Contact Us
Save this Marriage

Borderlines: How it Feels to be a COB, SOB or POB

Borderlines: How it Feels to be a COB, SOB or POB


For those who have never heard the term, it is difficult to describe Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in a few sentences—but we will make an attempt in this article. COBs (Children of Borderlines), SOBs (Spouses/Siblings of Borderlines) and POBs (Parents of Borderlines) have a very hard time living with BPDs, and we will try to give some pointers for those who are in this very difficult situation.

Suffice it to say that Borderlines are aggressive, envious, self-confident, narcissistic, demanding, temperamental and seductive. In order to be constantly at the center of everyone's attention, they take on a variety of roles, such as helpless victim, raging tyrant or saintly psychic. They are also pathological liars. Borderline children, even at the age of six or seven, will threaten to call the police with made-up stories of abuse in order to terrify their parents. Borderlines never see faults in themselves; their victims, who feel alone and despised, are always to blame.

Borderlines turn their homes into hot-beds of intrigue by turning family members against each other, excommunicating and exiling those who don't submit to their demands and training their "loyalists" to spy on or harm the target of their intense hatred. Suspicious and untrusting, they explode with accusations of betrayal and abandonment over the most innocent act, like hanging a towel in the wrong place or splashing a few drops of water on the floor after washing the hands. The degree of drama which they stir up keeps others in a state of constant anxiety, since it is impossible to know what will trigger the next violent blow-up.

In between these explosions, Borderlines can seem perfectly normal, gracious and loving. Victims feel confused, wondering how Borderlines can be so warm and devoted to those who worship them as paragons of perfection, while treating them with vicious scorn. Those who even hint at some wrongdoing on their part, including therapists or rabbis, are met with lies, denial or threats to destroy them professionally.

One Borderline bought a new set of expensive furniture, while her seventeen year old daughter went to school with holes in her shoes; for her there was no money. A neighbor, a single mother of four, lives in abject poverty and suffers from severe fibromyalgia, while her millionaire mother goes on expensive cruises and gives large donations to charities that honor her with fancy dinners. One subjugated and brow-beaten husband is ordered to do the laundry, the dishes and to take her parents shopping and to the doctor, while his parents who live only a block away are barred from entering their home and cannot even see their own grandchildren.

Borderlines hold a kind oft hypnotic sway over others. Family members are often unusually devoted, thinking about them 24/7. The consequences of not pleasing them can be enormous as they may prevent you from seeing your own children or grandchildren, may make sure that no employer will ever hire you, may bar you from attending family events or demonize you to such an extent that you begin to believe that you truly are evil or insane. Because Borderlines can be so generous and loving, family members are happy for the good times and pride themselves on bearing the bad ones by numbing themselves emotionally. But this numbness comes at a price; they become addicted to the adrenaline rush that accompanies a violent episode. It is similar to the scary "thrill" of being in a speeding race car or a roller coaster. Having lived with unpredictability and instability, victims do not know what it means to be tranquil, loved or stable. Being with nice, normal people seems boring. Tranquility feels somehow abnormal or phony.

Recovery from a toxic relationship requires learning three main skill:

1) Do not take responsibility for their moods: You might need to go to Al-Anon meetings in order to learn how to stop feeling guilty for their moods, addictions or explosions. To regain control over you, they will accuse you of abandonment and betrayal, tell you how lonely and depressed they are or threaten to harm you if you do not take care of them. Be compassionate but do not allow yourself to become enslaved.

2) Limit contact: Try to live far away. Limit phone calls and visits. Put down the phone when they are nasty. Give up trying to please, as this is not possible. Do not try to get through to them; they will insist that they have never been wrong. Keep things at a "Nosh" level—nice and shallow. Try to keep distant. Be vague with your answers and tell them how amazingly wonderful they are. Do not expect trust or predictability. This is a house of cards which will fall over at the slightest wind.

3) Make your own decisions: Avoid sharing all personal information, as they will find fault with every decision you make. Be proud of every act of independence and health. Think well of yourself! And learn to be happy with yourself and your life to whatever extent possible.

