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Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship

4.31  ·  Rating Details ·  914 Ratings  ·  115 Reviews
The first love in our lives is our mother. Recognizing her face, her voice, the meaning of her moods, and her facial expressions is crucial to survival. Dr. Christine Ann Lawson vividly describes how mothers who suffer from borderline personality disorder produce children who may flounder in life even as adults, futilely struggling to reach the safety of a parental harbor, ...more
Paperback, 330 pages
Published July 1st 2002 by Jason Aronson, Inc. (first published 2000)
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Oct 19, 2009 Lisa rated it it was amazing
I devoured this book, though not because it was "enjoyable". As others have written, at turns I found it illuminating, validating, or anger-provoking. I am trying hard to use it for understanding, but I have a lot of work to do before that is likely to happen. Finally, though, I can name behaviors that I knew made me crazy (but I kept thinking I should be able to just get past it all). It is wonderful to feel less alone -- I knew my sister understood, but outside of her, people who have not expe ...more
Jul 01, 2012 Amie rated it it was amazing
I just read this book in one sitting. I ended up highlighting almost as much as I didn't. I can't think of a better book for a child of a borderline mother. I kept thinking, "This is it. This is it exactly." Sometimes validation is the most important thing.
Sep 12, 2009 Joy marked it as to-read
so far this book has captivated my interest and also made me so thoroughly frustrated, i end up throwing it on the bed after every other paragraph. i feel like i'm reading my life written in an auto biography, which is the interesting part that keeps pulling me back. but at the same time, it's so hard to see my life so raw, bare, and laid out, i find myself feeling drawn back into the hurts, anger, frustrations, confusions of my childhood. which is the throwing of book part.
i hope somewhere....
Jun 21, 2012 amaya rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites

just a brief review:
throughout this whole book, i kept having to remind myself that i've never met christine, nor did she live with me whilst i was growing up!
this book has helped me immensely; it actually made me cry tears of relief when i realised that i wasn't alone, and my therapist and i used it as a discussion point a time or two.
i highly recommend it to everyone who has the opportunity to read it!
Apr 17, 2008 Kristy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: adult children of borderline mothers
It made me anxious, relieved, sad, and exhilarated. It's helped change my life. Recommended to people who find resonance in these terms:

the Waif Mother
the Hermit Mother
the Queen Mother
the Witch Mother

the All-Good Child
the No-Good Child

Loving the Waif Without Rescuing Her
Loving the Hermit Without Feeding Her Fear
Loving the Queen Without Becoming Her Subject
Living with the Witch Without Becoming Her Victim
Jun 19, 2009 L.r. added it
I didn't read very far into this book. It brought back so many painful memories that I was unable to finish it. But I felt morea acceptance of my life with a very difficult mother.
Apr 15, 2010 Eli rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: children of borderlines & their mothers
Recommended to Eli by: Rosamund
Shelves: nonfiction, 2010
Some mental health professionals call Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) a unique mental condition affecting 6 million+ Americans. Some view it as a subtype of PTSD. Others consider the condition and its symptoms so vague as to be diagnostically useless and suggest scrapping the term entirely. By the end of Understanding the Borderline Mother, I saw the case for all 3.

This is an emotionally difficult book for anyone dealing with a borderline mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, &c. Though
Feb 16, 2008 Terri rated it really liked it
Recommended to Terri by: Dan the Man
Was your childhood full of loss and/or emotional abandonment or abuse? Was your mother extremely moody, clingy, helpless, angry, unpredictable, crazy, rejecting, etc.?

If you had/have a borderline mother, she might be quoted on every page or so of this well researched book. And if you have some traits yourself, you'll find yourself saying "yikes!" more than a few times. Addressing this personality disorder and working hard at improvement is well worth the therapy hours and cost. Er, the chapter
Jan 11, 2011 Beth rated it it was amazing
This book answered so many questions. If you have a bpd person in your life, particularly a mother or other authority figure, this will be difficult to read, but also freeing. It is NOT your fault. You CAN'T control it...and you CAN'T cure it. This explains a lot of the manipulation and games that are played, and the why they display behavior that conflicts with their apparent goal/needs. It's heartbreaking when it's someone you love...but it's the BEST book on the experience of growing up with ...more
Kelly Boone
Apr 13, 2015 Kelly Boone rated it it was amazing
Wish no one needed this book but if you do, it's a good resource to help you understand your crazy childhood. Creepy-relatable and you will walk around in a daze after realizing your hell was a thing, not as much of an anomaly as you probably thought.
Sep 15, 2013 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
I am in the process of reading this book. I am blown away that someone has actually written about what it was like growing up with a whirlwind, violent and charismatic parent. Lawson explains what it is like to grow up with someone who cannot be counted on to be the parent, who is violent one moment and effusively affectionate the next. She explains how riding that childhood roller coaster affect children physically and mentally. It is nice to know that I am not the only one out there who has li ...more
Apr 18, 2008 Jef rated it it was ok
Shelves: not-gonna-read
The dipictions of borderline mothers was so depressing that I had to stop reading the book, especially since I grew up with one. I already know how frightful they can be.
Apr 20, 2014 Nancy rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
While many familial relationships are fraught with conflict, and every family is dysfunctional in some degree, most are not destructive or annihilating. This readable book addresses the extreme mothers that we have all heard of, if only in the news, but may be far more common and closer than many of us realize. This book is directed to those children and emotional orphans who have passed through such soul-crushing experiences and alludes to the many, many casualties of children sacrificed on the ...more
Jan 21, 2010 Amy rated it liked it
Shelves: self-help
First the good things about this book: I really appreciate the amount of case study information, examples from historical figures, and correlations to real experience. This book is not esoteric or written for experts. It's written for children (primarily) of these mothers with the goal of helping gain understanding (so the title) and give some beginning skills for coping. There's also a useful section on the types of men BPD mothers are attracted to. I won't go into my personal reasons for readi ...more
Karri Lewis
Sep 27, 2007 Karri Lewis rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Children of BPD Mother
This book gave me a clear understanding of what had been going on in my life in regards to my confusing relationship with my undiagnosed(most-likely bpd) mother. Unfortunately, there is little advice in the best way to navigate a relationship with the bpd mother other than some really basic stuff. I guess a whole 'nother book could be written about that subject....Anyway, the book is very enlightening and validating to a child who has been invalidated by his mother's behavior all his life.
Shar Anderson
Oct 24, 2014 Shar Anderson rated it it was amazing
This isn't a book you read unless you need to. If you need to read this book, it is invaluable. For those of us with mothers that do not fit the mold, this book is illuminating, enlightening, empowering, frustrating, etc. I find myself referring back to it over and over again.
Thankfully not my mother. I read this book to try to understand my friendship with an old childhood friend whose mother has borderline personality disorder. I expected that I'd find some of her behaviors fitting with BPD as well and that certainly was true. I could basically substitute "friend" for "mother" in the book especially since I met her as a child.

