Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Characterizing Borderline Behaviors: The Witch

Let’s do something fun this week and talk about different classifications of Borderline Behaviors. Ok, so maybe my idea of fun is different than your idea of fun but I like to classify, categorize, and organize. So this week I want to talk about the 4 kinds of typical behavioral classifications discussed by clinician Christine Ann Lawson in her book Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship.  The book is about “mothers” but I think you’ll find that it applies more generally, after all, mothers were single at one point and their personality is a accumulation of their whole lives, not just who they became after motherhood. And of course, it doesn’t just apply to women, men fit these ideas as well.

I’m interested in this book (which admittedly I haven’t read yet) because families of Borderlines and those raised by Borderline parents are even closer to the disorder than most people. You may have dated or married a Borderline but these people grew up alongside it or were raised with it their entire lives.  Especially for kids I imagine it must be incredibly confusing and hurtful to not understand what is going on with your parents or siblings who are affected with BPD.

I know just how disruptive and explosive I was. At the time I didn’t know what was wrong with me and I know my parents and siblings didn’t either. All they knew was that I was intensely angry, depressed, and avoidant. It would have been extremely helpful to have a diagnosis and an idea of how to deal with me at the time.

Christine Ann Lawson discusses 4 character profiles that describe different symptom clusters that include:

1.      The Waif {Mother}

2.      The Hermit {Mother}

3.      The Queen {Mother}

4.      The Witch

I think it’s useful to take a look at these because as one reviewer put it, “Dr. Lawson shows how to care for the waif without rescuing her, to attend to the hermit without feeding her fear, to love the queen without becoming her subject, and to live with the witch without becoming her victim.”

You’ll find as we explore these, that while you or the Borderline you know may display a primary character class there will probably be some overlap with secondary characteristic found in others. So without further ado let’s take a look.

The Witch

Typical Thoughts

Unconsciously, Witches hate themselves because they grew up in an environment that "required complete submission to a hostile or sadistic caregiver" (2000). They continue the cycle by acting cruelly to others, especially those who are too weak, young, or powerless to help themselves.

Typical Emotions

They feel no remorse for nightmarish acts, showing more interest in their own well-being than concern over the way they've hurt others. The Witch's triggers include jealousy, criticism, betrayal, abandonment, feeling left out, and being ignored.

Typical Actions and Central Dilemma

Most Borderline parents do not physically abuse their children. Those who do probably fall into this category. However, the abuse usually occurs when other competent adults are not present. Thus, family members can live in fear while all seems well to the outside world.

Witches want power and control over others so that others do not abandon them. When someone or something triggers the Witches' abandonment fear, these Borderlines can become brutal and full of rage, even punishing or hurting family members who stand in their way (2000). These types of Borderlines are most resistant to treatment: they will not allow others to help and the source of self-loathing is very deep.

Typical Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions of Family Members

·         "I will comply with what she wants. Resistance is futile. I will be assimilated."

·         Fear in victims.

·         Denial on the part of those who could protect the victims.

·         Tries not to trigger the witch. But her behavior is not really about the non-Borderline, so this strategy doesn't work.

The Effect of the Witch's Behavior in Children

·         Children live in terror of Witches' capricious moods; they are the "collateral damage" of a secret war they did not start, do not understand, and cannot control.

·         Attacks are random, intense, and cruel. Children automatically think they're at fault and can become shamed, depressed, insecure, dissociative, and hypervigilant.

·         As adults they may have multiple difficulties with self, relationships, physical illness, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.


This just sounds terrifying.  I could be completely off base here, but often people respond to abuse in a limited amount of ways: They turn inward and become closed off and protective of themselves, they become stronger and become the opposite of their abusers, or they become the abusers themselves. Add BPD into the mix and this sounds like the kind of person that was abused, developed BPD because of such a traumatic environment, and became the abuser themselves because this is what they knew and had beaten into their personality. That doesn’t justify it, but it helps me understand it.

I can only imagine how frightening it would be to have a parent like this. Especially when to the outside world they appear quite normal. Trying to convince people of a problem they never see would allow the parent to deny anything going on and turn the cry for help into blaming the child for acting out and crying for attention. How isolating.

