The Relationship Between Middle Child Syndrome and BPD


I am a middle child.  I am two years and one month younger than my brother.  I am one month shy of being five years older than my sister.  The experts argue back and forth as to whether or not birth order affects personality and future behavior.  I think it absolutely does.  I feel how I was treated as a middle child directly contributed to my having borderline personality disorder.  I have to tell myself I was treated the way I was because I was a middle child.  Otherwise that confirms my deepest fear of being a total piece of shit and completely unlovable.

Wikipedia states that having middle child syndrome is akin to having an identity crisis.  It “…commonly affects children who were born with an equivalent number of older and younger siblings.  Middle children are often ignored by their parents who give more attention to their older and younger siblings.  They are often compared to or chastised for not being like their elder siblings, or for not being a better example for their younger siblings.  These factors usually create feelings of neglect, loneliness, and unimportance.”

Wow.  So, middle children that don’t have parents who know how to properly juggle multiple children end up being ignored.  It seems when they do receive attention, it is to point out how they are not as good as their older or younger sibling.  Feelings of neglect, loneliness, and unimportance?  That sounds like a recipe for BPD to me!

There is a really great article I found on some parent site.  I really just wanted to cut and paste the entire thing, but I suppose I will have to settle for including the link here, instead.  This article starts by jumping right in and stating that being the middle child could very well affect one’s personality, as birth order has been known to play a major role in the personality traits and other characteristics that children develop.  This article goes on to say that the middle child tends to feel like they don’t belong, and struggle to find their place, both in their family, and in the world at large.  The older and younger child most usually receive the most attention, so the middle child feels unwanted and not as important as the others.  They begin to feel inferior to others, and believe that their thoughts, opinions, and contributions do not hold much weight.  These feelings of worthlessness and inferiority can obviously lead to depression, among other things.  Something else this article mentioned that hadn’t before occurred to me was that middle children tend to be more withdrawn in social situations.  They prefer to spend time with themselves – as they have grown accustomed to doing this in a family where they feel ignored – and often don’t know how to properly interact with others due to their loner-like behavior and extreme shyness.

Now, of course, not everyone is the same.  Not everyone who experiences the constant downfalls of being a middle child will develop borderline personality disorder.  Not everyone who is a middle child will even have any kinds of these severe emotional problems.  It’s hard for me to imagine, but I’m told there really are parents out there who love and care for their children.  Even their children who were born smack dab in the middle.  Some parents are actually capable of treating each of their children the same.  Well, not the SAME, but with the same amount of love, attention, and respect as they give their other children.

Many sufferers of BPD experience sad, lonely, unhealthy childhoods.  Some common denominators are usually repeated abuse (be it emotional, physical, or sexual), inconsistent and unsupportive care, early separation from one or both parents, familial neglect, and having caregivers who invalidate thoughts and emotions.  People with borderline personality disorder are conditioned to care for and comfort themselves.  They learn to keep their real thoughts and feelings hidden and instead become a chameleon, adapting to whatever situation they happen to find themselves in.  They struggle with feelings of self-loathing, inferiority, and low self-worth.

I can see a lot of connections between being a middle child – or, more specifically, having middle child syndrome – and having borderline personality disorder.  In both cases, the person feels less than.  In both cases, the person has to learn to adapt to abandonment or neglect.  Both feel ignored and invalidated.  Both long for love and attention while simultaneously struggling with trust issues.  Both learn to keep their true thoughts and feelings hidden because they know their emotions are either ignored or flat-out unwanted by their supposed loved ones.

I know that the causes of borderline personality disorder are debated, and it’s very likely that there is more than one cause, but I firmly believe that having a childhood like one described above immensely increases one’s chance of having this disorder.  Whenever a child is neglected, unloved, abused in any way, invalidated, criticized and put down on a regular basis, they run the risk of becoming an unhealthy adult with emotional issues.  I haven’t been able to find much online about the relationship between being a middle child and having BPD, but I wonder what percentage of BPD sufferers were middle children?  I wonder if any studies have been done to test this?  Again, I wasn’t able to locate much on the internet about this topic, so my guess is that no major studies have been done.  Definitely an interesting thought for the future, though.

