Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Bringing up a Family Issue, and Parental Defensiveness Ensues

On Psychology Today, “Riles” commented on my blog post: "The Family Dynamics of Patients With Borderline Personality:"

Parents huh? This article is such bullcrap.  Its obvious this therapist does not work with BPD individuals...I am a parent to a BPD son, we have never mistreated or abused our son.  My son, as most BPD feel as though any disagreement even over trash day is emotionally or verbally abusive to them...A 5 minute question session just to ask about their day in their mind eventually gets spewed as a 2 hour session of us yelling at him.  Its such crap that you put this out there blaming parents who are doing everything in their power to understand this disorder and help their children.

This sort of reaction is representative of the fact that bringing up family issues involved in creating BPD is dangerous for their adult children - as well as a minefield for people like myself writing about the situation. Yes, it is true that many parents of BPD offspring are not overtly abusive, as I have often mentioned.

However, let’s look closer at this comment. Let’s assume for the moment that it is an accurate description of what goes on in this family (of course, I have no way of knowing whether it is or is not). I would wonder how old the son was when these two-hour yelling sessions began. Clearly, their son is provoking them, but that is part of the dynamics in families that generate BPD. Spoilers make parents angry when they are too guilty, but then have to make them feel guilty if they start to get too angry.

I would advise these parents to ask themselves, if they can calm down long enough to look at the interactional patterns with their son somewhat dispassionately and honestly, why they continue to engage with their son for two whole hours when he starts to act like this. Chances are, this signals the son to continue doing whatever it is that he had been doing. If the parents say they don’t know how to put a stop to their son’s difficult reactions and/or disengage from him, I would suggest that they watch a few episodes of Supernanny or read a book by parenting advisor John Rosemond. I would also have to warn them that if they follow the advice, their son’s behavior will get worse at first - but then get much better.

Can “How was your day” be a loaded question in these families? Damn right it can. If the parents are usually over-involved (the Buttinsky bunch) or under-involved (the Alfred E. Neuman what-me-worry bunch), or even worse, if the parents vacillate between these two extremes, their asking about their son’s day would for him be an incredibly infuriating entrance to this pattern of interactions.


  1. This whole blog is so spot on and, Dr. Allen, your work is really amazing. I firmly believe that if more people listened to this and took it seriously, there would be lives saved.

  2. I don't think the defensive parent in this comment is actually describing engaging with the son for two hours. I think he is saying "when we have in fact had only a five-minute conversation, my son will later describe the conversation as a two-hour yelling session." That is, the parent is accusing the son of lying/exaggerating the parent's behavior. I take the point about parental defensiveness, but I think this post misinterprets what behaviors this parent is being defensive about!