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:
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behavior covered in (5).
- A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation. This is called “splitting.”
- Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
- 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).
- Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.
- 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).
- Chronic feelings of emptiness.
- Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
- 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:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements)
- Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- 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)
- Requires excessive admiration
- A sense of entitlement, i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations
- Interpersonally exploitative, i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends
- Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others
- Envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her
- 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)