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The Borderline Daughter

Is your daughter developing borderline personality traits?

Source: Photo: iStock

Do you have a daughter who you dread parenting?

Does your daughter consistently make you feel like a bad parent—or a failure as a parent?

Has parenting segued from difficult into truly problematic?

While there are many paths to this experience, it may be possible that you are the parent of an Individual afflicted with borderline personality disorder (IBPD).

(Don’t worry. We are not going to fall into the stereotype that links Borderlines and women. In this series on dealing with borderline personalities, we hope to cover the Borderline Son, the Borderline Brother, the Borderline Sister and even, perhaps, the Borderline Boss.)

The Borderline Daughter

Symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD) become most prominent during the phase of adolescence where young adults are supposed to seek independence and autonomy through the successive decrease in parental support. Some children resist this process. They covet their earliest experiences of total access and total dependency on a parental figure and they spend their lives seeking a re-creation of this.

Here is how the dysfunction gets set up.

  • An attempt to encourage independence is seen as a withdrawal of support.
  • Any perception of withdrawal of support or services triggers the child to attack the parent.

IBPD: “I am going to the mall with my friends. Can I have some money?”

Dad: “Why don’t you use your allowance? That is what it is for.”

IBPD: “I spent all my allowance yesterday.”

Dad: “You will have to wait until next week to get next week’s allowance.”

IBPD: “You are going to ruin my social life if you don’t give me money. What kind of lousy parent are you?”

Efforts to help the child cope with independence and responsibility are generally summarily rejected and met with an abusive response.

Dad: “Why don’t you go with your friends and shop for what you want and then go back next week and buy it when you get your allowance?”

IBPD: “Oh yeah, why don’t I just kill myself. I might as well if you are going to ruin my life this way. Then you will get what you want. You never should have had children.”

Behavioral reactions may occur once they are enraged. This may include damage to their belongings or yours. They may trash their room or even mutilate their body in the form of cutting or burning themselves, for which you will be blamed because you did not relent to their demands. Or they may destroy some belonging of the parent or family, such as keying a car or breaking a favorite mug. They may also stalk the parent.

IBPD: “Oh look at you sitting there comfortable in your house with your car and your pool but you don’t care enough about your daughter to fork over a few lousy dollars.”

Dad: “I am done talking about this.”

IBPD: “You are done. That’s all you do—walk out on your responsibilities as a parent. I hate you. They shouldn’t let people like you be parents.”

Borderline Patterns

As painful as these interactions are, they follow a pattern. Understanding these patterns is essential for minimizing the damage by anticipating reactions.

Ultimately, these patterns are deeply dysfunctional forms of resistance to independence.

What follows are common features of a Borderline daughter, but they may well be attributable to a Borderline Spouse, Son, Brother, Sister, Parent, Relative or Boss. They are all brutal in nature, both to the person suffering from IBPD, and for those who are in their midst.

(Note that parents often have a role in the genesis of Borderline Dysfunction.)

These credos are destructive at their core.

The Brutal Borderline Credo

“Never do for yourself what you can get others to do for you.”

Getting others to do for them what they are capable of doing for themselves is not due to laziness. Rather, it is meant to reassure the constant access to the service of the parental figure that they crave.

IBPD: “Dad can you get me a glass of water?”

Mom: “You are right near the tap—why don’t you get it yourself?”

IBPD: “I like the way you do it.”

Mom: “Pour water? You get it yourself.”

IBPD: “I am nothing to you. You can’t even get me a glass of water. What a loser of a mom.”


IBPD: “Mom can you make sure I am up at 7 tomorrow?’

Mom: “Why don’t you set your alarm?”

IBPD: “I don’t know how.”

Mom: “I will show you how.”

IBPD: “Why can’t you just wake me?”

Mom: “Because last time I tried to wake you, you were nasty to me.”

IBPD: “Well I didn’t have my coffee yet.”

In the above example, the IBPD is attempting to shift the responsibility of waking up on time to the mother. Not only is the IBPD shifting the responsibility to the mother, but she also claims the right to be abusive if she is irritable.

The Brutal Borderline Contract

“If you do it for me once you must do it for me always.”

IBPD: “Mom, time to go to cheerleading practice.”

Mom: “You have your license now why don’t you take the car and drive yourself?”

IBPD: “You drove me yesterday.”