Dr. Miriam Adahan is a psychologist, therapist, prolific author and founder of EMETT (“Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah”)—a network of self-help groups dedicated to personal growth. Click here to visit her website.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Anonymous Bklyn March 9, 2015

re: Miriam Adahan I have no words to adequately express how useful and vital Dr. Adahan's articles are. I sent her articles to at least 20 people in the last few years, and all I got was huge thanks, with comments saying how enlightened people were from it. She totally goes all out to enable people to be more strong/sturdy in the area of Mental Health, through the Torah perspective. I can't say how important it is to explain to people about what Mental Health issues are, and what are Personality Disorders, etc. thankyou, EXCELLENT job. Reply

Miriam Adahan Jerusalem February 28, 2013

Thank you all for your comments I greatly appreciate the comments of those who cared enough to write. Mental illlness is a huge problem in our community, a reality which many would prefer to deny. It is categorically impossible to help a person who does not want help. But for those who want to become self-disciplined and self-aware, health is always possible. I went through a long journey myself to discover the true meaning of health. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn February 25, 2013

to those who know about borderlines, and those who don't I have a friend who confides often to me that she deeply wishes that Jewish communities would expose this horrific disorder of a mental illness. Too many naive, decent innocent people have been tortured by these emotional thieves, and yet close-knit Jewish communities have people who are borderlines, taking advantage of and emotionally torturing those who they can dig their mental claws into. It is time to tell people what borderlines are, and what is narcissistic personality disorder. People have suffered too long with this issue, it has many manifestations within our communities. It is long past time to educate people as to why certain things are happening to them and they do not know why it happens. Mental health comes in many forms. Obviously, this is one of the more insidious kinds of mental conditions. I agree with Dr. Amy Austin, and thank her for bring this out in the open, with her entire article Reply

Miiram Adahan Jerusalem May 3, 2012

CAN ONE HELP A BORDERLINE I'm so sorry for your pain! Support groups are definitely needed. True Borderlines are chronically angry, immature and extremely un-selfaware. They resist growth and blame others. So dragging them to therapy or trying to get through is useless. However, if the person has a mild case, then CBT is helpful. Reply

Michelle Watson Dodge City, KS May 2, 2012

Looking for help I am married to a man who is seemingly extremely BPD. We both see a therapist. He is aware of his condition, has also been diagnosed as Bi-polar, manic depressive, ADHD since he was a child, he is now 44. He is very open to learning all he can, however, I am trying to find some kind of support group as I live in a small community and there is no groups here. I feel that I really could use a connection with others that experience the same things I do and have good advice. Please respond if possible!! Reply

Anonymous Bklyn, New York September 7, 2011

no need no need for me to read them all. I just bless and thank anyone who tries to help educate the public to help understand Borderlines.
They come in varieties. Each has his/her own way of covering up what they are. Some are very tricky and you cannot tell easily, they are charming and wonderful. However, when you connect with them, such as marrying into their family, they become territorial and then they spend time setting up ways to humiliate you or dissapoint you.
May we be educated and help others be educated on this. Many people are not aware of it and are suffering, we have to help! Reply

Catherine E.S. Horn Jackson, MS/USA November 27, 2009

Borderlines: I won't give up even if you say to... I deeply resent this article. I am a very, very mild borderline. I have been married for 10 years, and happily. I have a son and I have a daughter who has come to live with my sister. I would have you note about my daughter that out of conscience I gave her up. Compare this please with her step mother who bit her and slapped her. Now, she lives with my sister.
. As well, I attend Abraham Lowe's Recovery every Thursday and will until I am in my grave. This is MY program for my distrder. Secondly, I will tell you that recently, I fell under the manipulation of a severe, almost sociopathic borderline who opened my eyes to the horrors of the borderline personality. I attend therapy every two weeks and I take lithium for mood swings.

The core personality still loves mom and dad. Oh, and yes, I still relate to family. I am less empty these days, and also....I sit up nights and formulate new slogans such as "respect don't project." I sit and think of ways to fix problems that I do have Reply

Anonymous seattle, wa July 1, 2009

Re: Yes, there is help I suffer from bpd and have been doing a type of therapy called `dialectical behavioral therapy' - or `dbt'. It is pretty new, but there are dbt therapists almost everywhere now. It is the ONLY therapy that has worked for me. It's actually more skills-based, and a bit based on Eastern Philosophies and Wisdom. It's not traditional therapy at all. It's very pro-active, and has changed my life and those around me. Do some research on it; it takes a while to start making changes, but when they start happening they are remarkable. Reply

Jahnavi college park, md May 26, 2009

cure?! I am so excited to hear all this stuff that puts into words all the confusing events and stories. Is there any hope of saving a marriage where one of the spouses is BPD? Can BPD be "fixed"?

