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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.

Let’s look Borderline Personality Disorder - What is a Borderline?

According to the diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals, 75% of people with borderline personality disorder are female. This disorder co-exists with other issues like substance abuse, depression, antisocial tendencies and narcissism. The good news is that it is considered treatable; there are forms of therapy that are known to help and medications that can be prescribed. The challenge is a borderline is likely to be reluctant to admit there’s a problem and get help, unless the problem is so severe that intervention for self-mutilation or suicide happens.

Borderlines lack a sense of self, of self identity. They are chameleon-like in the way they adapt to please other people; they feel invisible and empty when other people are not around. Borderlines cycle back and forth between emotions quickly, and they cycle in their behavior in relationships quickly. Emotionally, they are high drama and experience rapid mood swings, switching from happy to miserable unpredictably. They see other people as all good or all bad; they lack the ability to hold 2 points of view at the same time so cycle between idolizing and raging at others. When they feel close to another person, they panic, fearing engulfment and lack of control; when they feel separate, it’s as if they have been traumatically abandoned. Neither closeness nor distance is comfortable. Chaos is a comfort zone. They are aware of many of their more troubling tendencies, but lack awareness of how they affect other people, frequently fail to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions, generally feel victimized by others and due to this can seem (and be) narcissistic.

Borderline characteristics include:

  • intense fear of abandonment coupled with intense need for relationship combined with notion that there’s something wrong with you if you love them
  • impulsivity
  • lack of trust
  • hyper-vigilant - looking for signs a loved one may be distancing; feels abandoned at slightest provocation, is willing to jettison relationship over what seems trivial
  • notion that a harmonious relationship is low passion and boring
  • feels victimized by the behavior of other people
  • express anger inappropriately or conversely not at all; verbally abusive
  • impulsive aggression, tendency to retaliate
  • constant maneuvering to maintain control of others
  • chaos is a comfort zone – rapid mood swings, unpredictable
  • switch unpredictably between love and rage; smothers you one minute, rejects you the next
  • see self and other people as either all good or all bad, can’t hold both points of view at the same time. Without really getting to know a person, a borderline will idolize people, but consider others to be bad and worthy of blame and punishment.
  • feeling unsure about own identity, borderlines adapt in a chameleon like way to be liked by whoever they are around. They do this while being somewhat aware of feeling unreal, like a phony
  • feel invisible when other people aren’t around
  • paranoia in stressful situations; episodes of numbness, zoning out, disassociation
  • want to inflict pain on self when feel hurt; strong sense of self hatred. Engage in spending sprees, promiscuous sex, reckless driving, drugs or alcohol abuse, binge eating, breaking the law, self-harm.
  • can be suicidal

Here are some common assumptions of borderlines: (from Stop Walking on Eggshells, p. 51):

  • I must be loved by all the important people in my life at all times or else I am worthless. If someone treats me badly, I am bad.
  • Some people are good and everything about them is perfect. Other are completely bad and should be severely blamed and punished for it.
  • My feelings are always caused by external events.
  • When I am alone, I am nobody and nothing.
  • I will be happy when I can find an all-giving, perfect person to love me and take care of me no matter what.
  • But if someone loves me, there must be something the matter with them.
  • I can’t stand the frustration I feel when I need something from someone and I can’t get it. I’ve got to do something to make it go away.

There are also behaviors of a borderline that overlap with the behaviors of a narcissist:

  • highly sensitive to criticism or perceived criticism
  • low emotional intelligence
  • put certain people on pedestal, without really knowing them
  • seek to control
  • maneuver to be center of attention
  • unwilling to admit mistakes; blame others
  • belittle other people’s point of view
  • unaware of their effect on other people
  • reality is what suits them – when facts don’t fit their feelings, they rewrite the facts (or omit them)
  • trouble with boundaries
  • think they are the victim of other people’s behavior

And, there are certain behaviors that a borderline has in common with a sociopath:

  • impulsivity
  • aggressiveness
  • prone to retaliate
  • unpredictable
  • seek to control

In Randi Kreger’s book, Stop Walking on Eggshells, she details 3 types of borderline personalities:

"The first type is low functioning; they cope by acting self destructively, they tend to also have bipolar disorder or eating disorders, they have a hard time living independently, and their self harming and suicidal tendencies tend to get them into treatment.

The second type is a “classic borderline” – showing a mix of the tendencies described above.

The third is a higher functioning ‘invisible’ borderline; they appear normal to the outside world but show borderline traits privately, they cope by acting out using rage, criticism and blame, they dismiss the idea that they have a problem and resist treatment, they may have a substance abuse problem and/or narcissism. Without an obvious illness, family members tend to blame themselves for the relationship troubles."

The next post in this series will describe the patterns of a typical relationship with each one of these personality disorders.