Fear of Abandonment and Borderline Personality Disorder

Fear of Abandonment and Borderline Personality Disorder

My biological mother abandoned me when I was about six months. At least that’s the way the story goes. No one really knows for sure. The doctor who worked at the orphanage where I was dropped off assessed me to be about six months old.  But since I was abandoned with no identifying information it was impossible for anyone to know for sure.

I was left in the garden of an orphanage in Seoul, Korea. I’ve always thought it to be very strange that my birth certificate says that I was born in Inchon but the orphanage was in Seoul. How did I get from Incheon to Seoul? A mystery that will never be solved, I think.

This event set me up a lifetime of fear of abandonment, one of the classic symptoms associated with Borderline Personality Disorder. I think that BPD is founded in learned behavior and so I think I was primed for it from a very early age. My entire life I was always afraid that I would be abandoned by another person someone I cared about and it terrified me. My adoptive parents told me that they wanted a child more than anything in the world and that they spent weeks poring over the photos which had been sent to them of babies from the orphanage where I was. My mom says that when they saw my picture they knew that I was the one they have been searching for. So, that’s the external narrative I grew up with but the voice inside me said something very different. It said, “You may have been wanted by them but your real mother didn’t want you!” So I constructed a fantasy about why she abandoned me. It went like this: She was a married woman who lived in a village who had so many children already so that when I came along she didn’t know what to do. That’s why she got rid of me. I was one too many mouths to feed. Notice that I added a whole bunch of other siblings to the story.

The stark reality of the situation though was that I was a child born to a Korean woman and a Caucasian father so I was a halfling. And in Korea in the late 1950s children of that nature were anathema. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that had I remained in Korea I would have been nothing more than a second-class citizen. I would have been denied education, employment and even marriage because Korean culture places such high value on bloodlines and blood purity.

The second biggest problem for me as a child was in my world there was absolutely no one who looked like me. Yes, my  my adoptive father was Japanese and so he was Asian but Japanese people and Korean people have very different kinds of facial features. In the community where I grew up there were no other Asian children or Asian families, so I lived in a world of cultural isolation. My best friend from my early childhood was a little girl named Sandy who had the most beautiful blonde hair and piercing blue eyes and I wanted nothing more than to look like her.  I came to despise my Asian eyes and straight black hair.

As I grew into my teenage years, I spent a lot of time thinking that I would love nothing more than to do search for my my biological mother but eventually the reality of the situation set in and I became distraught knowing that it was not something that would ever happen. I was abandoned in the garden of an orphanage with no clothes, no name tag and, no identifying information about me, so the chances of being able to trace her were virtually nonexistent. As I began to research that time in Korean history, I came to think that perhaps the story of my abandonment centered around my biological mother being killed in an honor killing by my biological grandfather and that it may have been my biological grandmother who took me to the orphanage and left me there as a way of saving me from his wrath. Why did I think that? Because I am Eurasian and so it was obvious that she  had had some kind of sexual encounter not just with a man outside of marriage but with a Caucasian man. He would have been absolutely furious at the loss of face this caused him. All these factors led me to realize that I felt profound despair because of the circumstances surrounding my early life, my abandonment was actually the best thing that could have happened to me.

Still, that the initial abandonment set up a lifetime of anxiety for me. As I grew up into a teenager I became very angry and belligerent and adopted my policy of a basically “get them before they get me” or “the best defense is a good offense” I had a chip on my shoulder the size of the Rock of Gibraltar.  and it was impossible for anybody to really get close to me.

I drifted from one boyfriend to the next never achieving any kind of real emotional intimacy with any of them. Eventually I married my husband. I chose him because I knew he would never leave me. Until he finally did.

Fear of abandonment for people with BPD is a terrible double-edged sword because it is the one thing that terrifies us and drives us yet it is the one thing that we often force the people in our lives to do because of our raging anger.


About the Author: Dee Chan

Dee Chan was diagnosed with BPD more than 35 years ago back when the diagnosis was still fairly new and not very well understood. She has been living with it and coping with it ever since and finding ways to thrive despite it. She has been able to put it into complete remission and turned her life around completely through the practices of gratitude, forgiveness and accountability. Find out more about Dee’s work on her website bpdnomore.com.

3 Comments

Pat

Our youngest son was 2 yrs old when I was in an accident & hospitalized for 5 mos, returning in a wheelchair & finally a cane & a limp until 5 yrs later when I had knee replacement.
I have always wondered why Jeff had so much anger. He flared up at the least thing as a child. He was rude & ugly at times to me. He is much better now as a 40 yr old, but still can be roused to shouting & cannot tolerate confrontation. He has never married & has problems with long term friendships. He works in sales & is successful now but went through many jobs earlier in life. Could his anger relate to feeling abandoned at an early age? I have always wondered why he was angry & he could never explain why.

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Deni

I live with a family member who exhibits BPD—sometimes slight, sometimes extreme depending on her current romantic relationship. We have felt so alone in this situation, but reading about personal experiences of triumph is very encouraging. Despite my questions about the cause of BPD, I have never heard anyone comment that it may be “founded in learned behavior.” Thank you for giving this challenge a face and hopefulness!

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Amy

How about more on adopted children in the US? I was adopted. My father loves me and my mother loathed me. She still does. I gave the fact that without my father in my life (he passed), I might not have a family anymore. My mother treats me as if I do not belong. I do t see my brothers too much unless I push to bring my kids to their house, etc…. it is a lonely place and I try to rationalize it away by telling myself that I could have been an abortion….. in which case, I would not be here. I would like to know if other adoptees feel this same way or if it is simply my relationship with my mother that causes my unrest

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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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