On November 22, 2014, I wrote an article about my daughter Molly (not her real name), who I suspected of having NPD due to having been used as a flying monkey by her father for many years. I prayed it was “just” BPD.
Last month she was evaluated and her Axis II diagnosis was Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). While BPD is a Cluster B disorder and shares a number of traits with narcissism, it’s more amenable to treatment because a Borderline does have a conscience and the ability to feel empathy–but their tendency to fly off the handle, their insecurity/neediness, and propensity to engage in self destructive activities that sometimes hurt others masks the fact they really aren’t bad people. My daughter actually has a huge heart and cries when she sees someone suffering or in pain, so it fits that NPD wasn’t her diagnosis. Still, I’m relieved she’s been officially cleared of it.
I was diagnosed with BPD myself in 1996. I have been hesitant to call attention to it on this blog or talk about it much, because of its close association with NPD and other “character disorders” like ASPD. At the time I was diagnosed I was in an inpatient psychiatric setting, where I was also diagnosed with Bipolar I (major depression with fewer or no manic episodes), generalized anxiety, PTSD, Avoidant PD (I didn’t know you could have two PD’s at once back then), and substance/alcohol abuse. At the time I was not diagnosed with Aspergers (that was much later, and I was self diagnosed at first).
I definitely had all the traits of a borderline, but in the hospital and in outpatient therapy following my stay, I learned ways to control my BPD traits, such as my tendency to fly off the handle easily, act impulsively without thinking how it would harm others, idealize/devalue people (black or white thinking), abuse drugs and alcohol, and generally coming off as being very self centered and oblivious to the needs of others.
For a time back in the early 1980s I even test drove narcissism, but as an essentially empathic person who suffers from a lot of guilt and shame, and has no desire to hurt others, narcissism didn’t work for me, and I am so grateful for that (even though I became a codependent doormat instead).
In therapy, I remember a method we were taught called “turtling”–which basically means to imagine yourself as a turtle when you feel yourself about to act/react in Borderline, impulsive, or self destructive ways. Turtling calls for enough insight to recognize your feelings prior to acting on them. You imagine going inside your shell to think about things before you act. I remember in the hospital we made “turtle” totems to keep as reminders to always think before we acted and ask ourselves why we felt the way we did. I still have the little clay turtle I made. I remember also being given a workbook for people with BPD with many helpful exercises and activities to help us recognize and control our behavior. It did help me a lot.
Today I don’t think I display many BPD traits, but I don’t think I’m cured either. When I’m very depressed, frightened or angry, those BPD traits pop back up like unwanted pimples. I still remember the lessons from my therapy and still look at my little turtle or a picture of a turtle to remind myself to go inside myself and not react until I think things through and process my feelings.
Because this is a blog for survivors of narcissistic abuse and many (if not most) survivors think of narcissists as demons or monsters, I was hesitant to talk about my BPD much, because it’s a Cluster B disorder and is so close to NPD in many ways. The disorders are easily confused with each other. A person with full blown BPD can seem very much like one with NPD, but for the Borderline, the motive behind their unpredictable and sometimes destructive behavior is fear of abandonment and insecurity. For the narc, it’s for obtaining supply. Some people seem to think of people with BPD as almost as bad as narcissists. Some of them are.
So that’s why I’ve been reluctant to talk about this. But again, from Day One I committed to honesty and I hope I won’t be judged too harshly for “coming out” as a person with BPD.
My daughter, I’m happy to say, knows almost as much about narcissism as I do now, and has been reading my blog. She came across the above article where I speculated she might have NPD and she was so worried about that it made her cry. We had a long discussion about that. Since then, she has been improving a lot and says my blog has helped HER! She says she’s proud of me for having the courage to start this blog. And I have to say, I’m just as proud of her. Here’s my article describing how healing and emotional that talk we had was. I think we will both be just fine.
My next article, which I will write later today, will be about how malignant narcissists can transform a good person into an evil one. They can infect you with their illness. That’s another reason why they’re so dangerous.