This is part of a series of posts exploring the similarities and differences among three personality disorders with some shared characteristics (Narcissism, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Sociopathy). Teasing out which you are dealing with will help inform the decisions you make about how to take care of yourself.
If you're having a hard time with a particular relationship in your personal or work life, and you go looking for resources, you're likely to find it takes quite a bit of sleuthing to figure out what sort of problem you are confronting. You might be confused about whether the person you’re interacting with is presenting bad behavior, poor emotional intelligence, or something more pervasive in the form of an actual personality disorder.
If the behavior seems bigger than just some sloppy personal habits, and might be a personality problem, then you’ll want to understand which personality problem it might be. Reading all the books and doing all the research necessary is time-consuming and presents conflicting ideas and opinions. While many books and articles describe the problematic personality they don’t fully explore what it's like on the receiving side - where it can be surprisingly confusing and hard to discern what you're dealing with. The receiving side is often left out, yet just as important as the issue itself.
This series of posts will offer you insights and comparisons of Narcissism, Sociopathy and Borderline Personality Disorders. They will also touch on issues for you on the receiving side of relationships with people with these disorders. These personalities are three of the more commonly encountered ones and often overlap each other somewhat (to add to the confusion). When you are on the receiving side it is hard to discern the differences without guidance about the key similarities and differences, and without insight about what the experience is like for you on the receiving end of things. I'll also share some good resources in case you recognize something going on in one of your relationships, and want to delve further. The good news is once you start to identify there is a problem, you can then find ways to strategically take care of yourself.
First, a word on personality disorders. You might wonder what makes bad behavior end up with the distinction of being a "disorder"? A disorder is a pattern of behavior that is repeated over time and circumstances and is problematic to others and destructive to long-term relationships. Emotionally healthy people use a range of solutions depending on the situations in their lives, while those with disorders use a limited range of solutions for most of life's problems. Personality disorders do wax and wane, which can add to the challenge of pinpointing what you are dealing with. Understand that you can begin to recognize the behaviors and see if they are used repetitively, if they are patterns. It’s important to note that sometimes medical conditions can show up as personality problems, and sometimes people go through periods of narcissistic behavior when they are under a great deal of stress. So, if the troubling behavior you are encountering seems out of character look toward health and stress as possible causes, rather than an ongoing personality problem. One other thing - young people (through their early 20's) are still developing. They may exhibit clear markers of some personality issues, but it's best to consider them as exhibiting behaviors rather than having a personality disorder.
It is key to remember that the world of personality issues is a murky one. As a person in a difficult relationship, your focus should be on doing your best to understand a problem so that you can take care of yourself. The nature of the patterns you confront will influence the best course of action for you. These posts will put the information in layman’s terms as much as possible. Official diagnoses are for the trained professionals to do, but getting a formal diagnosis is not an option in many situations. Through research, you can do your best to understand what you are confronting to the best of your ability to know, and take steps for an official diagnosis if and when that is needed. What you should consider is if there’s a problem that requires your action on your own behalf, and what sort of actions will take care of you best.
As you learn more it’s a good idea to keep your suspicions to yourself or only share them with proven trustworthy confidants, especially as you discern the patterns and consider your options. You have options! Always remember that.
In the next post in this series, I will detail the elements of the narcissistic personality.