“One of the most devastating experiences for children of borderlines is ‘The Turn,’” writes Christine Anne Lawson. “The Turn is a sudden attack, the abrupt withdrawal of love and affection, and razor-sharp words that can pierce the heart as painfully as an arrow.” Lawson’s book, Understanding the Borderline Mother, is a must-read for anyone who had, or thinks they had, a parent with borderline personality disorder.
This holiday season has reminded me of a memorable Turn.
My mother stopped driving and stopped going out, more or less, when I was in college. Christmas would roll around, and, it was assumed, I’d do the Christmas shopping for her. I did this well into my twenties. There were my two sisters to buy for, along with their husbands and kids.
I’d ask my mom for some ideas and for some monetary limitations. How much to get? How much to spend? She would shrug or say something like, “You can decide.”
This burdensome task made me feel conflicted. I knew my mother’s criticism was waiting in the wings, preparing to make its entrance when I had made my purchases. I felt unsure and stressed, as everyone is, during the holiday season, trying to keep track of a list and making sure I’d checked everyone off. I bought gifts both in my mom’s name and my own. I knew how much I could afford but had no real idea what my mother wanted me to spend. She wasn’t wealthy but had managed her money well and had a healthy bank account.
At the same time, I naturally loved the whole process. I was out in the bustle of the shopping centers and (brand-new) malls. I bought a lot on my mom’s behalf and imagined my nieces and nephews and everyone else opening their gifts. It was fun.
It was fun, burdensome, and stressful at the same time. I’m sure my mother never once thanked me for doing this, or for wrapping each gift alone when I got home.
One year, after a particularly successful shopping trip, I came home carrying many bags and found my mom sitting in the living room watching TV, just as she’s pictured on my home page. I pulled out the gifts, enthusiastically showing her my finds. At first, she had a pained smile on her face and said little. She often looked as though she was trying to react in a normal or positive way but couldn’t quite pull it off.
Then abruptly she spoke up. “You sure do like spending my money, don’t you?” she snapped.
I felt like my legs had been sliced at the knees and I was lying in a heap on the living room floor. I asked her what I’d done wrong. Did I get too much? Want me to return some things? She just shook her head and looked away at those questions. No response and no guidelines.
Here’s something I’ve just explicitly realized about this incident. She was right, and that’s why it hurt so much. If I had hated every second of shopping, complained about it, and not taken it seriously, I could have shaken off her words. But I did enjoy spending her money. That’s why I sputtered and why I still, even now, feel defensive.
It’s a thing about the disorder. People with BPD are not psychotic. They’re not hallucinating in their own separate reality. They’re in touch, mostly, with reality, albeit sometimes distorted. They frequently are insightful, especially about ways they are left out, hurt, and abandoned.
In fact, frequently The Turn contains truth. Not all the truth, and certainly not a loving, forgiving truth. It contains just enough truth to set you back on your heels and make you guilty and angry at the same time.
Share your own examples here.