I’t’s uncanny how often people with NPD and BPD seem to find each other. Every one of my boyfriends (except for one, who was severely bipolar) and my ex-husband were narcissists. I know a lot of other borderlines who say they have the same problem–they simply are not attracted to a man or woman who is not a narcissist. There are reasons why this happens.
Both BPD and NPD are included in the category of Cluster B personality disorders in the DSM-V (along with Histrionic and Antisocial personality disorders). Cluster B disorders are all characterized at their root by problems establishing an identity early in childhood and integrity of the Self which causes people with these disorders to act out toward themselves or others in destructive ways and to have problems either accessing or developing prosocial emotions like empathy. All are prone to lie excessively and manipulate others.
All Cluster B’s are easily offended and quick to anger, which can be expressed either covertly or overtly. Here’s a quick description of these personality disorders.
Antisocial personality disorder (ASPD or psychopathy) is the most likely to break the law and violate the rights of others (many are in prison), act impulsively, and have no empathy at all. People with ASPD who aren’t lawbreakers will be ruthless in business or their chosen profession, and feel no compunctions about hurting others to succeed and may even take pleasure from it.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is less likely to break the law (but this is not a given–some narcissists will break the law if they think they can get away with it) due to wanting to present a good image to others, but have little, if any, empathy, and act out toward others and manipulate them to protect the False Self they use in place of their true one which cannot be accessed. They act arrogant, entitled, paranoid and touchy. Think of the most spoiled or brattiest child you know. If you saw that same behavior in an adult, that’s what NPD looks like to others.
Histrionic personality disorder (usually found in women) is a somatic form of narcissism where there is obsession with physical appearance and emotions are expressed dramatically but the emotions themselves are shallow. Histrionics of both sexes are often sexually promiscuous.
Borderline Personality disorder is the most baffling of the four, because it’s a disorder of contradictions. BPD is characterized by black and white thinking, overpowering emotions, impulsivity, self-destructive behavior, and idealization/devaluation of others. People with this disorder oscillate rapidly between opposites–feeling love and hate for others, pushing others away and smothering them, and accepting or rejecting them. They do this because of their fear of abandonment. Unfortunately, borderlines in their desperate attempts to not be abandoned, cause others to abandon them, or are self sabotaging–they may reject others in order to avoid being rejected first. Borderlines, unlike the other Cluster B disorders, are able to feel empathy, but because they can get so overwhelmed by their fear of rejection and their overpowering emotions and drama, they can “forget” others exist. They can feel remorse and guilt when they realize they’ve behaved badly but it sometimes must be pointed out to them.
Borderlines are chameleons who don’t have a False Self per se, but instead adopt whatever “identity” will suit the moment and whatever person they are interacting with–to make the other person accept them. In some borderlines, this rapid switching from one persona to another can appear to others similar to DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder). Not only their behavior, but also their emotions (which they have trouble regulating or controlling), opinions, or even their appearance can change from one moment to the next. This differs from bipolar disorder, where dramatic mood changes oscillate much more slowly.
Of all the Cluster B disorders, people with BPD have a Self that is the most fragmented and least likely to have integrated into something called an identity (even a narc has a False Self so that’s a kind of identity). As a result BPD’s are the most prone to experience dissociative or even psychotic episodes, where the person loses touch with reality. Ironically, although Borderlines are “sicker” than narcissists, they are more likely to seek therapy (because their disorder is ego-dystonic and most are not happy with the way they behave and feel) and they are also more likely to be cured.
Because borderlines are chameleons,* they make perfect supply for a narcissist. They lack an identity of their own, so they “become” whatever others expect them to be. It’s not really a mask in the same sense as a narcissist, but they can wear a sort of temporary mask that can change from one moment to the next or disappear completely, leaving the borderline in a depressed or near-psychotic emotional state. A borderline can be whatever the narcissist wants them to be, and as a result are easily manipulated and can become very codependent.
Borderlines can be very manipulative themselves, but because their personality is less integrated and and the narcissist appears to have an integrated self (even though it’s a false one), they are no match for a narcissist. Unless the narcissist is very low on the spectrum (or is a covert and vulnerable one), they cannot be overpowered by a borderline and will always get their way over the borderline’s needs.
Borderlines (like narcissists) never felt loved or valued, but the borderline hasn’t shut out their need to be loved and craves it more than anything else. A narcissist (in the beginning of a relationship) can appear to be highly passionate and attentive, promising the borderline all the love he or she needs–and be convincing enough they capture the heart of a borderline, who thinks they’ve met the perfect mate.
Relationships between narcissists and borderlines may be stormy and “unhealthy,” but when they work, they work well, with the narcissist giving the borderline a kind of identity as a codependent to the narcissist, and the borderline giving the narcissist the supply they need.
I think there’s often a familial aspect too. Cluster B disorders tend to occur in families, in varying configurations. If one or more parents is a narcissist (or a borderline), they are far more likely to raise narcissistic or borderline children, because both disorders are due to abuse and Cluster B parents tend to put their own needs ahead of their children’s, even if (in the borderline) their selfishness isn’t intentional. Therefore, borderlines and narcissists who were raised in abusive families tend to be attracted to people who unconsciously remind them of other members of their families, especially the parents. This type of connection is called a trauma bond because the connection is due to shared trauma and a conscious or unconscious willingness to to be abused or to abuse a partner. A relationship between a borderline and a narcissist is not what anyone would call functional, and yet in a way it can work for both of them, if they don’t wind up killing each other first. Some of these trauma bonds are examples of Stockholm Syndrome, where the abused identifies with their abuser.
Going No Contact with a narcissist is the best gift an abused borderline can give herself (or himself), but separating may be especially hard for them and they are likely to be drawn to another narcissist, so they need to stay on guard and be especially vigilant of red flags.
* I think their ability to be emotional chameleons is the reason why the entertainment, film and television industries seem to have a plethora of actors who have BPD.