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Stop Walking on Eggshells

When someone in your life has borderline or narcissistic personality disorder.

by Randi Kreger

Prognosis is Gloomy for Children with Personality-Disordered Parents, Studies Suggest

low-self esteem and personality disorders can result

We've touched on parents with personality disorders in the comments in many of the blog articles I've posted. While I have written much about the subject, as have many others, I thought I would highlight the studies on borderline and narcissistic parents that I could easily find when searching pubmed.com. These are not all the studies that have been done; just those I found in a search.

Rather than interpret them for you, I will let them speak for themselves. I have put the take-home message in bold and italic. I did not just pick the ones with negative messages; they all showed concern for children raised by BPD and NPD parents (mostly mothers).

I have not posted the methodology of the studies for simplicity's sake. If you're interested in learning more about how the research was conducted (for example the number of subjects studied) please follow the links. Some studies may be better designed than others.

Compr Psychiatry. 2001 Jan-Feb;42(1):16-23.

Childhood verbal abuse and risk for personality disorders during adolescence and early adulthood.

Data from a community-based longitudinal study were used to investigate whether childhood verbal abuse increases risk for personality disorders (PDs) during adolescence and early adulthood. Offspring who experienced maternal verbal abuse during childhood were more than three times as likely as those who did not experience verbal abuse to have borderline, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, and paranoid PDs during adolescence or early adulthood. These findings suggest that childhood verbal abuse may contribute to the development of some types of PDs, independent of offspring temperament, childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, physical punishment during childhood, parental education, parental psychopathology, and co-occurring psychiatric disorders.

J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 1994;42(2):525-48.

Maternal empathy, family chaos, and the etiology of borderline personality disorder.

This study found that mothers of borderlines tended to conceive of their children egocentrically, as need-gratifying objects, rather than as individuals with distinct and evolving personalities. This study also found that the mothers of borderlines reported raising their daughters in extremely chaotic families struggling to cope with multiple hardships, including divorce and financial worries. The stressful environmental circumstances reported by the mothers likely affected the borderline daughters directly as well as the mothers' ability to parent effectively and empathically. The results of this study suggest that, as predicted by psychoanalytic theory, a problematic mother-child relationship may play a significant role in the genesis of borderline pathology; however, the life circumstances that contextualize the mother-child relationship also need to be considered when accounting for the etiology of BPD.

Child Dev Perspect. 2009 Apr;3(1):66.

Development in Children and Adolescents Whose Mothers Have Borderline Personality Disorder.

A mother's mental illness may have a profound effect on her child's development, including an increased risk of the child developing the same disorder. From a developmental psychopathology perspective, offspring provide an opportunity to examine pathways to disorder versus resilience.

Interestingly, the domains of dysfunction are conceptually similar to developmental tasks in early childhood reworked in adolescence: attachment, self development, and self-regulation. Early deviation may increase the risk for later disorder. There are five empirical studies of children whose mothers have BPD, two conducted from a developmental perspective. This article proposes a theoretical framework and an innovative methodology with which to extend this research, and suggests an intervention to bring development back on track if necessary.

Br J Psychiatry. 2009 Oct;195(4):325-30.

How mothers with borderline personality disorder relate to their year-old infants.

Women with borderline personality disorder have conflictual interpersonal relations that may extend to disrupted patterns of interaction with their infants. As predicted, a higher proportion (85%) of women with borderline personality disorder than women in the comparison groups showed disrupted affective communication with their infants. They were also distinguished by the prevalence of frightened/disoriented behaviour. Maternal borderline personality disorder is associated with dysregulated mother-infant communication.

J Pers Disord. 2008 Oct;22(5):451-65.

Maternal borderline personality disorder symptoms and adolescent psychosocial functioning.

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is characterized by severe disruption of interpersonal relationships, yet very little research has examined the relationship between maternal BPD and offspring psychosocial functioning. The present study examined 815 mothers and their 15-year-old children from a community-based sample to determine (1) if there is an association between mothers' BPD symptoms and the interpersonal functioning, attachment cognitions, and depressive symptoms of their offspring, and (2) if the association of maternal BPD and youth outcomes is independent of maternal and youth depression.

Results indicated that there was a significant association between maternal BPD symptoms and youth outcomes, and that this association remained even after controlling for maternal lifetime history of major depression, maternal history of dysthymic disorder, and youth depressive symptoms. This study provides some of the first empirical evidence for a link between mother's BPD symptoms and youth psychosocial outcomes.

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2007 Jul;41(7):598-605.

Borderline personality disorder, mother-infant interaction and parenting perceptions: preliminary findings.

Parents diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) are likely to find the emotional aspects of parenting challenging. Research into the difficulties that these parents experience, however, is lacking. The aims of the present study were to (i) gain an understanding of the interactional patterns of mothers with BPD and their infants and (ii) to explore the parenting perceptions of mothers with BPD.

Mothers with BPD were found to be less sensitive and demonstrated less structuring in their interaction with their infants, and their infants were found to be less attentive, less interested and less eager to interact with their mother. Furthermore, mothers with BPD reported being less satisfied, less competent and more distressed. Early intervention needs to be provided to mothers with BPD to promote maternal sensitivity and maternal perceptions of competence.