OK, so I’m writing another article for men about women with Borderline Personality Disorder. This time, unlike others, I am not issuing a disclaimer for the sake of those who have the disorder.
That said, most of my other material has focused on why men should avoid relationships with these women. I’ve outlined the likelihood for the potential hazards borderlines bring with them. Chronic manipulation, false accusations of physical and sexual abuse, self-mutilation, suicide “attempts,” substance abuse and infidelity are just some of a string of possible living nightmares that await you in any relationship you might have with one of these women.
And as hazardous as being attached to a borderline can be, it only gets worse when you break up with or divorce one. As always, my first and only real suggested reaction to encountering borderline women in your relationship life is to run like Forest Gump.
However, let’s assume for a moment that you lack the sense to not run into a minefield wearing snow shoes. Perhaps the allure of the crazy hot sex is just too much. Maybe she has love bombed you Hiroshima-style and you are sitting up on that savior’s perch she built for you, stupidly confident that she will never knock you off. Maybe you just need to be a white knight, being as you can’t handle birds with intact wings. Stranger things have happened.
But if none of the pitfalls of being tethered to a borderline woman is enough to dissuade you from taking that kind of plunge in life, I am hoping the information you are about to read will at least give you a contemplative pause before you ever entertain the idea of breeding with one of these women.
And in case you are wondering, it’s not because of the potential for child support, parental alienation and the other side effects of breeding with your average cluster B, though those things are certainly on the table.
What I am talking about is the physical health and developmental well-being of your child, both of which are placed in jeopardy when a child has a mother with borderline personality disorder –from the moment they are conceived. Borderlines have an unfortunate tendency to smoke, drink and drug their babies into premature delivery, low birth weight and birth defects like fetal alcohol syndrome. Not to put too fine a point on it – borderlines are just plain bad for children, during pregnancy and every day afterward. This isn’t a matter of speculation on my part. What I am about to tell you comes straight from medical and psychological research.
We will begin with a 2015 study on Perinatal Psychiatry by The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists titled, “Borderline Personality Disorder in the Perinatal Period: Early Infant and Maternal Outcomes” (sorry, paywall). They utilized a control group of 14,313 women classified as healthy and an experimental group of 42 women with a clinical diagnoses of Borderline Personality Disorder. Both groups were studied over the same period of time in the same medical facility. From the results, we start to get a picture of life for the child of a mother with borderline personality, from the point of being a newborn and on into late infancy.
From the paper:
Results: Women presenting for obstetric services with a clinical diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder experienced considerable psychosocial impairment. They anticipated birth as traumatic and frequently requested early delivery. High comorbidity with substance abuse was found and high rates of referral to child protective services. Mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder were significantly more likely to have negative birth outcomes such as lowered Apgar scores, prematurity, and special care nursery referral when compared with controls.
A few brief explanations are required for some of the terminology used in this description.
Psychosocial impairment, also known as psychosocial dysfunction or psychosocial morbidity, refers to abnormal emotional and cognitive features of a person’s personality. As you will see going forward, this can have a profound, negative impact on maternal functioning and subsequently on your child’s psychological development.
Comorbidity, in the psychiatric sense, simply means the simultaneous presence to two or more psychopathologies in one person. In the case of borderline personality, we frequently find comorbidity with substance abuse, depression, and other disorders.
Apgar scores measure your child’s physical health at birth, assessing heart rate, respiratory effort, muscle tone, response to stimulation, and skin coloration. Apgar scores are actually the results of two tests, one at one minute after birth and another at 5 minutes after birth. The one minute test assesses how well the infant tolerated delivery. The five-minute test determines how the infant is faring outside the womb.
On average, the children of borderline mothers score lower on both tests. This is significant, as the study results show that babies born to borderline mothers are more than twice as likely to have physical complications that require placement in neonatal intensive care units or specialized skilled nursing facilities. Fully one-third, 33.3% of newborns to borderline mothers required specialized placement. 12.6% of the control infants scored lower than 7 on Apgar assessment compared to 25% of infants from borderline mothers. Again, more than twice the risk.
Unfortunately, that is not where the problem ends, it is where it starts. Once the birthing process is done there are developmental perils facing the children of borderline mothers that occur during the crucial time of early infancy. To start getting a picture of this, I refer you to the British Journal of Psychiatry in a study titled, “How Mothers with Borderline Personality Disorder Relate to Their Year-Old Infants” The study primarily concerns itself with the consistency and stability of the mother’s emotional bonding with their infants.
The results were unsurprising given the pronounced instability in relationships demonstrated by borderlines with other adults. Reading from the study, they concluded that “…a higher proportion (85%) of women with borderline personality disorder than comparison groups showed disrupted affective (or emotional) communication with their infants.
They were also distinguished by the prevalence of frightened/disoriented behavior.” They went on to say in their conclusions that, “Maternal borderline personality disorder is associated with dysregulated mother-infant communication.”
To understand the real-world implications of this clinical language, and to reframe it in a more plainspoken vernacular, I refer to the Encyclopedia of Child Behavior and Development, and to their definition of the synonymous, Disorganized/Disoriented Attachment.
From their web page, it is, they inform us that, “… a child who exhibits behavioral disorganization or disorientation in the form of wandering, confused expressions, freezing, undirected movements, or contradictory (i.e. “unorganized”) patterns of interaction with a caregiver. Most of these children have histories of maltreatment and may exhibit fear of the caregiver.”
Another paper from the British Journal of Psychiatry that explores the unhealthy impact of borderline mothers on the development of their infant children is titled, “Still Face Interactions Between Mothers with Borderline Personality and their 2-month-old infants.” The paper’s authors described the borderline mothers who participated in the testing as, “intrusively insensitive” toward their infants.
The infants in the study were noted to have, “increased looking away and dazed looks.” They also said that the interactions for the infants were less satisfying and that the infants demonstrated lowered affect after the still face interactions. In other words, the infants began shutting down, emotionally.
To illustrate this more clearly, let’s take a look at the following short video, demonstrating what happens to the infant’s state of mind when the mother presents affectively consistent with what we would see in borderline mothers.
At this sensitive stage in life, the interactions of a child with his or her borderline mother are quite possibly damaging. If you’ve ever had ongoing interactions with a borderline woman, then you know the destructive effect they can have on the individuals with which they have formed an emotional bond. These studies imply the possibility that even in the nonverbal realm of communication with their own infants, love, or even maternal instincts don’t override the pathology to provide protection for the child.
If you use this information to form a template for what the child can expect over the term of its developmental life, it would be entirely reasonable to see it as predictive of multiple ongoing blows to the child’s mental health.
Compare now what we know of the children of borderline mothers to those not suffering from disorganized attachment. Children of healthy mothers show distress upon separation from mother, not from her presence. Mothers of securely attached infants can quickly have a soothing effect on their children when distressed. Not so when the attachment is disorganized, as it is with borderline mothers.
It is very important here to point out something about the groupings in the Australian study. The group labeled “healthy” might have been better-named non-borderline, as it included a variety of psychopathologies other than borderline personality, including major depression and schizophrenia. The control group did not screen out these other disorders.
Obviously, and as the studies concluded, the borderline patient presents some real challenges for obstetricians and related health professionals providing neonatal care. It is imperative that services be shaped to address the added risks that come with these patients, for the patients themselves, and for their children.
It is also vitally important to reach out to men contemplating fatherhood with this information. They need to be able to make informed decisions that will give them the best shot at providing a healthy start for their children.