What is the Welcome to Oz family member community? How does it provide support for family members?

Welcome to Oz , or WTO, has provided an online home for more than a hundred thousand family members since it started in 1996.  It functions much like a real-life support group, except that members communicate via email instead of face-to-face. Real life support groups are rare and expensive.

Current membership stands at 20,000 or more, with members gathering in separate lists by type of relationship (parents, siblings, stepparents) or similarities in their situations (partners who want to stay in the relationships versus those who have decided to separate).

Click here to see a list of all the groups with instructions for joining.

If you need one-on-one assistance, see our fee-based AnswerLine.

 

My family member is physically abusing me. What do I do? If I'm a man, should I just overlook it? I don't want my partner to get in trouble.

Do not overlook this, because it will happen again—perhaps even progress to more intensive violence. This link http://www.oregoncounseling.org/Handouts/DomesticViolenceMen.htm contains information about family violence against men. Here is some other links: http://safeforall.org (Stop Abuse for Everyone) and http://www.thehotline.org/ . You can also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233. Also look up shelters and resources in your area.

Are people with personality disorders responsible for their actions?

Yes. People with personality disorders did not ask for their illness. However, they are responsible for their actions. See this post from Randi Kreger's blog at Psychology Today.

What is the effect of having a borderline or narcissistic parent?

Not good.

Christine Lawson's research

In her book Understanding The Borderline Mother, Dr. Christine Lawson describes four role types which BPD is exemplified by: The Waif, the Hermit, the Queen, and the Witch.

The Queen is controlling and has co-occuring narcissistic personality disorder. The Witch is sadistic and typified by Joan Crawford as depicted in the book and film Mommy Dearest. The Hermit is fearful, and the Waif is helpless.

Each requires a different approach. Briefly:

  • Don't let the Queen get the upper hand; be wary even of accepting gifts because it engenders expectations.
  • Don't internalize the Hermit's fears or become limited by them.
  • Don't allow yourself to be alone with the Witch; maintain distance for your own emotional and physical safety.
  • Don't get pulled into the Waif's crises and sense of victimization; pay attention to your own tendencies to want to rescue her, which just feeds the dynamic.

More than half a dozen studies found on Pubmed.org (by typing in the phrase "Mothers with borderline personality disorder") show disturbed relationships between mothers with BPD and their parents or other negative effects from borderline mothering (no word on fathers yet, though they are certainly out there). 

Another book for people with a BPD parent is Surviving a Borderline Parent: How to Heal Your Childhood Wounds & Build Trust, Boundaries, and Self-Esteem.

Books for people with narcissistic parent include Children of the Self-Absorbed: A Grown-Up's Guide to Getting Over Narcissistic Parents and Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers.

 

Does BPD qualify as a disability under social security?

According to Diane and Jim Hall, family educators for NAMI:

BPD very rarely, if ever, stands alone. The paperwork for social security focuses on symptoms that render the person applying unable to work. Careful, truthful, factual, and detailed documentation is absolutely necessary, especially if one is targeting being accepted on the first application.  In our experience, parents and spouses, siblings and those caregivers who are invested in the wellness of their loved one usually produce a more thorough document than a lawyer. 

With the aid of the excellent U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources/SAMSHA Report to Congress, S.S. applications stating an inability to work due to symptoms of BPD will carry even more weight. Statements of disability from doctors, treaters, and hospitals are a must.    

What literature is safe to offer someone with BPD? What are resources for people with BPD?

Here are just a few resources geared specifically for people with BPD.

  • The Borderline Personality Disorder Survival Guide (Randi Kreger's favorite)
  • Don't Let Your Emotions Run Your Life
  • Sometimes I Act Crazy
  • Lost in the Mirror, 2nd Edition
  • Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook
  • Get Me Out of Here (memoir)
  • The Buddha and the Borderline (memoir)
  • Girl in Need of a Tourniquet (memoir)
  • Loud in the House of Myself (bipolar and borderline)
  • A message board for people with BPD is BPDRecovery.com

Many people with BPD have blogs, wesbites and YouTube videos and channels. Do a search.

