The Difference between Borderline and Narcissistic Personalities

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are two conditions that can be difficult to differentiate as they share some similar symptoms. The two personality disorders are both listed in the “B cluster” group in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) and both include erratic, dramatic, and emotional behaviors. However, they are distinct disorders with separate diagnostic criteria.

Borderline Personality Disorder is a mental condition in which people engage in reckless and impulsive behavior and exhibit unstable moods and relationships. Narcissistic Personality Disorder is a mental condition in which people exhibit unstable and intensive emotions. They manifest an inflated sense of self-importance and superiority compared to others. To further complicate the issue, BPD and NPD have a rate of co-morbidity of 25% to 37%, depending on the source that is quoted.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) individuals typically experience brief psychotic mood swings that can transform in minutes or in hours. People with BPD often suffer from other associated disorders including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicidal behavior. Statistics show that BPD is diagnosed three times more in women than it is in men. BPD is manifested by a pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in (5).
  2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation. This is called “splitting.”
  3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
  4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in (5).
  5. Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.
  6. Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness.
  8. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
  9. Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.

Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) individuals experience an inflated sense of self-importance and superiority yet actually suffer from insecurity and a fragile self-esteem. The hallmark trait, though, is their lack of empathy for others. Statistics indicate that men are more likely to be diagnosed with NPD than women. They demonstrate behavioral traits such as arrogance, lack of empathy, dominance, superiority and power-seeking. People with NPD are less likely to stay in committed relationships and tend to leave a person who they think might be leaving them.

According to DSM-IV, NPD is characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:

  1. A grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
  2. Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. Belief that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions)
  4. Requires excessive admiration
  5. A sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
  6. Interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
  7. Lacks empathy:  is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
  8. Envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
  9. Arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes

Similarities between BPD and NPD

People suffering with Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder share many similar characteristics, and both disorders occur in 1 to 2% of the population. They experience a distorted sense of self, exhibit anger issues, and demonstrate a pattern of idealizing others and then devaluing them.

Other similarities between BPD and NPD include:

  • A lack of concern for how their behavior impacts others
  • A tendency to believe the world revolves around them
  • A fear of abandonment
  • A need for constant attention
  • A constant struggle with work, family, and social relationships
  • Displaying overly emotional, erratic, or self-dramatizing behaviors

The Borderline and Narcissist both are in their own self-centered universe with little or no concern for how their behavior affects other people. NPD individuals expect others to revolve around their universe as if they were planets around the sun (the NPD being the sun and the center of the universe of course). BPD individuals envelop their universe around another person as if to fuse them together. The NPD is completely absorbed with his self image and buries his emotions, while the BPD is concerned only with her immediate needs and has no control over her emotions.

People with NPD and BPD are extremely fearful of abandonment but handle it in distinct, separate ways. The Borderline person will literally cling to the relationship while the Narcissist will abandon the relationship before the other person has a chance to abandon him. Both BPD and NPD individuals harbor excessive feelings of rage inside, which can explode unpredictably. As one author succinctly put it, “The BPD will dump on you while the NPD dumps you altogether.”

Both BPD and NPD individuals exhibit arrested emotional development; BPD is estimated at a developmental level of about age three while NPD is generally estimated at about age six.

Differences between BPD and NPD

Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder are two separate disorders and have a number of differences that distinguish the two. People with BPD tend to be highly impulsive and may engage in compulsive behaviors like excessive spending, binge eating, and risky sexual behavior. BPD individuals are more likely to engage in self-harming or self-mutilating behaviors such as cutting or suicide attempts. People with NPD have an exaggerated sense of self-worth and think nothing of exploiting others to get their needs met. Narcissists rarely self-injure or make suicide attempts.

