I need some advice on dealing with my 24 year-old daughter who has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. She has had rages, crying fits, numerous bad relationships, etc. for years. She is manipulative. She didn't finish school, she can't keep a job, sooner or later everyone disappoints her or is somehow bad to her. There have been several suicide threats and gestures. Thankfully she doesn't live with us, but about 40 miles away. We support her, though we don't send her a lot of money, as we hope she will be encouraged to work. Still, it seems as though every time she comes to visit, it always ends in crying and rages. Seems as though we were just never good enough as parents. For what it is worth, we adopted her as an infant. She takes anti depressants (at least until she decides she doesn't need them, so she goes off until a life crisis forces her back on them).
She has been to counselors since she was in elementary school (she was difficult even then). She seldom stays in therapy for long. With our other children (who have been quite successful) out of the nest, my husband and I would like to enjoy some time together to travel, etc. (I can't tell you how many vacations she has wrecked by having some sort of crisis that necessitated our coming home early.) I realize that makes us co-dependents, but can we simply abandon a mentally ill child, even if she is grown? If she committed suicide, it would be so hard to live with. But neither do I want to spend the rest of our lives with her bouncing back repeatedly with her problems. I don't mean to sound heartless, but I am just tired. It helped just to sound off here, but if you have some advice, I could sure use some.
Alice (51 year-old woman)
As a therapist who has worked extensively with people who got stuck with the "borderline" label, I can certainly empathize with you. I have often been treated as if I am "not good enough," I have often been concerned about suicide while feeling manipulated, etc. I do know a lot about what you are going through, although I realize it's far worse if the person is your own child.
Through the years I have noticed on my own caseload that everyone who I originally though of as "borderline" was actually a survivor of "Post Traumatic Stress." Therefore, you might gain much valuable understanding of your daughter by reading all you can about "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder." Post traumatic stress is based on having been severely abused - usually as a child - sexually abused, physically abused, or both.
Fairly or unfairly, your daughter probably feels that it was your responsibility to protect her from whatever abuse she suffered and she holds you responsible for failing at this. These feelings of hers, unfortunately, will be strong even if the abuse happened before you adopted her (!), or if it happened at the hands of a neighbor or a relative and you didn't even know about it. (Of course these feelings would be most strong if the abuse was done by either you or your husband...)
One thing that should help a lot would be to stop thinking of your daughter as "mentally ill" and think of her instead as "healing from trauma." This will help you to understand why she gets so desperate (she feels young and weak); why she seems to need so much from the people around her (she feels she needs "parents" to protect her yet); why she's so afraid (she's dealing with memories of being truly "overwhelmed"); and even why she may be attracted to abusive people (to work out her deeper conflicts).
Regardless of your daughter's needs, however, you and your husband do owe it to yourself to have as good a life as you can arrange for yourselves. It is terribly sad but quite true that your daughter's adult problems are definitely too severe for either of you to be of much help. And as long as she keeps hoping that you can help her a great deal she will be counting less and less on the professional community for what she needs. (Every time you do help her in some big way you may be reinforcing her belief that she can do without therapy.)
When you ask if you can abandon her even though she is an adult, I can understand the question but I don't know how to answer it. I am not an expert on the legalities of ignoring her at this point, so you'd need to ask a lawyer about that. If you are asking whether you could possibly be a caring parent while abandoning her I must say that "Yes, it is possible that you could be." One of the things we all must do in life is recognize our own limitations - and certainly you can't be of much help at a deep level with someone who is hurting this badly. (Even though she may think that you could make up for abuse in her early years, you can't possibly go back in time to do that, and whatever you do for her now that she's grown will not particularly help her to overcome the severe damage she must have suffered at a young age.)
Your daughter is aware of therapy and has taken advantage of it in the past. She needs to continue in this search for a good therapist who is a "good match" for her. There ARE good therapists for "borderlines" and "PTSD survivors". but they can sometimes be harder to find than good therapists for other problems. She needs to do everything she can to shop for the right therapist.
This is a very sad situation for everyone concerned. Each individual person (yourself, your husband, your daughter, even your other children.) must take it upon themselves to concentrate on making their OWN life as good as possible - and they must help each other ONLY when they can genuinely enjoy doing it. Everything else is a good therapist's job.
AN ADDED THOUGHT: A therapist who is an expert on adoption issues contacted me to say that your daughter's problems could also be seen as "attachment issues." To learn more about this you can visit the web site http://www.attach.org
Thanks for an excellent question.
I certainly hope things improve greatly for each person you've mentioned in this letter.