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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Lead with warmth and confidence: ‘Yes I know this feels big, and yes I know you can handle it.’ 

We’re not saying they’ll handle it well, and we’re not dismissing their anxiety. What we’re saying is ‘I know you can handle the discomfort of anxiety.’ 

It’s not our job to relive this discomfort. We’ll want to, but we don’t have to. Our job is to give them the experiences they need (when it’s safe) to let them see that they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. 

This is important, because there will  always be anxiety when they do something brave, new, important, growthful. 

They can feel anxious and do brave. Leading with warmth and confidence is about, ‘Yes, I believe you that this feels bad, and yes, I believe in you.’ When we believe in them, they will follow. So often though, it will start with us.♥️
There are things we do because we love them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel loved because of those things.

Of course our kids know we love them, and we know they love us. But sometimes, they might feel disconnected from that feeling of being ‘loved by’. As parents, we might feel disconnected from the feeling of being ‘appreciated by’.

It’s no coincidence that sometimes their need to feel loved, and our need to feel appreciated collide. This collision won’t sound like crashing metal or breaking concrete. It will sound like anger, frustration, demanding, nagging. 

It will feel like not mattering, resentment, disconnection. It can burst through us like meteors of anger, frustration, irritation, defiance. It can be this way for us and our young ones. (And our adult relationships too.)

We humans have funny ways of saying, ‘I miss you.’

Our ‘I miss you’ might sound like nagging, annoyance, anger. It might feel like resentment, rage, being taken for granted, sadness, loneliness. It might look like being less playful, less delighting in their presence.

Their ‘I miss you’ might look like tantrums, aggression, tears, ignoring, defiant indifference, attention-seeking (attention-needing). It might sound like demands, anger, frustration.

The point is, there are things we do because we love them - cleaning, the laundry, the groceries, cooking. And yes, we want them to be grateful, but feeling grateful and feeling loved are different things. 

Sometimes the things that make them feel loved are so surprising and simple and unexpected - seeking them out for play, micro-connections, the way you touch their hair at bedtime, the sound of your laugh at their jokes, when you delight in their presence (‘Gosh I’ve missed you today!’ Or, ‘I love being your mum so much. I love it better than everything. Even chips. If someone said you can be queen of the universe or Molly’s mum, I’d say ‘Pfft don’t annoy me with your offers of a crown. I’m Molly’s mum and I’ll never love being anything more.’’)

So ask them, ‘What do I do that makes you feel loved?’ If they say ‘When you buy me Lego’, gently guide them away from bought things, and towards what you do for them or with them.♥️
We don’t have to protect them from the discomfort of anxiety. We’ll want to, but we don’t have to.

OAnxiety often feels bigger than them, but it isn’t. This is a wisdom that only comes from experience. The more they sit with their anxiety, the more they will see that they can feel anxious and do brave anyway. Sometimes brave means moving forward. Sometimes it means standing still while the feeling washes away. 

It’s about sharing the space, not getting pushed out of it.

Our job as their adults isn’t to fix the discomfort of anxiety, but to help them recognise that they can handle that discomfort - because it’s going to be there whenever they do something brave, hard , important. When we move them to avoid anxiety, we potentially, inadvertently, also move them to avoid brave, hard, growthful things. 

‘Brave’ rarely feels brave. It will feel jagged and raw. Sometimes fragile and threadbare. Sometimes it will as though it’s breathing fire. But that’s how brave feels sometimes. 

The more they sit with the discomfort of anxiety, the more they will see that anxiety isn’t an enemy. They don’t have to be scared of it. It’s a faithful ally, a protector, and it’s telling them, ‘Brave lives here. Stay with me. Let me show you.’♥️
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#parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinkids #teenanxiety
We have to stop treating anxiety as a disorder. Even for kids who have seismic levels of anxiety, pathologising anxiety will not serve them at all. All it will do is add to their need to avoid the thing that’s driving anxiety, which will most often be something brave, hard, important. (Of course if they are in front of an actual danger, we help anxiety do its job and get them out of the way of that danger, but that’s not the anxiety we’re talking about here.)

The key to anxiety isn’t in the ‘getting rid of’ anxiety, but in the ‘moving with’ anxiety. 

The story they (or we) put to their anxiety will determine their response. ‘You have anxiety. We need to fix it or avoid the thing that’s causing it,’ will drive a different response to, ‘Of course you have anxiety. You’re about to do something brave. What’s one little step you can take towards it?’

This doesn’t mean they will be able to ‘move with’ their anxiety straight away. The point is, the way we talk to them about anxiety matters. 

We don’t want them to be scared of anxiety, because we don’t want them to be scared of the brave, important, new, hard things that drive anxiety. Instead, we want to validate and normalise their anxiety, and attach it to a story that opens the way for brave: 

‘Yes you feel anxious - that’s because you’re about to do something brave. Sometimes it feels like it happens for no reason at all. That’s because we don’t always know what your brain is thinking. Maybe it’s thinking about doing something brave. Maybe it’s thinking about something that happened last week or last year. We don’t always know, and that’s okay. It can feel scary, and you’re safe. I would never let you do something unsafe, or something I didn’t think you could handle. Yes you feel anxious, and yes you can do this. You mightn’t feel brave, but you can do brave. What can I do to help you be brave right now?’♥️

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