The Pitfalls of Trying to Be a Caretaker for a Borderline Parent

The Pitfalls of Trying to Be a Caretaker for a Borderline Parent

Embarking on the journey of being the primary source of emotional and psychological support for a loved one, especially a family member, is fraught with complexities. Yet, this was the unexpected role I assumed for a significant portion of my life, acting as the de facto mental health crisis manager for my mother. It took me a long time to understand that my dedication and tireless efforts were manifestations of co-dependency, mainly because my mother was adamant about not seeking professional help. Time and again, she dismissed the idea of therapy, choosing instead to confide in me—her child—about her suicidal ideations and bouts of extreme emotional distress. The thought of turning away from her and potentially facing catastrophic consequences left me feeling trapped. No one, after all, wants to bear the weight of being responsible for their parent’s demise. From my adolescence, I dove into a self-taught course on mental health, poring over library books, studying psychology formally, and even reading therapeutic manuals during times when I should have been relaxing with my family.

My mother’s journey with her mental health has been tumultuous, marked by significant advancements and regressions. Her behaviour ranged from isolating herself in a dilapidated house for months, adorned in military surplus gear, to alarming public outbursts of anger. Despite these challenges, there seemed to be a gradual decrease in the frequency and intensity of her episodes in recent years, a development that cautiously raised my hopes.

However, as I began to trust in this newfound stability, life’s adversities struck her hard. Financial difficulties, marital strife, and issues with my brother overwhelmed her, leading her to seek my support once again. But the truth is, I need to be equipped to manage her crises. Each time she “turns to me” feels more like an attack, leaving me emotionally drained and hurt. My love for her and desire to help remain unchanged, yet I’ve realised that I am not the right person for this role.

The Pitfalls of Trying to Be a Caretaker for a Borderline Parent

The Ebb and Flow of BPD Progress

Living with BPD is akin to navigating the unpredictable waves of the sea. There are moments of progress, like riding a powerful wave forward, followed by setbacks that feel like being pulled under. Yet, I remain optimistic about the potential for improvement. Borderline personality disorder, often cited for its hopeful prognosis, presents a complex challenge for those who live with it and their loved ones. Overcoming it typically requires professional intervention and a genuine willingness from the individual to seek help, even during periods of relative calm. Family members must resist the urge to become the emotional regulators for their loved ones with BPD, as it can foster a detrimental dynamic for all involved.

Prioritising Self-care

Dealing with a loved one’s untreated mental illness can be overwhelming. The anger, accusations, and emotional turmoil are often expressions of their inner distress, not a reflection of their worth. Learning this was a revelation for me, offering a sense of liberation that I revisit whenever I need reassurance.

The pre-flight safety briefings given by flight attendants teach a vital lesson: you must secure your own “oxygen mask” before assisting others. This means establishing healthy boundaries, seeking personal therapy, understanding codependency, and recognizing the importance of stepping back from the role of being your loved one’s therapist or crisis manager. Embracing these practices is not only necessary for your well-being but also for maintaining a healthier dynamic with your BPD-affected loved one.

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