I Suspect My Mother Has a Personality Disorder

Reader’s Question

I have for some time suspected that my mother has a personality disorder. Her behavior over the years has established a pattern of being insensitive towards the feelings of others (including her children), an inability to admit her own flaws or failings (e.g., repeatedly saying “I never tell a lie,” in the face of being caught red-handed), and general irrationality and irritability. Her relationship with my father ended eight years ago, during which time I’ve seen her “find Jesus,” make impossible-to-prove claims (she is a ‘chosen one,’ and the recipient of miracles), and use her faith as a justification for cruel, inconsiderate, or irrational behavior. She is now dating again, and the lies she’s telling are getting out of control — not to mention that she’s more or less abandoned cleaning the house or taking proper care of my younger siblings.

I suppose I really have two questions here. One: I have only discovered the term “Dissocial Personality Disorder” recently, and I’m worried it might apply to her — but what I’ve found online suggests that treatment and intervention are futile. Is this true? Is there really nothing I can do to help her? And Two: what can I do to protect my own emotional state in dealing with my mother? I’ve recently moved back into the house for several weeks and I don’t know how to make her see that her behavior is destructive not only to herself but to her children.

Psychologist’s Reply

From your description, your mother has behaviors that are found in Personality Disorders (see my introduction to personality disorders). She also appears to have Dissocial (Antisocial) Personality Disorder and Histrionic Personality Disorder features. To answer your first question — severe Personality Disorders are very difficult to treat because they are:

  1. totally self-oriented,
  2. deny responsibility for their behavior,
  3. feel a great sense of entitlement,
  4. interact with others using manipulations, scams, lies, and hidden agendas, and
  5. are only uncomfortable when they don’t get their way.

Is there anything you can do as a daughter — probably not. Your mother would need to understand the maladaptive nature of her behavior and desire help…and that’s highly unlikely. In most situations, personality disorders typically view attempts at treatment as another opportunity for manipulation, lies, and obtaining their hidden agendas. For a PD, every intervention is approached with:

  1. How can I get out of this?
  2. How can I get these people off my back?
  3. How can I get something out of their attempt to help? or
  4. How can I act cooperative, then retaliate later?

For question two, you can protect yourself from your mother’s personality disorder. In fact, this is a very frequent question to the Ask the Psychologist feature. On the sidebar of the page, you’ll see a variety of topics. Select “personality disorder” and you’ll find many responses that offer strategies to deal with personality disorders when they are a parent, sibling, friend, or co-worker.

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In dealing with a Personality Disorder, you must often use the approach and strategy used by professionals working in prisons:

  1. Recognize that their behavior is unrelated to you or your relationship with them.
  2. Emotionally detach from them and provide them with very little personal information.
  3. Establish firm boundaries regarding what you will do for and with them.
  4. Using a “business only” approach, make them aware that you will not participate in any deceptions, lies, and/or manipulations involving others.
  5. Don’t expect any type of normal interaction from her — or a normal emotional reaction.

If you help with the laundry — you will be praised one day and cursed the next. The mood of a personality disorder is unrelated to the reality of their situation or the people around them. Their mood is related to their selfish goals — happy if they are being met, unhappy and angry if not.

I’d also recommend reading my article on Identifying Losers in Relationships on this website. It outlines the techniques Personality Disorders use to control, emotionally abuse, and con others.

You will have almost no luck making your mother see the consequences of her maladaptive behavior. You’re trying to make her a “Mom” (“Mum” in England) and she’s only interested in making her goals a reality. In discussions, you will be subjected to a “con” and verbal manipulation that will be designed to side-step your discussion. Her approach can contain guilt, promises, anger, resentment, and/or denial. No matter what response you receive — the next day she’ll be back to her baseline as if nothing ever happened. We can’t control or influence Personality Disorders, we can only protect ourselves and our loved ones from their control and influence.

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