Thanks! Reply

Ruth USA May 4, 2009

spousal BPD In reading this article, it has answered many questions about my spouse. How does one deal with a spouse who has controlled the family for 25 years? Because of this disorder it has caused the innocent spouse to make very bad financial and social decisions out of fear. The innocent spouse cannot have friends over or talk on the phone while the BPD spouse is at home. The smallest word, act, or incident can spark and outrage that can last for weeks. Yet at the same time, the BPD spouse is loving and caring of those outside of the family home. What can be done here to improve anything? Reply

Dr. Amy Austin La Quinta, CA/USA April 13, 2009

Cunning and baffling... Bobbi,
Since I am an addiction specialist, I used the terms from the Big Book. The addict is addicted to substances and other cross addictions. The BPD is addicted to chaos and for family members living in the muck, it then becomes a family disease causing much dis-ease and pain. All parts of the whole of the family system need recovery. The connection is like what Freud talks about, the id which I link to the addict self. It's the, "I want it and I want it now" syndrome. The superego or our sense of morality is telling us, "No, you can't have that now." (or never) The ego is our reality that links the two and helps us live in this world. Kind of like the Yetzer Hara and the Yetzer tov. Both the G-dly soul and the animal soul are doing their jobs and we are given free will to make hopefully healthy decisions. Freud did have Jewish grandparents after all! (:
Just put one foot in front of the other, go to meetings, 90 in 90, work steps, and get a sponsor. Many positives going your way. Reply

Bobbi Goldsboro, NC April 13, 2009

"Cunning & Baffling" Interesting terms to describe BPD. As a 54 day recovering alcoholic with BPD -- Talk about a freaking volcano! -- the terms cunning and baffling describe alcohol too in the Big Book by Bill W & Dr. Bob. Another word is "patient". In other words, just when one thinks they're alright it sneaks up and bites again. I absolutely have an addictive personality. Whatever it is, I get addicted (people, pets, working out, cooking, etc). Wonder the connection? Reply

Dr. Amy Austin La Quinta, CA/USA April 13, 2009

To those interested in BPD information... I am currently re-reading a book called, "Borderline Personality Disorder- The Latest Assessment and Treatment Strategies" by Melanie A. Dean Ph.D. This is an easy read book and what is of major interest is that it gives specifics of mild to severe BPD, inpatient criteria for BPD, as well as outpatient characteristics. Since the BPD is so "cunning and baffling" i.e. manipulative, it can be extremely difficult to diagnose for someone who is untrained. I totally agree with Dr. Adahan in that the BPD individual is the perpetual victim and cannot seem to empathize or sympathize. They demand non-stop attention and have learned how to gain this attention through utter chaos. Since they cannot make amends or rarely do, the victims of BPD must read and research and go to any healthy length for self-care. The milder form of BPD (outpatient) can make family members crazy in attempting to figure out what is consistently wrong with them. That in itself, is a big clue to determining the dysfunction Reply

Miriam Adahan Chicago, Il April 12, 2009

TO SOB Dear SOB; my heart goes out to you. I am currently working with three men whose wives are unpredictable, explosive, out of control and alienating the children. They've all been in intense therapy for years and paid a lot of money to be given "hope dope" . I wish more therapists would admit that not all people can be helped. People who refuse to take responsibility for their behavior and who blame others for all their pain are not going to improve. Change begins when a person begins to practice self-control. If they feel no shame, there is no change. Reply

Dr. Amy Austin La Quinta, CA/USA April 12, 2009

To SOB in limbo... First off, I am so sorry for your loss and especially the pain your children are in and, if I am reading correctly, that you haven't had any or much contact with them. There are key words you are using here that might alert a well trained therapst. First off, there are therapists out there who might think they are adequately trained, but are not. I will take a leap and say that I hope and pray most of us are ethical and professional, although, there are some that are not. You say you went to intensive counseling and therapists (plural) and no one had a clue? Could you verbalize and be specific to them of what "abused" looked like? Was it verbal? Ok, what was said? Was it physical? How and what occurred? How long did you see each therapist? Did you tell the last therapist you saw how many therapists you both saw and for how long? What I am getting at is specifics here and someone has to get it.
If the kids aren't safe, it might be time for a legal consultation.
I am wishing you well. Reply

