to sleep in the bedroom. She constantly belittled my mom and my dad and anything my mom succeeded at was a slap in the face to my grandmother instead of a moment of pride.

    I still have a good relationship with my mother but I fear that this will replay itself in our life. When I was younger my mom was tempremental and could be downright cruel. Since I have become an adult and am out of the house our relationship is much more supportive however, i see signs of my grandmother and fear that one day it will be me at her funeral after not hearing her voice for years.

  37. maria
    June 30, 2009 at 8:28 pm

    Relationships with parents are extremely complex and it is so difficult to change the dynamics as an adult. I’m really sorry that you had to cut off your mother, I completely understand and used that method myself at various times.

    In the past 2 years I have worked very hard to create a relationship with my mom that went beyond the initial ‘damage control’ it started as. Anxiety was a huge issue with me as well and my mother could trigger a panic attack faster than anything. I’ve found that she has a habit of saying things just to put it out there, even though it isn’t what she intended to say. The part in your mom’s email where she says “[…]and you can take them with Lyrica” is something my mom would also say, but oddly enough is just a tangential statement. She would have no idea that it sounds like she’s suggesting the diet pill for me. I honestly don’t get it myself, but through observation and peaceful confrontation I’ve found it to be the case and have had to actively ignore them.

    In my attempt to fix our relationship (which was always broken), the first thing I learned to do was count to 10. I know that is cliche, but it helps with the combative cycle. This kept my mother’s attacks from getting a reaction. It led to me actively ending discussions that were draining. “I’m done talking about this.” In return I would begin conversations with her that validated her in my life. Asking for advice, even when I didn’t find it necessary, went a long way. It also puts you in control by sharing information that you are comfortable with. Ultimately I think there’s a strong desire in all parents to be useful in their adult child’s life and harnessing that can help keep unwanted/destructive opinions at bay.

  38. chava
    June 30, 2009 at 8:35 pm


    Yeah, “messy” is as good a description as any. My mother also takes quite a lot of opiates for a physical disability off and on, so there is some drug-altered personality there as well, which is a whole other can of worms and has to be carefully thought out as well. I appreciate your perspective as both a loved one and someone with your own disability issues, it gives a unique perspective.

    I find what you say about “fault” and “responsibility” to be very helpful as well.


    YES. Yes yes yes. My mother is very high functioning (mentally, her physical disability is a different story, although we don’t know, it MAY be part of the mental illness) and seems very normal, if a bit eccentric, 90 percent of the time and the other ten only comes out around close family–which is basically just me. THAT was fun not being believed about as a child.

    But you were talking more about the hope that maybe it will be “better.” This is so complicated and difficult. I think for some, getting “better” might be more painful than remaining ill. But I still catch myself thinking “maybe…” on good days.

  39. June 30, 2009 at 8:39 pm


    while I appreciate that you stopped by and made a fairly thoughtful comment, I do have to make it clear that neither mental illness nor abuse are things that can be trained out of a person’s interactions like that. Especially in the case of emotional abuse, it can come far too close to blaming the victim to suggest that if only the child take care to structure interactions this certain way, the parent will stop the abusive behavior. There are methods to deal with an abusive parent, for sure, but there are also ways to speak about them that do not imply that it’s just that easy to make the abuse go away.

    And in the case of mental illness, all I have to say is this: there is nothing I can do, say, not do, or not say to make my mother act, or react, any certain way. Her logic simply operates outside the realm of logic that I operate in — there is no other way to put it. When I was living with her those six months, it did not matter whether I responded to her digs or ignored them. And it didn’t matter whether I responded angrily, passionately, calmly and cooly, respectfully, deferentially, quietly, loudly — it didn’t matter whether I made careful, plaintive appeals designed ahead of time to be most acceptable to her — or whether I responded in the moment, out of hurt, showing exactly how I was feeling inside. Or whether I didn’t respond to her at all. No matter how I acted, she still treated me abusively, often the same abuse when I reacted different ways — or different abuses when I reacted the same ways.

    This sort of relationship is utterly impredictable in that way, and while I appreciate the time and thought, it is not as easy as avoiding hot spots or only using a certain tone or asking certain questions or staying on certain topics. (This may be confusing given the original OP, but suffice to say it is a lot easier to ignore certain emails than to ignore in-your-face physical space reactions.)

