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A borderline family?

The contemporary Western family has a multiplicity of voices and as a result its identity as a cultural life-form is changing. Familial structures now include single-parent families, unmarried parents with children, and gay marriages and couples, some with children. It may therefore be necessary to reconsider the sanctity of the traditional marriage as a cornerstone of social relationships and a hallmark of psychological health. It may well be that the postmodern marriage and family mirror their context. This mirroring manifests as the family adapts to the current changes by neutralising erstwhile internal power relationships, both between partners and multi-generational subsystems, redefining traditional gender roles, becoming more tolerant of individual differences and divergent behaviours and promoting self-sufficiency above the conservation of the group, thereby facilitating the potential to ‘cut’ familial relationships. In this the family becomes more fragmented, variable, unpredictable and inconsistent.

Could it be that such a postmodern understanding of a family fits better with our current reality because these apparent borderline manifestations are tolerated by a society in flux, while at the same time reflecting that society? As such, the borderline phenomenon can also be identified in family structures and probably other social constellations.


In conclusion it is our contention that in order to understand human behaviour it is necessary to place it within its milieu. In this article one instance of such a contextualisation in the postmodern era is described by identifying the themes of borderline-type fragmentation that reverberate from the individual through the family system.

In our opinion, viewing BPD as a mal du siècle facilitates the deconstruction and understanding of this complex construct. We hope that the description may sensitise mental health professionals to their/our own embeddedness in an era that requires complex rather than reductionistic descriptions. Hopefully this sensitivity and awareness will potentially broaden the mental health professionals’ repertoire of interventions when faced with the formidable task of entering the world and reality of either an individual or a family system that displays borderline-type fragmentation.


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