When cruising Facebook profiles, many times under “relationship status,” you’ll find someone wrote “it’s complicated.” As a matter of fact, you’ll find the phrase on so many profiles, it’s become sort of a joke. What’s no laughing matter is that for many with a mental illness, relationships can be complicated.
The cycle of dysfunction – you grow up in a significantly dysfunctional family and it has an impact on you. Now you have kids and the cycle of family dysfunction continues. Without recognition and positive change, the family dysfunction is passed from generation to generation.
What is a Dysfunctional Family?
The Free Medical Dictionary defines dysfunctional family as a family with multiple ‘internal’ eg sibling rivalries, parent-child– conflicts, domestic violence, mental illness, single parenthood, or ‘external’–eg alcohol or drug abuse, extramarital affairs, gambling, unemployment—influences that affect the basic needs of the family unit. (read: Roles in Dysfunctional Families)
For our guest, Dena Foman, the family dysfunction definition fits her life to a tee.
“I have spent the better part of my life wearing a mask to disguise the childhood pain that followed me into adulthood. I was born into a poor family that had virtually no education. Later in life, my father became an alcoholic, just like his father. I am proud to say he has been sober for over 13 years. My mother left when I was 11 years old and turned to a life of drugs. I quit high school at 17 and had a child at 19.”
Dena had never been taught the skills of parenting or shown how to be loving. She says her son, later diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, got little in the way of nurturing, loving attention… and this, mixed with a mental illness, is deadly. He has attempted suicide twice and Dena says “I’ve spent more time than I want to remember planning his funeral.”
Against all odds, Dena ends up going to law school and while there, gets into therapy to figure out where it all went wrong.
Breaking the Cycle of Dysfunctional Living
In this edition of the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show, Dena shares the story of her childhood, of neglect and abandonment that led to a life of dysfunction for many years, and how she’s learned to make peace with herself and her family. Take a look.
Did you grow up in a dysfunctional family? How has that affected you? Have you passed it on to your family? We invite you to call us at 1-888-883-8045 and share your experiences and insights. (Info on Sharing Your Mental Health Experiences here.) You can also leave comments below.
Here’s how one person in a 10-year relationship with a person with Borderline Personality Disorder describes the experience: “Although I loved this person, I hated the relationship. It was a psychological hell.”
Coping with someone living with Borderline Personality Disorder can be emotionally exhausting and a difficult challenge. Here’s why! People with Borderline Personality Disorder are unstable in their self-image, moods, behavior, and interpersonal relationships. They have far more dramatic and intense interpersonal relationships and they tend to express inappropriate and intense anger. On top of that, Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms can produce reckless and destructive behaviors, including promiscuous sex, spending and financial problems, addictions and self-injury (Common Conditions Coexisting with the BPD).
That’s a lot for anyone to cope with. Some people in “optional relationships,” (non-immediate family) walk out because they can’t handle the stress. “You have to think hard about its impact on your own personal mental health,” says one ex-partner. If your child or someone in your immediate family has Borderline Personality Disorder, leaving the relationship may be out of the question. So how do you cope?
(A.J. Mahari appeared on the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show on July 7, 2010. You can watch the interview “on-demand.”)
About A.J. Mahari
A.J. Mahari, 53 year old Canadian woman living in Ontario Canada. I am an author, Life Coach and Mental Health Coach, blogger, podcaster and radio show host. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 1976, at the age of 19, back in the day when it was standard to believe that people with BPD could not be helped. Both of my parents also had BPD. From the age of 17 to 30, I lived a very unfulfilling, painful, and emotionally chaotic life. I didn’t know what I needed or who I was. I didn’t understand borderline personality disorder. This was before the internet and Borderline Personality Disorder books appeared on the market. I continued to live a dysfunctional life and failed at jobs and relationships until in my early 30’s, when I went back to therapy. Group therapy helped me recover from BPD.
After my recovery from BPD in 1995, I got a computer. Back then, the internet was fairly new still. There weren’t a lot of websites and resources on BPD like there are today. I set up a website and created and hosted email lists. I began writing articles about my experience and my recovery. A few years later, I was writing ebooks, doing audios and videos about BPD. I began life and mental health coaching in 2002. It found me. I was getting (and still do get) thousands of emails a month – people asking me for help with their situations. I began to realize that my life with Borderline Personality Disorder, and my recovery from it, gave me a lot of knowledge about it that could help others.