  40. chava
    June 30, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    I think most on this thread are talking about growing up with a ‘toxic’ and/or emotionally abusive parent with BPD, so just to clarify, that is not at all where I am coming from.
    It is more a reality/completely different reality issue than an emotionally manipulative or abusive issue ( I would give a diagnosis but she’s been to see a doctor about it). Now, that’s had some fun consequences (completely cut us off from both sides of the family, told me my father might sexually abuse me, etc) but it’s a different kettle of fish.

  41. chava
    June 30, 2009 at 8:49 pm

    Um, she’s NEVER been to see a doc about it, sorry.

    Also this thread has got me thinking about mothers and daughters, and how perhaps some of the things we inflict on each other are caused by the patriarchy and the way women are treated as wives and mothers. Someone upthread mentioned their mother improving when their abusive father died–the oppression women are faced with in certain situation on a daily basis (in my opinion) might literally drive some of us crazy.

    (“crazy” here in the sense of “mad,” not sure which is the better term).

  42. June 30, 2009 at 8:50 pm

    chava@40 — ya, that’s part of why I try to separate out MI/abuse, too. it really does no one any favors to conflate the two, not on any side of the issue.

    Being in two different realities — that’s really hard to explain to someone. I don’t know how else to do it but the paragraph above. There is *nothing* you can change about your own behavior to communicate with them when that communication isn’t happening. The powerlessness you feel right then…

  43. Emily Forte
    June 30, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Not to use the cliche “I know your pain” phrase, but I really do identify with your struggle. My mother is very passive aggressive as well, though certainly not to the extent of your mother’s illness. And I know all too well the meaning of the withdrawal method (no pun intended). I also know what it is like to live with a severely mentally ill person, (my father has paranoid schizophrenia) and the pain and embarrassment of trying to explain why we don’t talk. I, like you, also suffered torture at the hands of my older brother. It is both happy and sad for me to hear that someone else has been through a similar experience.

  44. June 30, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    Oh man. I too can identify.

    My grandmother (father’s mother), dead for more than a quarter century, was never DXed with anything, but her behavior was really similar. She pretty much had everyone around her totally cowed, to the point where nobody did a thing to stop her when she berated me all night long — yes, ALL night, not allowing me sleep — as “subhuman” for not kibbitzing with her canasta buddies. (I was 12. And autistic, which nobody knew yet.) Or when she (per my parents, since I don’t remember) tried to toilet train me at nine months of age. It took me decades of nonstop work on myself to believe that I was not “subhuman” and did deserve love, and while I’m not going to say I became suicidal just because of her, or because nobody protected me from her, it might well have been the last straw.

    I can only imagine what would have happened if she’d lived to see email.

  45. maria
    June 30, 2009 at 10:11 pm


    I was in no way trying to give the impression that the victim is responsible for the abuse or for ‘solving’ the behavior. The methods that helped my situation is certainly not a cure-all or even necessarily the route to go when abuse is taking place. The most important thing is to put your own well-being first and oftentimes the best way to do that is to end contact. I have found behavior modification practices very beneficial in feeling control over situations and thought the tactics used with my mother might be of use to someone using that strategy. Sorry that my words implied it would make abuse go away; I’ll try to be more careful of oversimplifying.

  46. Emma
    June 30, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    That is all too familiar to me. My mom didn’t accept treatment for her BPD (a known illness and possibly others that she didn’t tell me about) until after I left home at 18. I got used to not telling her anything because, yeah, information=ammunition. I desperately wanted her to be proud of me and say encouraging things to me, but I was reminded often that she wouldn’t have had kids if it hadn’t been expected of her, so that never happened.

    I had/have crazy body and trust issues, but it’s easier to sort through the feelings that come up now that I’ve had 12 years away from home to work on things. The best thing she did for me was suggest that I see a psychologist (of course she made the suggestion because she figured I came out as a lesbian just to make *her* suffer the indignity of it all).

    She started taking meds about 7 years ago and the difference was remarkable. I felt like she became a friend, once the vicious streak was gone. Unfortunately, about 6 months ago she stopped taking her meds, so we’re back to the same old story. I can’t be around her again and I miss the woman I got to know too briefly.