What does it mean to "validate" someone?

Validation is an effective communicate technique for anyone, really, not just people with BPD. Someone is being invalidated when they're being ridiculed, ignored, judged, or told that they or their feelings are"bad" or"wrong"—even in a subtle way.

Validation, on the other hand, is to acknowledge the feelings involved whether or not you agree with them. It is not praise or agreement; merely an acknowledgement and reinforcement that you understand their feelings. For example, if your spouse is angry at you for supposedly flirting with a cashier:

Validation:"I can see you're angry at me because you thought I was flirting with someone. If I had done that, that would be aggravating. However, that wasn't what I had in mind at all."

Invalidation:"Don't be angry, I wasn't flirting with that person!"

It is critical you understand that validation is not agreement with the person. In the example above, the speaker didn't agree that he or she was flirting. Validation is about listening and reflecting a person's emotions. It has nothing to do with whether those feelings are valid.

What are some tips for dealing with a narcissist?

See this post by Bill Eddy, the author of Splitting: Protecting Yourself When Divorcing a Borderline of Narcissist, on my blog at Psychology Today.

I'm going through a very nasty divorce and custody battle I'm really worried my spouse will make my life miserable. What do I do?

If you're married and want to divorce or are divorcing, the book From Splitting: Protecting Yourself When Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist by Bill Eddy and Randi Kreger is an absolute must-have. You can get one-on-one fee-based assistance from Bill through our AnswerLine.

To try to divorce without it is like defusing a bomb attached to you when there's a bunch of wires and you have no instructions. Those items are the set of instructions, and cost a pittance considering the amount of advice you're getting. Splitting was written by Bill Eddy, who is an attorney who used to be a therapist. He charges some $250 an hour and put some $50,000 worth of hours into writing Splitting.

Also available, and nearly as necessary, are the accompanying Splitting CD, as well as the Custody Tapes (You're My World). Used together, you will have a good choice of managing your divorce without going insane or losing your shirt. Be aware that planning an exit strategy takes at least six months. So get these materials before you declare your intensions.

Do people with BPD have empathy for others?

Yes, although it can be tough for them to access it when highly stimulated. Read Randi Kreger's blog post at Psychology Today for more information.

Are people with BPD manipulative?

It's no secret that non-BPs often feel manipulated and lied to by their borderline loved ones. In other words, they feel controlled or taken advantage of through means such as threats, no-win situations, the"silent treatment," rages, and other methods they view as unfair.

I believe that, in most cases, the BP's behavior is not intentionally manipulative. Rather, this kind of behavior can be seen as desperate attempts to cope with painful feelings or to get their needs met—without the aim of harming others.

From Stop Walking on Eggshells by Randi Kreger and Paul Mason

So I'm pretty sure my family member has a personality disorder. What do I do now?

As to what YOU can do about it, it's a complicated question. If the question were easy, we would all be doing it. Once people feel validated by talking about their problems with others, they need to take a step to learning life skills for coping with a BP family member.

It takes a commitment to understanding your BP or NP's intense, pervasive, and long-standing limitations and developing life skills to realistically balance what you want and need and what your family member can do.

I outlined the steps for doing this in my new 2008 book The Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder: New Tips and Tools to Stop Working on Eggshells (EFG). To my surprise, I realized that many times non-BP's efforts to learn communication tools and the like fail because they're not learning skills in the right ORDER—the right ORDER means everything.

The very first steps involve taking care of yourself, depersonalizing the behavior, and looking at the things that keep you stuck, like fear, obligation, and guilt. You need to look INWARD before you look OUTWARD. 

The Consecutive Steps are:

  1. Take Care of Yourself
  2. Uncover What Keeps You Feeling Stuck
  3. Communicate to be Heard
  4. Set Limits with Love
  5. Reinforce the Right Behaviors

You can find more about these steps in the book. These tools/steps are broad enough to embrace what you've have learned from other resources (such as books and skills training). Each step builds on the previous one, and you build on the strengths and resources they already have to gain an inner sense of mastery and increase self-confidence.

How do I know if I am being verbally or emotionally abused by my partner?

