This graphic I made shows that BPD and NPD are really the same disorder.    Both have their roots in childhood trauma and fear of abandonment, even though the symptoms may not be evident until later childhood or adolescence.    The primary difference is the outer layer–the narcissist develops a nearly impermeable and rigid false self or mask (usually of grandiosity, but sometimes can present as do-gooder or even a victim). This mask remains stable unless narcissistic supply is removed, which causes it to atrophy, revealing the rage, fear, and hurt beneath that.

The borderline develops a highly permeable, chameleon-like outer layer.  In the diagram, it looks like a flower.   This outer layer of “petals” is analogous to the false self, but is not rigid and not even always present. It is easily penetrated and does not require narcissistic fuel from others to keep it intact.   It changes and morphs its shape and form like a Lava lamp.   Since it’s so easily broken through and is so changeable, Borderlines seem to be “crazier” and seem to have more intense mood swings than narcissists.  They are also skilled in adapting to different situations and people in a chameleon-like way: this usually manifests as codependency.  Sometimes they don’t seem to have minds of their own and take on the behaviors and belief systems of whoever they happen to be with.   Borderlines seem more emotionally unstable than narcissists because the second layer of rage/hurt/fear is often on the surface, causing the Borderline to act out in frequent rages, panic attacks or crying jags.

Beneath these outer layers, NPD and BPD have the same structure:   a layer of rage, hurt and fear when they are triggered, hiding the emptiness and grief under that (which is what both–especially the NPD–are so afraid of confronting and take such desperate measures to avoid feeling).  When this part of the personality structure is finally reached, the NPD/BPD feels as if they don’t exist and that is excruciating for them.   NPDs in therapy may quit at this point.   Hidden deep within the “emptiness” (which really isn’t empty at all) is the diminished and damaged true self (inner child).

The goal in therapy is to break through all those outer layers and finally reach the true self, then give him or her the nurturing and validation they should have received in the hopes that he or she can become a whole person.   It can take a very long time for this to happen, if it ever happens at all.

Borderlines, although they might seem crazier than narcissists, are more easily cured because the permeable chameleon-like outer layer is so much more easily broken through.   In contrast, the NPD false self can take months or years to even crack.   It’s a thick and stable structure, not given to weakening easily, but even the strongest concrete building has hairline cracks somewhere in its structure.   A tornado can reduce the strongest building to rubble.

The key to breaking a narcissist is to find those cracks and weaken the false self. This is usually done by removing narcissistic supply, which serves as a psychological tornado to the narcissistic defensive structure. Sometimes this has already happened; and in this more vulnerable state, with the false self temporarily disabled, a narcissist is more likely to enter therapy.   Unfortunately the narcissistic defense mechanism is so ingrained they will soon find a way to get supply again and rebuild the false self.   The therapist must work to permanently disable it but the narcissist must also be willing for this to happen.

In a low spectrum narcissist, the false self may be rather weak or thin to begin with, and for them, a cure may be more likely or happen sooner.  In low spectrum narcissists, the false self is more like a  cheaply constructed trailer than a stone castle.  It will only take a weak tornado to smash it to smithereens.

When an NPD’s mask begins to fall away, they will begin to act a lot more like a Borderline–raging, dissociating, experiencing crying jags, and showing their underlying inability to regulate overwhelming emotions.   At this point the treatment for NPD should be much the same as for BPD–empathically penetrating the “void” to reach and begin to nurture the diminished real self.

How a child develops BPD or NPD.

These disorders begin when a young child or toddler is hurt or rejected by their parents, especially the mother.  This hurt may not even be intentional–sometimes the illness, death, or absence of a non-disordered parent can set things into motion, because the child can’t discern the difference between deliberate abuse or neglect and something that cannot be helped.  Many, if not most, children who live in orphanages or are moved from foster home to foster home develop some form of Cluster B disorder.

Because a toddler or very young child has not yet completely separated their sense of self from their parents’, when they don’t receive the mirroring and unconditional acceptance they need, they feel as if they’ve been annihilated, and that feeling of annihilation becomes the black void that now surrounds the hurt or abused child.

