Borderline Personality Boundary Setting Resources?
February 13, 2012 10:10 AM   Subscribe

I have a sister w/Borderline Personality. My father has completely cut her off to protect himself. My mother tries to keep the door open as she can, but has learned to set limits. I haven't talked to her on the phone in like a year, though I try to be supportive and let her know I love her via facebook now and then, just so she doesn't feel too alone/sad. She's been mostly decent about respecting my boundaries. However, my nephew (her son), just posted "Some people in the family need to step up -- getting calls and emails about suicide from my mom every 6 hours is draining. Grandparents cut off contact with her (which is only partly true, it's that mom doesn't give as much attention as my sister who demands demands demands attention wants), and I can't keep doing this. Tips for me to talk to him? (i.e. resources for him to learn to set boundaries, ways to think about the manipulations, etc...)

I know he knows she messed up. I know he understands why I can't be there all the time for her, but I also know he's frustrated that he has no buffer. I can't "step up" because I know what it's like to have those hooks sunk in, and while I don't want to see my sister in pain, I have to protect myself. And I want my nephew to know that it's ok for him to set boundaries (this is something I've learned through the years, and I think that my natural empathy sort of rubbed off in a good way, but I think he needs to learn about boundary setting now).

Please show me some good simple resources?

I know there's BPD sites out there, but are there any quick "reference sheets" that he can look at to help him understand his mother in some sense, and to learn what's necessary for his mental health.

Thanks in advance for any advice :)
posted by symbioid to Human Relations (44 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
How old is your nephew?

Because if he's in his teens - mid-20s, then, yeah. He shouldn't have to deal with this alone.

Hell, he shouldn't have to deal with this alone anyway, but at that critical age, he really shouldn't have to be dealing with it at all. Being there for your sister will be being there for your nephew.

I suggest you research therapists in your area who are good with BPD and ask for family support resources. They would have a far better idea of what's out there, and it's probably something that could be given over the phone.
posted by zizzle at 10:14 AM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

How old is your nephew? Why not call him directly and have a talk with him letting him know you are there for him and all the lessons you learned over the years?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:16 AM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: My nephew's in his mid-20s if that helps.
posted by symbioid at 10:22 AM on February 13, 2012

Your parents need to step up and get involved.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:29 AM on February 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

I think getting together (if you're local to each other) is a great way to communicate care and interest. Go get some lunch, or coffee. Or a beer! and talk about how things have been going, and why the family has reacted the way it has (and why that's an appropriate response).

He'll probably also want to say how he feels and why, and then you can speak about alternative responses (for him) that are good for both him and his mother. Getting caught inside the madness is enabling, not helping, but it can be very difficult to see or accept that.

You may not be able to be around your sister as you'd like to, but if your nephew is clear-headed, you can give him the support that you can't give to his mom. And check in with him periodically; that can lend a real sense of security, safety, and "backed-up-ness" to people in a hard place.

Good luck! I hope you get some useful responses in this thread.
posted by Poppa Bear at 10:31 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do any of you have a relationship with him? Does anyone talk to him on a regular basis? Because that person should talk to him and let him know exactly why none of you have a relationship with his mother, and *then* you can offer suggestions to him about developing boundaries to protect him from his mother's drama.
posted by crankylex at 10:33 AM on February 13, 2012

Best answer: It sounds like your nephew needs permission to step down. I have a sister that calls me to scream about some pretty random painful stuff that doesn't have anything to do with reality. When she does this I hang up the phone. If I know it's her, I wait to see if she leaves a voicemail, and then call her back if it sounds like it can be a healthy conversation.

It also sounds like your nephew might benefit from therapy. Being on the receiving end of suicide threats counts as traumatic. A qualified therapist may have more insight in healthy ways for him to deal with his mother, based on a more nuanced and detailed understanding of their relationship.
posted by tulip-socks at 10:35 AM on February 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

He's looking for help. You are writing this question, which means you want to help him. You should call him, or at the very least, reach out to him on Facebook with a message. As soon as the door is open between the two of you, you can better figure out how to help him and his family. Don't ignore his pleas for help, they are not your sister's pleas for help.
posted by katypickle at 10:35 AM on February 13, 2012 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: My dad has excommunicated her. And there's no reason he will ever let her back in.

I wish I could tell all the stories, this isn't just some sob-story stuff. I'm sure my nephew was directing this towards me more than my parents.