I coach people with BPD and I also coach many loved ones of those with BPD. Loved ones in various different types of relationships with those with BPD suffer a great deal too. Many are being abused, are unhappy, and end up not only being enmeshed and codependent with people with BPD, but they actually get addicted to the very drama and chaos that they know is negatively affecting their health, their children’s lives and that blocks them from living healthier and happier lives. Many have a very difficult time deciding whether to stay with a person with BPD (even family members – stay in contact) or to leave the BPD spouse, or significant other – and/or go no-contact with borderline family members. I help people to explore what they need, what their goals are and how they can create healthy change in their lives.
Share Your Experiences on Coping with a BPD Loved One
What has it been like for you? Have you tried any coping methods that were helpful? We invite you to call us at 1-888-883-8045 and share your experiences and insights on the issue. (Info on Sharing Your Mental Health Experiences here.) You can also leave comments below.
You can watch our interview with A.J. Mahari on the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show homepage by clicking the on-demand button on the player. The show is titled “Coping With and Helping A Loved One with Borderline Personality Disorder.”
I mention this because we are constantly flooded with emails from victims of narcissists, mostly women, who are emotionally beat up and mentally dragged down after being in a relationship with a narcissist. While reading through these emails, I’ve often wondered what attracted these women to men with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and led them to stay; even at huge emotional and financial costs. Those who were lucky enough to escape are still reeling, trying to delve through the aftermath.
The Big 3: Narcissists, Sociopaths, Psychopaths
For answers to “why?,” we are turning to this week’s guest, Sandra Brown, MA. She is an expert on psychopathic, pathological relationships – having trained under others, done research, written books, and now training other professionals and working with victims of narcissists, sociopaths and psychopaths. Ms. Brown also has extremely intimate knowledge of personality disorders and individuals with extreme psychopathy. Her family life was riddled with these types who emotionally and physically traumatized young Sandra.
We’ll be discussing the personal “red flags” we all have, why we fail to recognize them and how not to ignore yours so you don’t fall victim to one of these “often charming, successful” personalities. And if you think, “I’m too smart, clever, strong, educated to fall victim,” Ms. Brown says more than 60 million people are negatively harmed by someone else’s extreme pathological disorders. “Never before studied or traits identified, these unusually strong and normal women become prey for the drive of the pathological,” says Ms. Brown.
Share Your Experiences on Being in Love with a Psychopath
What is like being in a relationship or in love with a psychopath, sociopath or narcissist? Were you able to get out and at what cost? We invite you to call us at 1-888-883-8045 and share your experiences and insights on the issue. (Info on Sharing Your Mental Health Experiences here.) You can also leave comments below.
We also did a chat interview on a similar subject: The Damage Caused by Sexual Abuse and why women who were victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence continually fall victim to these predators.
Whether it’s a mental or physical illness, it’s natural to concentrate on the person who has the illness. Many forget that family members and loved ones are also suffering. The impact of mental illness on families comes in the forms of grief, denial, frustration, exhaustion, and stigma.
Mental Illness is Foreign to Most People
It is difficult for anyone to deal with strange thinking and bizarre and unpredictable behavior. Imagine what it must be for families of people with mental illness. It is bewildering, frightening and exhausting. Even when the person is stabilized on medication, the apathy and lack of motivation can be frustrating.
Take, for example, our guest on this Tuesday’s HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show. Rebecca is a 33 year old mother of 3 young girls. She has spent the last two years watching her oldest daughter, age 12, “fall apart.”
Her daughter has experienced repeated fainting spells, severe headaches, catatonic episodes and bizarre hallucinations. Even with a college degree in psychology, Rebecca was not prepared for the diagnosis her daughter received – Dissociative Identity Disorder.
In her guest blog post (My Daughter’s Mental Illness Has Turned My World Upside Down), you can tell Rebecca has great sympathy and empathy for her daughter’s situation. At the same time, her family has shouldered a huge emotional and financial burden. And you can feel the enormity of it all…the toll it has already taken.
