Borderline_by_my_angel_calls

Sibling Relationships when you have BPD


Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness

Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness (Photo credit: Gemma.E.Taylor)

Authors note – I originally wrote this piece at the request of Randi Kreger to be posted on Psychology Today, but she decided against posting it as it was too ‘personal’ and also did NOT portray me (the BPD) as having had a negative impact on my sisters – which is what is generally portrayed as the effect we have. My experience show’s that just because we share the BPD label does NOT mean that everyone with BPD has a negative impact on their families, as you will see…

I’ve read a few tales of the difficulties of living in the shadow of a Borderline sibling and they all sound like something so unfamiliar to me as to be untrue. I’m not saying they are untrue, I’m just saying the degree of misery and hurt that a borderline sibling has inflicted upon those lives is something I cannot relate to at all.

Before you all start ranting at me I just want to say I know that these things are true of some BPD’s, some of us DO make the lives of our siblings hell, a nightmare full of abuse and mistreatment. I am sad that this happens, it is just not my experience, I am not the type of BPD who make’s people’s lives miserable, I take all my hurt, pain and problems out on myself not on other people…

I guess that just shows how Borderline Personality Disorder should not be seen as a label with a one-size-fits-all catchment, rather (as I prefer to see it) BPD is a spectrum, like autism, a continuum along which those diagnosed could fall into such a diverse range of affliction that we are as unalike as black and white – nice analogy considering we see things in such black and white terms!

So, what of sibling relationships in my experience?

I have BPD, I was only diagnosed in 2010 at the age of 33, but I believe I have had BPD since I was at least a teenager, if not before that.

How was it for my sisters living alongside me, suffering from this terrible disorder that impacts in some way on every relationship I have?

I have to be honest and say, I don’t really know, I am not them and cannot really speak for their experience. I can only tell you how things seemed to me and still appear, from my perspective.

One thing I do know – because I have asked – is that neither of my sisters consider it a bad experience, they do not feel harmed by growing up with me, they do not feel I made their lives a misery and still don’t feel I am in any way a bad person. A relief to know considering some of the horror stories out there!

This is what my sisters said when I asked them about how me having BPD affected them – (these are direct quotes from them both)

First Sister:

“I didn’t know you had it as a kid, so no negative impacts then, we had a few fights as any sibling children do and we got over it. As you have grown older and when you have bad episodes I find it hard sometimes not to say “oh just shut up and get over it already” but that’s as much to do with having had/ still dealing with depression myself and not so much that you have bpd, but when I can I always try to encourage you to stay positive if I am feeling able to do so myself. I think we have quite a distant relationship but we have different things to deal with and do different things in our own ways, I would like to think you would be there for me if I need you though, as I would be for you.

As a person I think you are a very nice woman who will bend over backwards for her friends, and sometimes you can’t see that some of the “friends” you have are not good for you but it’s not for me to say who you can or can’t be friends with or how much you should do for them, only you can do that for yourself.

I don’t want to upset you but I do think sometimes you harp on about it (BPD) and use it a bit too much at times, but then I blame mom for that and the way she turns everything round to be about her and we have probably all learnt something of that off her, and then you are mainly just writing about it a lot which is a good thing”

My youngest sister said:

 “I don’t think it has any negative impacts, the relationship we have is distant due to you being busy with work etc and me being busy with the kids, you’re a nice person, but you let people walk all over you then blame it on yourself because they have taken the p*** out of your kindness, I’m sure if I was in a situation and asked you for advice etc you’d be able to point me in the right direction”

In fact, as you can see, both would tell you my illness has had little impact on their lives and what they probably don’t see, that I can, is why there was no impact upon them…

That is because (from my perspective) there is no relationship…

There is not real connection between us…

We share two things, blood and growing up in the same environment…

Beyond that we are like strangers, with some shared experiences…

How much can you impact on people if you have no relationship with them?

True, we would help each other out if need be in any way out of some natural, duty bound obligation that inbuilt, ingrained sense of ‘family’, but close we are not.

Is there ‘love’? I don’t know…

How long have we been disconnected? As far as I can tell always.