Other differences between Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

  • Individuals with NPD think they are “special” and that they can only be understood by other special or high-status people, while people with BPD feel misunderstood and mistreated
  • More men than women are narcissists, while women outnumber men with BPD
  • People with NPD expect others’ lives to revolve around them, while those with BPD will devote their lives to another person
  • People with BPD will frantically try to avoid what they consider to be abandonment, while narcissists are more likely to do the abandoning

A Narcissist can experience “normal” emotions with the exception of empathy. A Borderline can often be empathic to a fault, putting others before herself at the cost of her own well-being.
Narcissists need other people for attention; they require them as sources of Narcissistic Supply. Narcissistic Supply is anything that builds the narcissist’s ego up and confirms their superiority, grandiosity, or sense of entitlement. They are terrified of losing their source of Supply. People with BPD, however, fear abandonment in general.

Narcissists are characterized by feelings of grandiosity whereas the Borderline person finds that an anathema to their personality. “Grandiosity” refers to the traits of exaggerating one’s achievements and talents and/or expecting to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements. Grandiose feelings or ideation are contrary to BPD while NPD’s revel in it.

 Leona Helmsley, AKA “The Queen of Mean” was quoted as saying, “We [rich people] don’t pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes.”

(Example of Grandiosity in NPD)

 

Resources:

  1. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stop-walking-eggshells/201110/what-have-you-done-me-lately-entitlement-key-narcissistic-trait
  2. http://www.differencebetween.info/difference-between-borderline-and-narcissistic
  3. http://borderlinepersonalitytreatment.com/bpd-narcissistic-personality-disorder-differences.html
  4. http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_difference_between_narcissistic_personality_disorder_and_borderline_personality_disorder
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19 Responses to “The Difference between Borderline and Narcissistic Personalities”

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  1. Maria says:

    This is a classic illustration of my relationship with my husband. He is clearly the NPD an I am the BPD. We have had a passionate 80% of the time yet vol ital relationship about 20% of the time. We have been married twice and during every fight we talk about ending it for good, but never do. What drew us together and why can’t we stay away from one another? Part of me really feels it would be wise to exit because it seem so unhealthy, but the other part of me wants to work on my issues and make it work because I will just end up attracting the same situation with someone else.

    • Sarah says:

      Hey. Same. I’m currently staying on working on our issues. We’re both victims of abusive parents, and I believe that we are more than our wounds. We’re determined to stay together, break the cycle, and provide a stable loving home for our children.

      But every fight resulting in talk of abandonment is freakin’ exhausting. When we don’t seem to make progress it feels like we’d be better off cutting and running, but we inevitably come back to each other because life feels meaningless without each other.

  2. Janice says:

    My mother’s psychiatrist diagnosed her as having both disorders. I tend to agree as I have struggled to make sense of her conflicting personality. She is neither one or the other completely but a true mix of both. She is almost 80 years-old and only now do I realize that I have spent a lifetime trying to get something from her that I will never get.
    My mother’s idea of love is very different from mine and I am still left to wonder if people with these disorders are incapable of feeling love or just incapable of expressing it?

  3. Tammy walls says:

    I think that I suffer from both disorders I am diagnosed as primarily as borderline but I defnately display the traits of a narcistic personality as well I actully don’t have an issue with it it makes me unique and special .

    • Your therapist says:

      That’s exactly what a narcissist would say Tammy. Unique and special and pathetic.

      • Tracey says:

        It’s not helpful to call someone with a personality disorder ‘pathetic’. No one delberately has NPD or BPD. While that does not excuse their behaviour ( I have BPD with Narcissistic traits and Bipolar Disorder), it explains it. More education is clearly needed about mental illness and personality disorders to break down the stigma attached to having a MH diagnosis.

      • Ilana says:

        That is such a nasty comment. Are you sure you are a therapist?

      • Koo says:

        This is an unhelpful and shitty comment.

      • Joshua says:

        i feel unique and special and perfect and terrible and pathetic all at the same time… talk about a conflicting set of traits.

  4. Tina Fuller says:

    Great article! I’m sure it will be very beneficial to those who are trying to learn about NPD & BPD.