On Tuesday, Rebecca will be sharing her story of mental illness in the family and some things that she has learned through experience that bring her brief moments of relief.
If you miss the live show which can be viewed on our site, you can always click the “on-demand” button on the player and watch the show at your convenience.
Share Your Experiences on Mental Illness in the Family
We also invite you to call us at 1-888-883-8045 and share your experience – whether as a family member or loved one of someone with a mental illness. What has it been like for you and how are you coping? (Info on Sharing Your Mental Health Experiences here.) You can also leave comments below.
Hello. My name is Rebecca. I am writing in response to the article I just saw on the HealthyPlace website about living with DID. I am a 33 year old mother of 3 little girls and have spent the past 2 years watching my oldest daughter completely fall apart. I watched her go from being a normal, albeit extremely emotional, little girl to not even knowing which parts of her life are based in reality and what is happening in a reality that exists only within her own head.
Out of nowhere, my daughter, at 10 years old, suddenly broke into severe bouts of psychosis, hallucinating horrific things happening over-and-over to all of the people she loves, forgetting her own age, school, family, home, friends, etc. In the hospital and in therapy, she would answer questions about herself incorrectly, sometimes with the answers being consistent for hours or days at a time, even though they were incorrect.
After over a year of intensive in-home and outpatient psychotherapy, repeated stays in Children’s Hospital and going through every test that every doctor could possibly think of, with still no clue as to what was causing her repeated fainting spells, severe headaches, catatonic episodes and hallucinations, her psychiatrist and psychotherapy team came to me with a potential new diagnosis; Dissociative Identity Disorder.
Little Prepared for Coping with Severe Mental Illness in My Family
I actually hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology and thought that I was very knowledgeable about Dissociative Identity Disorder, but would never have associated many of the symptoms I watched my daughter suffer through with this disorder. Our real breakthrough came when my daughter’s psychiatrist suggested that the next time she began to fall into one of these hysterical, hallucinatory episodes, that instead of asking her age, school, etc., to try to see if she was still based in reality, that I simply ask her name.
Even with a bachelor’s in psychology, I still thought this was a ridiculous request, but agreed to comply. Sure enough, that same day she went into an episode and when I asked her name, it took 20 minutes to convince her that I was not one of the “bad people” that she had been hallucinating, but she still denied that I was her mother and refused to tell me her name. I told her that we had just returned from the ice cream shop and asked what kind of ice cream she had just eaten. At that, she looked at me and said, “wait a minute, are you (daughter’s name) mommy?”
This was the beginning of a conversation that lasted all through that night, where numerous alters each came out to introduce themselves and tell me a little bit about what they knew about what was happening to my baby girl. I found out that the original split had occurred when my daughter was only 3 years old and was mauled severely by a rottweiler. This alter was so traumatized that she actually split at some point into twins. After this, every year on her birthday, a new alter was born, to watch out for her, just in case. Yet, every time something emotional did occur, it seems that a new alter was formed to deal with it.
Today, my daughter is 12 years old and I have personally met and spent time with 19 individual alters, not including my daughter herself. Some are young and sweet and fun, some are terrified, and some are just plain mean and angry.
The Impact of My Daughter’s Mental Illness: The Nightmare That Is Our Life
It’s been almost a year now since we figured out that this is what was going on with my daughter, and it just seems to get harder every day. During the year that she was 11, she was so stressed out and traumatized by the realization of her alters, her missing time periods, and all of the other drama that has been part of her learning about what is happening inside of her mind, that she continued to form new alters throughout the year simply to deal with the new stress of having alters. Currently, I know of 7 alters who are 11 years old.
This condition has been tearing apart our family and our lives and we all feel so isolated and alone. I feel like I must be the only mother in the world raising 20 children all in the same body, all with very different likes and dislikes, who even fight with each other. As stressful as this has been to me and my other daughters, I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must be for my daughter. She lost it last week when she realized it was 6 pm and the last thing she remembered was going to bed the night before. She was so upset about the missing time that she convinced herself that she must be dreaming, wrapped up in a blanket, and spent over an hour pinching herself and pounding her head on the floor, trying to wake herself up from the “nightmare” that is her real life.