  47. Temporarily Anon.
    June 30, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    Thanks, and I can identify. So many women in my family have, or have had, some kind of mental illness. I’m distant at best from my family and not talking to my mother, partly because she’s fucked up, partly because I’m fucked up. The cats—just needing to take care of them, minimally but every day—helps so much.

    I don’t know any other women IRL with this kind of relationship with their mothers and it’s a bittersweet relief that I’m not the only one.

  48. thezackwastaken
    June 30, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Hi, I’ve been reading this blog for a while, but I’ve never posted. But my story’s similar to what others have posted, and since so many seem to have been helped by others sharing, I hoped I might join in.

    In my case, the nasty parent was my father. Since the day I was born, he’s been emotionally abusive towards me and my mother, in very similar ways to those that have been described. When I was about three, my father disappeared for two days, only to call my mother from a pay phone late at night on the second day. He told her he was wandering around the bad part of town nearby, waiting for someone to shoot him. This was an extreme case, but there were certainly others like it, and his insidious manipulation rarely let up.

    I totally get what everyone is saying about information = ammunition. Over the past twenty years, it’s evolved to the point where I withhold from everyone. Even friends. My father, and to a lesser extent my suffering mother, showed me that sharing my feelings would come to nothing but trouble.

    One of the most important things I’ve realized to help me through these issues is that not liking OR loving a parent, even if they provided you with food or a roof over your head, does NOT make you a bad person. That realization was incredibly freeing, even though I still have quite a bit to work through.

    One more thing, I’ve feared becoming my father before, plenty of times. I think the important thing there is self-awareness. Our parents will have some effect on our behavior. The key for me is seizing on the horror I feel when I act equally manipulative. It makes me less likely to do it again when I really let myself feel that.

  49. HairyLegs
    June 30, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Thanks for writing this post, amandaw. A lot of your mother’s behaviors that you describe are very similar to my mother’s behaviors. (My mom has been diagnosed with depression and personality disorder(s)). My sister and I have been talking a lot about issues of fault/responsibility, and your comments above are super helpful. My heart breaks for the pain and loneliness my mom feels, but I am full of anger at her for her choices and actions.

    When you said this:
    “Her logic simply operates outside the realm of logic that I operate in — there is no other way to put it.”
    It reminds me of one of the ways I think about my mom. I have this image of her (endless) arguments and tirades as following the logic of a child’s connect-the-dots drawing, instead of a linear logic. Her logic just goes off in all directions all over the place, and you can try to trace it out to get a sense of the overall picture, but mostly it’s just a bunch of crazy lines.

    Oh – and I’m another “thunder thighs”, according to my mom. Except when I’m “glamour-puss”. I never knew if I would be fat and horrible or cute and vain in her eyes. I could never predict from which direction the dig would come.

  50. Dr. Confused
    July 1, 2009 at 3:30 am

    I also have limited contact with my mother due to her behaviour, though I don’t think it is as severe as yours, and she has no diagnosis (though I suspect some depression and possibly, like me, ADD).

    But what really scares me is that I have a child. And frequent bouts of depression. And ADD. And social anxiety.

    I am trying very hard to not let my mental illnesses hurt my child. So far in her life (she is only 18 months) I have not had a period of major depression. I hope I can handle it. I hope I get help in time.

  51. Ishtar
    July 1, 2009 at 4:01 am

    Whoah, this post resonates deeply with me. My relationship with my mother is better now than it was in the past but that is largely because I rarely see her. I’ve learnt to define very strict boundaries and that has helped.

    My mom lived with me for a year when I was 30 and I was in emotional melt-down by the end of that year. Her mind games, manipulation and outright lies nearly destroyed me. My older sister told me recently that if I ever consider taking in my mom again she (my sister) will slap some sense into me if she has to.

    I love my mother and I dread the day she dies but I also can’t handle being around her for too long. I mourn not having a mother who cared for me and about me when I was growing up.

    I’m working with an amazing therapist now and together we’re discovering just how profoundly my mother’s emotional abuse affected the adult I became.

    My heart goes out to you amandaw. Stay strong.

    @ Ori – thanks for the book tip. I’m going to buy it as soon as my budget permits.