He lives 3+ hours away, so getting together is not an easy task, sadly.

He did post that he was ranting and that he hates to be a "cold hearted mother fucker" but that he needs to set boundaries - so he does seem to be learning this, I guess. I just reaffirmed for him that it's ok to set boundaries.

I don't know if that means this is an "answered" question or not - but I'd like to leave it open in case other resources (links, books, video, texts) are posted for others who come across this question.

I know about "Stop Walking on Shells" and eventually would like to get it, though I'm not sure what it would tell me that I haven't already learned these many years.
posted by symbioid at 10:36 AM on February 13, 2012

I'd keep doing whatever you're doing with your sister, but make more of an effort to be there for your nephew and help him learn to cope as well as you have.
posted by orange swan at 10:40 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the therapy comment - I just wrote to him suggesting that. He's in a small town and probably not a lot of resources, but I told him that some therapists have a sliding scale for payment that he might be able to work something out with someone.

I think seeing this as a traumatic event(s) is probably a good way to think about this and then to learn to deal with it. It's hard to see someone who seems to be a victim of their own issues, and then realize that they're also perpetrating trauma (unintentionally, of course) and that we are just as much being traumatized by it as she is. I never thought of it in those terms, even though it's obvious that's what it is.
posted by symbioid at 10:42 AM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Also - my mom is involved, she talks to my sister like every night or every other night for hours at a time. And it's not enough. Never is. That's why boundaries are so important, just wanted to make sure you understood that even though my dad has excommunicated her, my mom is there plenty. I'll shut up and let some of you guys post now ;)
posted by symbioid at 10:43 AM on February 13, 2012

Is your sister in treatment?
posted by magstheaxe at 10:46 AM on February 13, 2012

Can you call your nephew up? There's a big difference between hearing, "It's ok to set boundaries," in a facebook message, and hearing, "Here's how I learned to make peace with setting boundaries with someone whose mental illness makes doing so difficult and painful. This is how long it took me to stop second guessing myself. These are the strategies I use to keep the door open while maintaining boundaries. Here are some resources I found helpful at the time. Here are some resources I've found more recently."

I do think that therapy would be beneficial for him, but I'm wondering if a first step--and I'm suggesting this because it sounds like you haven't taken this step, so apologies if I'm mistaken--would be for you to walk him through your process of deciding on and setting boundaries with your sister, reassuring him that you've felt "cold hearted" at times (if that's true) and that you struggled with some of the same instincts he's feeling (if that's true).
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:47 AM on February 13, 2012 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm not going to try to argue my father's case in a public forum. Let me just say that there are very good reasons for him to have cut off ties with her. He doesn't relish it and it pains him.

As my nephew said "If you haven't experienced it, you don't know." Energy vampire doesn't even begin to describe it. OK, *now* I'm shutting up.

My father's choice is my father's choice, and I can't make him change it. He's a stubborn old man.

My sister has a therapist, but I don't know how good they are (or if they've even properly diagnosed her) -- she has addiction issues, pain issues, as well as borderline personality, so there's a complex mix, and being on disability and not a lot of financial resources to deal with it means that quality treatment is hard for her to get.

My nephew just posted this now on FB this late morning, and I'm at work, so I can't really talk to him now, but I can call tonight.
posted by symbioid at 10:48 AM on February 13, 2012

Best answer: roomthreeseventeen: Coming from a similar place with a close relative with a similarly strong mental illness, there are times when you cannot at all help, and when your very presence is making things worse, even though all logic screams you should be there helping, even though it hurts you to have to cut them out of your life, sometimes it has to be done, or they will drag you kicking and screaming down to hell with them, along with everyone you are attached to, and everything else you are trying to protect, and they will fuel their movement with your blood and your sweat and your love, and in the end you will know that the desire to save them is what damned them.

And then, even after you have done it, you will be judged by people you have never met, who will hate you and disdain you and they will never, never understand.

symbioid: Offering that buffer space is a really good thing, even if all you are doing is letting him blow off steam. It's really hard to not have anyone who understands what you are going through, so being able to empathize is a good start. What are the odds of getting him round to your place for a breather every now and then? The greatest thing for me growing up under similar circumstances was being able to just get the fuck out of the blast radius every now and then and be a normal person.
posted by Jilder at 10:59 AM on February 13, 2012 [19 favorites]

Best answer: symbiod, you and your family have my sympathies.

