Borderline Personality Blog: Healing – Coping – Improving

Troubled parents will – knowingly or unknowingly – take advantage of their children through manipulation, gas lighting and other psychological ploys.

Mom calls, needs help with her student’s math tests

My Mom retired from teaching last year. She’s since decided to tutor people. Family friends recently discharged a caretaker who wanted her high school GED. My Mom volunteered to help. This opportunity not only gave her something to do, but also the chance to help someone. I was genuinely happy for her.

Tonight I got two frantic voice mails. I thought there was an emergency. Nope. Just Mom calling because her student had “passed all the tests except math”. She was helping her student take the tests and they both got stumped. An email appeared in my inbox with 5 pages of algebra final exams.

At first I thought she sent regular classwork. One way to prepare for tests is to take practice tests, and these looked like something a teacher would assign. My Mom sounded anxious, almost embarrassed.

I called back a couple hours later. She was busy eating dinner with my father, still frantic. The following is our paraphrased dialog:

Mom: “We need help with these tests. My student almost has her GED. We’re both stumped. Can you look at them, reply with answers, and explain how you did it?”

Me: “You know I struggled with math…Search Google for math lessons and help your student through each problem. She’ll be prepared for her final.”

Mom: “But these are the finals! I really can’t talk long, we’re eating. But can you look at them and send us the answers? We don’t want to look at Google, we’d rather do them ourselves…”

{In my head: “But you’re asking me to do them?”}

Mom: “Everyone else is busy, your sister can’t help. Can you do it and send them back?”

Me: “I don’t think so. These are finals. Your student should be doing them herself. That’s really unethical.”

Am I the most ethical person on Earth? No. Did I ever cheat on tests? I admit my eye wandered on 2 occasions during secondary school. But as an adult I know that was wrong. I wouldn’t want anyone else to do it, and I certainly wouldn’t advise someone to cheat. I’ve learned. I’ve become more ethical through experience; opposed to never learning my lesson.

Mom didn’t respect my ethical boundaries. She put herself first.

Parents should NEVER ask children to cross their own ethical boundaries. Even worse, parents shouldn’t do it so they can feel better about themselves. That doesn’t treat a child as a unique human being, but as a source for narcissistic supply.

Her self esteem and interpersonal support is derived from others and her environment. She is likely has BPD, so she uses manipulation, guilt, obligation etc. to preserve that supply. That means her codependents (me) see their boundaries routinely crossed, abused and blurred. My ethics, morals and values mean nothing. She needs something and I am there to give it. Randi Kreger of PsychologyToday.com provides an excellent summary here.

Unsurprisingly, while I catch myself being codependent with her, I was at one time diagnosed as borderline myself. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. I learned how to operate from her troubled psychology as a child. My problems started when I became an adult, the natural age when most personality disorders blossom.

When I rebuffed her requests, I got the following responses. Read carefully and interpret what she said:

Mom: “I thought you were good enough at math to help. Maybe you aren’t.”

Me: “The issue isn’t whether I can do the math. I’m not going to help your student cheat.”

{Challenging my abilities. Manipulating my ego into action by suggesting I can’t do it to prove her wrong. If I gave in, she’d get her test answers.}

Mom: “The student immigrated a few years ago from Europe. She needs this GED badly. It’s her chance to get ahead. I want to help her.”

Me: “It doesn’t matter what her story is. That doesn’t make my position any different.”

{Using an unrelated narrative to establish urgency over my objections. Also re-balancing the morality of the situation: it’s OK to compromise your beliefs because this is a unique situation.}

Mom: “I thought you wanted to help people. I know you’ve wanted to volunteer. Here’s a chance to help someone. Maybe I was wrong about you.”

Me: “I do want to help people. I’m happy to volunteer. But you’re asking for more than I can give. Your impression isn’t wrong, either. I want to help people.”

{Using guilt to make me feel selfish about withholding assistance. Claiming I’m paying lip service to my own desire to help others by not compromising my values to help her cheat.}

Mom: “I don’t view it as cheating. I’ve been working with the student since January [5 months]. We need to get her GED. It’s not cheating. You’ll send the solutions, we’ll review them. We’re both stumped.”

Me: “It’s cheating if I’m figuring the solutions and you’re using them on the test.”

{Gas lighting. Claiming my perception of reality isn’t accurate, that I’m mistaken about the situation. I can’t be right. It’s not cheating according to her, so it’s OK.}

Some would say, “Oh, just accept your mother, she’s complicated. She’s old and having a senior moment. It’s not a big deal.”

But I disagree. This is how she operates factually and emotionally. Can you imagine the way my world was distorted growing up?

It’s my responsibility to get better. I don’t blame her for all my problems. However, I’m reminded that troubled parents often raise troubled children. Her distortions undoubtedly shaped me as a child, and I’m lucky to see through them as an adult.

Part of healing is catching hurtful moments as they happen and learning from them. While this wasn’t an enormous misdeed, it’s clear years of small distortions and boundary erosion in childhood eventually create a fractured adult. I’m hurt she did this and working through it.

I am wiser for knowing what was happening.

Comments

2 Responses to “Parents Who Disrespect Their Children’s Boundaries”

  1. Jade B on January 23rd, 2017 9:42 am

    It’s tough to know this until adulthood. As children, we want to be good to our parents and please them.

    Yet we don’t know healthy boundaries either. Later we don’t know what’s reasonable for others to expect of us, and vice-versa.

  2. Ari on February 28th, 2017 4:08 pm

    That’s really awesome you’re able to see through that and identify it. I hope you continue to think things through in this way when you’re interacting with her. It sounds a lot like me and my mom. It’s odd how we grow up thinking that behavior is totally normal and how we adapt in response. I’m a young adult now and trying to navigate my relationship with my mom. I think it’s troubling to her because she is used to me giving into all manipulation and putting her before myself.

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