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Categories: Borderline Personality Disorder, BPD, Children, Life, Mental Illness, Parenting, Relationships, Thoughts | Tags: , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “The Relationship Between Middle Child Syndrome and BPD

  1. I don’t know how much weight there is to your theory. However, I am the eldest child and I have a younger sister. We both experienced the same trauma, however, it is how we were treated individually that has contributed to me having BPD. Our mother was/is very highly critical of me, my sister is the golden child. Our dynamic is one where I do not exist, and haven’t for many number of years.

    ” but I firmly believe that having a childhood like one described above immensely increases one’s chance of having this disorder. Whenever a child is neglected, unloved, abused in any way, invalidated, criticized and put down on a regular basis, they run the risk of becoming an unhealthy adult with emotional issues. ”

    The above quote from your post, is what my life was/is. I say was because I am predominantly away from my family.

    • I didn’t mean to imply that only middle children can be mistreated. What is it about my theory that you aren’t so sure about? I’m not a scholar or anything, those were just my thoughts, but I would like to hear yours. It could just be that I’m reaching for a theory that isn’t really there. LOL It just made sense to me, so I started thinking about it.

      I’m sorry that you went through what you did. A lot of times there is a lot of pressure on the eldest child. They carry a lot on their shoulders. And the youngest is oftentimes just what you said, “a golden child”. The parent can be very critical with the eldest child. They are expected to fulfill all the parents’ hopes and dreams. I’m sure it can be very stressful. My brother locked himself in his room for most of my childhood. I barely knew/know him.

      Thanks for reading, and thanks for your comment. I hope you’re doing well, and I would look forward to any other thoughts you have on this topic. 🙂

      • I hear everything you all are saying here, but I just want to jump in here for a sec to defend “the youngest.” I know that, for a lot of elders it is tough and I know it was tough for my brother, too, but the elder has a way of making the younger pay, too! Any time Kenny wanted something, he made ME ask for it so I was the one who had to approach, chimp-like, eyes down, hand extended…”Please, Father…can we eat now?” when he was drunk and passed out.

        Then, with us in school, Kenny’s “C’s” were celebrated while my “B’s” were scolded.

        Of course, my experience may not be applicable. Kenny died and was enshrined. From then on, it was me competing with a STUNNING memory of a ghost that could do no wrong. Make no mistake: I loved Kenny, but he was NOT a nice person. I don’t blame him for that. he died when he was 21. he never had a chance to BECOME nice. His life was fucked up, too.

        Then, and this is a DOOZY: my mother recently said to me, “YOU were the one I had hope for!” Sorry to be a disappointment, Ma!

        All I am saying is that being the youngest isn’t always a cake-walk.

      • I think if our father hadn’t died, maybe she wouldn’t have been so critical. Hard to say.

        I’m sorry if I came off harsh, that was not what I intended at all. *hugs*.

      • Sorry it took me so long to reply. No worries. Crazy Jay kept telling me that you weren’t meaning anything by it. I can’t help my crazy head thinking everyone is attacking me. LOL 🙂

  2. Huh! I wonder what happened to me? There was just me and Kenny. Wait…does the Monkey count?

  3. I’m a middle child, but am a girl between two boys which somewhat screws with any birth orders theories.

    Your bit about middle children being socially withdrawn and preferring to spend time alone is really interesting, and something I haven’t read either. Since I grew up playing with boys, I turned out to be a huge tomboy. So outside my family unit, I felt (and feel) very disconnected from other people.

    • Yeah, I really don’t know that much about birth order. I was just reading something a while ago about middle children, and I know a lot of what I felt as a children because I was in the middle is still what I feel as a BPD adult. I know everything doesn’t apply to everyone. It absolutely sucks feeling disconnected from people, though. Thanks for your comment. 🙂

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  5. I’m the oldest child in my bunch and as far as I know, my sister doesn’t have BPD …but I do, obviously lol. I really related to keeping my true thoughts hidden and becoming a chameleon. I have aaaalways done that. This blog of mine is the very first time I’ve let anyone besides a couple close friends know the junk that went on with me and a lot of people are shocked. I didn’t realize keeping feelings hidden was a symptom of BPD. Makes sense though cuz it’s something I have always been guilty of for sure

    • Yeah, once you get used to hiding feelings and keeping it all inside, its really hard to change that. Thanks for your comments. I hope you’re doing well! 🙂

  6. Nadine K

    I love this article. Thank you for the info. I’ve been looking up things about middle kids, and adults. I’m 40 now and have been feeling lost lately and wondering why the heck my sisters and I are so different. They are super alike. I am the total opposite. Sounds many answers. Thank you.

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