Sometimes, it’s not enough to simply obey your parent. Instead of offering a loving and nurturing environment, they expect you to live out their own goals and desires; and then either approve or disapprove of your life accordingly. This type of behavior can be particularly troubling for children with BPD, who are plagued by feelings of emptiness, misdirection, and unstable emotions. Instead of finding ways to please themselves, BPD children fill their empty, emotionless void with positive feedback from their narcissistic parent, who is acting not out of love, but with a clearcut agenda to satisfy their own needs and perceived weaknesses.
The classic, cliché phrase that most people have heard is “[someone’s parent] is living vicariously through their child.” In clearer terms, that narcissistic parent is ramming their own goals and emotional needs down the throat of their child, hoping that if the child succeeds where they failed, they will somehow feel better about themselves. Therefore, the environment in which the child is raised is structured around a parent’s needs, when it should really be the other way around.
I now believe that my mother has narcissistic qualities, in addition to Borderline Personality Disorder. In most cases, I don’t even think she realizes she’s acting like a narcissist. Instead, she seems to use this sort of behavior as a defense mechanism against facing her own feelings of disappointment. Ultimately, as her BPD child, I followed almost every command and desire, because the only positive feedback I ever received was when she felt one of her own weaknesses was addressed.
One area in which my mother was particularly narcissistic and emphatic was academics. For whatever reason, she feels that she fell short somewhere along the line, even though she is a college graduate that teaches high school English. Throughout my years in grade school, middle school, and high school, she was always pushing me to be at the head of the class. If I achieved this goal, she showered me with compliments and spoke about my accomplishments with pride. If I failed, she dismissed me and made manipulative comments in hopes of motivating me to achieve at a higher level later on.
She also liked to bask in the limelight of other parent’s compliments about my brothers and I, and was particularly taken when other parents suggested that she was raising a wonderful family. In reality, it only looked that way on the surface: deep down, inside the hearts of my siblings and I, we felt like we were pawns in a chess match, being thrust about the board in hopes of trying to meet her demanding emotional needs. She took our accomplishments as her own, and always made comments to the effect that she was “proud” that something was achieved, opposed to “happy” and “loving” of her children no matter what the outcome was.
Here are a few brief examples of some of her ploys to satisfy her narcissistic needs:
- Made me play the piano in the town variety show in 3rd grade – Although this might seem like something most parents would want their child to do, my mother took a strong interest in forcing me on stage to play the piano. She herself played piano as a child, but never really got to the point of performing. I of course objected, because I was petrified. On one night of the show, I actually vomited before I went on stage. She put her own need for recognition ahead my mental wellbeing. Now, some 20 years later, she regards a picture of me playing the piano in that very show to be “one my best pictures ever”. She quickly forgets that vomit was wiped off my face before that picture was taken. Speaking for myself, I like the pictures I have with my relatives and pets much better.
- Manipulated me to put academics above all else in high school – Getting a high school diploma and college education has always been a goal my siblings and I were expected to achieve. To be sure, this is something most families want, and it does mean that at times children have to pushed and guided along the way. My mother, however, took this a step further. She used to gossip about other top students in my class, prodding at me to compete with them. One day, when I expressed interest in dating my freshmen year in high school, she stated “…I don’t think you’re into dating yet, put your school work first”. The ripple effect of this comment created a deficit in my social skills that I’m still trying to fix at age 31.
- Berates me, as an adult, with goals that she had but never attained – Lately, in the past couple of years, I’ve been mulling over whether or not I should return to the USA and live a more “normal” life, get married, buy a house, and have kids. Obviously, there’s a lot that would go into that lifestyle change, and I believe it would take a couple years to complete. Every time I bring up this thought with my mother, she constantly suggests that I should return to the USA and get my master’s degree, because one of her regrets was that she didn’t study past her own bachelor’s degree. Instead of advising me about moving or considering alternative careers, she shoves her own personal disappointments and missed goals down my throat.
There are countless more examples, but those are the first three that come to my mind. I firmly believe that these types of comments, thoughts, and blatant manipulations of me contributed to my BPD. Such things would be poisonous to a “normal” child, let alone a child that would later develop BPD as a young adult.
Clearly, my mother has a lot of regrets and misgivings about her own life. As a result, she felt she could fill those voids by “living vicariously through her children”, pushing them in directions that put her happiness first.
On one hand, you could defend her by saying that her parenting produced talented and successful children. On the other hand, you could argue that her manipulative, selfish, and needy behavior served only one person: her. The result, in my case, has been years of confusion, rebellion, and anger that I can’t explain.
Who am I? I guess you could ask my Mom, since she seems to know better. If you ask me, I’m surviving BPD and trying to get better, and I don’t need someone else’s goals or measuring stick to push me along the path of life. She probably thinks otherwise…