This disorder has torn our family apart mentally, physically, emotionally and financially. I can’t work because I was being called home every day to deal with hallucinatory fits in school or spending weeks at a time in the best hospitals we could find to try to understand what was happening to her. My marriage ended when alters began to come forward and tell me and therapists that my (now ex) husband was abusing her when I was at work.
I tried living with another woman going through a divorce who had children with mental illness as well. That ended after a year of them all having to also deal with tantrums, hallucinations, etc. I’m sitting on the verge of losing my home and even custody of my daughter because it is just so much to deal with and I have now become physically very ill myself and have an extremely difficult time even just keeping up with day-to-day life. We all feel like we are drowning and there is no hope.
The Strain and Stigma of Mental Illness
Please help me to find other families, other mothers, other children, other siblings, friends, who are living this same nightmare. We are desperately in need of help from someone who really understands what we go through every day, especially my daughter. She feels like a freak, she’s afraid to tell anyone, even her closest friends, which means that she does and says things to them that she has no recollection of and which has caused repeated problems for her with trying to form and maintain friendships, making her life that much more difficult to process.
I don’t know what exactly I really expect from you, I just know that we need help, we need friends, we need understanding, and most of all, we need hope. Please help to put us in touch with other people who might possibly be able to help us understand that there can be hope for her, for us, to still find happiness and live a full and positive life. I just don’t know where else to turn.
Last Tuesday, we covered an unusual aspect of suicide; surviving it.
After listening to our guest Patricia Gallagher relive her husband, John’s, failed suicide attempts, we understand that although he survived, there were many pieces left to put together. The Gallagher’s dealt with shame and initially decided not to divulge too much information to friends and family.
They also endured many obstacles, such as separation in their marriage and their teenage children who had trouble dealing with their father’s choices. Now an advocate for preventing suicide, John and Patricia don’t hide anymore secrets and want others to learn from their troubling experience.
In addition to Patricia, HealthyPlace.com Medical Director and Board-Certified Psychiatrist, Dr. Harry shared the warning signs of suicide. If you or anyone you know is displaying any of the following symptoms, professional help should be sought immediately to prevent a tragedy.
• Lack of energy
• Clinical depression
• Sleep problems
• Severe panic attacks or suffering from panic disorder
• Talking about suicide
But what happens when the suicide attempt fails? It seems that situations such as these are not any easier to deal with.
Fear, Worry, and Stress of a Repeated Attempted Suicide
This Tuesday, September 22, we will talk with one family who lived through this nightmare. Patricia Gallagher watched as stress and depression consumed her husband’s life. John, a financial analyst, lived in constant worry over the stability of his job and the welfare of his family. After dealing with excruciating headaches, high blood pressure from the stress and weight loss, he decided he could not deal with the stresses any longer and made the life altering decision to end his life…but failed…twice.
Be sure to watch Tuesday as Patricia relives her husband’s failed attempts at ending his life and what they are doing now to keep their family together.
See you Tuesday at 5:30p PST, 7:30 CST, 8:30 EST. You can watch the show live, or later on-demand, on the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show homepage. As always, our guest will be taking your questions during the live show.
According to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, over 23 million Americans suffer from an addiction to drugs or alcohol. We all know addictions can destroy the life of the addict, but what about the family? How can the family cope and support the addict without being co-dependant and feeding the addiction?
Addictions can be physical or psychological, but the devastating effects of addiction on family members are the same, as explained in Dr. Croft’s blog post this week. Families often face the difficult decision of enabling the addiction or literally forcing their loved one out on the street. However, there can be other options. Where can families turn for more information on addiction? What if they can’t afford treatment programs? During Tuesday’s live show, we will answer these questions and any other questions you might have about addiction.
If you have a story about addiction you would like to share, please feel free to email me: Producer AT HealthyPlace.com. Also, you can email me a link to a youtube video, and we might air it on our show live Tuesday March 31st at 7:30p CT, 8:30 ET, and 5:30 PT. You can also find more information about how the HealthyPlace TV show works here. During the second half of the show, Dr. Croft will answer any question you might have on addiction or any other mental health topic in the popular ‚ Ask Dr. Croft section of the show.