As a family lawyer, Guardian ad Litem, and mediator, learning about personality disorders is extremely important. For those of us dealing with the aftermath of conflict, which includes divorce and poor child welfare outcomes, it is inherent in our work. I have had a handful of cases where borderline personality disorder was diagnosed, and many more where it was suspected. The following description of BPD can be found at, http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/tc/borderline-personality-disorder-topic-overview
What is borderline personality disorder? Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that causes intense mood swings, impulsive behaviors, and severe problems with self-worth. It can lead to troubled relationships in every area of a person’s life.
Most of the time, signs of the disorder first appear in childhood. But problems often don’t start until early adulthood. Treatment can be hard, and getting better can take years. Problems with emotions and behaviors are hard to improve. But with treatment, most people with severe symptoms do get better over time.
What causes this disorder? Experts don’t know exactly what causes borderline personality disorder. Problems with chemicals in the brain that help control moods may play a role. It also seems to run in families.
Often, people who get it faced some kind of childhood trauma such as abuse, neglect, or the death of a parent. The risk is higher when people who had childhood trauma also have problems coping with anxiety or stress.
What are the symptoms? Everyone has problems with emotions or behaviors sometimes. But if you have borderline personality disorder, the problems are severe, repeat over a long time, and disrupt your life. The most common symptoms include:
•Intense emotions and mood swings.
•Harmful, impulsive behaviors. These may include things like substance abuse, binge eating, out-of-control spending, risky sexual behavior, and reckless driving.
•Relationship problems. You may see others as either “good” or “bad” and may shift from one view to the other suddenly, for minor reasons. This can make relationships very difficult.
• A frantic fear of being left alone (abandoned). This fear may lead to frantic attempts to hold on to those around you. Or it may cause you to reject others before they can reject you.
Other symptoms may include:
•Feeling empty inside.
•Problems with anger, such as violent temper tantrums.
•Hurting yourself, such as cutting or burning yourself.
• Suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts.
•Times when you feel paranoid or lose a sense of reality (psychosis).
Having read that description, can you imagine representing a client in a divorce case, or advocating for a child in family or juvenile court, where BPD is an issue? It can be difficult to convince the judge that there is a problem that needs to be addressed with a psychological evaluation and treatment. Judges sometimes care more about what is happening now or recently, than in hearing a historical narrative. The law prefers nexus and proximity. They can be difficult to show when the issue is a personality disorder.
Even if you are successful in getting court-ordered treatment, it is difficult to obtain compliance from the affected parent. It is also difficult to treat this disorder. It takes long-term treatment and a motivated patient. For the child of a parent with BPD, the road is especially tough. These parents can be very loving and loyal to the child. Young children do not mind that their parent is closely tied to them and needy of attention. Not until the child is a teen, needing some space and individuality, does the BPD parent become less an ally and more of a jailer.
Two cases I remember very well. In one, where I represented the diagnosed BPD mother, her ability to see her young child was severely restricted. She had other diagnosed mental illnesses and the child’s safety could not be assured. Treatment was ordered as a condition to timesharing but the parent was so ill that she could not stay in treatment nor significantly improve. In the other, where I was the Guardian ad Litem for the children, the mother had insight to her disorder and was in long term treatment. The children were affected by her instability and they too received therapy. Despite her issues, she remained the primary caregiver.
For more information about Joy A. Bartmon, go to http://www.bartmonfamilylaw.com/about-joy-bartmon/
For more about Borderline Personality Disorder,