Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Borderline Personality Disorder

Should You Cut Off a Parent With Borderline Personality Disorder?

Boundaries and bridges: Managing connections with a parent with BPD

Key points

  • Interacting with a parent with BPD involves navigating sudden shifts in their demeanor.
  • Poor conflict resolution and erratic behavior from a parent can create emotional wounds.
  • Deciding whether to maintain contact involves grappling with guilt and societal expectations.

Navigating the connection with a parent with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can be a bewildering experience.

There are moments when your parent shows kindness and affection, but instantly, they can flip into an entirely different demeanor: childlike, unreasonable, aggressive. The constant uncertainty forces you to tread carefully, unsure of which version of your parent you will encounter next.

Growing up with an unpredictable parent, you were denied the chance to experience the carefree happiness childhood should bring. Their impulsive choices and risky behavior, such as drinking too much, reckless driving, overspending, substance misuse, and promiscuity, turn your home into anything but a safe place.

Your parent might have a troubling habit of handling conflicts poorly. When faced with disagreements or distress, they might withdraw, ignoring you, shutting themselves off, or leaving suddenly without explanation. As a child, this can feel like abandonment and creates deep emotional wounds that affect you for life.

These actions may stem from their own unresolved childhood trauma. While this doesn't excuse their behavior, it adds complexity to your feelings. Part of you might feel anger, while another part, wanting to stay loyal to your parent, struggles with guilt for having these feelings. You might find yourself trying to justify their actions and forgive them. As a result, you might have become used to hiding or suppressing your pain and anger. This has led you into a world of conflicting emotions, going back and forth between affection and resentment, uncertain about whether to blame yourself or them.

Your parent with BPD might have a charming demeanor in the outside world but you know the reality of living with them. You might not talk openly about it because you fear being judged or not believed. Unfortunately, you might have started believing that your experiences aren't valid or that you're to blame for the problems in your relationship with them.

Having a parent with BPD is puzzling because their empathy comes and goes. When they're kind, you might hope things will get better; it's like a part of you still wants the loving parent you deserve. But hoping for consistent love from them is like playing a risky game with a slot machine. Every time you open up and trust them, there's a chance they might hurt you again. Over time, the emotional wounds deepen, leaving you feeling empty and persistently sad.

As you've grown up, you might have hoped things would change, but often, they haven't. Dealing with your parent's anger and difficulties might still be challenging. Their explosive behavior can be challenging even as an adult with your own life.

It might be puzzling that things don't get easier over time; they may even worsen.

As you step into adulthood and focus on building your own family, your parent's need for attention might increase instead of ease. They could try harder to keep you close, disrespecting your boundaries. They might even see your spouse and kids as threats to their place in your life, causing more conflicts.

Your parent might realize that their actions don't make sense, but they might not be able to admit it or control themselves. You end up in a role reversal situation, in which you are caring for them like they're the child, even though it's not your role. Their emotional demands can affect your own family and relationships. Your partner might get upset as you're stuck in the middle, dealing with demands from both sides.

With all these challenges, you have some tough choices to make: Do you stop talking to them altogether or keep some level of connection? Finding the right balance between caring for yourself and their demands can be highly complex and challenging.

The Big Decision

The decision of whether to cut contact with a parent who has BPD is heart-wrenching and intricate, but you are not alone in facing this struggle. If they are willing to meet you halfway and respect boundaries, it may be possible to maintain a relationship. However, setting appropriate distances and prioritizing your own family, work, and children are the bottom lines you must safeguard. Your well-being must take precedence; you cannot be constantly at their disposal.

On the other hand, sometimes distancing yourself or cutting them off is the best choice. This might make them realize they need to change, but it could also lead to more problems. You might worry about things like them threatening to hurt themselves.

Inside all of us, there's a part that hopes against hope for a better relationship with our abusive parents, and that might hold you back from being firm. When your parent has BPD, this hope can make your life a struggle between reality and what you wish it could be. Wanting a loving parent is a big part of being human. It doesn't always make logical sense, but it's a strong feeling that doesn't go away quickly.

Moreover, cultural and societal expectations, including the fear of judgment from family members and society, and feelings of guilt and obligation add to your ambivalence in deciding whether or not to cut off from your parent. Deeply ingrained cultural norms, like filial piety, may lead you to believe in unquestioning loyalty to your parents, regardless of how they treat you. This sense of responsibility can become so ingrained that walking away feels haunted by guilt or seen as disrespectful. Concerns about how other family members, especially close relatives, might react further complicate boundary-setting.

The complexities of deciding whether to cut contact with a parent with BPD defies a one-size-fits-all approach. Here is a suggested list of questions to ask yourself. These reflections may spark insights and guide you in navigating this challenging terrain.

  • How does maintaining contact with my parent impact my emotional well-being? Do I feel overwhelmed, anxious, or drained after interacting with them?
  • Do we share any interests or engage in enjoyable activities that create moments of joy and connection? Are these moments worth the emotional toll they may take?
  • Has my parent demonstrated genuine understanding and empathy in ways that positively benefit my emotional well-being?
  • Have there been instances when my parent’s support or involvement has been helpful in practical matters, such as childcare or financial assistance?
  • Have I effectively established clear boundaries with my parent, and do they respect them? Do I find myself sacrificing my wants and needs to meet their demands, as I did in the past?
  • Are there unexplored possibilities or actions I have yet to consider, or have I exhausted all efforts without their cooperation or understanding?
  • How does my relationship with my parent impact my other significant connections, such as those with my partner, children, or friends?
  • Have they demonstrated independent effort to address their challenges? How might they respond if I suggested therapy or family mediation?
  • What are the potential risks and benefits of completely cutting off contact? How will this decision impact my well-being in the long run?
  • How does my decision align with my values and aspirations for personal growth and fulfillment?
  • Have I explored alternative options, such as limiting contact, engaging with my siblings in negotiations, family therapy, or seeking professional guidance?

Remember, this is a personal decision. Take your time and trust yourself to make the best choice for you. It's okay to be unsure and take things step by step. It is okay to be unsure, feel conflicted, and take time to decide. The path forward might need to be clarified, but exploring your feelings, concerns, and aspirations can help you find the best way forward. Trust yourself and the wisdom within you to make the choice that will bring you peace and fulfillment.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


Ekdahl, S., Idvall, E., Samuelsson, M., & Perseius, K. I. (2011). A life tiptoeing: being a significant other to persons with borderline personality disorder. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 25(6), e69-e76.

Penney, D. (2005). Family Perspectives on Borderline Personality. Understanding and treating borderline personality disorder: A guide for professionals and families, 117.

Zalewski, M., Stepp, S. D., Scott, L. N., Whalen, D. J., Beeney, J. F., & Hipwell, A. E. (2014). Maternal borderline personality disorder symptoms and parenting of adolescent daughters. Journal of personality disorders, 28(4), 541-554.

More from Imi Lo
More from Psychology Today