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Causes, Again

I’ve been reading How Dysfunctional Families Spur Mental Disorders: A Balanced Approach to Resolve Problems and Reconcile Relationships by Dr. David M. Allen, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Dr. Allen asserts that drug companies and the rise of managed care have helped nurture the “brain disease” model for many disorders. Whereas autism, schizophrenia, and depression are clearly physical illnesses, disorders such as borderline personality are not, in Dr. Allen’s view. Personality disorders are traceable, he feels, to families–a natural outgrowth of abuse, neglect, and dysfunctional relationships in childhood. It has served the powers-that-be, however, to define these disorders as medical instead of psychological, and to treat them with medication rather than intense, time-consuming talk therapy and family counseling.

After reading my manuscript, Dr. Allen provided a thoughtful hypothesis explaining how my grandmother’s ambivalence may have contributed to my mother’s later depression and BPD symptoms. I have, heretofore, subscribed to the “biosocial” model, which assumes a significant biological propensity to the disorder, exacerbated by problems in the family.

I appreciate Dr. Allen’s maverick, uncompromising approach to assessing the causes of BPD and other disorders. I’m rethinking what I thought I knew about my mom and her parents. (I posted about this previously, here.) Reimagining your mother’s life, comprehending her childhood relationships and experience of her own parents, is a challenging matter. The difficulty helps me appreciate the courage and genius of novelists and playwrights–say, Eugene O’Neil in Long Day’s Journey into Night–who set out to portray their parents’ and grandparents’ lives.

Can you imagine your parents’ lives, especially before you came on the scene? What do you think you know for sure, and what remains a mystery?

One Comment

  1. Lisa Marin wrote:

    The crucial word in your question is “What do you THINK you know for sure.” I’m sure we don’t know as much about others as we think we do, even – or maybe especially – our own family members. My sister was in her 70’s when she found out she was what she termed “a love child.” Our parents married a year later than they told us. My best friend in high school was around 20 when she learned that nothing about her own family was what she had been told: her “mother” was actually her grandmother, her “father” was no relation at all, a family “friend” was actually her father, etc.
    The keys to your mother’s behaviors and thought patterns, and her life with her parents may forever remain a mystery to you. How to live with that mystery is the challenge.

    Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

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  1. […] I’ve said in my book and elsewhere on this blog, I resist the notion that BPD is caused by mothers. I should also say that I have no […]

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