You might try this worksheet: Techniques to Use When Setting Limits from therapist Randi Kreger.

Other sheets you might find use full:

Suicide Threats that Feel Manipulative

Responding to Snipping and Sarcasm While Observing Your Limits

A lot of this info is excerpted from her book, maybe it will help you. Good luck.
posted by magstheaxe at 11:05 AM on February 13, 2012 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks magstheaxe, that's what I'm looking for. The suicide threats looks very pertinent in this case.
posted by symbioid at 11:07 AM on February 13, 2012

Best answer: He sounds like he feels powerless and without agency. Instead of telling him what to do (get therapy, set boundaries) ask him what HE needs. Let him vent, as you know people without BPD in their lives can't understand how frustrating it is to describe. he probably needs validation this is not normal and support as he makes his own choices towards normalcy.

I understand you father, has he cut his grandson out though too? Because that is not something you should support. If he can't be there in person he can maybe offer support in other way such as education, job seeking, transportation and financial support. You mother can also use some of her phone time to talk to your nephew.

Your distance may actually be a good thing, you can offer him transportation to your home and put him up for a weekend to give him a break.
posted by saucysault at 11:07 AM on February 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Two things:

First, all borderline personality disorder is really a struggle against abandonment. "Boundaries" "cut off" "hooks in" "excommunicated".

The problem is, from her perspective, everyone has abandoned her EXCEPT her nephew, so she's going to lock him down no matter how far away geographically or emotionally he is.

If this woman is like this at this age (>40), then she's quite "ill", and this isn't going to end on its own (or well.)

What you need to do is this: get her a therapist. Wait, hold on: you need to get her a male, Kernberg-style person, someone who will be willing to accept all that affect and craziness. The deal with these kind of psychiatrists/therapists is that the patient agrees to direct all energy/urgency towards them and promise not to direct it at the rest of the family; and in return, the therapist promises to always get in touch with them "promptly", as defined in advance with the patient. Someone willing to "tolerate" a phone call every day, a visit as often as needed. They're around, they exist; they may not be cheap, but I'd bet your extended family would be willing to chip in if it got them off the hook.

Second, your family agrees to patterns: the intense, unstable relationships she's used to are probably emphasized by your (plural) natural responses: sometimes you give her a lot, sometimes you pull away for your own sanity. Intense and unstable is how she perceives it. So you set up a pattern of reliable and expected connection: e.g. if it's a phone call a week, it's a phone call a week, not three one week and none the next two.

Finally, and I am not assuming anything here, just playing the semantics of it: Dad cut her off, mom's not enough, and she's turning to her son? Is there any possibility of sexual abuse here?

Very tough situation, I really feel for you. I'm not blaming you at all, just understand that her responses, crazy as they are, are the result of feeling that her world is unstable, she is powerless, and everyone is trying to get away from her. Limits work both ways: not just cutting her off, but giving her the amount that is needed, reliably.

Sorry this is jumbled a bit.
posted by TheLastPsychiatrist at 11:55 AM on February 13, 2012 [22 favorites]

Can you or your parents help him with the cost of therapy? I understand needing the distance from your sister but he needs the support of his family to deal with his Mother successfully. Paying for his therapy could do that.
posted by cairnoflore at 11:58 AM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You need to be there for your nephew. Growing with that is going to be tremendously damaging, and he's going be dealing with the repercussions for the rest of his life, and he needs to be in therapy today.

I think the advice for everyone to get re-involved in her life is the worst possible thing you can do. She is an adult, and not all of your responsibilities, and feeding into the drama is only going to make things worse for all of you.

But for gods sake, reach out to your nephew and make sure that he is okay.

And please do get "Walking on eggshells."
posted by empath at 12:05 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm calling bullshit. Your nephew is getting drama-y by posting on FB, when what he needs is professional expert care for himself and his mentally ill mother.

Your nephew is old enough to grok that his mother is mentally ill and that she requires professional help, not his help, and not a flare-up of Family Drama. Your nephew is not a medical professional, nor is your mother. They both need to stop trying to "treat" your sister's illness.


People with BPD or BPD-like symptoms can get better about how they treat others IF they get professional help and work at it.

People like your sister will not seek treatment voluntarily if they're getting "pay-offs" from their bad behavior. By "being there" for your sister, your mother and nephew are making things worse, not better.