  52. miss b
    July 1, 2009 at 4:45 am

    wow, did this really capture my mother. she has borderline personality disorder as well, and . . . yeah. i can completely understand. i don’t tell her a damn thing, either.

    she did the exact same thing regarding my body; not only was it continually up for comment, it tended to be both too fat or too thin in the span of a few days. my body issues now are all kinds of complex and deep, and just, frankly, tiring, but amandaw, thank you for posting this. i only recently started making connections with others who had BPD parents, and that has been incredibly helpful in learning how to manage my relationship with my mother, and myself.

  53. July 1, 2009 at 6:10 am

    Oh wow! Thank you, Amanda.

    I think some people’s bodies, like my body, just don’t perform well when they’re below a certain weight range. I used to get the flu 3 times in one winter. I had awful fainting spells. And some of my relatives said – “OH MY GOD! PUT ON WEIGHT!!!”

    I went from a size 2 to a size 6, and, being tall for a girl, thought it was just right, especially since I don’t get sick anymore. Well, don’t you know, those same relatives who were screaming at me about being anorexic started screaming about how I’m a “cow” now and asking questions like “do you get your neighbours to zip you into your skirts?”

    When you get to the point of realizing that you need to withhold certain information from abusive relatives, lest they turn it into ammunition, as you put it, you still run up against the fact that your appearance is out there for them to comment on. Nowadays, when confronted by it, I’ll make a sarcastic comment like – “thanks for your compliment, you’re very kind, though it’s OK, my looks aren’t that important to me anyway, I have other stuff to think about.”

  54. Anon (for this one)
    July 1, 2009 at 7:41 am

    I’ve been sitting here letting this percolate for a few hours. Its hard for me to respond when something like this comes up because I am so conflicted. I still feel the need to protect my mother from my anger and hurt. One of the crazy aspects of being a victim of emotional child abuse, for me anyway.

    Growing up it was my responsibility to care for and protect my mother. I listened to her paranoid delusions, mediated disputes for her, handled her medication…it was my job to make sure she was okay, since my being born was the reason she wasn’t okay. (Add a splash of fear by telling me that I would someday be as ill as her and my grandmother who both had undiagnosed hashimotos with psychotic episodes!)

    So for most of my childhood, information = ammunition. Everything from what books I read, to who my friends were, to who my teachers were was used to humiliate and isolate me from others. If I had friends I wouldn’t be right there to help her all the time!

    When the psychosis got so dangerous that she had to be hospitalized, I felt like such a failure. And when she was diagnosed with Hashimotos and “cured” the hope that we could have a “normal” parent child relationship was so strong that I convinced myself to let down my guard.

    It was a disaster.

    My mother’s need for constant attention and validation was understandably even worse. By that time I was with my partner and in graduate school and struggling to make ends meet. I later found out she was receiving $2,000 a month in alimony from my father, but calling me to ask for $100 here and there when my partner was working two jobs just to help put me through school. When I finally said “No” I wouldn’t send her money, or move in with her, or leave my partner, or leave school, or let her move in with us she decided I was colluding with my father to hurt her. So since I wasn’t helping her…she forgot my birthday, my partner’s name, where we lived, that I was in school….It was a painful lesson in the consequences of standing up to an abusive parent. I realized to her, I only have value if I’m helping her.

    That was one of the most painful realizations of my life I must say. It took about a year of therapy to work through the guilt (hospitalization, her illness, feeling responsible for her unhappiness) and anger (how could she not love me, I’m her daughter goddamn it). For me* it all clicked in my head when my therapist said that I had two perfectly valid choices: (1) have a relationship with my mother based on accepting her as the flawed person she is or (2) refuse to have a relationship with her.

    It took me a while to accept that she is a flawed person (as we all are) and that her behavior isn’t my fault and isn’t my responsibility regardless of what she says on the matter. It also took me a while to let go of trying to make things better. I can’t make my mother happy. It’s not possible. She’s not a happy person. Even when I did everything she wanted exactly how she wanted it, there was always something else I failed at. I had to make the relationship work for me…provide me with something that I found beneficial.