And as a result what any of us experiences – good or bad – what any of us feels and ‘who’ each of us ‘is’ the other has little to no awareness of and it does not affect our day to day lives. Well at least not in any way that we are aware of…

None is living in the shadow of the other, no fighting for attention or sibling rivalry, no spending time together…

Now, for me, I am not really bothered by any of this and while I don’t know if they are they certainly show no signs of it. It’s not like any of us try to create a connection. I guess as it’s always been this way anything else would seem strange to us now?

I always find it strange when I see siblings who are very close – how can they live in each other’s pockets like that, don’t they have their own lives, own friends? or who, even as adults, fight like cat and dog!? A different world to what I live in!

I wonder how much birth order matters in these things – from sibling rivalry, to the impact having BPD can have on sibling relationships? Personally I am the oldest of the three of us, would things have been different if I was the second or third child?

Many people are surprised when they discover I have sisters. I guess a lot of people may even think I don’t have any family as I don’t mention them much and rarely see them – this extends beyond my siblings to my parents and extended family too.

My youngest sister is 15 years younger than me, a half-sister born at the time of what would have been one of my earliest BPD crisis times, not long after my first suicide attempt, months before I left home and just over a year before the birth of my son. So we never bonded at all, if anything she probably formed more of a sisterly relationship with my children than with me.

My other sister is two years younger than me. Now, I have heard it said 2 years is the worst possible gap to have between your children.  I don’t know how true that is, but the suggestion is that at 2 years of age a toddler is just establishing themselves, finding a personality etc when suddenly there is this new ‘person’ invading their space, taking away mom’s attention while the older child still needs a great deal of this themselves…

Certainly an interesting concept, and at that young age it did affect me. My mom spoke of how much I seemed to dislike the new baby, would not hold her, and would occasionally be caught smacking her as I walked past. But this quickly passed and instead I just did not want her around, and I guess I never, ever did…

But, we were never encouraged in any way to interact, be friends, be ‘sisters’ so not only did we not play together much or bond but we also hardly fought, I can’t even remember a fight we had at all. It was almost as though the other did not exist…

As I say though, this is just how I see and saw it.

All three of us are very different people. Growing up in the same environment, with the same influences has produced people so unalike in personality, looks, aspirations and how we connect with other people, that if you met us together you would not think us related at all, let alone sisters!

Could it be that not having formed emotional ties to people, that should have been some of the strongest connections in my life, is part of why I developed BPD? and could it be  why to this day I still fail to form appropriate emotional bonds with people? Or is it as unimportant as it feels? and is that in itself (my inability to attach importance to bonding with my sisters) a sign that neither is good, or healthy?

Forming appropriate connections with people is something that is difficult for those of us with BPD. I’m sure there is a number of reasons for this, not least the fact that connecting with others involves emotion, which for people with BPD is one of our key areas of malfunction. For me I think this started when I was very young. My mother was not one for being able to demonstrate emotions well, not in a BPD way but because she had been bought up in a care home where affection in particular was lacking she did not know herself how to show affection to others, so me and my sisters were bought up not being shown ‘how’ to do this either. We were not encouraged to connect with each other and so those important emotional ties to the people closest to me never formed. I grew up in an invalidating environment where the value and importance of connecting with others on an emotional level was not taught to me at home and as such those people are still the ones I have the least connection with now; and yes I do believe this played a part in my developing BPD. Furthermore I think this poor emotional background is why I don’t attach importance to those unformed bonds now.

Although a quiet child in many ways I was always quite a social butterfly though, I still am now and as a result what I did learn about bonding with others I learnt through the friendships I developed over the years. For me, this is why I value the emotional bonds with my friends more than those with my family – because it is what I was taught to value by the people who taught me; friends. I make friends easily but at the same time I am, what I describe as, like marmite – you will either love me, or hate me. Haha, how very BPD! Black and white thinking! But it is the truth there are very few people with whom I have a ‘grey’ connection, we are either friends or not… Many of my friends are more like family, sisters and brothers because our emotional bonds are much closer and better formed than those with my actual family. I find it easier to talk to my friends, sharing the good and the bad, to do the same with my family feels more like relaying news to people I am not even sure I want to know about the things I am sharing at times! I guess when it comes to BPD, at least for me, the old saying is very true ‘Friends are the family you choose’.

