I also explained how the person with BPD develops the Spoiler role in response to the double messages that this emotional conflict leads such parents to give off to their children.
It's all well and good to try to understand the behavior of the individual with BPD in terms of a response to parental problems, but that just kicks the question of an explanation for the disorder back a generation. In order to fully understand BPD, we have to ask, "What on earth makes these parents so damn neurotic that they compulsively have children and then covertly resent them?"
If the parents are not patients themselves, the only way for a therapist to get to the bottom of this is by helping the patient with BPD to construct a special type of family genogram. A genogram is sort of an emotional family tree, and is a mainstay of the type of family systems therapy designed by family therapy pioneer Murray Bowen.
In other words, these genograms omit the content of the family squabbles. When the content is added to the genogram, one can then look for the historical experiences of the family that may have created the picture that is taking place in the present.
While I have indeed seen the parents of adult children who exhibit BPD in therapy and traced their genograms, I have also coached patients with the disorder themselves to construct their family's genogram. We try to go back as far as we can to figure out what family experiences led to the parents' conflicts. Sometimes the story goes back more than three generations and we may lose the historical scent, so to speak, in that no one alive knows what happened way back whenever. Usually, however, certain patterns come to the fore.
In Part I of this post, I will describe the one most common major issue, and the resultant behavior patterns, that I have discovered leads individuals within a family to develop a severe conflict over the parenting role. In Part II, I will describe some other ones.
All of these issues may seem very common everywhere, and indeed they are. Most families that face them do not produce emotional conflicts significant enough to create BPD pathology. Rather, the issues in families that do have been magnified signficantly by an interacting tableau of historical events impacting the family and the individual proclivities of each and every family member and descendent.
I will not describe the details of the magnification process here, but a full explanation can be found in my book, A Family Systems Approach to Individual Psychotherapy.
The most common cause of conflicts over the parenting role stems from cultural rules regarding gender role functioning. Over the last century the opportunities open to women to explore their interests and ambitions have gradually expanded, and having a lot of children certainly put a damper on their ability to do this. If a woman came from a family where the women were very bright and had a natural proclivity for being ambitious career-wise, this would often create difficulties for them since they lived in a male-dominated culture that was at best unfriendly to female career ambitions.
To demonstrate how this might play out in a hypothetical family, I often discuss the evolving role of women in the United States since World War II. During the war, when all the men went off to fight, women in the United States entered the workforce in large numbers for the first time - in order to build the airplanes and tanks. This phenomenon was known as "Rosie the Riveter."
Some women found the experience of a career exhilerating, but when the war ended, they had to go back to just being wives and mothers once again. The US govenment even made propaganda films thanking the women for their important work, but then encouraging them to go home and get barefoot and pregnant once again. I have seen some of them; by today's standards they are positively jaw dropping. But effective. The Rosies did what they were told, and that is why we had the baby boom.
|Rosie the Riveter|
Having children could easily bring the whole craziness to a head for some families. Even today, parents feel very guilty about not spending as much time with their children as they would like, and they are often criticized at every turn by their own parents as well as the Phyllis Schlafly's of the world. (Phyllis Schlafly was a career woman who made a career out of bashing career women).
Gender role confusion and conflict can, given the right combination of ingredients, create a nasty intrapsychic conflict over the very act of procreating.
In Part II of this post, I will look at the rest of the historical factors and patterns that can create such a conflict: Deaths and illnesses, financial reverses, religious demands, parent-child role reversals, being the eldest child in a traditional family, and having children to "save the marriage."