    So I went to visit her and I saw her for who she was…a very scared woman who only knows how to relate to people by controlling them. She has had some horrible experiences and they’ve influenced her deeply. But I love her. Despite everything she’s done, and everything she will continue to do, I love her. So I answer the phone when I feel like it. I rarely listen to what she actually says because most of it is just intended to frighten me in to moving in with her (e.g., last time she said had been sexually assaulted…I freaked…upon further inquiry the sexual assault was a pat on the shoulder by a 92 year old, man who knew her father. A previous time she said she burned down the house upon further inquiry she had accidentally left a fork on a plate she was microwaving and there were sparks). Instead I make listening noises, tell her I love her and steer the conversation around to her and avoid personal visits at all costs (the last time I visited she invited a convicted child molester to lunch without my knowledge…yup that’s right…a convicted child molester….to lunch….with her daughter who volunteers with abused and neglected kids…personal visits are clearly out of the question….)

    It works. I get to talk to her. I know she’s alive and feeling well enough to annoy me. She knows that I love her and the regardless I will still love her but not necessarily in the way she wants to be loved.

    Anyway, I’ve rambled long enough. Thanks for the post and the ability to talk about something so painful.

  55. July 1, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Natalia, yes! It wasn’t that my family was being mean cuz I had an abnormal body, and it would go away if I would “fix” what they criticized. No — they found things to criticize no matter what.

    I had a particular pattern in my family — I was a generation younger than my three siblings, and not living under the specter of their severely-abusive father (who died before I came along), so my life was very, very different than theirs. And in a lot of ways, much better/easier. And they came down on me for it — hard — I think they had to tear me down so they wouldn’t feel like this young thing was “above” them somehow. They had to stay on top. So whatever it took, they would tear me down. Didn’t matter what for.

    So I grew up with a lot of hostile “teasing” and such — and even when I tried to change to make them stop criticizing me — they’d then criticize me for the SAME things they had previously implied they’d be happier with.

    So I had ugly feet, and they recoiled on hugging me because I felt too skinny, but then they’d pat my back and sides when I got a little padding and sit there and talk over me about it… common …

    The patriarchal beauty standards are obviously very big in this, tho my family would have found something to come down on me about even without them. But then there’s the added fun that they’re using these standards that society is also holding down on us — so when I turned outward from my family, I had society pressuring me to be the same thing my family was. Even w/o those same abusive tactics — it triggered those feelings in me again — and affected me deeply in how I relate to those societal standards.

  56. July 1, 2009 at 9:06 am

    See — I thought when I put the original post up that it was rather sparse and disjointed, that I didn’t explain things well. But so many people identified so quickly. It’s amazing to watch…

    I did originally mean for the post to be about both the abuse/mental illness mix and the beauty standards at work. I figured on this blog I’d get more of the latter comments — but there are so many of us who have been affected by the former … it’s both sad and helpful at the same time.

  57. Bethany
    July 1, 2009 at 9:52 am

    Hi Amanda. What you have written is very familiar to me due to similarities with my own mother. My advice and comments:

    I would rephrase the “information=ammunition” as: information=*better* ammunition. But in truth, *everthing*=ammunition to a person with an illness such as your mother appears to have. And the reason information is better ammunition is that it gives what they (your mother) says, a *veneer* of rationality. In truth, for people with such a personality disorder, the origin of any criticisms they makes lies within themselves, and information just makes it sound like their criticism might somehow have a kernel of reason to it. But it doesn’t. As you said, what she says bears no relation to reality. Thus, it wasn’t really necessary for you to give us all an explanation about your weight and the injustness of implying that you are fat. I (and probably others here) know that your size is irrelevant to your mom’s comments. The reason she made them was that to her, you are an extension of herself, something to be used as a repository and target of her emotions, whatever they might be at the time. So this is what was going on in her thought processes, I believe: she went to the doctor, the doctor said she needs to lose weight, which risked making her feel bad. In order to deflect the criticism, she immediately started thinking about you, and how the one with the real problem must be someone else, and that someone else must be [spin roulette wheel and it lands on…] YOU, not HERSELF. She has no boundaries. Everyone and everything is an extension of herself in some way. I’m betting that she frequently tells her friends about how wonderful you are, so she can seem awesome to them and they will be jealous, even as she says to you various put-downs, so she can seem better by comparison, and so she can crush your spirit, in order to make you realize that you’re nothing and nobody and only she will ever truly love you, and so you can’t do without her (happily, her strategy has not worked).

