I recently received a private inquiry from someone who visited either Under Much Grace or Overcoming Botkin Syndrome, but when I tried to email a private response, I received a delivery failure notice. As it is always good to review some of this kind of info and in the hope that the person who made the inquiry will see this post, I offer it here on both websites.
The reader writes to ask what “Botkin Syndrome” is called when you pull the dynamics out of a Christian or religious context. The reader hopes to find as much information about the problem from a variety of perspectives, particularly secular ones, and Borderline Personality Disorder was specifically mentioned in the correspondence.
Here is my response:
About the Christian Perspective
In terms of Christianity, I think that the patterns of behavior recommended by the Botkin Family constitutes an idolatry of parents and family. (Please take note that this is not a mental health or medical“diagnosis”of any type but was a name that was applied to the followers of this ideology and was bestowed upon them by a group of homeschooling moms. Read more HERE about the origins of the “term”.)
The group of Christians that propagate the idea of the “Daughterhood Movement” within a Christian homeschooling sect described by what is referred to as “Biblical Patriarchy” sees family as somewhat salvific or an essential and critical element of the spiritual “salvation” process. The ideology draws from principles of adopting the submission doctrines that were made popular in the Shepherding Discipleship Movement, aberrant theology that resulted as a reaction to the Charismatic Renewal of the late '60s/early70s. (Read more about the history of the Shepherding Movement HERE and the theology of submission HERE.)
In terms of Christianity, another way of describing the belief system might include the pursuit of the virtues of family not by following the guiding of the Holy Spirit or the principles that are found in the two greatest commandments, but rather by a program which draws on the works of the flesh as Paul described them in the Book of Galatians. Elements of the process and the formulaic life prescribed by the group may have many Christian elements and often espouses aspects of Christian virtues, but those who pursue the endpoint of the system use dynamics and means are not expressly or necessarily Christian. It is a system of salvation by good works which is very similar to the system advanced by Bill Gothard's organization, widely discussed at the Recovering Grace website. A list of blog posts pertaining to Gothard's system on this site appear HERE.
The Secular Perspective
In terms of psychology, these patterns of behavior and the dynamics taught by the movement are entirely consistent with what is generally described as family dysfunction.
Murray Bowen, a psychiatrist in the '60s became the pioneer of family therapy, coining the terms of "triangulation" (ineffective and passive communication among three people instead of direct, assertive communication between two) and the "undifferentiated ego mass" (describing the natural state of children within families who are too young to have developed their own identity but a pathologic state when continued into adulthood). Both of these descriptors and key concepts of family dysfunction are well described by Bowen's original landmark work. Christian author David Stoop draws heavily on Murray Bowen's model in describing conflict within Christian families in his series of books on this subject.
In the '70s, Salvador Minuchin whose works popularized the term "enmeshment" wherein he further described and delineated the same types of dynamics within families that Bowen observed and taught within his model of family therapy. He described the loss of individuality and identity of family members within such families or with one or more members within the family system. Individuals are denied a healthy sense of autonomy and decision making because of the over involvement or one or more family members resulting in a functional handicap for that enmeshed individual. Affected family members fail to develop a clear, healthy, and functional sense of self. Personal boundaries become obscured or are non-existent between family members in enmeshed systems.
In the '80s when "Codependency" became a popular term, it went on to further describe enmeshment and the problems that result from the dysfunction – factors generally seen as the root problem noted in individuals who struggle with addiction, whether it be through compulsive behavior or substance abuse. Several authors in this genre used the terms "covert incest" and "emotional incest" to describe enmeshment that occurs between parent and child when a parent uses a child to meet their own needs that are only appropriately met by another adult. Children lack the sophistication, experience, and resources of adults needed to set limits on appropriate behavior, as they rely upon adults (particularly their primary parent) to teach them these skills and appropriate standards of conduct. The child is duty bound to please the parent and rely upon them for their survival and basic needs, so they have no ability to protest or question the adult's behavior. When a parent uses the child to draw from them to meet their own adult needs instead of supplying those things to the child, they draw the child into the world of adults and obligate that child to provide for their adult needs. The child ends up paying the price for the parent's deficits by feeling responsible and by becoming consumed with meeting the needs of the parent.
I've written about this on the Botkin Syndrome Blog HERE, and I would take note of the tag list there noting “authors” to get ideas about books that will help you understand these dynamics. I also wrote this long series on this effect on UnderMuchGrace.com earlier this year describing the ways this situation develops by using Pia Melody's work, though there are many other authors who write on this subject. I liked the way Pia broke down the problem into categories and focused on the neediness of the child. I also like her writing on Love Addiction and Love Avoidance which describes the pathology that enmeshment tends to produce in enmeshed adults and how it affects how those adults relate to the opposite sex. Love Addiction/Love Avoidance are a deeper set of problems and a subset of codependency, according to Pia Melody. Another author who writes extensively on this topic is John Bradshaw. Another book that I particularly like but have never discussed online is Hurt People Hurt People by Sandra Wilson.
Psychology and the addictions/recovery specialty describes the dynamics of “Botkin Syndrome” using many of these terms:
- Family Dysfunction
- Undifferentiated Ego Mass
- Toxic Shame
- Covert Incest
- Emotional Incest
- In some cases, Love Addiction and/or Love Avoidance also apply if the therapist accepts these models and opts to use them.
In terms of the DSM, the manual of criteria that is used for the diagnosis of mental health disorders, these conditions can foster the development of dependent and avoidant personality types. They could possibly promote the development of other types of personality disorders, obsessive-compulsive traits, some types of trauma, and addictive behavior as well. Skilled and credentialed mental health professionals must diagnose these types of problems through a detailed process of history and assessment, though the development of these kinds of conditions in individuals are often very complicated and don't usually boil down to a single or simple factor. As a registered nurse, I can assess traits that are reflective of certain traits and findings, and I can teach information about certain disorders, but I am not licensed to diagnose or treat any such conditions. If you have a loved one that suffers with problems that information on this blog describes, in addition to the resources listed here, I highly recommend private counseling with a licensed therapist. A therapist can help you work through your specific problems with your loved one by serving as a sounding board to help you broaden your perspective, helping you to develop effective coping strategies, and providing emotional support.
I cannot recommend Surviving the Borderline Parent (Roth, et. al.) and Understanding the Borderline Mother (Lawson) more highly, as well as a book called Trapped in the Mirror (Golomb). There are also many other newer books dealing with personality disorders, and I've written several blog posts about narcissism and personality disorders HERE.
BPDCentral.com also offers message boards and helpful information pages. I'm very grateful to author Randi Kreiger who hosts BPD Central for her help and assistance. In the past, she's privately provided occasional peer review on some related projects and writings that appear on this website. Randi authored several excellent books on the topic and focuses on effective communication.
The Overcoming Botkin Syndrome blog specifically explores aspects of enmeshment in general, the mission of that blog. Any info about narcissism also addresses the problems faced by the loved ones of those who suffer Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) which you expressed as a subject of interest. I recently came across this informative site, Light's House, that is loaded with easy to read, practical information. Even if you have a BP in your life who does not have a diagnosis with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), make sure to look over the narcissism pages at Light's House website as well. (About a third of people with BPD also meet criteria for an NPD diagnosis.)
Hope that helps!