I believe you should get proactive, consult with psychiatric professionals, and set up consultations for you, your nephew and your mom. (Yes, your father should have done this years ago since there was a grandson to be protected, but that's water under the bridge now. You're an adult, you seem to be thinking clearer than the rest of your family, therefore organizing this falls to you.) I suggest you get second and third opinions on how to deal with this as a family. Then everyone needs to follow that advice!

Your sister might end getting the help she needs as a result of all this, or she might not, but at least your family will have resources and a plan. Having a formula to deal with your sister is super important for everyone's well-being.

If you all can't get on the same page after meeting with professionals and getting good advice, well, then at least you'll all have heard the same professionally rendered information. Exposure to the information might help your nephew or mom down the line. Or it might not. But at least you'll have done something concrete.


I do not suggest you jump back into this drama by enabling your mom and nephew to further enable your sister. I suggest you make ONE focused and thorough effort to get everyone informed and come up with A Plan. If that doesn't work, offer to repeat the same effort again in the future ("Let's all get professional input and follow their advice, but I can't discuss Alice's mental illness with you if we're not taking action. Sorry") Once you've done the responsible thing, don't feel guilty about stupid crap anyone writes on FB, because that's just bullshit.

There is REAL help for people like your sister, and for people in the immediate vicinity of the problem like your nephew and mother. If any one of them aren't willing to do the work to get emotionally healthy, there truly isn't much you can do to help them on your own.

My two cents. Good luck.

(Upon preview, TheLastPsychiatrist - WOW. That's the info you needed!)
posted by jbenben at 12:40 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

wow I totally sympathyse with you - my grandmother (we think) is borderline personality disorder, and at this point the whole family has cut off contact. Some people you can't do anything for, you can't make them happy, and they will tear your heart out every chance they get. It was especially hard for my mother to cut off contact, she felt like she was abandonning her mother, and what kind of awful person does that? She had my dad behind her, pointing out that she couldn't help her mother, but her mother was doing her utmost best to hurt everyone she could get her claws into. The best thing our family did was to make sure that we were there for each other - it sounds like your nephew is feeling like he's dealing with this by himself. Like everyone's been saying, reaching out to him and getting him help is what's needed. If your mom spends hours talking to your sister, maybe she can also give a little of that time to your nephew. Call him and exchange stories about your sister - hearing what the rest of my family went through at the crazy hands of my grandmother was always a relief for me - I didn't feel like it was just happening to me because I was a horrible person, everyone got it. Also, a lot of the stories can be damn funny over beer. Though you live far apart, there's nothing stopping you from having a beer together on the phone. Good on you for asking this question and wanting to help your nephew, you sound like a good aunt.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:54 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: uncle ;)
posted by symbioid at 1:03 PM on February 13, 2012

Get all this the heck off Facebook.
posted by thinkpiece at 1:26 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

That "Stop walking on eggshells" book is terrible. Its entire focus is on how friends and family members should go about cutting the BPD person out of their life, limit their contact, shut the person out and ignore their troubles. There is not a single word about how to give support to your loved one, or how to help them with their problems.

If you want your nephew to view his mother as a burden not worth having in his life, its the perfect book.

The better thing would be to get together with him and do some research (maybe even share it with the rest of the family) so that you can help him understand his mother's illness and why she does some of the things that he does. Help him learn some of the warning signs that she's about to lose control, help him learn how to cope with her troubles *Without* shutting her out like your father did.

You can find a good balance between protecting yourselves from the worst bouts, and actually being there to give her the love and support she deserves. Making sure she gets help, stays on her meds, goes to every appintment, those will help you as much as her. Also, helping her learn to recognize destructive behaviors, red flags, and some coping methods for those situations will help everyone.

I say all of this as someone who thought they were BPD for several years, and did the research to learn how to help myself because I knew my family wouldn't bother to be there for me. Self diagnosis is dumb, especially when it comes to something like BPD where the signs cross over into several other disorders and even some completely normal sets of behaviors. If your sister hasn't been officially diagnosed by a licensed professional, its even more important to help her find a good doc.
posted by myShanon at 1:33 PM on February 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

First, you cannot save your nephew. The suicide threats are the most draining. They are so utterly painful. You'd think you would sort of get used to them. You never, ever do.

But there's nothing you can do. All he wants is you to get some of the suicide threats too. The answer to that must be no.