    I think the story your mom told you before mentioning the weight thing has significance, too. I’m doubting that her doctor told her the story like that. Seems like kind of a personal detail for a doctor to say, and with the hugging and everything. Seemed more like she was trying to tell you that if she dies, you’ll be sorry for how you treated her. ‘And see, the doctor likes talking to me, so why don’t you talk to me?’ I think it’s a little strange for a doctor to recommend a supplement like that, too. Sounds to me more like she saw it advertised on TV or something.

  58. Magnetic Crow
    July 1, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    Oh gods… this reminds me so painfully much of my own mom… She has Manic Depression, which is similar to Bipolar disorder, though more prone to very long periods of manic or depressive behavior, and violence. Against herself or others.
    Being beaten up by her, being guilted into anorexia by her, having her threaten suicide or walking out if she became upset… She made much of my childhood miserable. I still talk with her, spend time with her. I never disclose info about my health or work situation either (she’d never help me even if I needed money), and my siblings and I have learned to dread her favorite question, “Was I a terrible mother?”
    …how am I supposed to answer that?

    I feel horrible for you AmandaW, and everyone else who has posted here about their own experiences. But it’s good, also, to know that I am not alone…

  59. Jane
    July 2, 2009 at 8:01 am

    My mom’s like this — personality disorder (BPD or antisocial, depends on who is doing the diagnosing), severe addictions, depression over most of her life.

    I learned a long time ago that whatever she’s talking to me about has little to do with me. I’m just a prop in the Sarah show. She projects all of her bad stuff on me. I’m not really a person to her. I’m an object that she can use to hold her bad feelings. If she’s talking to me about my weight, it’s because she’s feeling bad about her weight and needs somewhere to put those bad feelings.

  60. July 2, 2009 at 9:37 am


    I have a lot to say about objectification in this context. You have it nailed.

    Growing up as a parent’s object, rather than their child, has the additional consequence of disconnecting us from our inner selves, because we have been taught that we exist for the purposes of others. No one ever gave us any idea that there was a “me” inside to connect with at all. And the process of making that connection is a long and difficult one.

    I’m hoping to write on it but I wanted to thank you for pointing that out.

  61. Embee
    July 2, 2009 at 10:08 am

    amandaw I so appreciate your opening this discussion.

    My Mom’s BPD presents much as yours. I’m alternately a whore or “could use a little lipstick.” She’s bored and occasionally emerges from her coccoon to pull off some fabulous event single-handedly…only to recede into her hiding spot after having fed on public admiration. All done through her dedication to the chucrch, so she’s COMPELTELY beyond the pale.

    Like your family, I was different from my sibs (younger) and I was successful socially, athletically and academically where they were not. Thus, at home I was fodder; a joke; ridiculous. The more I tried to prove I was good the more they were inspired to criticise–y’know, to keep me humble. So then I intentionally failed and I was written off as the failure they had always known I was.

    Anxiety attacks, eating disorders, and abusive relationships with men all predictably followed my years in that household. I found an awesome therapist who was a child of a Borderline as well and who guided me out of that maze/Catch 22. Living thousands of miles away and having established myself definitively in my profession helps, too.

    I’m so happy that you have found a place of relative peace. And hell yeah about the cats (or any animals, for that matter).

    I found very helpful the book “Understanding the Borderline Mother” by Christine Ann Lawson. Hope it helps you and all the wonderful people who have shared their experiences experiences here. Nice to know I’m not the only one.

    Does anyone else’s chest seize up while writing about this? Shit.

  62. July 2, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Like your family, I was different from my sibs (younger) and I was successful socially, athletically and academically where they were not. Thus, at home I was fodder; a joke; ridiculous. The more I tried to prove I was good the more they were inspired to criticise–y’know, to keep me humble. So then I intentionally failed and I was written off as the failure they had always known I was.

    This is just disturbing in how accurate it is… for so long I thought it was just my unique childhood, no one else seemed to really understand why it was so damaging. So I figured I was the only one. It’s such an awful family dynamic to grow up in — attacked from all sides. Not JUST your mother, not JUST your siblings — everyone. And if they’ve successfully isolated you socially, you don’t have any other frame of reference or any other place to turn.