SOB in limbo PA April 12, 2009

Trained therapist will see through the lies Any ethical and professionally trained therapist who works with BPD sees through the lies, manipulations, angry outbursts, value and de-value, loving an hating, etc. and treats the family system accordingly" Quote from Amy.
I only wish you were right. And maybe you are, but which therapist has a shingle hanging out stating "I AM NOT ETHICAL" or "I AM NOT PROFESSIONALLY TRAINED." i went to many years of intensive counseling& my wife managed to malign me & convince therapists & me that I was the problem, I just needed to try harder, be perfect, stop needing silly things like a kind word or somehow to stop fighting in front of kids. No matter what, I was wrong & she was honest, suffering &abused. Finally she left me and is currently telling all of our children, who are in great pain, that she can not go back "yet" since she can;'t go back to an abusive relationship. Of course, she would go if only I would "fix:" myself but she will not say how and won't talk for 6 mos. Nobody got it Reply

Renee Dallas, Texas April 6, 2009

BPD Ex Wife My husband's ex wife converted to Judaism after they divorced and had the young children converted as well, never asking him what he might feel about this. We now see that she uses her new faith to further distance the father from the children. Lately we have had to have conversations with them about not judging other's beliefs just because they're not Jewish. We try to honor ALL faiths but are at a loss sometimes as how to respond to the ex-wife's insistence that her time with the children is more valuable because she is in charge of their religious upbringing and somehow the father is now inferior. Reply

Bobbi goldsboro, nc April 1, 2009

BPD Teleconference 2 Apr Reply

Raizy March 30, 2009

Dr. Adahan I applaud you for discussing this topic. I am a child of a bpd mother.I have spent years, researching and trying to understand the chaos and destruction around me. While my mother parades as a very "special person" who is honored publicly. I have found that reading, Understanding the Borderline Mother by Lawson, to be priceless information, as well as, Walking on Eggshells by Randy Kreger. This is obviously a hot topic, with lots of opinions on both sides...but borderlines consistently (and if you understand how they work they are consistent) draw strong for or against responses by people. So I'm not surprised to see the strong feelings and range of responses to the article. The main thing is that the topic is being examined....and our hope is that it be understood. Most important of all that it be prevented....from being passed down to the next generation. Reply

Dr. Amy Austin La Quinta, CA/USA March 29, 2009

Borderline children... To Aliza,

I caution all therapists to do a thorough biopsychosocial assessment of any child with any typle of mental, emotional, disruptive, anxious, potential ADHD, etc. problems. Or, to refer to a qualified clincian who specializes in the treatment of children.
I hesitate to diagnose a child with BPD as personality disorders are usually diagnosed at around the age of 18 and after. I have, on a few occasions, have seen BPD traits in a few teens around 16. I am also keen to assess the parents of these 'identified patients" because I do know that if there is chaos in the home, kids wear the anxiety like a suit of clothes.
And, I am very careful not to label clients and to have them not label themselves. The same applies with addict clients and their families. As Eckart Tolle says, "There are no broken people, just broken behaviors."
There is help, hope, and lots of T'shuvah for people with BPD and their families, diagnosis or not.
Kol tov,
Dr. Amy Austin Psy.D., LMFT Reply

Feeling lonely in your marriage? Constant fighting, arguing and bickering? Money problems keeping your apart? Or is jealousy ruining your intimacy?

Even the best of marriages experience times of trial, while some marriages seem doomed to constant ugly conflict.

With a roster of rotating marital therapists, this blog will help you gain the communication tools and relationship consciousness to successfully find and build committed, loving and connected relationships.

Submit your marital question to our panel of experts by clicking here.

Miriam AdahanDr. Miriam Adahan is a psychologist, therapist, prolific author and founder of EMETT ("Emotional Maturity Established Through Torah") ­- a network of self-help groups dedicated to personal growth. She lives in Jerusalem, and has recently written on the struggles of life in the terror-beset land. Click here to visit her website.
Related Topics