Help! My mother has Borderline, Part 4

Help! My mother has Borderline, Part 4

In this part of this series, I would like to give you an understanding of the risk and protective factors in children born to mothers with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and show you that there is not just black and white here, but rather colorful tones between the lines exist.

Risk factors


Risk factors are risk-increasing conditions or stresses. They arise from internal and external factors.
The internal factors can be genetic conditions, but also personality traits.

External factors, on the other hand, are the direct environment and thus increased vulnerability.

Risk factors in children born to mothers with BPD

The mental illness of parents alone is already a risk factor for children. 60% of children develop psychological problems themselves in childhood. It is therefore hardly surprising that children born to mothers with BPD have an increased likelihood of developing BPD or other mental illnesses themselves.
Poorer health among the children has also been noted. They had more anxiety, depression, behavioral problems or ADHD than children from the comparison groups.

If the mother has BPD in combination with other mental illnesses, the risk is even higher. In addition, the length of time children are exposed to untreated mental illness is critical to development.

In the case of children of mothers with BPD, there is also the fact that they often live in lower socio-economic conditions (cramped living conditions, unemployment, …), often lose reference persons, experience abuse and separation or divorce. Frequent changes of school, change of residence, but also change of partner of the mothers can therefore put an additional burden on the children.

Attempts by mothers to commit suicide and hospital stays are also to be regarded as risk factors for the children.

The different types:

Children of mothers of the “neglected child” type therefore have the following risk factors in particular:

  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Changing partners of the mother
  • Dangerous situations in the household due to the mother’s mental absence
  • Missing external reference persons

Children of “hermits” are these risk factors:

  • Changing habitats
  • Low socioeconomic status
  • Changing partners of the mother
  • Dangerous situations in the household due to the mother’s mental absence
  • Missing external reference persons

In mothers of the “queen” type, the following risk factors are particularly noteworthy:

  • Abuse
  • Changing habitats
  • Changing partners of the mother
  • Dangerous situations in the household due to overestimation of the mother
  • Missing external reference persons

For “witches” these are the risk factors:

  • Separation/divorce of parents with legal dispute
  • Missing external reference persons
  • abuse
  • Changing habitats
  • Changing partners of the mother

Since most mothers cannot be clearly assigned to one type and people without mental illness also have parts of the types in them, the boundaries here cannot be clearly drawn.

Protective factors


Despite existing stresses, not all children develop a mental disorder themselves. This is due to the protective factors that each child has individually.

These can also be referred to as risk-reducing conditions or resources. Again, there are child-related and environmental factors.

Through an interaction of the two factors, children develop what is known as resilience. This is the resistance to cope with stressful life situations.

Protective factors can reduce or even eliminate risk factors.

In girls, the internal protective actors seem to be more important than the external ones. With boys, on the other hand, it is more the social than the internal protective factors.

Unfortunately, to date there are no reliable studies on protective factors in children of parents with a mental illness. It always seemed more important to show the dangers than the opportunities. Therefore, in the following I will go into my own experiences and insights from various literature.

Personal protective factors

In general:

  • a positive self-esteem
  • a strong sense of control over the environment and life,
  • a little helplessness
  • a high level of social skills
  • an optimistic attitude towards life,
  • a high level of creativity
  • a good empathy,
  • many interests and
  • good cognitive functions
  • a balanced temperament
  • good self-help skills

as personal protective factors.

Also beneficial are:

  • robust, sociable temperament
  • above average intelligence
  • high expectation of self-efficacy

as enabling factors.

Children who are well balanced are adaptable and generally behave more outgoing and cheerful. When they feel they can help themselves, they behave more independently and look for solutions. This enables them to help others, which in turn increases their own self-efficacy. They can therefore often quickly accept situations and find solutions.

Children with good resilience can communicate well and have positive self-esteem. This enables them to communicate their feelings better and at the same time better interpret the signals from others. This enables them to adapt their behavior to the situation.

Positive self-esteem can help children develop self-confidence. This enables them to see difficult situations as a challenge and not as excessive demands. In addition, they can then behave more strongly towards others and represent their opinion.

In adolescence, strong social skills and a positive self-concept can be very beneficial. In this way, young people can treat others with empathy and set realistic goals for themselves.

Children of mothers with BPD

Any of these internal protective factors may be present in children born to mothers with BPD.

In order to have and develop a positive self-concept, however, it is probably important for the children to have constant reference persons other than their mother. These can also be helpful in developing social skills as they convey a different picture of communication and social interaction.

It can be assumed that the children develop self-help skills out of necessity. Especially children of the “neglected child” type are left to their own devices early on and can thus learn problem-solving skills earlier than other children.