Mom: “I had an appointment nearby. Go ahead and take the car.”

IBPD: “What are you doing?”

Mom: “I have some things to do.”

IBPD: “What is more important than taking me to practice?”

Mom: “It’s not more important.”

IBPD: “Then why won’t you take me?”

Mom: “I need to get these things done.”

IBPD: “Always about you. I wish I was never born.”

The Brutal Borderline Baseline

An atmosphere of dissatisfaction is maintained most of the time. This baseline is maintained in order to keep parents feeling that they are not very good parents so they feel they owe their child more service/attention.

Mom: “Are you hungry? I just made some fresh soup.”

IBPD: “What kind?”

Mom: “Chicken.”

IBPD: “You know I like split pea best.”

Mom: “Yes, but we just had split pea last week.”

IBPD: “So last week I was worth the trouble but this week I am not?”

Maintaining the brutal baseline requires consistent reassurances that the IBPD is the center of attention and has constant access. This may take the form of provocative behaviors. This can include abrupt changes in appearance such as tattoos, head shaving, piercing or dressing in an overly revealing manner. It can also involve attacking another family member, or even a pet.

Dad: “What is that on the cat’s face?”

IBPD: “I put lipstick on. Cute right?”

Dad: “The cat doesn’t look happy.”

IBPD: “At least she knows that I am paying attention to her.”


Dad: “You’re not going to church dressed like that, are you?”

IBPD: “Dressed like what?”

Dad: “Like someone who is showing too much skin.”

IBPD: “Why you think I’m ugly?”

Dad: “No. I just don’t think it is appropriate.”

IBPD: “Well that is your judgment.”

Dad: “Please go put on some more clothes.”

IBPD: “You are ashamed of me. You think I am ugly. You don’t want to be seen with me.”

Paradoxically, while the IBPD daughter desires to be taken care of completely and to be free from responsibility for their actions and inactions, she will also insist on the ability to make her own choices. This aspect blossoms during adolescence like other adolescents.

The IBPD, however, lacks the judgment that comes with taking true personal responsibility, which is what they adamantly avoid.

IBPD: “I need a new dress for Donna’s party. Can I use your credit card?”

Mom: “You just got a new dress.”

IBPD: “I can’t wear that one.”

Mom: “Why not?”

IBPD: “It got ruined.”

Mom: “How?”

IBPD: “What difference does it make?”

Mom: “I just spent $200 on it.”

IBPD: “It was on the floor and it got torn.”

Mom: “How”

IBPD: “How should I know?”

Mom: “How did it get on the floor?”

IBPD: “I don’t know. It just got there.”

Mom: “I think if you want another dress you should buy it with your money.”

IBPD: “Oh so now you are not even paying for my clothes anymore? What’s next? You gonna kick me out?”

Mom: “I just bought you that dress.”

IBPD: “You obviously hate me. You shouldn’t have had children.”

The Value of Good Boundaries

The examples above depict parents trying to parent normally by setting appropriate boundaries.

The IBPD resists these efforts and responds abusively. Many parents abandon setting boundaries at this point, which can, unfortunately, reinforce belligerence. Parents of daughters who may be developing a borderline personality need a more specialized approach to parenting.

They must better understand their own role in this disorder while dealing with a child who requires more than most. This often involves guidance by a professional skilled in working with families of IBPDs.

Moreover, borderline traits often are co-morbid with depression, anxiety, impulsivity, chemical dependency and sometimes, trauma. Making sure that these conditions are well treated—whether its a medicine or a proven therapy—can help a lot.

In the end, effective parenting of a child developing BPD involves careful selection of boundaries that are realistically enforceable. Most importantly, parents must not continue the pattern of trying to set boundaries and then giving in. The most important boundary is zero tolerance for abuse.

Getting Help

The bottom line—don't despair. Try to understand what you are dealing with by getting a thorough assessment. Own your piece in what's going wrong (including your own dysfunctional behavior when present), and treat your daughter's co-morbid conditions. Nowadays, the IBPD has many new treatment options, such as DBT and other modalities. There is hope.

But, it all starts with looking at things realistically.

It's worth the effort.

This piece is by guest blogger Dan S. Lobel, Ph.D., who is in private practice in Katonah, New York. Dr. Lobel can be reached for consultation at 914-232-8434 or by email at