The major issues associated with borderline personality disorder (BPD) stem from unstable emotions and fear of abandonment. Conversely, narcissists’ primary problems relate to self-importance, a lack of empathy, and an eagerness to feed their egos. A person with BPD will seek to attach themselves to others in order to escape feelings of worthlessness, but a narcissist will exploit people for personal gain.
What Is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious psychological disturbance characterized by persistent instability in mood, self-identity, and interpersonal relationships. BPD individuals tend to struggle with constant feelings of emptiness, managing strong emotions, poor self-image, and a chronic fear of abandonment. These personality deficiencies often result in chaotic relationships, self-harming behaviors, suicidal thoughts, and intense emotional reactions to stressors.1
Characteristics of someone with BPD include:1
- Drastic moods swings and emotional dysregulation
- Extreme efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
- Impulsiveness resulting in risky behaviors (shopping sprees, reckless driving, etc.)
- Unstable/distorted sense of self
- Chronic feeling of emptiness
- Difficulty controlling excessive and inappropriate anger
- Feelings of dissociation (a disconnect from the self or reality)
- Patterns of unstable interpersonal relationships
- Intense emotional reactions or BPD splitting
- Self-harm behaviors such as cutting
- Recurring suicidal ideations or threats of suicide
What Is Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)?
Pathological narcissism or narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a chronic psychiatric condition marked by patterns of grandiosity, entitlement, and a lack of empathy. People with NPD often seek admiration to boost their ego and self-esteem. They typically encounter significant problems when maintaining employment and interpersonal relationships. Narcissism is believed to stem from a person’s attempt to mask deep-seated feelings of insecurity.1,2,3
It should be noted that narcissism lies on a spectrum with the highest level of severity being malignant narcissism. Other moderate to severe subtypes include grandiose/overt narcissism, vulnerable NPD, or covert narcissism.2
Characteristics of people with NPD include:1,2,3
- Bragging about self-importance and exaggerating accomplishments
- An excessive need for flattery, praise, and external gratification
- Feelings of uniqueness
- Will only associate with prominent people/institutions
- Obsession with appearances and attaining power, success, or wealth
- Entitlement issues
- Placing unrealistic expectations onto others
- Manipulating, exploiting, and/or taking advantage of others
- Lacking empathy or disregarding other people’s needs or feelings
- Arrogance; being demeaning toward others
- Being envious of people and believing others are envious of them
BPD Vs. NPD: Key Differences
Although BPD and NPD are both characterized by a distorted notion of reality, their personality constructs and dispositions vary in many aspects. For instance, individuals with BPD generally have an unclear and unstable sense of self, triggering feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. In contrast, those with NPD may seem superficially well-adjusted and even-keel because they possess a strong sense of superiority (mostly sustained through narcissistic supply).
Individuals with BPD struggle with an intense fear of abandonment and chronic feelings of emptiness. As such, they have an intense need to fill this void by quickly attaching to others or seeking relationships. These individuals will go above and beyond to avoid real or imagined abandonment. When this person senses the slightest sign of rejection, they may become emotionally volatile or use emotional manipulation tactics such as jealousy, control, and threatening self-harm.
These unhealthy behavioral patterns have damaging effects that strain relationships. Ironically, those with BPD have a deep desire for intimacy and can be caring individuals, but their strong emotions and hypersensitivities tend to get in the way.4
Because people with BPD have trouble understanding their identity, they tend to experience drastic changes in how they view themselves. This is evident in shifts in their values, career goals, personal ambitions, and so on. Their internal identity issues often manifest in impulsive, reckless, and self-destructive ways. As a result, those with BPD experience severe social, vocational, academic, and interpersonal impairments.1,4
In high contrast to those with BPD, narcissists’ prominent deficiency is the lack of empathy that limits their capacity to understand and connect with others. Due to this emotional deficit, people with NPD are oblivious to how their words and actions affect others. Instead, they exclusively focus on maintaining their grandiose façade and boosting their ego. They only seek relationships or opportunities for personal gain.