Does your partner:

  • Try to tell you, either outright or subtly, whom you should be able to see and speak with; regulate your activities (including your phone calls and reading material); limit or prevent outside involvement such as social activities, educational events or business related activities?
  • Use emotional blackmail? This could include calling you names, putting you down in front of others, or threatening to harm themselves or others if you don't do what they say?
  • Have clearly defined rules relating to roles of each person? Make all the "big" decisions because you are "too dumb" to handle them?
  • Dictate sexual policy, criticize your performance, withhold sex as punishment, or demand sex as a reward for themselves?
  • Use facial expression, gestures, or body language as a means of instilling fear? Bang, smash or destroy items of value? Throw things or threaten use of items such as scissors or knives as weapons?
  • Make or carry out threats to cause harm to themselves or to others, including household pets?
  • Push, shove, hit, or throw things at you? Say they would be better off if you were to die, go to jail, or be institutionalized?
  • Demand financial accountability and seek total control over all financial resources?
  • Use children as pawns to relay messages or generate rivalry between parents and siblings? Threaten to abduct the children or to allege that you have abused them?
  • Try to make you act in ways that you otherwise wouldn't or pressure you to make decisions you don't agree with?
  • Minimize or deny abusive and violent actions directed at you? Blame you for household problems and make light of your fears, concerns, and injuries? Blame you for acts of abuse you have suffered from, saying that you made them act in that manner or provoked their abusive behavior?
  • Wake you up from sleep because you have committed some real or imagined violation of the rules?
  • Discourage you in various ways from going about your daily routine? Say things like "If you leave I will take everything and you will have nothing," or, "Everyone will believe me and not you."

Your partner does not need to exhibit all of these characteristics to qualify as an abuser or potential abuser. Even one, depending upon the intensity, may signal danger ahead. Controlling or abusive partners usually become more so without intervention—especially if they see you develop more of your own life and make more of your own decisions.

From Love And Loathing: Protecting Your Mental Health When Your Partner Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Randi Kreger and Kim Williams-Justesen

How can I tell whether or not my loved one has BPD?

Only a trained professional—one who has specialized training, most often—can tell. However, these are common thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of people with BPD? Some of these may overlap with other cluster B disorders.

Thoughts that may indicate BPD

Does this person:

  • Alternate between seeing people as either flawless or evil? Have difficulty remembering the good things about a person they're casting in the role of villain? 
  • Find it impossible to recall anything negative about this person when they become the hero?
  • Alternate between seeing others as completely for them or against them?
  • Alternate between seeing situations as either disastrous or ideal?
  • Alternate between seeing themselves as either worthless or flawless?
  • Have a hard time recalling someone's love for them when they're not around?
  • Believe that others are either completely right or totally wrong?
  • Change their opinions depending upon whom they're with?
  • Alternate between idealizing people and devaluing them?
  • Remember situations very differently than other people?
  • Believe that others are responsible for their actions—or take too much responsibility for the actions of others?
  • Seem unwilling to admit to a mistake—or feel that everything that they do is a mistake?
  • Base their beliefs on feelings rather than facts?
  • Not realize the effects of their behavior on others?

Feelings that may indicate BPD

Does this person:

  • Feel abandoned at the slightest provocation?
  • Have extreme moodiness that cycles very quickly (in minutes or hours)?
  • Have difficulty managing their emotions?
  • Feel emotions so intensely that it's difficult to put others' needs-even those of their own children-ahead of their own?
  • Feel distrustful and suspicious a great deal of the time?
  • Feel anxious or irritable a great deal of the time?
  • Feel empty or like they have no self a great deal of the time?
  • Feel ignored when they are not the focus of attention?
  • Express anger inappropriately or have difficulty expressing anger at all?
  • Feel that they never can get enough love, affection, or attention?
  • Frequently feel spacey, unreal, or out of it?