But because the void is too painful and frightening to cope with, something else must cover that over too, and also protect and hide the inner child.  So the defensive emotions (anger, paranoia, fear, and rage) develop over the void because even though they feel unpleasant, they’re still better than the horrible feeling of having been annihilated, and they also protect the inner child from ever being hurt again.

And over that, for a narcissist, to attract people who could provide the attention and validation they never got as children, they develop a fake self, which is usually “nice” but is only a mask so it isn’t real.  If they feel that the mask is under threat of exposure, they fight tooth and nail to retain the image they want the world to see.

For the borderline, instead of developing a false self to cover the rage and other defensive emotions, they learn to adapt depending on the situation or the people, and that is why they so often become codependent.   Also, because they are closer to the void than the narcissist is, they tend to have dissociative episodes and may engage in self destructive actions like cutting to make them feel like they exist. Or they may engage in other risky behaviors or taking drugs or drinking too much in an effort to self-medicate.


DISCLAIMER: I am not a mental health professional, but I’m well-read on these disorders and these are from my observations and opinions.

26 thoughts on “BPD vs. NPD

  1. Awesome post. Awesome descriptive illustration.

    Both my mother and sister are do-gooders. They volunteer ONLY on things or for people that don’t ask for their hands to get dirty. It’s also very important to them that everyone understands they volunteer and this is WHO THEY ARE, that you must add their being a good person as a descriptor of them as much as their hair colour. They’re committed to controlling the image. I happen to know they have no compassion for anyone or anything. Needs in others are something they observe coolly, not feel.

    Your view of BPD and NPD as variants of the same thing is a compelling one. Do you view psychopathy in a completely different category or also as another variant of BPD and NPD? And what are your thoughts on those with NPD who they and everyone around them say never experienced a trauma but, in fact, enjoyed their childhoods as much as most people and were favoured as children? Is this where the different sub-types of NPD come into play?

    Like I said, this is very interesting and I’m not challenging, only merely picking your brain on this subject. I know answering all of it might take too long but hopefully there’s something there you might want a small discussion on.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have also known narcs who act the do-gooder part, always requiring everyone to tell them how wonderful they are for all the great things they do. Victim type narcs get supply from getting sympathy. Both the do-gooder and the victim types of Ns are usually covert narcissists and probably more common in females. I think males tend to be more the grandiose type though not always. They are more obvious though.

      Psychopathy is something different. Psychopathy is a lacking in the amygdala of the brain and is usually inborn, not caused by abuse or neglect. You can be a narc (or even a borderline) and a sociopath, but a sociopath isn’t the same thing as a psychopath. Antisocial personality disorder is thought by some to be psychopathy, but I’m not sure. It might just be sociopathy, which is acquired. I don’t know a lot about the structure of ASPD or what it would look like.
      I like discussions like these. They appeal to my inner geek.

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      • My mother, definitely covert. My sister is the rare female grandiose type with an odd masculine spirit to it where her ego pushes and pushes like a bully, very active and dominating as a right that assumes everyone will agree with it (or else!).

        I do see some narcs as a variant of psychopathy. I do see that some narcissists DO have feelings and a weak suppressed conscience, though. I see psychopaths as being born that way and sociopaths as those who’ve degraded their conscience so they can participate in revenge for hurts and perceived hurts with self-impunity. I’m still exploring, and I’m very open and interested to what your longer research has given you.

        All-in-all, these are societal terms for what I see the Bible describing. The words and wisdom in the Bible has always come out golden to me so I am keen as using it as my filter for this. In it it speaks of those who are born lying from the womb and remain wicked their whole lives (psychopaths), those so consumed with pride that they consciously agree to be in a life against God in order to maintain their grandiose facade (narcissists), and those who are so hell-bent on revenge for past hurts and all new ones that they spiritually weaken their conscience with a layer of scarring (sociopaths).