One of the important characteristics of the Witch type of borderline is what Dr. Lawson and others call "the turn". Dr. Lawson describes "the turn" as follows:

"One of the most devastating experiences for children of borderlines is "the turn." The Turn is a sudden attack, the abrupt withdrawal of love and affection, and razor-sharp words that can pierce the heart as painfully as an arrow. The messages aimed at the children include, 'I want you out of my life,' 'I'd be better off without you,' and 'I should never have had you kids.'"

Some of the possible triggers for "the turn" on p. 133 in her book Understanding The Borderline Mother.

  1. Showing affection for someone other than the mother.
  2. Disobeying, or expressing independent thought.
  3. Diminishing the mother.
  4. Differentiating from the mother.
  5. Disagreeing with mother.

The Borderine herself is often not aware of what motivates her feelings and behavior. In her mind, her actions seem entirely justified and appropriate. It is as if she has been so traumatized in the past that she promises herself that she will not allow anyone to hurt her again, and so she is not only defensive but pre-emptively attacks to mitigate any perceived threat, possibly real or imaginary. The mother - child relationship becomes not one of trust, nurturance, and reliability, but one of attack, rejection, unfair accusation and blame leaving a child or partner emotionally stunned, bleeding, hurt, sometimes devastated, and distrusting.

Dr. Lawson points out that the borderline Witch is the least likely to seek treatment. She doesn't want improvement and happiness, but revenge. She will avoid situations where she fears that her suffering can become known and exposed and used against her. Witches will never apologize, say they are sorry, take responsibility for their harming and hurting others. To do so would make them vulnerable and in their mind expose a weakness that could then be taken advantage of by others.

It’s scary to contemplate, but this isn’t just a Borderline problem. Many abusive people have similar motivations. As you can imagine, recognizing this behavior can be very validating for someone that has been victimized and doesn’t understand why. Realizing that it is not in fact, the victims fault, and that they don’t deserve to be treated that way will help them break the cycle and potentially get help themselves.

I don’t have children. Not yet, maybe not ever. There are a lot of reasons why, but being Borderline and potentially passing on my mental health issues are a big concern (despite everyone telling me I’d be a great mom and nothing like the witch). Even the best and most well-meaning parents unintentionally screw up their kids. The thought of bringing someone else into the world that could potentially have as unhappy an existence as I’ve had? Life is supposed to be a gift. That just seems like a punishment.

**As a complete aside, I don’t like that they use “Witch” as a classification term. Growing up pagan I find this to be demeaning and a poor stereotype against a generally earth centric spiritual belief system.


  1. I live in constant fear of being "the witch" when it comes to my daughter. While I'm seeking treatment for my BPD; it's still scary to think about passing it on, or punishing my daughter because something is wrong WITH ME. Thanks for posting this, its an interesting read.

    1. It's a fear I also hold if I were to ever have kids. I think that it's something that you are aware of, and that you work to avoid, than the chance of you being this way is very unlikely. Good luck =)

    2. I think it's great that you are seeking the light with this. My mum is a borderline witch and I have got to say I would be stunned to silence if she ever did what you are doing . I think youre fantastic, all the best to you....the treatment is getting better and better for bpd and the fact your trying hard for this...got to agree with Haven I think it will work out for you.. Good luck from me too and lots of love to both yourself and Haven - thanks for this post very insightful.

  2. I don’t know if the woman who raised me was borderline, but she was much as you described about “the turn”. The witch you describe sounds very much like her. She was quite different in public (or even when her husband was home) as compared to what she was like in private. “Trying to convince people of a problem they never see” – I don’t think it ever occurred to me to tell on her. I lied to people to cover for her and focused on escaping rather than getting justice or revenge.

    1. It's important to remember that there are actual diagnostic criteria to be considered Borderline. This kind of behavior isn't uncommon for other personality disorders or even in people without a personality disorder at all. It's generally abusive, and plenty of abusive people are just shitty people.

