It isn’t easy to explain what borderline personality disorder is, and how it affects you. But while you suffer from this mental disorder, it is important to talk to your loved ones about it, especially your children.
As a parent, you influence your child’s development not only through your parenting style, but through your every day behaviour. Your child will observe and copy what you do, so it is essential to explain to them why you behave the way you do. They need to know that certain behaviour is not okay, even if mama or papa acts this way. It will help them understand and recognise what behaviour is socially acceptable and healthy, and what is not. But most importantly, they will understand you better, and know that they are not to blame for any of your borderline behaviour. Overall, by explaining what BPD is, the chances of your borderline characteristics interfering with their development is greatly reduced.
So how do you explain BPD to your child or children?
It all depends on their age. The way they think and understand things develops as they mature. So while a young child will need something explained to them as simply as possible, an older child can grasp a more complex explanation.
How To Explain BPD To A Baby (Age 0 – 1)
There is no way of explaining BPD to a baby. But since they pick up on how you’re feeling through your facial expressions and the tone of your voice, you can reassure them that everything is okay when your borderline symptoms start to surface.
For example. When you feel like you’re losing control of your emotions, you could calmly say to your baby (with a gentle expression), “Mama/Papa is feeling ………… right now, but I still love to see you smile and laugh”. Then if possible, let someone else take care of your little one while you take the time you need to feel better.
How To Explain BPD To A Toddler/Preschooler (Age 2 – 5)
Toddlers and preschool children make sense of what they see through facial expressions, tone of voice and simple words. They are literal thinkers. So they can identify how you are feeling through the behaviour they perceive, but they won’t always understand why you feel the way you do. To help them understand BPD, you should first talk to them about their feelings. By helping them understand their own emotions, you can help them understand yours.
For example. Ask them if they remember how they felt the last time they had a tantrum, and then explain to them why they sometimes have these emotional outbursts. You could say, “Sometimes you get very very angry or upset because you are still learning how to control your feelings. Sometimes I get very very angry or upset too, but this is because I did not learn how to control my feelings”. Your child will most likely ask why. So you could then say,”Because I have a feelings sickness”. But remember to also reassure them not to worry as you are taking the steps needed to get better.
How To Explain BPD To A School-Aged Child (Age 6 – 12)
Children within this age range are very inquisitive and perceptive. They understand a lot more now, as their way of thinking is more logical and reflective. You should start off by talking about mental illness in general. Explain that just like a person can get physically sick, their mind can get sick too. You can then explain what BPD is, and how it affects you.
For example. You could explain, “Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that makes the parts of your mind responsible for emotions sick. It stops you from being able to control your emotions. Which is why I am sometimes very angry, sad, frustrated or annoyed over little things that people normally feel just a tiny bit angry, sad, frustrated or annoyed over. How I feel is no ones fault, and I will get better so don’t worry”. Your child may feel the need to help you feel better, let them know it is not their responsibility and that there are special doctors who will help you recover from this illness. But you could also suggest a drawing from your child will make you feel good, so they don’t feel so helpless.
How To Explain BPD To An Adolescent/Teenager (Age 13 – 18)
Teenagers can understand more complex information, so it will be easier to talk to them about BPD. Just be prepared for all the questions they will have, and that they may want some evidence to back what you tell them. NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) has a great factual page about BPD, you could use it as a reference while discussing the mental illness with your teen. Start by explaining what BPD is, what symptoms you suffer from, and what you are doing to recover. Then allow your teen to ask you questions, and answer them honestly.
For example. Ask your teen if they have heard of BPD. If they have, then ask them what they know about it. If they haven’t, then explain what it is. You could say, “Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that results in great emotional instability. It hinders my ability to control my emotions. So sometimes my emotions are rather extreme in situations where people would usually not feel so emotional”. You could help them understand by saying, “You know how you’re sometimes a little moody and over emotional… That’s because of your hormones, they’re still settling. I am sometimes a little moody and over emotional because of my mental illness”. It would be good to now show them a webpage with informative information about BPD. Look through the symptoms together and tell them which ones you suffer from. You could explain how each symptom affects your behaviour. Then reassure your teen that when/if your symptoms surface around them, it is not their fault. Be sure to also discuss the types of treatment available for BPD, and what you are doing to get better. Let them know this is not forever and that you will recover.
End Note: After the initial talk about BPD, your child/children will likely ask more questions, from time to time, about the mental illness. Don’t keep them in the dark. By answering their questions, you are giving them the insight and reassurance they need. It will help strengthen your bond, and greatly reduce the chances of your mental illness having a negative impact on their development from child to adult.
If you are struggling to recover from BPD, let your child/children be your motivation to get better.