Many adult children will struggle with their relationship with their aging parent. Learning what a personality disorder is and common symptoms can help you see how to set appropriate boundaries and how to free yourself from guilt and obligation.
Read more about what to do if your senior parent has a personality disorder.
Have you always struggled in your relationship with your parent? Maybe your relationship has been stormy, but you never could figure out why.
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Your parent may have a personality disorder if your relationship with your parent has been characterized by:
This disorder refers to specific patterns people have in how they see themselves, how they interact with others and in their way of looking at the world. A person with this disorder will have ways of thinking that are inflexible. Even when these ways of acting and thinking are causing problems in their relationships, they seem unable to change their attitude.
Your parent will most likely not be aware that the way they are acting is a problem. Typically, they will blame others when things go wrong – in particular, they blame the people who are closest to them.
The MSD Manual states that up to 10% of people may have a personality disorder. Some traits of the disorder will improve as a person gets older and others will become harder to deal with.
These disorders are grouped into three clusters based on character symptoms and traits. It is not unusual for a person to have traits from more than one disorder.
If your parent has these personality disorders, you will typically see irrational and odd actions and thoughts. The types are:
In this group of personality disorders, you might have strong memories of your parent being attention-seeking, emotional, overly dramatic and unpredictable in their actions and thoughts. One moment they are laughing and loving and the next moment they erupt into raging behavior. These include:
A parent who has this category of personality disorder will be constantly anxious and demonstrate fearful and irrational thoughts and actions. They include:
A parent with a personality disorder will have significant trouble in their relationship with you. Especially as your parent ages and the power dynamic shifts. As a child, your parent was in charge and you relied on them for love and care. Your elderly parent will often come to rely on you and as an adult, you may now recognize signs of a personality disorder.
When you have a parent with a personality disorder, there can be heartbreaking consequences. You will need to recognize that your parent did not choose to have this disorder. But that does not mean that you need to let them harm you. What you need to do is to set boundaries in place that will protect you from further damage.
You must also remember that you cannot expect your parent to change. People with personality disorders are often not aware of how inappropriate their actions are. Your parent may not understand what is an acceptable, reasonable and safe way to treat other people.
The Borderline Personality Treatment website states that you will need to set your own boundaries in the relationship. Decide what behaviors you are not going to put up with and make it clear to your parent what the consequences will be.
You can be loving (or at least kind) but firm.
A child of a parent with a disorder will often suffer from feelings of guilt and obligation. These feelings can get stronger as your parent ages and relies more on you. Decide what is reasonable for you to do.
Most likely you will be experiencing feelings of anger, depression and worthlessness. A parent with a personality disorder can leave you with deep, painful wounds. It is important that you get help. Talk to family members and friends about what you are experiencing. Find a good therapist who is trained in dealing with these disorders.
Online forums and support groups of adult children of parents with personality disorders can be great places to talk about what you have experienced and to be understood. Reading books can also be instrumental in your healing process and learning to protect yourself. Some recommended books are “Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers” by Karyl McBride or “Understanding the Borderline Mother” by Christine Ann Lawson.
Dealing with someone with a personality disorder can leave you feeling emotionally exhausted. You may question your own actions constantly. If you are seeing signs of this disorder in your parent, you can seek help.
It is possible to move beyond the hurt you have (or still are) experiencing. You can learn how to form a relationship that will leave your dignity intact.
Do you see any of these personality characteristics in your parent? How have you dealt with your parent’s personality disorder and your relationship? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.