Feelings that may indicate BPD

Does this person:

  • Feel abandoned at the slightest provocation?
  • Have extreme moodiness that cycles very quickly (in minutes or hours)?
  • Have difficulty managing their emotions?
  • Feel emotions so intensely that it's difficult to put others' needs-even those of their own children-ahead of their own?
  • Feel distrustful a nd suspicious a great deal of the time?
  • Feel anxious or irritable a great deal of the time?
  • Feel empty or like they have no self a great deal of the time?
  • Feel ignored when they are not the focus of attention?
  • Express anger inappropriately or have difficulty expressing anger at all?
  • Feel that they never can get enough love, affection, or attention?
  • Frequently feel spacey, unreal, or out of it?

Behaviors that may indicate BPD

Does this person:

  • Have trouble observing others' personal limits?
  • Have trouble defining their personal limits?
  • Act impulsively in ways that are potentially self-damaging, such as spending too much, engaging in dangerous sex, fighting, gambling, abusing drugs or alcohol, reckless driving, shoplifting, or disordered eating?
  • Mutilate themselves—for example, purposely cutting or burning their skin?
  • Threaten to kill themselves—or make actual suicide attempts?
  • Rush into relationships based on idealized fantasies of what they would like the other person or the relationship to be?
  • Change their expectations in such a way that the other person feels they can never do anything right?
  • Have frightening, unpredictable rages that make no logical sense-or have trouble expressing anger at all?
  • Physically abuse others, such as slapping, kicking, and scratching them?
  • Needlessly create crises or live a chaotic lifestyle?
  • Act inconsistently or unpredictably?
  • Alternately want to be close to others, and then distance themselves? (Examples include picking fights when things are going well or alternately ending relationships and then trying to get back together.)
  • Cut people out of their life over issues that seem trivial or overblown?
  • Act competent and controlled in some situations but extremely out of control in others?
  • Verbally abuse others, criticizing and blaming them to the point where it feels brutal?
  • Act verbally abusive toward people they know very well, while putting on a charming front for others? Can they switch from one mode to the other in seconds?
  • Act in what seems like extreme or controlling ways to get their own needs met?
  • Do or say something inappropriate to focus the attention on them when they feel ignored?
  • Accuse others of doing things they did not do, having feelings they do not feel, or believing things they do not believe?

From the first edition of Stop Walking on Eggshells by Randi Kreger and Paul Mason

Should I tell someone I think they have BPD or another personality disorder?

Generally, no. BPD is a very stigmatizing diagnosis, so one must be very, very, careful. Much depends on why you want to tell the other person. Do not do it unless the person believes he or she has a problem and is actively looking for answers. Even then it’s best brought up by a professional.

However, people in treatment who have been diagnosed with BPD have a right to know their diagnosis just as much as a person with any other mental illness.

About.com’s Erin Johnston, L.C.S.W says,

"It is important to look at the reason behind wanting a spouse, or anyone, to be diagnosed with a personality disorder. Often, relationships with BPs are difficult and fraught with hurt, anger, and misunderstandings. It can be hard to empathize with the BP, and it can be difficult not to see a diagnosis such as borderline personality disorder (BPD) as a validation, proof that the BP has been wrong and hurtful in the relationship.

If a person gets a diagnosis of BPD, it is not going to immediately change her behavior or feelings. A diagnosis only gives a name to the symptoms and difficulty a person is and has been experiencing. Her relationships with others will pretty much remain the same, for the time being.

A.J. Mahari, a woman who recovered from BPD in 1995, says:

I am sure that whether or not someone should be told or will benefit from being told they have borderline personality disorder would vary greatly from one person to the next. However, from my own experience, I believe that people have a right to know and that even if, in the short term, it seems negative for them to be told, it can be, in the long run more positive.

However, having said this, I wouldn't recommend that friends, family members, loved ones, ex or relationship partners do the telling. I think that is best left to and with the diagnosing and treating professionals.

(J. Mahari has 10 years experience as a life and BPD coach for people with BPD and loved ones, and who has a significant web presence on the Internet, http://borderlinepersonality.ca http://phoenixrisinglifecoaching.com http://phoenixrisingpublications.ca)

What is codependency or relationship addiction?

Relationship addicts cannot feel “whole” without some kind of relationship, no matter how bad.

