Those affected by patriarchy in the style of the Botkin Syndrome face a set of challenges and often struggle to see their experience in a way that helps them understand what happen to them. After establishing a place of safety in safe relationships, retracing and recounting personal history is an essential stage of recovery, something that comes before the stage of reconnection and intimacy with others. This is also true of children who grow up in other types of dysfunctional homes, such as those who had parents who suffered from personality disorders like narcissism. Because of the many similar elements that are common to the enmeshment of Botkin Syndrome and the enmeshment that takes place between children and the parent with a personality disorder, this literature is often helpful to those who are working their way out of patriarchy. In particular, I like “Trapped in the Mirror” and “Children of the Self-Absorbed” because the functional problems faced by children and adult children from patriarchal homes are so similar.
I find it striking that *[people with borderline personality disorder] use many of the same coping mechanisms that are used by those who follow Botkin-style patriarchy. This certainly does not mean that everyone who follows patriarchy has a narcissistic or borderline personality disorder, but I think that the ways in which the children of *[people with borderline personality disorder] are affected by their parent’s disorder can and may help those overcoming Botkin Syndrome understand their experience in a more meaningful way because of the similarities.
*[Late entry correction for clarity replacing an undefined abbreviation]
*[Late entry correction for clarity replacing an undefined abbreviation]
What is BPD?
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), so named because the disorder was once classified differently, as it was originally thought to be a very mild form of “borderline” schizophrenia. As science and further study has now revealed that the disorder is actually a very specific reaction to trauma that takes place in childhood which inhibits aspects of brain development related to memory. At the current time, the name of the disorder remains, even though it is a little misleading. In addition to some more child-like means of coping with distress and reality, people affected with BPD fail to transfer very emotionally charged events into their long term memory. For this reason it was originally thought that those with the disorder could not “take in” reality and make sense of it, but it is actually now understood as a type of complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that has affected brain function and development. Throughout the rest of this post and for the sake of ease, I will refer to those who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder as a “BP” meaning a “borderline person.” As one author suggests, it avoids reducing those affected into a diagnosis and preserves their identity as a person apart from the disease.
Features Common to Both BPD and Botkin Syndrome
BPs rely upon coping mechanisms [See this link] that are commonly used within spiritual abuse. In order to deal the depression and the intensity of mood swings, the BP uses defenses like distraction through fantasy and idealization to deny painful experiences, all in addition to the denial that occurs as a consequence of disturbance in memory. People who follow patriarchy cling to an idealized view of family and see the world through patriarchy’s galvanized prejudice, and elements of this created system of idealism often does not meet with practical demands, something very much like the alternate reality of the BP. Psychological splitting (a type of black and white thinking) also predisposes the BP to devaluation of others in order to protect their fragile sense of self, using devaluation, demoralization, and demonization of those whom they find threatening at a given moment. Those who follow patriarchy also defend their belief system against their critics, detractors, defectors, as well as their own excommunicated followers in the same manner. BPs use blame and projection in order to feel better about themselves, raising their own comfort level by “leveling the playing field” by focusing and attributing fault to others, regardless of whether they are deserving of that fault or blame. Patriarchy uses these tactics through the concept of merited grace and safety which always falls on the shoulders of the devotee (“If you failed to get promised results, you are to blame because of personal failure or sin.”).
Patriarchy uses all of these primitive coping tactics to enhance the group’s sense of exclusivity and special status to blame and reduce those outside of the group to a lesser status. For the loved ones of those with BPD, because of the high degree of manipulation used by the BP to avoid their fears and to survive their disorder, the “brainwashing effects” that the disorder has on their family and friends is very much like the thought reform employed within many systems of the so-called Biblical patriarchy. Again, this does not mean that anyone who follows patriarchy has a personality disorder, but the dynamics of the patriarchal system do bear many similarities in some respects. I believe that it is worth considering some of the wisdom from this literature to bring more insight. I am also concerned on another level that patriarchy may attract both leaders and followers with some of these personality disorders because the ideology of patriarchy lends itself so well to the natural style of those who have both borderline and narcissistic personality disorders.