The author categorizes borderline personalities into Waif, Hermit, Queen, and Witch. However, they easily fit into all or most of them. She i
Alford Wayman
Apr 12, 2015 Alford Wayman rated it it was amazing
This book was very moving, informative, and enjoyable to read. I enjoyed how the author used fairytale character as examples, along with real life accounts, while explaining the issues with borderline personality disorder and the affect it has on the children, family, friends, and loved ones. Lawson explains the different types of mothers with BPD. Lawson shows how the waif, hermit, queen, and witch find themselves in the forest of BPD and uses stories such as Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, Ci ...more
Dec 09, 2009 Masterscubadvr33 rated it did not like it
Shelves: will-never-read
I didn't even read this book, and I know I NEVER will. Just reading the back cover pissed me off to no end! First of all, I HAVE borderline personality disorder, I am NOT borderline! It is not who I am, it is a small part of me... Second of all, I was VERY offended by Christina Crawford's comment on the back saying that all mothers with bpd are horrible and destroy their children's lives. I am sure that growing up with a parent that has bpd CAN be difficult and in some cases very negatively affe ...more
Apr 26, 2015 Jayteegee rated it it was amazing
In reading this insightful book, as others have said, I felt that the author was writing specifically about my mother and my childhood. Although my mother has been diagnosed as bipolar, the medications have never really helped her, and I truly believe that while she MAY be bipolar, she's definitely BPD. The introductory section was dead accurate in its insights, but the chapter on the Borderline Waif simply took my breath away. This is my mother to a T, even odd little behaviors or tendencies or ...more
R. C.
Mar 15, 2012 R. C. rated it it was ok
This was heavier on the understanding part and light on the helping children transcend bits. Even the understanding part did not go in depth enough, I thought. I kept thinking, "wait, she did WHAT? why?" So it was a good outline of what BPD looks like in mothers, but more from a surface perspective than one that helps you see why they behave this way or how the gears spin in their heads.
Amy Charles
Jul 26, 2008 Amy Charles rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology-read
For those of you who know me, I read this for obvious reasons. I found it helpful to read about others who didn't have that stereotypically nurturing mother. I've said it before, I'll say it again - just because someone gives birth to you doesn't guarantee their status as a parent!
Mar 20, 2008 Stephanie rated it it was amazing
Nov 30, 2012 Donna rated it really liked it
Katie Desai
Jun 23, 2011 Katie Desai rated it it was amazing
If you've got one of these, this book is amazing.
Sep 12, 2014 Shaun rated it really liked it
Recommended by my doctor and I'm very glad I read it. It really helps.
Niccole Meyer
Feb 21, 2017 Niccole Meyer rated it it was amazing
Until I was pointed in the direction of this book, I never understood my growing up process or that there was such a term for what my mother brought (or didn't bring) to the table as a parent.

This book is an informative resource for understanding what a borderline mother is.
Oct 17, 2016 Heidi rated it really liked it
I read this book to support the work I do with families with young children. I found this book to be very helpful in locating that why parents with BPD interact with her children the way they do. I also found there to be a lot of positive talk around how therapeutic and supportive relationships can really help people shift out of the intergenerational cycle of BPD symptoms
Mar 10, 2017 Allie rated it it was amazing
An excerpt:

"'No' is a word that must never be negotiated, because the person who chooses not to hear it is trying to control you. Declining to hear 'no' is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it. If you let someone talk you out of the word 'no,' you might as well wear a sign that reads, 'You are in charge.'"
Ren Rabbit
If you are the (adult) child of a BPD mother then I predict that every sentence is going to feel like a revelation.
I could not stop feeling as though a tremendous weight had been lifted off my chest when reading this, because for the first time in my life I felt I wasn't crazy and that there were others who would believe me (save for my dad of course who himself suffered under my estranged mother while they were married.)

The only thing I personally found completely unhelpful is the last third
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“The Queen is controlling, the Witch is sadistic, the Hermit is fearful, and the Waif is helpless.

And each requires a different approach. Don't let the Queen get the upper hand; be wary even of accepting gifts because it engenders expectations. Don't internalize the Hermit's fears or become limited by them. Don't allow yourself to be alone with the Witch; maintain distance for your own emotional and physical safety. And with the Waif, don't get pulled into her crises and sense of victimization. Pay attention to your own tendencies to want to rescue her, which just feeds the dynamic.”
“To stave off the panic associated with the absence of a primary object, borderline patients frequently will impulsively engage in behaviors that numb the panic and establish contact with and control over some new object.” 37 likes
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