People who are codependent are often drawn to people who need fixing—people with massive problems that only the person themselves can fix with professional help. Dr. Susan Forward says you may be a “savior” if you think you can change your partner even though:

  • You find yourself lying to cover up for your partner.
  • You are constantly lending money that your partner doesn’t pay back.
  • You’re always bailing your partner out of trouble.
  • Your partner keeps secrets and lies to you about fidelity, past marriages, criminal activity, or past jobs.
  • Your partner is addicted to something harmful to themselves or the family and shows no real signs of stopping.
  • You must rely on the courts, the police, or trusted friends to help you with your partner’s destructive behavior.
  • You are preoccupied with getting your partner into any kind of treatment.
  • You believe that if the obvious problems disappeared, your relationship would be perfect.
  • You take over and try to control things your partner should be doing, e.g. looking up classified ads to find them a job, looking into government benefits, etc. (Note: if your partner is psychotic or disabled and truly unable to do these things, this may not apply.)
  • You feel guilty that you’re not doing enough to help your partner, or guilty that your obsession is taking you away from your own life.

Sometimes this relationship feels like an addiction. Relationship addicts:

  • Quickly dive into relationships based on intuition rather than real shared interests, values, or goals. They do this because they want a relationship, yet fear truly revealing themselves because of their “flaws.”
  • May have developed relationship skills such as listening, being open, and other techniques. They may have gained a great deal of knowledge about what goes into an intimate relationship. Yet their partnerships are less than they could be because they do not bring a fully formed sense of identity into the relationship.
  • Hang on when things are obviously bad because they don’t feel they could survive without the other person.
  • Believe they can “make relationships happen by sheer force of will; they believe they can make others love them through sheer tenacity. In this process they become progressively more controlling, defensive, and blaming…Burned out relationship addicts become progressively deadened by their disease, and any spiritual awareness becomes meaningless to them or just too exhausting.” 
  • Lie to themselves and others about the sacrifices they make (including value judgments) and even put their children’s well-being below their need for a relationship.
  • Feel that love and suffering go together like coffee and cream. They romanticize the suffering and martyrdom that people do for love that is so popularized in our culture

From Love and Loathing: Protecting Your Mental Health When Your Partner Has Borderline Personality Disorder by Randi Kreger and Kim Williams-Justesen

 

I’m going through a very nasty divorce and custody battle I’m really worried my spouse will make my life miserable. What do I do?

If you're married and want to divorce or are divorcing, the book From Splitting: Protecting Yourself When Divorcing a Borderline or Narcissist by Bill Eddy and Randi Kreger is an absolute must-have.

 

To try to divorce without it is like defusing a bomb attached to you when there's a bunch of wires and you have no instructions. Those items are the set of instructions, and cost a pittance considering the amount of advice you're getting. Splitting was written by Bill Eddy, who is an attorney who used to be a therapist. He charges some $250 an hour and put some $50,000 worth of hours into writing Splitting.

 

Also available, and nearly as necessary, are the accompanying Splitting CD, as well as the Custody Tapes (You're My World). Used together, you will have a good choice of managing your divorce without going insane or losing your shirt. Be aware that planning an exit strategy takes at least six months. So get these materials before you declare your intensions.

How do I make my family member go into treatment?

See info about the topic on the how to find a therapist section on this site.

How Do I Make My Loved One Seek Help?

Nearly everyone in the Welcome to Oz community has made numerous attempts to compel their family member to see a therapist. Common methods include

•     manipulation

•     bribes

•     crying

•     pointing out the person's flaws

•     logic and reasoning

•     begging and pleading

•     leaving self-help books around the house

What happens next is as predictable as the change of seasons.

Stage 1: The BP says it's the non-BP who needs therapy, not the BP. If the non-BP has unwisely put forth BPD as an explanation for their BP's behavior, the BP accuses the non-BP of being the one with BPD. For good measure, the BP also accuses the non-BP of being abusive, unreasonable, and controlling.

Stage 2: In desperation, often during a crisis, the non-BP finally resorts to an ultimatum such as, "Go to a therapist or I'm leaving you," or some other consequence. The non-BP hopes that once the BP is in therapy, the clinician will force their family member to see the light.