Some advice. My aunt is a clinical professor of psychology. When I was about 22, I asked for advice on how to stop the suicide threats. She was direct: Next time your mother calls, she told me, tell her that the suicide threats are too painful and that you will have to hang up the next time she tries to make a suicide threat. So I did that. She tried to make a threat. I said I have to go and hung up. A week later she made an oblique reference to it. I said I had to go and hung up. In the 21 years since, she has never once threatened to commit suicide to me.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:48 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: That "Stop walking on eggshells" book is terrible. Its entire focus is on how friends and family members should go about cutting the BPD person out of their life, limit their contact, shut the person out and ignore their troubles. There is not a single word about how to give support to your loved one, or how to help them with their problems.

I must disagree. People with BPD are literally using your love for them against you. You aren't helping them at all. You can't. "Helping" only enables and they don't grow at all. Having been abused for decades, unless you are the object of the abuse you cannot understand what it is like.

The book is actually quite excellent.

There is no sort of love that requires you to give up your own life for the life of someone who does not need your life to live. That is what a BPD person asks of their loved ones.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:51 PM on February 13, 2012 [15 favorites]

I thought SWOE was good, too, and this is so true:

I think the advice for everyone to get re-involved in her life is the worst possible thing you can do.

As a fave therapist friend said about people with BPD, you can throw a life preserver and hope they take it, but please don't jump in the raging waters after them.
posted by Pax at 1:55 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ironmouth. I was the victim of abuse for years, and yes I know exactly how it feels. I also know how it feels to be the person who desperately needs help and support from your so-called-loved ones who can't be bothered to offer so much as a kind word. I was on the verge of being homeless and my aunt's response was literally "Thats nice, we're going to disneyland"

I'm not saying to get re-involved in her life... I'm saying get her the help she deserves, learn how to deal with her in healthy ways that will *both* protect you and help her.

Find a good balance that helps everyone in the best way possible. Don't shut her out completely, and dont' hand her the key to your front door.

People with BPD (and other disorders) do manipulate, but they aren't in control of this fact, and often aren't even aware of this or able to stop themselves. They aren't doing it because they like seeing you hurt, they're doing it because they hurt and they're desperate to feel like someone cares enough to be there for them.

It is possible to live a healthy life as someone who suffers from BPD. Generally it takes a lot of therapy, meds, and support. Yes, the loved ones who want to be there and be supportive are likely to need therapy as well as training on how to be helpful in the right ways. Knowing that someone you love is willing to put that much effort into helping you? It makes a huge difference. It leaves little room for those doubts and insecurities that slowly destroy a person from the inside as they become increasingly convinced that nobody cares.
posted by myShanon at 2:10 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: As the daughter of a BPD mother, I find your nephew's cry for help sort of misplaced. He may not realize it now, but asking relatives to help his mom is neither going to ease his burden nor actually help her. Asking for help for himself is really the only way to get the love he truly needs. It's also the least enabling thing he can do for his mother.

Obviously he doesn't see this right now.

Help him understand that more family members sharing her problems is way less helpful than all of you shoring him up, independent of her. Do some meaningful ittle things for him, and be consistant in saying that hey, if his mother were proactively in treatment, maybe this could be different, but it isn't and therefore you can help him, but not her.

PS To all those who suggest trying to get the whole family involved in some sort of therapeutic intervention... well, that may have been tried before, and if it hasn't, the odds of a BPD going for it aren't fabulous. If it were my mother, she would say she's only the way she is because of the abuse and abandonment imposed on her by all her children (the opposite of the truth), who refuse to stand by her (enable her insanity) and "sit in judgement " (dare to question her shockingly bad chices and destructive actions). Then she would tell us WE needed therapy, scream, rage break things, insult us, threaten our romantic relationships if possible. So yeah. Sharing the love of an awesome scene like that isn't high on anyone's list who's gone through it more than once, and the onus shouldn't be on the family to get her into therapy after a certain point.
posted by devymetal at 2:15 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Do call tonight and let him know that you know what a tough position he is in. As you said, you don't know how hard it is until you have been there. Most of friends and regular support system has no insight into his problems. At least you can let him know that he is not alone, that someone sees his struggles and appreciates his dilemna.

