Articles like this one make me want to rage. The author, Doug Bartholomew, a licensed social worker, believes that people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) are pretty much the same as people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). He even goes so far as to say BPD’s, along with NPDs, fit the criteria for M. Scott Peck’s “People of the Lie.”
Wait just one second. Peck’s People of the Lie don’t even include all narcissists–his definition describes those with Antisocial Personality Disorder and malignant narcissism (there’s a huge difference even between MN’s and garden variety narcissists–a malignant narcissist has ill will toward others and decided antisocial traits while a “benign” narcissist isn’t necessarily ill-intentioned but is just self centered and doesn’t care about your feelings). Peck never said all manipulative people (people with one of the four Cluster B personality disorders) were by nature evil, but evil people is what his book is about.
At the same time I understand where Bartholomew is coming from. On the surface, people with BPD can be manipulative and even resort to some of the same unpleasant tactics and mind-games (gaslighting, etc.) that narcissists like to play. They can appear to lack empathy, because they get so caught up in their own drama that they can literally forget that others exist. They can be demanding, high maintenance and prone to irrational rages (just like narcs) but are far more likely than narcs to turn their rage inward and become self-destructive or even suicidal.
Borderlines also usually regret their acting-out and selfish or manipulative behaviors when the crisis has passed or their bad behavior is called out to them. They may be self-centered and impulsive but are not lacking remorse or the ability to feel shame and guilt. The problem with Borderlines is they tend to act as they feel at the moment without thinking things through. They can get so caught up in their own fear of abandonment that they almost literally forget that you have feelings too. However, after the fact Borderlines usually will feel remorseful and ashamed of their behavior, and on top of that, realize that their offputting behavior may cause others to do what they fear the most–abandon them.
Bartholomew also states that all Cluster B disorders are characterized by a lack of empathy:
The overwhelmingly most commonly mentioned behavior or trait associated with all the Cluster B Personality Disorders is a lack of empathy or compassion. They seem unmoved by the effect their behavior has on their loved ones other than what is necessary to keep their loved ones engaged and around. It is as if they were tone deaf or color blind to the feelings and experiences of others.
While it’s true that people with NPD and ASPD are characterized by a lack of empathy, I disagree that this is true of people with BPD. I think this is a gross overgeneralization.
Borderlines can feel empathy, but due to their impulsiveness and fear of abandonment, they can act in selfish, defensive, and manipulative ways that may hurt others (but they hurt themselves even more so). However, unlike malignant narcissists and people with ASPD, Borderlines do not set out to hurt others and they do care how others feel. Unfortunately their good judgment is clouded by their disorder which makes it difficult or impossible for them to regulate their emotions. That’s why they act so impulsively and often fail to think things through before they act out. It’s also why their relationships tend to be stormy and short-lived.
A person with BPD does not wear a mask or have a “false self” like someone with NPD–but their fear of abandonment can cause them to knowingly or unknowingly push others away. Their ambivalence in relationships can be very confusing to others–they can seem to adore you one moment, and then hate you the next. They can seem needy and rejecting by turns. When others grow tired of this crazymaking and confusing “I hate you, don’t leave me” behavior and finally leave them, the Borderline genuinely doesn’t understand what they have done to drive the other person away, and so they become even more fearful of being abandoned. Their behavior is maladaptive because it tends to cause the very thing they are trying so desperately to avoid.
A much better description of the similarities and differences between Borderlines and Narcissists can be found in “Borderline vs. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: How Are They Different?” from the Clearview Women’s Center’s website.
While the two disorders, both being part of the Cluster B group of personality disorders, do have overlapping symptoms and are often confused with each other and/or misdiagnosed as the other disorder (with males being far more likely to be diagnosed with NPD and females with BPD), this author, unlike Bartholomew, understands that both the motives and mechanics of the disorders are quite distinct from each other:
[…]both BPD and NPD deal with conflict in a way that is unhealthy to themselves and those around them. It’s the expression of the anger that results from the conflict that is different.
In her article “Blame-Storms and Rage Attacks,” Randi Kreger, co-author of Walking on Eggshells, points out the difference in how those with BPD and NPD express anger. While those with Borderline Personality Disorder may fly into a rage and push people away, they will often calm down, feel shame for their reaction, and promise never to do it again.
“Unless they’re in treatment, the underlying issues don’t go away. Some conventional [borderlines] do not get angry at all, but hold it in or express it inwardly through self-harm,” says Kreger.
“The anger of narcissists, on the other hand, can be more demeaning,” she continues. “Their criticism evolves from their conviction that others don’t meet their lofty standards — or worse, aren’t letting them get their own way.”