Q. My mom had a difficult childhood with a difficult mother (the woman that my mom is turning in to each and every day).  Her dad moved away to start a new family when my mom was 2 severing all ties to the family. In turn, my grandma sent my mom away to live with various relatives for sporadic amounts of time up until the age of 11. My mom says that there are big gaps of time in her childhood that she cannot remember. She remembers meeting her mother when she was 11 years old and was brought back to live with her and new stepdad, who proceeded to have three more girls. Guess what? My mom became their built-in babysitter. I am thinking this has to do with why my mom does not seem to “attach to people.” She seems to live in a state of every person for him or herself. Some days she is loving and wants us around and the next day she accuses us of mistreating her and of not meeting her needs and wants nothing to do with us. I swear that it’s like an 80-year-old acting like an angry 2-year-old. Crazy making! I could write pages about her behaviors that are driving all of us nuts trying to deal with her. What do you think is going on?

A. The behaviors you described sound like behaviors exhibited by an individual with Borderline Personality, a type of response that can develop when a child feels abandoned early in life. It is one of the most difficulty mental behavioral dysfunctions to correct and almost impossible to deal with unless the individual is willing to get help and work on growing up emotionally, and developing, implementing, and maintaining more functional behaviors.

Individuals may stop growing emotionally when they have a traumatic event—losing your father and your mother at the age of two can be very stressful for a child. If you mother is willing to go to a good counselor and deal with her childhood and the way in which they have impacted her adulthood behaviors, she could likely grow up emotionally and develop healthier and more functional behaviors, but she must want to do this and be willing to put in the work.

Remember the 20:80 Rule. Approximately 20% of any negative impact to your brain and body from a stressful situation is due to the event; 80% is due to the weight you give to the situation or event and your thoughts about it. Your mother may believe that her behaviors are acceptable and that it’s all the other people who have the problems. If that is the case, you can just love her and set your own personal boundaries to protect yourself from her dysfunctional behaviors. It may be necessary to get Meals on Wheels and a volunteer or paid person to take her to appointments. Take care of yourself. Sometimes the caregiver dies before the patient.