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Borderline Functioning: Are You the Family Historian?

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

 According to researchers on family dynamics and functioning each family member is assigned a certain type of role to fulfill. Based on my experiences I want to suggest that certain families appoint someone to be the family historian. Now, you may ask, "So, what is wrong with that?" My answer is that "there is noting wrong with that, unless..."

The sentence above is completed this way: "...unless you are the collector of injustices."

There are some people who seem to specialize in collecting all of the injustices done to them. Immediately, this is a symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder ways of functioning. For them, the proverbial glass is always "half empty."

I hasten to add that, none of what I have said thus far nor what you will read throughout this posting, is meant to imply that injustices have not been done to this type of person. Indeed, the family historian who specializes in collecting all the wrongs done to him or her is usually a pretty good family historian and record keeper. The problem is that they refuse to give up this role and move on with their lives. More than dwelling on the past, they view present day interactions through their prism of the past. The result is that every little thing that happens in life becomes proof, to them, that injustices continue to be perpetrated.

As a result of stubbornly sticking to these now antiquated ways of viewing their lives, they remain bitterly angry at parent, siblings, friends, neighbors, employers and everyone else with whom they come into contact. They forever feel abused, cheated, exploited, deceived and ignored. That was their childhood experience and, they conclude, that is their experience in the world to this day.

There are terrible consequences that come from being the record keeper of injustices. These consequences include having to cope with such emotions as:

1. Anger
2. Depression
3. Anxiety
4. Friendlessness (because they drive everyone away)
5. Loneliness
6. Hopelessness
7. Despair
8. Abandonment, and etc.

Of course, what they succeed in doing is bringing about the very consequences they most do not want to happen. Furthermore, once abandoned, they complain bitterly about suffering another relationship failure and confusion about why people keep treating him or her this way. The lack of insight is genuine but any attempts to bring insight to this person will result in failure.

I have noted that many people respond to prior postings I wrote on the topic of "the Borderline Family." Some of the responses were reports of peoples' personal experiences growing up with borderline mothers and fathers and the harm they suffered. Several of these poignant reports concluded with hopeless types of comments to the effect that they, themselves, will never recover from the dreadful things done to them as children.

My point here is to assert the fact that there is no need to continue to be the family collector and recorder of mistreatment and injustices. Yes. I am stating that, for Some People (not all) there is a volitional process in this and the process can be interrupted and changed.

How can I make such an assertion when these are people who suffered as children? I can make this assertion based on some facts:

1. I have seen many cases of people who, as adults, promised themselves they would not repeat doing to their children what was done to them. They were successful at this.

2. One does not have to be suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder to fulfill the role of injustice collector. It is possible to write a new life script in which the "poor me" title role is abandoned for a happy and healthy role.

3. I treated many people over the years, in psychotherapy, who came to me with the "poor me" attitude and way of thinking but learned how counter productive that is and learned to have positive thoughts and interactions.

Remember the trite but true saying that "Today is the first day of the rest of your life? For the rest of your life why not look at things in a robust and energetic way?

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, PhD