        So, my area of interest is learning all what the Bible has to say about those who have comfort in exercising evil and harming others and matching that with how the world of psychology describes them. I do see how you’ve associated BPD with NPD, and like the idea of permeability with the outer shell with BPD as they are truly the more sympathetic of the two in view of how painfully they suffer with the condition.

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        • The Bible is full of excellent examples of narcissism, psychopathy and sociopathy, and I think those Biblical descriptions are spot on, the way you’ve translated them to societal terms. Maybe you can write an article about this! The Bible also tells the story of Paul, a malignant narcissist and sociopath who was changed by God into a good man. I think if someone THAT malignant can ever get well, it would have to be a deliberate act of God. God had a special purpose for Saul/Paul but had to remove most of his narcissism first (I do think Paul retained a little of the arrogant attitude of a narc, but probably not enough to qualify as a narcissist anymore–the arrogance might have just been his natural temperament).

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          • did Queen Jezebel have BPD? i ask this because i have seen Christians write about a Jezebel spirit and many of the traits seem like BPD to me. as a diagnosed Borderline, when i was at my most unwell, i was often accused of having this spirit by other christians?

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  2. I forgot to mention that I also would try to describe the “black ball” that was inside me that I see pictured in your illustration. But that was going to be a post of mine as, once upon describing it, something significant occurred. I guess I should go write that now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Please write a post about it. I’d love to read it. By the black ball, do you mean the void surrounding the inner child? I think C-PTSDs have some of this structure too, and it doesn’t differ a lot from BPD, except that it’s less ingrained in the personality. I’ve written about that too.

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      • It’s more a black ball surrounding the inner child, so solid, so thick and obtrusive, that it sends the inner child into a panic of being annihilated by it. It’s ignored for the most part as the feeling associated with it are so chaotic that they’re undefinable, and so panicky and fearful that they don’t lend themselves to self-regulation. Wow, I’m a mess AND I just became my own armchair psychologist!

        Anyway, you’ll see that I’ll write coolly about what it is but NOT about exploring what it actually is in its very nature. I tried that once but it didn’t go well, as you’ll read. lol

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, exactly! I think what happens is this. The little child is hurt or rejected, and because they have not yet completely separated their sense of self from their parents’, they feel as if they’ve been annihilated, and that feeling of annihilation becomes the black ball or void that surrounds the hurt child.

          Because the void is too painful and frightening, something must cover that over too, but the inner child must remain protected and out of view so as never to be hurt again. So the defensive emotions (anger, paranoia, fear, and rage) develop over the ball/void because even though they feel unpleasant, they’re better than confronting the ball/void.

          And over that, to attract people who could provide the attention and validation they never got, they develop the false self, which is usually “nice” but is only a mask so it isn’t real.

          I think I’ll add these thoughts to my post.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow, this is such a wise observation. Professionals do not own the market on insight. If i hear this correctly than BPD and NPD are on a continuum which makes sense as I think about it. I wonder if it is humility that makes people open to change. I wonder too if in both professionals and lay persons in this field if it isn’t humility that helps open our minds to new insights? Spiritually I understand that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.

    And about do gooder narcissists its a very easy thing to deceive themselves and ourselves about. I heard Trump say that if he became president God would let him into heaven. So is it American’s responsibility to elect him so he can go to heaven while he destroys the country? Perhaps that is what their do good stuff is about, they do good, but don’t admit that just like everyone in the human race we are prone to self deception about how good we are. No one’s goodness earns points with God, if that worked their would be no need of the gospel. God making a way to restoration outside of mankind’s earning it was the point of HIs intervention in history. He helped those that couldn’t help themselves. This is where narcs resist the grace of God because they are arrogant enough to believe they deserve it. Their victims can believe that too, pride that makes a heart hard and resistant

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    • I think humility is definitely required to overcome any of these disorders, much like the way addicts and alcoholics must humble themselves in programs like AA before the steps can work. Most narcs resist that grace becasue they think they’re above it all and do not want to humble themselves. Many are religious, but to them, religion is used as a power tool to shame and blame others while they can blame “God” for the judgment instead of themselves. They don’t care a whit about spirituality for itself.