Children born to mothers with BPD are often particularly empathetic because they have always sensed their mother’s mood. As a result, they are particularly good at empathizing with others and are very sensitive to other people’s feelings.

In a very small study, adult children of mothers with BPD found that they were particularly willing to compromise, responsible, patient, reliable, helpful, loyal, goal- and result-oriented, attentive, creative and able to improvise.

Familial protective factors

In general, the family can be both a protective and a risk factor.

A positive, stable and emotionally warm family climate is considered a protective factor. A positive relationship with at least one primary caregiver is crucial. This relationship is permanent and a secure bond.

Building on this, children can develop bonding strategies that are effective. In addition, they can assess their own abilities well and detach themselves from the family according to their age.
Parents, grandparents, siblings and close relatives can be such caregivers. Large families can also have a compensatory effect here.

It is believed that it is important for children to feel validated and accepted. Validated here means that their feelings and needs are accepted. For this they need reference persons with whom they can let their feelings run free without being judged.
A parenting climate that is oriented towards independence and openness and in which there is little parental conflict is also a protective factor. This is reflected in joint ventures, clear rules and structures and openness in the family. This also refers to the parental illness, about which children should be informed according to their age. In addition, it is important that the role of the parents also clearly lies with them. A positive relationship between the parents is also a protective factor, as it can give the children a sense of security and security.

Children of mothers with BPD

It becomes clear that in the family the parent without a mental illness – the father, for example – is of great importance. Here it is important that the mother clearly distinguishes himself from the behavior of the mother, is aware of his role and offers the children a secure and reliable attachment.

Open interaction with children is of particular importance. It is important to explain to the children in an age-appropriate way why the mother is acting the way she is acting, and for the children to be able to openly say and show what is going on inside them.

Another important aspect of the caregiver is that the children believe what they say. Since the mothers often only show their destructive behavior when they are alone with the children, the children need caregivers who believe them.

Since it is important for all types of mothers to remain in control, it can be assumed that there are rules and boundaries in the family.

Despite BPD, mothers were identified as important caregivers in the small study. They were sometimes described as positive, loving and understanding. If the parents do not separate and there are siblings, this can also be described as a protective factor.

In addition to other reference persons such as parents, grandparents and siblings, the respondents also named certain objects (cuddly animals, fantasies, dreams) as well as pets as important sources of comfort and support.

Social protective factors

Positive social contacts, good relationships and social support are considered social protective factors.
Children need the opportunity to confide in other people. However, parental permission is important for this. Especially when things are difficult at home, such outside reference persons are important. The parents are then often busy with themselves and have less opportunity to give the children the necessary security and love, which can then be taken over by another caregiver. In addition, children can learn other life concepts and solution strategies here.

Peers and friends are also very important to children. Here they can experience fun, informality, normality and distraction. Here, too, children learn important social skills such as problem-solving strategies and other patterns of action.

Children of mothers with BPD

External reference persons are also very important for these children. They can support the children and offer security, especially in acute phases of the disease. The children can experience openness and normality here.

It is important that the parents allow the children to have contact with the outside world. If the mother cannot do this because of BPD, then that is the father’s job.

Environmental protective factors

These protective factors result from positive school experiences, less critical life events and social support, e.g. in school, church or a youth group.

If children like going to school, they can receive recognition, attention and confirmation here. You can build a network of friends there (see social protection factors).

Leisure clubs and youth groups have the same effect. The content of the institution is not as important as the support function that it offers the children.

Children of mothers with BPD

The kindergarten, the school and also leisure facilities and offers can also be seen as a protective factor for children of mothers with BPD.

The small study also found that psychotherapeutic treatment for the children was perceived as particularly positive. The school was also experienced positively and rather good school degrees were achieved. Respondents were also successful in their jobs.


As I have tried to show you in this series of articles, children born to mothers with BPD deal with difficult conditions. There are some risk factors that can lead to a negative development. At the same time, there are personal as well as environmental protective factors that can strengthen the children. A good interaction of the two factors is important for a good, age-appropriate and positive development of the children.

As a result, children born to mothers with BPD can thrive and have a healthy, nurturing childhood. For this it is important to work out the individual risk factors and to work on them. At the same time, the resources of the child and its environment must not be lost sight of, but should remain in focus. Because it is only through these that healthy development is possible, and they can be strengthened and supported.

I mainly worked out the information for this series from my bachelor thesis. If you want, you are welcome to read them for more detailed information and references.

I really hope I was able to give you new perspectives as a sufferer, interested person or professional dealing with families in which a parent has BPD.

If you have any questions or suggestions, feel free to email me or write in the comments. I look forward to your feedback!

All the best,

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