The damage of borderline personality disorder on children can begin in the earliest stages of infancy and disrupt the development of secure attachment and engagement. Studies have found that interactions between mothers with BPD and their infant children are characterized by insensitivity, high levels of intrusion, and low levels of positive response to infant distress. These mothers are less likely to engage in healthy infant parenting behaviors, with researchers noting, “Mothers with BPD smiled less, touched and imitated their infants less, and played fewer games with their babies.” Additionally, mothers with BPD often have difficulty identifying and appropriately responding to their children’s emotional state. These unmet psychosocial needs at critical moments of development increase risk of disorganized attachment and rob children of security, comfort, and safety from the very beginning of their lives.
As children grow older and become verbal, the impact of BPD on their understanding of themselves, their mothers, and the world around them becomes more pronounced. The mother’s unstable identity, mood volatility, fear of abandonment, and black-and-white thinking can coalesce to prevent nurturing parenting behaviors and deeply fracture the child’s psychological, social, and behavioral development. Compassion, empathy, and validation are often withheld as your mother is unable to recognize your emotional needs or formulate appropriate responses. This, combined with the unpredictability, impulsivity, and extremity of those with BPD, is extraordinarily detrimental to the establishment of a secure emotional base from which to grow and flourish. Additionally, it leaves children without a model for healthy interpersonal functioning, conflict resolution, and emotional regulation, increasing vulnerability to maladaptive and self-destructive behaviors. As April, a woman who grew up with a mother who suffered from untreated BPD, says:
[Parents] really are naturally your compass. They are your example. You adopt what they do because you see the world through their eyes. I really struggled to know how to handle my emotions because I wasn’t being taught how. I developed an eating disorder because I didn’t know how to regulate how I felt.
Children of mothers with BPD are also at heightened risk for exhibiting attention difficulties, aggressive behavior, and low self-esteem, in addition to major depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder itself.