He might find an AlaNon group to be very helpful. While his mother is not an alchoholic, there is the similar pattern of her problem affecting his life, the need to recognize what he can and cannot control and not only how to set boundaries but also emotional support for doing so and then maintaining them. Alanon is very widespread - there is a probably a group in his area and if not, certainly on-line groups that he could join.

Another organization that supports people with mental illness and their families is NAMI - google them for the local chapter.
posted by metahawk at 2:42 PM on February 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I wanted to make some clarifications based on the excellent comments that came after I last posted.

It never helped my mom that some people in the family were open about the fact that she needed serious help, and other people (my dad, her mother) were fine to pretend there was nothing wrong with her, yet avoid her when she got out of control.

The only way out, is through. It MUST be ok to say the words "mental illness" out loud because I don't know how anyone can get true and useful help until the right words are used. It is not helpful to pretend someone's "manageable" or consolable, when really, they have a serious condition that requires professional treatment.

I think it would be liberating for the OP if he and his family started to talk about this as what it is - serious mental illness requiring professional treatment. This will surely lead to them to coping strategies relevant to the condition. It's not an inter-personal conflict, which is where the nephew was taking things on FB, and it is not manageable by anyone in the family without professional guidance and support. There is no shame in this. It is what it is, though.
posted by jbenben at 2:51 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

uncle ;)

oops! sorry!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:01 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dear OP. Do not worry if the person manipulating you isn't in control of their actions. That's irrelevant. No matter what your sister tries to do, the fact that they aren't "in control of their actions" (which is not true, as my own experience with the suicide threats showed most clearly) means nothing. This is about preserving yourself. Sometimes people do things that make it impossible for us to remain healthy and "care" for others through interaction with them.

This question of whether or not to continue to interact is a very tough one. No matter what, your decision needs to be based on what is healthy for you.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:02 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't think anyone said that they weren't "in control of their actions"

My statement was that they aren't always aware of manipulative or destructive behavior. Aka, its not necessarily malicious, and doesn't mean that there isn't hope for finding a healthy balance between protecting yourself and being supportive.

My view on the topic is different, due to having believed I was BPD for a time.. and viewing things from that perspective. I've been on both sides (though the abuse I survived was at the hands of a pair of narcissistic sociopaths, and what I interpreted as bpd behavior on my part was really just a lost girl desperately searching for stable ground in her own twisted world... and making a lot of self-destructive mistakes along the way).

What it comes down to is a choice between risks. Do we take the chance of trying to be there for someone who is going to repeatedly hurt us whether they mean to or not, on the hope that we can help them... or do we remove ourselves from their lives and risk the guilt that comes from knowing someone we love is struggling alone and may eventually choose to follow through on one of those suicide threats.

Some people are beyond help, some relationships can never be repaired. I know that from experience, and have cut myself off from the majority of my biological family just to avoid contact with my grandmother or aunt. First I tried for a couple of decades, prayed that somehow I could find the right thing to do to make them see me as someone worth loving instead of someone to target. I clung to hope until I finally realized that there was nothing I could do to help them, and trying to change things was destroying me.

I'm not saying there's a right choice. What I'm saying is that the "right thing to do" is to TRY everything within your power, and not give up unless you hit that point where you can't find a reason to hope, or have to walk away to save yourself.
posted by myShanon at 4:29 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does your nephew have the means to get his own place?If not are there people in the community who are willing to put him up until he does?
posted by brujita at 5:06 PM on February 13, 2012

The problem I have faced with a loved one with BPD, and why I ultimately had to cut them out of my life, is that establishing any kind of healthy boundaries only works if everyone can agree what "healthy boundaries" are. Which for people with BPD is an enormous challenge. Otherwise it's a continual trench war where they are always pushing and pushing against those boundaries, to the point of manipulation and threats, which is not just emotionally draining but which can cross over into abuse. If the person is incapable of even recognizing that their behavior is hurtful -- because, from their point of view, they are just reaching out for support -- then you can't even maintain boundaries because that very act is interpreted as unloving and hostile.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 5:07 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have also had to cut a loved one out of my life - and having been on both sides of a particularly effed up fence about this sort of thing, I actually don't feel much guilt about what comes next. That's my mileage though. I think El Sabor Asiatico particularly speaks to my feelings on why, but that's further unnecessary thread derailment -- my point is that since we don't know what the family has done or endured to get to this point, I think it's superfluous to speculate on whether they are doing the "right things" or not, especially since the OP isn't asking about that.

