Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How Enmeshed Families Affected by Both Patriarchy and Personality Disorders Can Benefit from the Literature Concerning the Concentration Camp Survivor

More About Borderline Parenting Styles

The previous post discusses the primary characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and how it affects the children of those affected by the disorder (abbreviated as “BP” which stands for “borderline person”). In “Understanding the Borderline Mother,” Christine Lawson presents four different “character profiles” of affected mothers, one of which she names the “Witch Mother.” Please note that BPD can affect both men and women, and in terms of how the example of BPD relates to patriarchy, it should be noted that the father can be substituted wherever “mother” appears in these posts to make it even more applicable.

Note: [Bracketed terms] in any excerpts were adapted and added by this blog host for the ease of the reader of this post in order 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.

BPs that Lawson identifies as the “Witch” variety wrestle with annihilating rage, and this kind of BP mother believes deeply that she is evil and must compensate for an inadequate sense of self. When she feels threatened, she becomes predatory and demands submission as a means of medicating her own emotional state at the expense of her children. She often singles out one of her children as the receptacle for her self-hatred, though she may show this side of herself to all of them. The message she communicates to her children is that “Life is war.” This is also the rarest of the subtypes Lawson describes, and quite often, this type of mother tends to hide within another BP persona or apparent competence until something triggers the predator within (pg 38).

Borderline mothers can be difficult to recognize (pg 38) because BPs:
  • Seem normal to casual acquaintances
  • Have unique symptom clusters
  • Are different with different people, including their own children
  • Have different external or public personalities
  • Function well in structured environments and specific roles
More Similarities Between Behaviors in Botkin Syndrome and BPD Parenting Styles
Parents who follow Botkin-style patriarchy sometimes manifest these same traits or variations of them, and in the previous post, I explore several other similarities between parenting styles within these two groups that both manifest enmeshment. The reader should understand that this post draws a comparison between the common features of both groups in order to help children of enmeshment both understand dysfunctional families and thus move through their pain into wholeness. Though I believe that the ideology of patriarchy lends itself well to those with personality disorders which makes those who do have such a diagnosis more protected within these patriarchal systems, I am in no way contending that parents in patriarchy suffer from BPD. The followers of patriarchy sometimes behave very aggressively with critics, showing intense anger and demeaning those who do not meet their expectations, both inside and outside of their families and groups.  Like the high functioning BP who keeps more unpleasant matters well-hidden by showing only a careful fa├žade to most others, patriarchy follows a very obvious rule: the parent can never be wrong and fathers can never be criticized.

Those who follow the Family Integrated Church (FIC) system see each individual father as the gatekeeper concerning doctrine and related practice for his own family, and in many FIC churches, men are even discouraged from talking directly to other women concerning conduct and doctrine because it is interpreted as interfering with the authority of the patriarch as independent prophet, priest and king over his own family jurisdiction. The FIC system itself tends to naturally insulate against criticism, inhibit legitimate concern for members within a family, and the system itself is quite punitive and intolerant of deviation from its narrow standards. Often in the same manner by which parents with BPD use their children to bear and contain their negative emotions, parents in patriarchy often objectify and scapegoat their own children to preserve their devotion and high regard for their ideology, the leaders they follow, as well as the outward appearance of the family. Also noted in the previous post, dysfunctional families spontaneously and unconsciously assign identified roles to family members, and one individual tends to be labeled and serves the family as the primary scapegoat. Because of the inequitable balance of power in families (favoring the BP and the patriarch), any subordinate within the family system can be blamed, however. Black and white thinking fosters this response in both BPD and cultic families where ethical issues as well as dynamic people reduce down to static elements – objects of use – which are understood through narrow predefined prejudices.

Drawing Insight from the Personal Accounts of Concentration Camp Survivors
Lawson and other authors concerned with child abuse report that enmeshed children and adults often find value in reading literature concerning concentration camp survivors. Many report dreams about captivity themes because they feel guilty, falsely condemned, trapped, and hopeless. Many of these things reported by children of BPs and abuse victims echo the statements and feelings of those who grew up in spiritually abusive patriarchy. As so many in patriarchy profess to be acting in the best interest of their children by following the prescribed paradigm, something the loaded language of this cultic group describes as “shepherding” or “protecting the hearts” of their children, BP mothers also feel entitled to their duty to dominate their children as a part of their role as parent. They do so because they believe that this treatment is “for the child’s own good.” When confronted by therapists, the BP becomes very defensive because they do not recognize their behavior as destructive. Lawson states,
Having been raised by parents who demanded absolute loyalty and obedience, the [borderline] mother wields her power as blindly as she once relinquished her will to her own parents. Denial of her child’s pain comes as easily to her as denial of her own pain. The [borderline mother] projects the war that rages within her onto the no-good child (pg. 273).
Many people who did not grow up in dysfunctional homes often question why people remain in destructive and demeaning relationships, and this is very true of people who do not understand BPD. Likewise, people who do not appreciate the concept of “bounded choice” do not understand the plight of the children within Botkin-style patriarchy because they do not understand the subtle dynamics and complex pressures upon adult daughters within the patriarchal system. But the survivor of a concentration camp knows deeply and intimately what the ill-affected daughter in patriarchy faces, something Lawson in particular points out as true of the children of BPs in “Understanding the Borderline Mother.” This kind of degradation at the hands of a parent is vastly different from that which comes via a stranger because the child builds their own identity upon that which the parent gives to the child. If this is based upon denigrating shame, it has a devastating affect on the child.