However, the moment a narcissist’s grandiosity is challenged, the flow of narcissistic supply is threatened, or their shortcomings are exposed, they will likely play the victim. They may also react with hostility or narcissistic rage (sometimes violently), employ manipulative behavior, engage in narcissistic gaslighting, or discard the person who wronged them.4
Narcissists firmly believe they deserve the best of everything and are convinced they are destined to accomplish important things. Paradoxically, this narcissist’s false idea of grandiosity and excessive self-love seems to work in their favor, as it enables them to lead highly functional lives and preserve a somewhat stable identity.2,5,6
Similarities Between BPD & NPD
BPD and NPD share several common characteristics and behavioral patterns. At the core of these personality disorders is an inflexible and unhealthy way of thinking, acting, and behaving. Both will attempt to protect their persona from mental and emotional distress by using defense mechanisms. Consequently, they experience problems in important aspects of their life.1
Similarities between BPD and NPD similarities include:4
- Beliefs that the world revolves around them
- A constant need for attention and validation
- Spending significant energy on themselves and their needs
- Disconnect from reality
- Unstable and unmanageable interpersonal relationships
- Disregard for how their actions and words affect or hurt others
- Emotional immaturity (impaired reasoning once triggered)
- All or nothing mentality, vacillating between idealizing and devaluing
- Projecting their negative feelings and/or attributes onto others
- Cannot admit fault for their mistakes, instead using others as scapegoats
- Look to others for management of certain functions of the self
- An immense sense of shame hidden under layers of self-deceit
- Overly sensitive to criticism and/or humiliation
- Unreasonable, disproportionate, and uncontrollable rage that can be intensely hostile or passive-aggressive
What Is a Borderline Narcissist?
A borderline narcissist can be described as a person who has BPD and narcissistic traits or co-occurring NPD. In such cases, the BPD individual presents with an unstable sense of self or disconnect from self, poor self-esteem, hypersensitivity to criticism, defensiveness, and feelings of insecurity. They will also possess a self-concept based on a covert sense of grandiosity.
Furthermore, having NPD or narcissistic tendencies may worsen BPD by increasing one’s aggressive and hostile behaviors. This negatively impacts the person’s relational and social aspects of functioning.5,7
Can BPD & NPD Be Treated?
As with any other personality disorder, BPD and NPD can be difficult to treat. Nevertheless, some individuals recover with long-term extensive treatment that includes the support of evidence-based clinical interventions and professional expertise. The key factor for success relies on the person’s genuine desire to change, willingness to enter treatment, and serious commitment to the therapeutic process.4
When it comes to treatment, psychotherapy is the most utilized and effective treatment for BPD and NPD. Treatments for BPD often involve working with a skilled clinician who uses interventions like dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT), cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for BPD, and mentalization-behavioral therapy (MBT) to target borderline symptoms. Overall, favorable and lasting outcomes can be seen in BPD individuals who participate in a comprehensive treatment plan.4 Along with therapy, medication for BPD can be beneficial in treating isolated symptoms or for those with comorbid disorders.8
NPD may be one of the most problematic personality disorders to diagnose and treat. Due to NPD’s variable presentation and insufficient scientific investigation, there aren’t any established or empirically supported forms of treatment. Because BPD and NPD have overlapping symptoms, it is recommended to adapt BPD therapies to treat NPD.
Unfortunately, not many narcissists are inclined to change or seek professional help unless faced with relational and employment-related consequences or experiencing symptoms of a co-occurring mental health condition. Even when narcissists enter therapy, the drop-out rates are high, making NPD much more challenging to address.2,3
Although borderline personality disorder and narcissism are complex conditions that tend to carry a stigma, there is still hope for treatment. You may find relief once you identify and understand the reasons behind your struggles. There are ways to manage your personality disorder. Taking accountability for your actions and seeking professional help can be good.