If you are serious about limiting or leaving the relationship and and your family member knows this is true, this is the only thing I have seen really work to pursuade the disordered person to seek help.

Stage 3: Apprehensive that their loved one might actually carry out their threat, the BP agrees to see a therapist, perhaps with the partner or other family members. Therapy, however, goes nowhere. That's because even the best BPD clinicians can't help a patient who doesn't want to be helped.

Stage 4: Once the immediate threat dissipates, the BP finds some reason to drop out of therapy. This is especially true if the therapist is a good one, skilled at bringing the focus to the BP's core issues instead of reinforcing the BP's feelings of victimhood. However, if the therapist takes everything the BP says at face value without probing further—and this is not uncommon—the therapist may inadvertently reinforce the BP's twisted thinking, making things worse.

Stage 5: Eventually, the non-BP realizes that forced therapy is not going to work and that no one can "make" anyone do anything (a good life lesson, by the way). Sometimes the whole process needs to be repeated several times before this truism becomes evident.

Stage 6: Months or years later, the non-BP realizes that her efforts to change the other person simply added a thick second layer of conflict on top of the original issues. She becomes even more disillusioned, depressed, angry, and hopeless. As one Welcome To Oz member noted, "My attempt to invade his world with facts only caused more pain."

Life-Changing Therapy Requires a Major Commitment

Therapy is hard work. Transforming the way you think, feel, and act while taking responsibility for things you've always blamed on someone else is a tall order. People with BPD who are serious about treatment will pursue it, perhaps with your help, and make a commitment to it. They will make their own appointments, be honest with their therapist, and complete any "homework" the therapists give them. Life coach A. J. Mahari says, "The truth is relative, and each person with BPD must come to their own truth in their own time and way."

That said, for the sake of readability, in this chapter the term "you" (as in, "When you call the therapist, leave a voice mail) could mean either the family member (parents, especially) or the individual with the disorder.

Rock Bottom as a Motivation to Take Therapy Seriously

Some BPs will only concede that they need help after they have hit rock bottom—after someone they love does end the relationship or they wind up in jail or under psychiatric observation.

Rachel Reiland, a woman recovering from BP and the author of the BPD memoir Get Me Out of Here, says:

I believe that there needs to be some kind of major upheaval that serves as a catalyst for a borderline to face the truth. Not wanting to lose something, perhaps. They can no longer blame the power-hungry boss or the bitchy spouse or the scores of people who have it in for them.

But denial is a funny thing. What some of us may see as shocks or the bottom isn't necessarily going to be viewed that way by the BP. So they've destroyed a relationship? They move on to the next one, and so on. They get fired from a job they liked? Blame it on the boss and get another one. Lose custody of the children? It's the damned court system.

The fear of change, the compelling fear of the unknown, is so intrinsic, so vast, so encompassing and overwhelming, that it's greater than the tragic events that would send most people down to their knees. The shock cannot be predicted, nor contrived. It can't be provoked by the greatest of efforts or good intentions on the part of another.

Mahari advises family members to let go of any desire to control what's going on in therapy. "This is their journey, not yours," she says. "You can support them, but it can't be your life plan." She suggests that family members do the following:

•     Emotionally disengage from the outcome of the person's treatment. The less you're involved, the better able they will be to take care of themselves and observe their limits.

•     If your family member talks about what goes on during therapy, take a neutral stance, neither agreeing nor disagreeing with their judgments, complaints, anger, or devaluation. Be positive, but beware that making too much progress can be threatening to your family member. If they enter recovery, the thinking goes, they might lose your intensive support. Plus, if they relapse, you might be disappointed in them. So be encouraging and optimistic, by all means, but be sensitive to this as well.

•     Recovery from BPD (or anything else, for that matter) is a long, winding road, and sometimes it doubles back. The speed limit changes and there's a few stop signs, too. Mahari says, "There are no simple rules here. This is not the rehabilitation of a physical injury. This is the rehabilitation of the entire self."

 
Join Our BPD Community
  • Hope for Parents

    Helping Your Borderline Son or Daughter Without Sacrificing Your Family or Yourself