    I am healed from having a high-range NPD mother & have written the book, It’s My Turn. I feel it necessary to say that people with NPD do not have “normal” feelings. From my research and personal experience, all they are capable of feeling is anger, sadness, and fear. They cannot experience love or happiness.

    • Sandra says:

      My husband changed 10 years ago when it on Paxil. I begged him to get off them that he wasn’t the same I felt unloved, uncared for and no empathy ever. When I would try to talk to him he would get angry n say I don’t feel good I don’t want to hear it. I love him so very much he wasn’t always like this he used to be generous n super loving we were bf always together. I could tell just by the way he looked at me I could see the intense love. Ever since Paxil he blows off my brays, anniversarys, Christmas all holidays he acts like he can’t stand his kids and I can see the pain in their eyes. He abandoned me 10 years ago the loneliness is unbearable he keeps me isolated if I try n talk to him n disagree he becomes scary violent. He is out drinking constantly n people wonder y I’m not with him. He a damm good liar n a backstabber. I cant possibly stay with him no more I don’t exist I lost my identity and he bshattered my heart he just don’t care he try’s but can’t. He’s constantly talking about this girl n has a heart attack if I say a word in fact he calls me a w***e and every name in the book. I used to be a extremely confident person but no more I’m nothing. Also I’m very sick n he acts like he could give a s**t. When he goes out all nite he constantly ignores me or hangs up on me. Please tell me how to leave him without losing my self it hurts that bad. But I kno I can’t be his punching bag n I can’t take the pain of his hurt. High school sweethearts smh I don’t kno what’s Gona happen to me. I have to let go he talks very bad about me to everyone people who are cruel to me. I’m done can’t take it no more. Love is gone nothing but hate n resentment. Isn’t there anything to bring back my loving n amazing husband or is this it? 😭

  5. AliceRayne says:

    BPD and NPD both can dish out very mean and abuse to others. my Husband had the BPD disorder and a bad drinking and drug problem would hurt him self to go to a E.R. to get pain meds. after trying to kill his self a number of times. he did die from a O.D. most with the BPD disorder do kill their self’s. ; /

  6. Lara says:

    I wish there was more in here on the sub-types of BPD. Low-functioning BPs tend to show classic BPD symptoms, whereas high-functioning BPs tend to show more symptoms in line with NPD. High-functioning BPs rarely self-harm or dabble in suicide threats/attempts. So with high-functioning BPs it’s more blurry when it comes to telling them apart from Narcissists. I’ve always had a personal theory that BPs and Narcissists are really the same, but at just different points on a spectrum, just like Autism is a spectrum.

    • Kelley Smith says:

      I agree with you Lara, my ex fiancé exhibited both traits including: making up events and incidences that did not occur, referencing suicidal ideation (ie: maybe I should have let my ex kill me) all the way to thinking she was superior to others and even me her own partner. The idea of BPD/NPD perhaps does belong on a spectral scale indicating possible combinations of both disorders with comparative symptoms and scales indicating a propensity towards one or the other. Its a good thought Lara, sometimes like Autism we need a scale to make a more accurate diagnosis. As for the idea that men have narcissism or women have borderline more often than the other that’s bogus. Men and women both are afflicted and rather than seeing which gender is more prone, we need to concentrate on diagnosis and treatment for both independent of gender with the exception that treatment is properly reflected for the gender in question. I say this I believe because in men, narcissism is more pronounced and thus more noticed and reported, but I believe women do not report it as much or are not equally prone to seek treatment until their lives unravel.

    • Anon says:

      I hope not. I think it’s better not to think of it as a spectrum (slippery slope) and just different behaviours = a different diagnosis

    • amy smith says:

      That theory actually makes sense to me, after being partnered with someone for many years who oscillates between these symptoms. High functioning people are even better at hiding these things from most and usually the partner is the only one who sees what’s really happening behind the scenes.

