The Mighty Logo

Why I Still Carry the Words of My Abusive Father as Someone With Borderline Personality Disorder

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters





For those of us who grew up to develop borderline personality disorder (BPD), these may have been some of the words we heard constantly growing up. These words may have been drilled into our developing psyches by parents, teachers, siblings, classmates and others.

In this case, the words that hurt, the words of abuse, are constant reminders of what others thought of us. Absent of any positive reinforcement, these words may have become hardwired within us.

I hear these words every time I fall a little short or make a mistake. And for me, it’s never a little mistake. Whatever I’ve done — it’s a catastrophic failure on my part proving I’m unworthy of self-respect.

Eventually, most of us find a therapist or a book that sets us straight — we are not failures, we are not ugly and we are worthy of being loved and respected.

And, on some level, we know the therapists and the books are right. But on a deeper level, someone is telling us we must hate ourselves for our past sins. The hate comes easy and naturally to us which makes it all the more corrosive to our sense of self-worth.

This problem is not solely experienced by those with BPD, but crosses into other mental illnesses including depression and anxiety disorders.

Who is that voice in our head that haunts us and calls us names that we repeat, many times out loud? Most of us know. Sometimes it’s more than one person.

In my case, it’s my father. Let me tell you a little about him.

My father wanted a son like himself — someone who would love hunting, fishing and camping as much as he did. He wanted an outdoors buddy he could show off to his friends — a “mini-me.”

Sadly, for him, I fell in love with books and libraries. I thought, Why tromp around in knee deep snow to shoot a something I wouldn’t eat anyway?

In home movies, I see dad, tugging on my fishing pole, helping me raise a tent, standing next to me with the shotgun he bought me as a Christmas present. He’s smiling so broadly. I have never nor would I ever, see him so happy again.

The smiling gradually stopped when I hit around 14. I was not going to be his fishing buddy. I was “too sensitive,” “too bookish” and would rather stay indoors. To him, my life was a betrayal. From that point on, every single thing I did wrong or anything I did to annoy him in the slightest was met by some version of the following:

“Kid, wait until you grow up and have to live in the real world. It’ll chew you up and spit you out.”

“I’m tired of feeling sorry for you. You’re just a mope who doesn’t know how spoiled you are.”

“In my day, the kids would have kicked the crap out of you.”

“You can’t figure anything out by yourself, can you? Kid, you are a real piece of work.”

“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

I could go on but you get the picture.

How do we exorcise these voices from the past?

I try to catch myself whether I call myself “stupid” for spilling milk on a counter or a “useless jackass” for forgetting my keys — but it’s tough. Through most of my life, the only constant has been his voice in my head; always judging, condemning, belittling.

A great deal of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is silencing that voice – through rationality. I have an extra technique I’ve added – not ignoring, but remembering that these were the words of an angry, bitter man who just happened to be my father. He doesn’t know what I became — he never bothered to know me growing up.

I can understand why he treated me the way he did. I can even forgive, which I’m working on. But I have no time for his voice, or any other, telling me I’m not good enough.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo via contributor

Originally published: December 6, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home