The story of the Wizard of Oz lends itself well to the disorder as a way of explaining what it is like to live with a BP. The child of the BP lives in two worlds: the BP’s world and real world which is governed by rational and predictable social rules and dynamics which are consistent. Life with their BP is much like getting caught up into the whirlwind and carried to Oz – into an alternate universe where the regular rules don’t apply. It has some elements of enchantment fantasy, but like Oz, it also has its villains, heroes and sojourners. (Link HERE to a brief explanation of this metaphor.) In general, a BP can function at very high or very low levels, being very capable or very debilitated. Recognizing high functioning BPs proves more difficult for those outside of their immediate family or outside of the BP’s primary relationships, because it is masked by their high level of competence and skill at hiding their inner turmoil from others. BPs also vary vastly in the way that they deal with their fears and anguish, either turning them inward to become collapsed personalities or turning them outward to become exaggerated personalities.
In “Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship,” Lawson identifies four basic “character profiles” that tend to dominate the personality of the BP, but they may also overlap. (BPs manifest their core issues in very complex ways, but understanding them in terms of profile types or metaphor such as “Life in Oz” helps their loved ones with their own understanding and interpersonal struggle with their BP.) The BP may also behave consistently with one type of profile when coping well and may switch into another character profile when feeling threatened.
Character Profiles of Mothers with BPD (Lawson, pp 37-8):
(1.) The Waif Mother who predominantly demonstrates helplessness; “Life is too hard.”
(2.) The Hermit Mother who predominantly demonstrates fear; “Life is too dangerous.”
(3.) The Queen Mother who predominantly demonstrates emptiness; “Life is ‘all about me.’”
(4.) The Witch Mother who predominantly demonstrates annihilating rage; “Life is war.”
The following chart, adapted from the book, describes the affects of the mindset of the BP on their thoughts and behaviors concerning their children. It should be said that all parents make errors and that none are perfect, but parents who consistently respond to their children in the manners described in the Table do suffer with impaired relationships, and these ideas and resulting behaviors adversely affect their children. (No parent can be expected to be the perfect, ideal parent, and few parents are ideal.)
It cannot be stressed and stated more emphatically: Parents in patriarchy or those who follow the Botkin Model of parenting do not suffer from BPD! I present this material here to highlight how the similar coping and parenting styles of those with BPD are quite similar to those within patriarchy in some ways, and understanding this may be helpful for adult children who have been affected by particular elements of these parenting styles. It must also be noted that, though this book discusses the Borderline Mother, within patriarchy, the controlling and manipulating comes from both parents, theoretically from the father in particular. My point here involves understanding the general effects and problems, not to make a case that mothers in patriarchy control their families and that they are the source of the problems in the system. But, children of BPs suffer from enmeshment just as do children in patriarchy, and many of the assumptions that BPs make about their children are consistent with adult children who have exited patriarchy. It is a comparison, not an analogy. Some of the doctrines and some of the functional problems manifested in patriarchy also manifest in BPD (functional problems that manifest and deviate from patriarchy’s ideology when the ideology s put into practice). And for that reason only, the literature which addresses BPD can be helpful for those who are overcoming Botkin Syndrome.
Just as the BPs described here fall into predictable patterns of behavior, their children also develop predictable responses. Children in dysfunctional families fall into certain categories. Lawson notes these specific family roles for children of Borderline Mothers: the “all-good child,” the “no-good child” and the “lost child” (pp 160-173). Per the literature concerning addictions and recovery, the identified roles within dysfunctional, enmeshed families that children (and the non-addicted spouse) adopt include the “hero,” the “clown,” the “mascot,” the “caretaker,” the “rebel,” the “scapegoat,” the "mastermind," and the “lost child” or “loner.” Children within systems of enmeshment feel constrained to remain in these expected roles in order to accommodate the needs of the BP which assuages them, because children become overly responsible for the well being of the parent and family at the expense of their own needs and their own personalities. In patriarchy, exiting the family system is also tantamount to religious apostasy and loss of connection with God, so children within patriarchy feel even more pressure than do those in families where a parent suffers from addiction/dysfunction.
