Category Archives: borderline personality disorder

When is it OK to search a teen’s room?

When is it OK to search a teen’s room?
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ASK A QUESTION ANYTIMEmargaret@raisingtroubledkids.com

 

This is a paraphrase of a question that was posed a few years ago in a support group I facilitated.  It’s a question I had to face more than once.  Now that years have gone by, I still believe this is a good approach, but I’m aware some parents disagree.

 

Q: My son is always in his room and gets extremely upset if I go in there.  He says he has a right to privacy.  But I suspect something bad is going on, and want to search his room when he’s not there.  Yet it bothers me that I’d be violating his trust.  Is it OK to search his room?

 

A:  I advocate searching a troubled child’s room or reading “private” information like email if there is any concern whatsoever that something potentially dangerous is being hidden from a parent.  Since he gets very upset, he may not want you to find something because he knows you’ll disapprove.  Practically speaking, is there a way you can search his room or read email without him (or anyone else) ever finding out?  If he finds out you’ve searched his room, yes, you will lose his trust, and he may go to greater lengths to keep secrets.  But as the responsible adult in the household, you must think not only about your son, yourself, and your family, but about others who may be at risk if your son has dangerous plans.  The need for safety overrides.

 

If you find nothing unusual or dangerous on a search, you’ve at least satisfied your rightful need to know.  Then the issue becomes his need for privacy and his fear of losing it, which must be addressed since he’s clearly upset about it.  Don’t tell, at least not until enough time has passed that your communications with your son are strong and he has begun to reckon with his mental health.

 

If you find something dangerous, act on it immediately and do not defend your decision or try to talk him into taking responsibility for his actions.  A troubled teen can’t or won’t.  He will either be remorseful and embarrassed, or enraged and threatening.  Regardless, you must take dangerous materials or actions very seriously because someone’s life could be at stake, literally.  Since it’s clear that trust is important to you (as it should be), expect that it may be very long time before your son trusts you.  But also remember that, under these serious circumstances, his trust of you is less important than your trust of him.

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Filed under bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, mental illness, oppositional defiant disorder, parenting, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia, teens

What to do when you’re blamed for your child’s behavior

What to do when you’re blamed for your child’s behavior
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Our sick kids deserve compassion too

Our sick kids deserve compassion too

I have yet to meet one family with a troubled child that has not felt blamed or judged by close people in their lives:  best friends, family members, a religious community, co-workers, even medical and mental health providers.  Nothing could be more wrong or more hurtful to the family’s well being.  Blame adds emotional burdens on top of what they already face, and can undermine an already shaky hope and faith. 

 

Parents like us are aware that many people are not comfortable around a child with bizarre or extreme behaviors, like our child.  We understand this.  After all, who else knows more about the stress they create?  But it is unacceptable to be blamed or judged by others on our parenting, our character, our child, and/or presumed to be abusing our child.  This is simply not true for the overwhelming majority of families with troubled children.

 

These are some things that have helped caregivers cope with, and overcome, the debilitating effect of judgment and blame.

 

First, resist defending yourself; it will only attract more unwanted attention and disagreement.  You don’t have the time or emotional energy to teach someone who resists and challenges everything you say with countless questions and misinformation.  Avoid people like this (even friends and family!).

 

Second, actively seek out supportive people who take the time to listen, just listen.  You need as large as possible a network of compassionate people around you.  Stop and think about this, you have many around you already.  They may be waiting in the wings, at a polite distance so as not to interfere or add to your stress.  If you think you can trust someone, ask them to be your friend.  You will be surprised at how many people are out there who have a loved one with a mental or emotional disorder, and how many are willing to help because they completely understand what you’re going through.

 

Third, politely and assertively say thanks but no thanks.  If judgmental people ask why you haven’t contacted them or returned calls, tell the truth, also without blame or judgment.  “Our situation is not good, but we are getting the best professional help, and we have been pulling back to take care of ourselves.  Thanks for showing interest, and thanks for your understanding and for giving us space.”  No apologies.

 

There is a curious phenomenon where craziness seems to attract “crazy” people.  You must block them from your life.  They might be obsessed with a religious, medical, or philosophical belief and want to make your child’s life their cause.  If this happens to you, don’t hesitate to end contact with anyone that wants to entangle themselves in your lives without your permission.  You are never responsible for meeting another’s needs or fitting their beliefs!

 

I once had a co-worker who had strong feelings about “natural” health care, who offered a steady stream of articles and comments about what could help my child.  I had to firmly insist that if she could find one piece of research proving that her preferred treatments helped even one person with schizophrenia, then I would listen.  This ended the unsolicited advice. 

 

Fourth, be prepared to grieve lost connections.

 

A single mother with a 16-year-old daughter sought help in a support group:  “Can someone help me?  I need someone to call my sister or mother and tell them that I and [my daughter] are not criminals or sickos.  They’ve stopped calling, they refuse to have us over or visit for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I just want someone else to tell them that she’s fine now because she’s taking meds, and that her behavior is not her fault or my fault.”

 

Let go of those who blame, and move forward with your priorities.  Very often, they eventually turn around and make an effort to understand.  Many really do change and apologize for their insensitivity. I’ve experienced this and observed this, but it is not your job to make this happen.

