Notes from Professionals – Joel Paris, MD

Families Cannot Go It Alone

Joel Paris, MD

Families have long been the mainstay for their relatives with mental illness. Families impacted by borderline personality disorder (BPD) are no exception. However, their plight is three decades behind families whose lives have been altered by other psychiatric illnesses. What was once the horror of being vilified as a schizophrenogenic mother was replaced then by being a victim, a parent with a brain disordered child.

BPD parents are not so fortunate in that respect. Often portrayed as individuals high in affectivity, high in borderline traits, high in substance use disorders with their own suspected levels of pathology, parents of BPD sufferers are often described as perpetrators of verbal, emotional, sexual abuse, and or of neglect.

Certainly we cannot summarily dismiss all allegations and surely in some families, great injustices, to say the least, were done, in many others there is relatively little evidence of malevolence. Just as the illness of BPD is heterogeneous from many aspects, so are the families of BPD sufferers. Rather than continually pointing a finger of blame, we need to find a balance as we invite families to engage in the recovery of their relatives. Family matters!

Conversely, due to the severity, symptomatology, and high rates of co-occurring disorders, BPD not only affects the diagnosed but also affects family members and others in their social environment. Families cannot go it alone. Unfortunately, relatively few professionals have included family members in the treatment process.