What Can We Learn from BPD?
Recently, while reading through the BPD literature, I noted several statements that Lawson makes in “Understanding the Borderline Mother” that apply well to those within patriarchy. I offer only a few of them here for those who are working through the “Why?” and “How?” of the painful aspects of their experience of family, noting understanding and evaluation of personal history as an essential stage in healing from any type of trauma. Working through and resolving their understanding of the painful aspects of their family experience will liberate them to be able to celebrate the good and beneficial elements of their families without hindrance or distraction.
Note: [Bracketed terms] in the following excerpts were adapted and added by this blog host for the ease of the reader of this post to abbreviate the terminology which was explained in the context of the book (in terms of character subtypes) but is beyond the scope of this post. To make the excerpts more relevant to those within patriarchy, consider substituting the term “family” for “mother.” As previously stated, though the book discusses these issues as they pertain to mothers who suffer from BPD, these issues apply to family and also to fathers within the Botkin-style form of patriarchy.
Children of borderlines expect incongruent behavior from others. They learn to hide their real feelings, to express their needs indirectly, or not to need anything at all. Because this learning is unconscious, they are unaware of their own incongruence… Children of borderlines keep the true self hidden, first from their parents and eventually from themselves. . . The real self will be hidden if it can not be fully expressed.
Because borderlines lack object constancy, they have no access to an internal, loving, approving, protective self that is constant regardless of events. Therefore, they try to rely on their own children to hold them together. As adults, children of the [mother] have a choice about how much they are willing to give, how much they can emotionally withstand, and how much of their own lives they are willing to sacrifice.
The [mother’s] adult children must understand that those with healthy mothers cannot imagine the manipulativeness of the [mother]. Others therefore assume that the child, rather than the mother, is the selfish one…Attempting to separate from the [mother] can cause volcanic eruptions. Everyone reacts to seeing the smoke and red-hot lava once it is flowing, but few people understand the forces beneath the surface that created the disaster.
The [mother’s] emptiness distorts her perceptions of interactions with others. Regardless of how much she is appreciated, loved, valued, or admired, she feels disappointed. Gifts from the [mother] have strings attached because they are tied to her sense of self. She gives in order to receive what she needs or wants… The strange combination of the [mother’s] extravagant gifts and her inability to give what is actually needed reflects her own longing to be indulged… The [mother’s] behavior elicits embarrassment about her need for recognition, attention, and control, and her children may react by becoming intensely private individuals...The [mother’s] adult children should accept only those gifts that do not leave them feeling indebted, uncomfortable, or guilty.
“In normal development, the mother introduces the child to increasingly difficult levels of frustration so the child will learn that she does not always get what she wants. At some point, the child’s ego realizes, accepts, and internalizes this, understanding that it is a normal, although disagreeable, fact of life. The child with an arrested ego, however, will have a poor ability to tolerate frustration…” [Quoting Masterson, pg 76.]
Unfortunately, both the [mother] and her children can suffer from arrested ego development. The [mother] cannot supply her children with something she lacks in herself, and she uses her children to mirror her self-worth. This aberration in parenting results in children with selves that either respond with angry defiance and feeling of worthlessness or with false compliance and feelings of emptiness… Adult children must learn to mirror their true selves instead of the [mother’s].
In an upcoming post I HOPE to explore the connection between literature written by concentration camp survivors and why the children of BPs often feel a connection to the plight of the captive.
Excerpts and adaptations from
Christine Ann Lawson
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Lantham, MD (2004)
James F. Masterson
New York (1988)