Do you have BPD or are you the sibling of someone with BPD? What is your relationship with your siblings like?

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13 comments on “Sibling Relationships when you have BPD

  1. Bless you for writing this! I totally agree that not ONE mental health condition has a one size fits all. I have written about this menay times in my public blog on stigma and mental health. I am sorry you have suffered but am pleased to see you have a good relationship with your family. Writing about this helps to remove stigma and enable more people to see there are different experiences for everyone. Blessings, Oliana.

    • Yeah, easiest way is just to write it as a comment, there are plenty of long comments that are basically blog posts in their own right on my other posts. Here would be the best place for your response 🙂

  2. I am really sorry I was unable to use this, but I would love for you to write something else. It was just hard to print something about relationships when there was no relationship at all. I do agree that the typical experience is not good, as you say. But since lots of people aren’t connected to their siblings for whatever reason, it just didn’t seem like there was really anything to say about BPD at all. Had to had SOME kind of relationship–say, your sisters knew you had BPD but learned to validate and such–I would have printed that. But with no connection there just wasn’t much to report. This reminds me of something my women’s studies prof told me in college: when studies show no differences between men and women, it doesn’t get written up. But when there IS a difference it does, giving us the impression that there are more differences than similarities.

    • I would be happy to write something else if you have a subject you would like me to focus on?
      Maybe the problem in not reporting these things is exactly as you say that by only sharing that give ‘something to report’ the many things that show there is nothing to report go unrecognised and so distort views and opinions on the reality of things…?

  3. Pingback: Sibling Relationships and BPD | MAKE BPD STIGMA-FREE!

  4. Yep, that all rings true. No emotional connection at all for any member of my family. My brother is 3 years older and I too was an incredibly quiet and withdrawn child. My brother was fantastically popular, incredibly confident, known and loved by everybody. He was a very skilled football player and was scouted even at the age of 5. I had a lot of giddy time with him but he was controlling and a bully. It wasn’t his fault, my dad was a bully and so he was just following in the family tradition.

    One telling thing about my family is that after 25 years of marriage my mother went into a bar to drop the car keys off with my dad. One of her friends was in the bar and started talking to her. He was blown away when he found out they were married as he’d known both of them for years but had no idea they were together. Thats how emotionally disconnected we all were from each other and there was no question of me having any negative impact on any of them because, to all intents and purposes I simply wasn’t there.

    I’m yet to encounter someone with BPD who fits the negative family member abusing stereotype. I suspect that type of person wouldn’t fit on any spectrum for BPD at all and would require a second opinion to make sure they hadn’t been wrongly diagnosed, that is assuming they were ever diagnosed in the first place and some idiot who read a book hadn’t just decided that they’d found a fast track to becoming a professional diagnostician x

    • Agreed, never met (physically or online) a BPD who fits that negative stereotype! Randi’s comment above actually shows where the problem lies with the amount of ‘bad publicity’ for BPD – the under reporting of case that aren’t ‘news worthy’, we (the majority) are ignored because we are too ‘normal’ while the few bad cases are used to highlight the ‘bad’ side of BPD leading to distorted views and opinions based on the only information available – bad information… More of us need to get our stories out there, read and heard so that people can see that having BPD does not mean we are monsters! x

  5. Whatever you would like to write about–just check out the topic with me first. I accept well-written blog posts pretty much from anyone who has something important to say who knows how to write. There is a blog piece I have about the guidelines, but I think you may have seen it. Please do check if you haven’t.

    • Thank you. I’ll check the guidelines and when I have some time free (difficult time at work at the moment)I will write something to send to you 🙂

  6. My brother has BPD, he is 6 years older than me(for me, this seems like the worst age gap: too young to be more like a parent, but too old to connect over things) He has been a huge influence on my life and how i live it. Both bad and good. I remember it started when i was about 6, he would fight with my parents a lot. And I’d also hear a lot of things that a 6 year old really shouldn’t hear. But he was never mean to me, we didn’t even fight like normal siblings. Which at times frustrated me, as I just wanted to shout at him, but i was scared. Thanks for this article.(even if it was a year ago!) as i cannot ever see what my brother is thinking.

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