      That said, I'm very sorry to hear that is what you had to experience growing up. Whether she was BPD or not doesn't change the fact that it must have been incredibly hurtful, confusing, and distressing to you having to grow up with that =( ::hugs::

  3. This sounds so much like my stepmother, who was abused during her own childhood. Her behaviour towards me was unpleasant enough, but the way she twisted her blood children with her moods and punishments is still showing in their issues to this day. They weren't allowed to love or side with their father, who abandoned her, so she created a scenario where she was all they had and the only person they could rely on.

    1. ::yikes:: That does very much sound like a worst case Borderline parenting tactic. Take a look at the idea of The Queen I posted today.

    2. sounds like my grandmother. She deliberately sabotaged my relationships with other family members and other people because she needed to be all I had. She also set up conflicts between family members (especially me as the golden child and the others) because she wanted them to be jealous of the attention she gave me, and thereby show how important and desirable she is--if they are jealous of me then that means the must love and adore her and consider her super important. Love was in short supply.

  4. omg thank you for posting this. I need to get that book. This describes my grandmother sooo perfectly, and even the parts discussing motivation and feelings of the witch match my grandmother's rationalizations for her own behaviors. She made my life a living hell and created my mother who is another BPD sufferer (overlapped categories, including queen mother which my grandmother also presents as because she can fool people so easily--outsiders think she is wonderful and generous and she is with them). I have to watch myself carefully because it is too easy to take their problems on as my own; if I forget that their issues are not about me I lash out at them and make things worse, I choose toxic people because they are familiar to me, and I have a hard time relating to people because my primary relationships (I was also horribly isolated) were with women who have the disorder and so that was the only model of close relationships I had so it is hard for me. I don't have the disorder myself, but I see some learned behaviors and I am determined to work through them.

    1. Choosing toxic people because that's who are familiar to you is so insidious. One of the things I have struggled so hard with is to extinguish the toxic relationships in my life. I know how difficult it is to distance yourself from family, but ultimately it comes down to what is best for you. You deserve to be treated well and it's important that you cultivate healthy relationships.

      You're very lucky to have escaped at least some of the BPD mental issues even even though you were unfortunate enough to be scarred by the issues of others.

    2. Thank you for your response. I do consider myself very lucky to have escaped from having the condition, but I still live with the fear of having it which makes me very self-reflexive--I work very hard to be a better person and to reflect on everything I am doing. Professional help is also definitely invaluable. I find also that now that I have started to heal it is harder for me to have relationships with my family and I have started to notice that the healthier I am the less willing I am to sacrifice my health for the sake of social convention (i.e. I spend holidays alone or with friends rather than put myself at risk). I wish you and everyone else working through the pain of being raised by people with this condition, and working through healing from it yourselves, the best of luck.

  5. OMG that's me!!!!! I have just been diagnosed with bpd and it's my daughter I'm so worried about affecting, I don't even know where to start with this I'm confused .....I will be getting this book I just thought I was depressed with really bad PMT. It would be nice to here from any other mothers out there confused and in UK :-/

    1. I'm going to try to get a forum started for my blog in the coming weeks. Hopefully that will be a medium that is more conducive to people with similar experiences getting together.

  6. I have the book too. It's very resourceful. I believe my mom is a combination between the Witch and the Hermit - overlapping traits. The "Turn" you describe....I feel it to this day, and I am a grown adult with my own children now. I am still cautious that she might "rip my head off" in conversation....I feel it coming at any given moment. I sense it's there. I dissociate in therapy to this day whenever my therapist does anything (accidentally) that reminds me of instances where my mom was about to tear my head off.

  7. Typical Thoughts
    Typical Emotions

    I can relate to these two, but i feel like it's cuz the hermit has a strong present in me.
    I see things as a dog eat dog world... but i have witch qualities too where i will do a hermit thing... but it could end up being cruel like a which, but i feel no remorse cuz my saying is "they had it coming their way." I also have a vengeful.. i'll tear you down if you cross me.

    But i wouldn't strike anyone... for two reasons...1) because people don't forgive you when you lay a hand on them. 2)it's against the law.

    And i will never want to push a (any form of a) relationship to the point of no forgiveness, by laying a hand on someone.


    1. I don't understand that - so you just don't want to get caught? Don't you care at all about the other person's feelings???


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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