 

Your criteria for friendship will change.  You will find out who your real friends are, and they may not be family members or current friends.  Real friends let you talk about feelings without judgment or advice, they are always around to listen, they help out with little things:  go out for coffee; call to check in on you; or watch your other kids in a crisis.  They may be people you never felt close to before but who have reached out to you with compassion.  Accept their help.  Don’t be too private or too proud to accept the offer of support.  Someday, after you have turned your family’s life around, find another family who needs your support.  Make a promise to help others in need, and to give back to the universe.

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You CAN get your power back and reduce your child’s backlash.

You CAN get your power back and reduce your child’s backlash.
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If you have lost control of your child or your household (like the rest of us!), you know how hard it is to get it back.  Each time you try to enforce a rule, it’s ignored or your child creates such a backlash that it feels pointless.  Who wants to invite more stress in their lives?  Who wouldn’t give up and just learn to get by and muddle through?

 

But you CAN face that backlash AND get your power back.  This seems counterintuitive, but the more your child fights back, the more you recover your authority, and the more you will be able to bring order in the home.  BRING IT ON.  Fighting back against new rules and boundaries is a normal psychological response that is called an “extinction burst.”  We all do this.  It has been measured through behavioral observations of people of all ages and has nothing to do with troubled behavior.  The term “extinction burst” is even used by dog trainers to describe a phase of training!

 

Psychological studies show that this negative and extreme response, or the extinction burst, peaks at the first few attempts to enforce a rule or set a boundary.  Then it falls off quickly.  If you can stick it out emotionally, you will see the backlash extremes decrease over time, and the episodes become fewer and farther between.  Little by little, simple rules will be followed, or they’ll be followed most of the time (you will always be tested).  But by this point, enforcement becomes easier.

 

For explosive and aggressive children, it can be scary or dangerous to be a on the receiving end because you know about the potential for violence and harm.  If you can plan for this ahead of time and recruit loyal help for the inevitable emergencies, and if you can stick it out emotionally, you will see the backlash extremes decrease over time, and the episodes become fewer and farther between.  It works, but one must be like a rock and have that support.

 

Run a tight ship at home, but only have a few hard-and-fast rules, maybe 2 or 3, as this is easier to enforce.  Pick the rules carefully because they need to make sense and feel fair to everyone, and they need to be about safety and family unity, examples:  we will eat every dinner together as a family; curfew is 8 pm; if there is any outburst, the person must stay in their room for one hour…  Rules should be few, fair, and strictly enforced.  The first two make the last one easier.

 

You may be surprised how relieved everyone will be after living through chaos for so long!  When I put on my armor and set about getting my power back, it was exhausting and stressful.  But I got more respect the more I was in control.  Consistent order brings a sense of security and safety, but use common sense and be flexible, set aside some rules temporarily if your child is in crisis or the family is too stressed at the moment.  Be very strict on only a few critical things, for example:  have zero tolerance for violence against others (and pets).

You are the king or queen of your home, it is not a democracy.  Make reasonable fair rules, enforce the rules with an iron hand at first, and then relax bit by bit, and live in a peaceable kingdom.

ALWAYS protect with respect and love
ALWAYS protect with respect and love

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Your troubled child’s “recovery”–how you help them achieve it

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What recovery looks like – A person with a mental or emotional disorder who is in “recovery” can look and act like anyone else.  At the least, they have stable relationships, a steady job, a place to live, a regular diet, cleanliness, and regular mental health check-ins.  Recovery is maintained when the person pays attention to themselves to notice if the symptoms are starting, and then takes action to stop the symptoms.

What your child will need to sustain recovery as an adult:

INSIGHT  +  STABILITY  +  RESILIENCE

INSIGHT– self awareness

Insight allows a child to recognize they have a problem, and choose to act to avoid the problem.  If insight is not possible, they need a toolbox of options that help them to respond appropriately, instead of reacting to chaotic messages in their brain. Knowing and admitting they have a problem, or knowing techniques for avoiding problems, are very powerful skills they need as adults.

STABILITY – fewer falls or softer falls

Your child is like a boat that’s easier to tip over than most other boats; any little wave will capsize them, and everyday life is full of waves, big and small.  Your job is to notice when the troubled child is starting to capsize and show them how to right the boat, or if that doesn’t work, how to use the lifesaver.  Eventually, your child will learn how to sense when trouble is coming on, avoid the thing that causes problems, and ask others for help.  Sense it.  Avoid it.  Ask for Help.

RESILIENCE – bounce back when they fall

Troubled children have a much harder time bouncing back from problems.  They have extreme responses to simple disappointments like breaking a toy, or poor grades, or something as serious as the parents’ divorce.  Some even fall apart in joyous times because the emotional energy is too much!  You must be acutely aware of this–they will not get back on track by themselves.  Don’t worry that helping them will spoil them or “enable” them.  Eventually they will learn from you how you do it.

“…We are all born with an innate capacity for resilience, by which we are able to develop social competence, problem-solving skills, a critical consciousness, autonomy, and a sense of purpose.”

     “Several research studies followed individuals over the course of a lifespan and consistently documented that between half and two-thirds of children growing up in families with mentally ill, alcoholic, abusive, or criminally involved parents, or in poverty-stricken or war-torn communities, do overcome the odds and turn a life trajectory of risk into one that manifests “resilience,” the term used to describe a set of qualities that foster a process of successful adaptation and transformation despite risk and adversity…”   http://www.athealth.com

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Filed under bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, mental illness, parenting, psychiatry, schizoaffective disorder, schizophrenia