From Lawson, Pgs 273-4:
The words of a concentration camp survivor reflect a child’s blind faith in the parent: “Why did we not fight back? . . . I know why. Because we had faith in humanity. Because we did not really think that human beings were capable of committing such crimes” (Klein ["All But My Life"], p.89). The [borderline mother’s] children, too, fall victim to their own faith in humanity and therefore repress awareness of their mother’s destructive power. . . Children have faith in their parents and believe in their greater wisdom.

In his book on moral life in concentration camps, Todorov ["Facing the Extreme"] (1996) observed, “In the totalitarian ethic, loyalty to the leader is a fundamental obligation” (p. 189). Young children need to believe that their mother knows what is right and good. Their trust and loyalty are truly blind, for they have no other experience by which to assess her judgment. They believe in her basic goodness, more so than they believe in their own goodness. It is safer to accept the view that they are evil than to consider the consequences that the mother is evil.
Just like a survivor of a Nazi prison camp, the child of a BP must realize that if they do not take responsibility for their responses to their captivity, they run a great risk of becoming like their captors. This is very true for those in recovery from spiritual abuse who must address the lure of the benefit that they believed the ideology offered to them, because they are also at high risk for allowing their devotion to idealistic virtues serving as justification for behavior. They must make peace with their former abusive leader and work toward forgiveness, one of the long-term goals in recovery that occurs in the final stages of healing after steady progress and perseverance. They must also admit to themselves that their former ideology was flawed, just as the recovering BP parent must perform a painstaking moral inventory in order to take the first steps toward their own healing. Lawson quotes Todorov saying “Someone who sees no resemblance between himself and the enemy, who believes that all the evil is in the other and none in himself, is tragically destined to resemble his enemy” (p. 200). For me, this echoes that “if we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us” (1 John 1:10, KJV).

As a part of working through their trauma, it is essential that those who have been hurt by any trauma, be it spiritual abuse, a personality disorder in a parent, family enmeshment, or Botkin Syndrome must be able to express themselves as they make sense of their experience so that they can progress through it into full healing. The silence must be broken regarding the silent suffering of Jesus’ little lambs. Lawson quotes another concentration camp survivor concerning the importance of telling one’s story to encourage healing.

Pg 290:
Those who experienced imprisonment . . . are divided into two distinct categories . . . those who remain silent and those who speak . . . those who remain silent who feel more deeply that sense of malaise which I for simplicity’s sake call “shame,” . . . The others speak . . . because . . . they perceive . . . the center of their life, the event that for good or evil has marked their entire existence. [Levi, p.149]

Lawson concludes this chapter by pointing out again, that like the BP parent who is often difficult to recognize and mistake the child of the BP as the problem in the family, concentration camp survivors were not believed at times. History has documented accounts of many who escaped camps in the early phases of WWII who were not believed when they escaped to tell the horrors of what they endured. For the adult children of patriarchy, this is absolutely true in many cases, because it is painful for people to be shaken out of their comfort zones to consider a very disturbing truth. Things aren’t always as they seem, and few people often believe what both the children of BPs and the children of abusive patriarchy have to say.

In conclusion, I would like to offer the footnote on page 290 of Lawson’s book:
Primo Levi (1988) writes in The Drowned and the Saved: “Almost all of the survivors, orally or in their written memoirs, remember a dream which frequently recurred during the nights of imprisonment, varied in its detail but uniform in its substance: they had returned home and with passion and relief were describing their past sufferings, addressing themselves to a loved one, and were not believed, indeed were not even listened to” (p. 12).
Lawson also states that,
“Pain that is expressed, heard, and believed is not experienced in vain. Pain that is heard can then be tolerated and healed” (pg 290) . . .Children need to be held, to be mirrored, to be soothed, and to be given some control throughout their childhood, but especially following separation and loss. Unbearable pain that is expressed, heard and believed becomes bearable (pg. 304).
It is my great hope that the daughters and sons of patriarchy can speak the truth about their experiences and also see them for what they are. I pray that they will be able to separate from the oppression they endured, can forgive their parents for their shortcomings and what many experience as spiritual, psychological, and emotional abuse. I pray that they can see themselves as good and can trust in their own personal goodness, no longer serving as a scapegoat and source of blame for the family. Exploring some of these writings about the plight of the concentration camp survivor as well as the child of a borderline personality can offer helpful encouragement to the children of enmeshed families.

Without intervention, their emptiness, hopelessness, rage, and fear will be passed to the next generation . . .

Borderline mothers are not evil; evil lies in the darkness of unawareness. They cannot see what they are doing.

Those of us who can see must shine the light of our understanding like a beacon guiding a ship to harbor, or share in the responsibility of allowing mothers to drown their own children in a sea of despair
(Lawson, pg 307).

Excerpts and adaptations from
Christine Ann Lawson
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
Lantham, MD (2004)
Oxford (2000)

Primo Levi
Vintage (1989)

Tzvetan Todorov
Holt Paperbacks (1997)
Gerda Weissman Klein
Hill and Wang, expanded edition (1995)