  7. Sheryn von Schwerin says:

    Thank you for this site: My former husband definitely has NPD. With that said, we have now been divorced for 8 months and he lives with his new partner in another country, thankfully.
    Recently I found a USB of my former husband’s with p*********y. Apart from the disgust I was sickened to see the first photograph was of our son without a s**t, when he was ver young. I subsequently asked my son, now 21, did his father every touch him inappropriately. My son answered immediately: “Mum I only remember a happy childhood with you, he was never there”. I would love to leave this here however, I am haunted by a poem my son wrote when he was young. It is titled “Betrayal” and is about a soldier who is mortally wounded, he feels the blood seeping through his clothing, he knows he is dying, he turns to see the smoking gun of his friend. There was another poem “Tear Drops from the barrel of a gun”. Both these poems are written in a manner that far surpasses my sons age, at the time I was very, very impressed, as were his teachers. I never understood how one so young could have such insight and empathy.

    Do I need to get my son to a psychologist? I want my son to leave this mess in a healthy mental state. Also, my former husband and I still have to do our property settlement in the Family Law Court. He is stringing this out with unending lies, there being no penalty for purgery to the Family Law Court. He is also has the only income. He coerced me into giving up a lucrative career to mind our son, so that he could persue his career. I am now 64.

    How do I convince the Court he has serious, ticking all the boxes, NPD. I have been told be a lawyer I cannot call him a narcissist in the Court as I an not a qualified medical practioner.
    Can you recommend any scholarly articles or books written by you or other academics that I could use in my final affidavit to the court?

  8. Michelle says:

    I just got out of a “dating at first” then friends with benefits relationship with a narcissist. It lasted for over a year. After reading a lot, it has made me think about the person I am. I have two sides of me, one that clings and fears rejection, can suffer from low self esteem, suffocates my partner with gifts and what I think is healthy attention and love. The relationship becomes my whole world and its some sort of obsession.

    And then I can be real shut off and cold. Selfish and calculating. I used to lie a lot when I was a kid because I would fear getting into trouble. I have always had a hard time saying “I’m sorry” unless I really need to say it. Much of the traits of NPD seem to fit that and my cold side.

    I have been with two narcissists already that were incredibly traumatic and then prior with my ex husband, who I was with for 10 years who was depressed individual but loved me and was faithful (I ended up cheating by the end of the relationship and leaving him because I got caught up with a NPD that love bombed me and whisked me away)

    I have body issues, pick my cuticles as a coping mechanism. This is all really coming to light after this last relationship. I actually thought I was fairly normal until this moment of clarity. Things are really just coming to light and clicking as to what I may be. It’s scary but I’m ok with this… Very ok. I can’t move forward and have a peaceful existence without this needing to happen.

    My one thing is, I know I feel real love. I love my friends, coworkers, my job, my family. I care and have empathy. I have grieved and felt it. That is never calculated or false. I had on paper a normal upbringing but I have a mental block that I can’t access of my childhood until I was about 10. I don’t remember much other than my parents being away a lot for work and my being alone.

    So here I am wondering after reading a lot… Could I be both codependent/borderline and narcissist? One thing to note, I do not get violent, overly angry. Mood swings are internal. I portray a very level headed individual who doesn’t yell or scream. When I get mad I go silent and internalize everything.

    I didn’t come here to be judged or called mean things. I’m here to talk and be vulnerable and learn. I’m planning on seeing someone soon to talk about all of this, therapy has never worked for me because I have always been emotionally shut off and hide things. This time is going to be different.

    • Ella Epona says:

      Dear Michelle,

      You sound like badly hurt codependent. Please learn more about how we end up being one, which should help you put things in perspective. Ross Rosenberg videos are good & Lisa Romano’s too,etc,…

      And the best thing is … you can be healed, but have to face your childhood wounds to do so, narcissists can’t!

      I wish you happy life.

      Ex codependent

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