  63. Angiportus
    July 3, 2009 at 6:27 am

    A lot of this sounds sickeningly familiar, even though the guilty parties in my case were not officially diagnosed with anything. Some of the family might still wonder why Angiportus is the only family member who doesn’t want to be hugged and slobbered over, and who never mentions love. Some suspect–and some know damn well.
    And I don’t know where anyone got the idea that it’s okay to ever comment on or criticize someone’s body. Way back in early grade-school I learned that you never ever say things like that. But some of the same people who taught me that rule, later broke it. Bigtime.
    With some of these people the only thing you can do is let ’em have it in no uncertain terms. And I hope you can do a better, quicker and surer job than I did. The minute they start that crap again, get up and say it is inappropriate for you and they can just cut it out, and if that doesn’t work, you just up and walk–or make them walk. Now I realize that some of the folks you describe aren’t capable of straightening themselves out, so maybe all you can do is not spend any time with them, and be a little more honest than I was and tell them why. Well, you each are the best judge of your own situation, I guess. Counseling sounds like a good idea. But just protect yourself, say I, however you can.
    Anyone who ever feels tempted to comment on someone else’s body, or their harmless private life, etc., needs to stop and think that that person might have already been handed enough “slugs.” It is like a teacher who piles homework on a kid without asking how much they already have to work on. Some of us got enough negative messages early on to shatter a dozen lesser minds.
    If I am okay with something of mine, I don’t need someone dissing it, and if I am not, I sure as sunrise don’t need it rubbed in. Anyone who can’t understand that is too stupid, or crazy, to be hanging out with me.
    The whole fad of body criticsm, in any form, needs to come to a blazing halt. Folks who can’t find anything else to talk about, for crying out loud, they need to kick-start their brains. What the hell do you think the weather is for??

  64. Jenna
    July 3, 2009 at 7:26 am

    I am also the daughter of a woman with BPD. It’s for others to understand the depth of emotional abuse that can be rendered by the person with the disorder. People with BPD inflict so much emotional harm on those around them and revel in the negative attention these actions evoke. They feel no need to get help for themselves no matter how much damage they inflict because they enjoy hurting others. You did the right thing by limiting your contact with her. My BPD mother waited three days to tell me my grandfather had died because she wanted to hurt me for missing a Sunday call. I cut off contact right after and have never been happier or more relaxed. Of course a little therapy helped too…

  65. Jenna
    July 3, 2009 at 7:29 am

    I am also the daughter of a woman with BPD. It’s difficult for others to understand the depth of emotional abuse that can be rendered by the person with the disorder. People with BPD inflict so much emotional harm on those around them and revel in the negative attention these actions evoke. They feel no need to get help for themselves no matter how much damage they inflict because they enjoy hurting others. You did the right thing by limiting your contact with her. My BPD mother waited three days to tell me my grandfather had died because she wanted to hurt me for missing a Sunday call. I cut off contact right after and have never been happier or more relaxed. Of course a little therapy helped too…

  66. Jane
    July 5, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Anyone who ever feels tempted to comment on someone else’s body, or their harmless private life, etc., needs to stop and think that that person might have already been handed enough “slugs.” It is like a teacher who piles homework on a kid without asking how much they already have to work on. Some of us got enough negative messages early on to shatter a dozen lesser minds.

    This is 100% true. It also has ZERO effect to tell someone with BPD or narcissistic personality disorder or anti-social personality disorder this, because they don’t care how someone else feels. They not only don’t care, they’re not really capable of caring how someone else feels. My mother is capable of empathy only in the rarest of circumstances. She just can’t “see” how someone else is feeling. She doesn’t have the capacity to grok other people’s feelings. It’s like she’s blind. BPD/NPD/ASPD are like autism with good social skills. She understands how to act and respond in a social situation, but she doesn’t understand the underlying feelings of the other people in a social interaction. She can hear the music but she doesn’t get the meaning.

    I’m really not kidding when I say that I’m just a prop in my mother’s life. She cannot perceive that people have any more feelings that a chair or her purse. It’s a real disability.

    Tie that inability to understand other people’s feelings and thoughts together with the splitting characterstics of BPD (Ie. people or things are either 100% good or 100% evil) and you can understand why people with BPD are in such a high state of distress so much of the time. They don’t understand why people act the way they do, and don’t understand that a single bad exchange with a person doesn’t mean that the person is 100% evil. It all seems random to a person with BPD and every incident is very high stakes for them. It makes a person with BPD a nightmare as a parent of children — every childish screw-up is incomprehensible to the parent with BPD and it is evidence that the child is bad/evil/hates the parent.

