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.
What It’s Like for You
It can be very hard to see the big picture when you are close to someone. The previous posts laid out the main patterns of these disorders, but when you are on the receiving side it can be surprisingly hard to discern which one, if any, you’re dealing with – just as each human is idiosyncratic, so are people with personality disorders. Finally, it’s particularly confusing because, despite important differences, they all share characteristics of narcissism.
If you look at the below – I’ve provided a list of short bulleted narcissistic characteristics (easily digestible) that these three types of personalities have in common:
- relationships tend to take off quickly, fair amount of intensity fast. (it’s a fun ride for you)
- relationships transition from a beginning that seems like a great fit to not good (from Prince Charming to the Frog, or worse)
- your attention is diverted from your self, your well being, your life (without your awareness it’s even happening)
- your needs are secondary at all times
- your self-esteem erodes
- personal boundaries are blurred, or invaded
- a process of idealization and devaluing is employed (Narcissists do this over time, Borderlines cycle in and out quickly, Sociopaths do it as manipulation).
- entitlement is common
- present what seems like superiority, arrogance, haughtiness
- you’re in relationship with someone trying to get you to conform to their world, to control you
- you’re unaware you’re involved with someone who is highly intuitive about how to get you to serve their needs
- you are frequently, consistently distracted from your own emotions, experience, needs
- you get blamed for problems, the other deflects responsibility
- you’re involved with someone who considers themselves a victim of your behavior
- any self-doubt you have or develop is reinforced
- the person with one of these disorders is unaware of their effect on you; may think they are doing you a favor in their treatment of you.
Although the personality disorders are different, anyone on the receiving side is likely to cycle through some similar emotions. Your emotional reactions might come in the forms of: bewilderment, confusion, feeling ineffective, constantly trying to please, wondering what happened to your great relationship, willingness to take responsibility and “do the work”, attempting to pretend things are okay, trying to make sense of things, trying to explain things away, trying to help the other person change, blaming the other person, trying to elicit change, becoming guarded, seeking help, if you’re a couple you may seek help as a couple but meet resistance or willingness to do it “for you” (really so you’ll change), embarrassment or humiliation, isolation, unhealthy habits, hyper-vigilance, anger as tool to get change, physical illness or breakdown, emotional overwhelm, depletion, and exhaustion.
It is helpful to understand that despite the narcissistic elements of these personality disorders, each is distinctly different at the core.
In short terms, here are the key differences:
Narcissists - need validation, need attention, covertly manipulative. “It’s all about me, and when you disagree I’ll find someone else who serves me.”
Borderlines – deep fear of abandonment, cycle between polar opposite emotions quickly. “Stay here/Go Away.”
Sociopaths – avoid work, avoid boredom by giving in to reckless impulses and staging conquests without care of the consequences. “I’m gonna win and get what I want no matter what, and then I’m outa here.”
No matter what the relationship – work/love/family/friend – your first instinct is likely to be to get as far away as you can as quickly as you can. Yet, there is wisdom in taking time to understand the disorder you’re interacting with. Of course any personal safety issues supersede this but if you have time, you might be able to create more options for yourself if you take some time to look at your situation and consider that will serve you best.
Cement the knowledge that this person’s behavior will continue to be like this no matter who they are dealing with; it is not about you (despite all their claims otherwise). Keep your suspicions and research to yourself; sharing your suspicions with any of these personalities will undermine you. Seek closure outside of this relationship; absolutely do not try to get it from the person with a disorder. Support from a therapist trained in the particular disorder in question is likely to be valuable.
The next and final post of this series will touch on things to consider if you want to get out of relationship with a person with one of these disorders.