The Turn

“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.

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3 Responses to The Turn

  1. Mary says:

    First, this sounds very familiar to me as a daughter of an undiagnosed BPD mother, the NO WIN situation. She “setyou up” and you walked right into it. (this is not criticism, this is recognition of how you got conned, used, manipulated, screwed and abused by your own mother.) What I thought after reading this was how wrong it is for her to take over your life, and then, have the chutzpah to complain that you are, in essence, doing so and enjoying it. But as a daughter of such a person, one is not likely to even see how wrong it is for her to have expected you to live both your life and hers….of course she can’t be happy watching you get enjoyment out of something she should be/but can’t/won’t/isn’t enjoying for herself. It’s so twisted it’s even hard to describe. Agree completely re: Lawson’s book! Best thing I have ever read. See also Dr. David M. Allen, M.D.’s series on how to disarm the borderline, especially the one I have linked here on what NOT to do. Sounded like my whole life….I did it all wrong. (Can I have my life back?)

  2. Kathy says:

    She was right. Or maybe I should have said partly right. I did enjoy spending her money. That was a fact. I mean that that’s why we’re so vulnerable. People with BPD often hone in on a partial truth — a real insight. They make it the whole truth, which is where they’re distorting things. But there’s a little truth in what they say, and that’s what makes us feel hurt and defensive. That’s what I think, anyway. I agree with you that it’s hard for them when others are happy. It highlights their own unhappiness.
    I think your feeling like a child around your mom is perfectly normal. Especially since you’re pretty young and are just developing a lot of insights into your relationship. You might not always feel quite so vulnerable, altho it’s always an intense relationship. I admire how you’re examining and questioning.

  3. Brigitte says:

    I have to disagree with you. I don’t think your mother was right. You were doing a service on her behalf at her request. I would feel you would be taking advantage of her if you were using the money without her knowledge. Perhaps she said that because she saw how happy you were and how much you enjoyed it. As you know borderline people at times can’t stand when other people are happy. Something you said though really struck a chord with me. The way you showed everything off to her when you got back and after she made that comment asked her about taking the gifts back. I can talk the talk but I have yet learned to walk the walk, so to speak. I can be tough and very critical of my mother when she is not around but as soon as I’m in her presence I try almost everything under the sun to please her. I will do whatever she wants to placate her. It’s as if my happiness is directly tied to hers. If she’s happy then I’m happy, even if it comes at my own expense. I can be a strong and independent woman on my own but when it comes to my mother, no matter how old I am, I will always feel like a child in her presence.

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