  67. July 5, 2009 at 11:05 am

    It also has ZERO effect to tell someone with BPD or narcissistic personality disorder or anti-social personality disorder this, because they don’t care how someone else feels. They not only don’t care, they’re not really capable of caring how someone else feels.

    Wow. Hold on there.

    This sort of thinking helps nobody.

    I’ma try to get that post up today.

  68. Jane
    July 6, 2009 at 11:18 am

    Wow. Hold on there.

    This sort of thinking helps nobody.

    I’ma try to get that post up today.

    Sorry. Talking about BPD is always difficult. I don’t mean that in the way that I think you took it. It’s meant as a way to understand what the problem is — untreated BPD’s lack empathy and the ability to understand complexity in human behavior and asking them to change their behavior on the basis of how someone else might feel is not useful. It’s like asking a blind from birth person to describe colors.

    Empathy can be developed through therapy, but it’s very difficult. In the meantime, the “think about other people feel and change your behavior” is not a useful means to address the problem. It just doesn’t work, and it doesn’t work because of the personality disorder fundamentally interferes with what the person is being asked to do. It’s not a fair request.

  69. akeeyu
    July 7, 2009 at 3:36 pm


    ” People with BPD inflict so much emotional harm on those around them and revel in the negative attention these actions evoke. They feel no need to get help for themselves no matter how much damage they inflict because they enjoy hurting others. ”

    Please try to separate “ASSHOLE” from “Manic Depressive.” Not all Manic Depressives are bad people.

    My mother is Manic Depressive and you could not find a better, more loving, more thoughtful woman to raise you.


    “It also has ZERO effect to tell someone with BPD or narcissistic personality disorder or anti-social personality disorder this, because they don’t care how someone else feels. They not only don’t care, they’re not really capable of caring how someone else feels. ”

    You do realize that you’re discussing three entirely separate illnesses, correct?

    “…untreated BPD’s lack empathy and the ability to understand complexity in human behavior”

    Plase stop. This is so offensive to Manic Depressives. We’re not capable of feeling empathy or other people unless we’re medicated? We’re not human unless we’re medicated?

    Amandaw, please consider shutting down this thread. It appears to have devolved into hate speech.

  70. debbie
    July 7, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Akeeyu, in this thread BPD is borderline personality disorder, not bipolar disorder.
    I do agree that some really nasty things have been said on this thread, but that seems par for the course when mental health issues come up on feministe.

    (amandaw – just to be clear, I’m talking about commenters, not you)

  71. July 7, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Is it a derail to raise the issue of the intersection between feminism and mental illness? I think it’s fascinating that Amandaw writes about her experience with her mother’s Borderline Personality Disorder, and so many commenters chime in with similar experiences (though for the record, I too read BPD in the comments to mean BiPolar Disorder). No one yet, unless I missed it, has mentioned a father or male relative with this condition. Considering that Borderline Personality Disorder is so stereotypically a women’s condition, can we take a step back and consider the history of women and diagnoses of mental illness? Can we take a second to wonder how the actual chemical/structural glitch may or may not be exacerbated by environmental issues such as rape, lack of access to education, endemic poverty, lack of access to contraception, etc?

    I think these issues are important, even if they need to be addressed in a separate thread.

  72. akeeyu
    July 7, 2009 at 4:25 pm


    Fair enough, but plenty of people upthread were bagging on the Manic Depressives. It all started looking like the same BS and the tired old generalizations.

    I’m tired of always having mental illness (of any stripe) discussed from the outside in.

    I’m tired of being told what Those People Are Like.

  73. July 7, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    No, akeeyu was on the mark. I’ve been working on a post on the issues that came up in this thread, including my own mistakes here. Taken as a whole, this thread (and I am included there) does display some pretty disappointing attitudes about people with mental health issues.

    I’ll go ahead and close this, and providing I actually remember, provide a link to the new thread once I get it posted. I’m hoping that will be before the end of tomorrow – I just had my eyes dialated and can hardly see.


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