      As for Trump, my God, what he said–that is deluded beyond belief. I think I know where he’ll wind up, and it isn’t heaven. 😉 I see him as way too high on the N spectrum to be able to change because to change would reqiuire him to become humble. I’ve seen it happen, but not with narcs as malignant as he is. The man is not only N, he is a sociopath too.

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      • Their relationship with God is really strange. I know God sees the heart and is merciful. Yet I remember as my mother’s narcissism increased when God didn’t answer prayers the way she demanded them to be answered she say out lout to God “why are you so bad to me” She had a life packed full or all sorts of blessings particularly material. She had no fiscal worries at all, no food needs, lived in massive house all paid for, on millionaire row and had maids take care of everything and she accuses God of being bad to her. I was amazed at the accusation. God existed to serve her whims it scared me to watch the level of irreverence. religion and narcissism have a long sordid history.

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        • God is treated by them like a big Santa in the sky (interesting how close Santa is to Satan) who fulfills their every material need. That’s what Calvinism is based on, a big skydaddy who showers his golden children with gifts and riches. If you’re poor, it’s because of some moral failing and God has not chosen you. You are God’s scapegoated child. But Jesus loved the poor and humble people, the underdogs of life, not the “winners.” The Bible says, “blessed are the poor and meek.” Jesus showed us how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer. That doesn’tmean we can’t ask God for what we need, but when I pray I always pray for qualities like more faith, treating people better, and just the things I need, not the things I want but don’t need. I always ask him to guide me and show me how I can better serve him, and if your faith is strong, you will know that however God has chosen to use you, will be what will make you happiest anyway. We don’t always know what’s best for us, God knows, I sure don’t with some of the crazy choices I’ve made! But when I trust God to show me the way, he always does and it’s always something much better than I could have done on my own.

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          • This is beautiful and I say Amen to it… Some of the best answers to prayers I made in the past were a resounding no… Yes, His will is much better than our own but sometimes we don’t know that and walk by faith in a path we wouldn’t have chosen.

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            • The trick is to not let your own ego get in the way of what God is telling you, and unfortunately I still do that a lot, and do what I want to do to fulfill my own desires or ego, but i always regret it later. That’s why we need to learn to trust God, because happiness only comes from being of service to him. I’m slowly learning that, but sometimes it’s so hard.

              I’m writing a post later about ego and how it gets in the way of God’s best plans for us.

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  4. Yeah. All Cluster Bs kind of bleed into each other. However, a big difference between BPD and the others is that Borderlines are emotional. How do you guys protect yourselves from all that pain? Histrionics’ emotions are superficial and short-lived. Narcissists keep their true selves well protected and ASPD (psychopaths) use detachment. I can see why it’s called “borderline,” closest to the surface within reach of therapy. I, personally, want to stay as far away as possible. See https://kiasherosjourney.wordpress.com/why-am-i-so-adverse-to-the-notion-of-healing/

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  5. Very interesting indeed, and I agree about the narc part, BPD I dont know very well, but I believe your observations. I shuddered at the memories that surfaced when I read this. My ex who is a narcissist, his false self was no cheap trailer, nor a castle of stone… it was more like… a completely impenetrable bunker of meter-thick steel walls fortified with locks made of iron and diamonds… I dont know if you have seen the Terminator movies, but he was (IS, but I say was, since he is “dead to me”) sort of like that “other Terminator” guy, the one whose liquid metal “skeleton” was shattered, but who just put himself back together again, and just kept on walking.. brrrr scary! 😨Thanks for writing this. 💙It once again reminds me why I can never go back…..

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    • He sounds very scary indeed and probably sociopathic. Some yes, are so far gone they seem to have no soul left at all and do seem like the Terminator. Unfortunaely, the stereotype has become that ALL of them are that way, and it’s not true. But some are.

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