I don't have a lot of patience with the whole, passive-aggressive Facebook thing, but I can say that one thing that helped me was reading memoirs of people with the issues my family members face, and of their family. It sometimes gave me insight to how the person felt or why they acted as they did that went beyond the dry clinical details of a diagnosis, and it sometimes helped me figure out coping strategies/setting appropriate boundaries. It certainly helped to not feel alone. However, it was also painful at times, and sometimes it made me angrier/sadder.

I really like meg_murray's suggestion because I think it would have been really, really helpful for me to have someone show me how to set and maintain healthy boundaries and reassure me that my emotions were normal about it who was actually in my life and doing it.
posted by sm1tten at 5:56 PM on February 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

What I'm saying is that the "right thing to do" is to TRY everything within your power, and not give up unless you hit that point where you can't find a reason to hope, or have to walk away to save yourself.

This is an unfair standard for the OP to have to hold himself to.
posted by Lina Lamont at 6:44 PM on February 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: As for me and "Trying within my power..."

I do keep the door open *within my boundaries*. I will let her know that I care, and I let her write to me and vent and hopefully I can provide support online - but I can't talk on the phone, because it becomes the hooks. She has not written much online, and that's her choice - I'm not responsible for it.

Which is why I wrote this - to see if there's a way I can get my nephew to learn that he is also not responsible for her. I've offered some advice, we'll see what he does with it.

The fact my parents are poor and my sister is on disability and poor and my nephew is unemployed right now, along with the fact that my nephew lives in a smaller town means that there's not a ton of resources available that some people who have a healthier/younger/better-off-financially family. I can try to provide some support on my own, but nobody else in the family has any extra resources to spend, so while I appreciate the sentiments of "band together to help each other" in the end, for professional help (and the prices they charge) it's not particularly feasible.

I think the takeaway here is that: 1) This is about my nephew and *his* needs. Not my sister's BPD. That he needs to learn to take care of himself, and ultimately not be "co-dependent". He's shifting a lot of the focus on my sister ("step up and take some of the brunt of her pain" but really it's his pain he needs relief from, couched in terms of dealing w/my sister).

This thread has given me a lot to think about, and putting it to my roomie's experience w/therapy and insight, has helped tremendously.

I try my best to be as good a support as I can, because I do love my sister (despite some horrific thoughts that I think sometimes regarding the best "fate" of the situation -- for her and us)... Every single person in the family knows what we have to deal with and we try to provide support and advice for each other.

One thing I found interesting here is how each person has their own perspective - class influences this, their experience with mental illness (whether being on the receiving end of a diagnosis, or living with someone with BPD), seeing BPD through the lens of a different mental illness.

Thank you all for your thoughts - regardless of whether they specifically gave an answer or not, they provided insight that most any single individual comment could not provide on its own.

posted by symbioid at 7:10 PM on February 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

For what its worth, my intention was never to criticize the OP for their choices in dealing with the sister... I apologize for not making it clearer that my comments were intended to be advice on how to help the nephew deal...

I think rather than books such as "Stop walking on eggshells" which are deliberately slanted toward viewing oneself as the victim of the BPD sufferer.. to educate himself on what the BPD entails, how to recognize certain signs, how to understand what his mother goes through in hopes that it will help him cope more easily with the fallout.

The rest was just a train of thought that meandered off track, but was intended to offer suggestions on how those family members who are still willing to be involved, might go about offering support while finding the right balance (for them) between being supportive and protecting themselves...not only for the sake of the BPD sister, but her son, and each other.
posted by myShanon at 8:39 PM on February 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I know resources are scarce, but it worries me that symbioid (HI!) is thinking of going this alone without professional help.

Here's my plea:

Don't be my sad fractured family.

Today is not 20 years ago. Professionals have a better handle on this condition now. Reach out. Find tools.

But most of all...

I think the people in contact with your sister need to act in concert, be on the same page, draw the same boundaries, be in sync with each other.


Ironmouth makes a great point I'd like to highlight. My mother also knew enough to either hide her behavior from the general public, and/or accept boundaries when made necessary. So your sister isn't clueless here, maybe just --- I dunno. I wish I could explain that. Perhaps it would have helped my family. Cognitive dissonance? I don't know what it is called.


Just be on the same page. Use resources. Don't be in this alone. You're not qualified, nor are your family members. Don't go it alone.
posted by jbenben at 3:36 AM on February 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

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