There are several similarities between different types of personality disorders, and it can be hard to tell exactly what kind of mental disorder someone has. There are many overlapping symptoms, and with some personality disorders, narcissistic traits are common even if it’s another type of problem. One personality disorder that shares several symptoms with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is borderline personality disorder (BPD).
There are, however, distinct differences between borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. Notable among these differences is that for people with BPD, the major fear is of abandonment whereas, for people with NPD, they mostly fear the loss of their narcissistic supply.
It’s crucial to understand more fully the similarities and differences between these two personality disorders and how to tell which your mother might have. This is particularly important for understanding how to help her and you to heal.
What are the Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder?
While both NPD and BPD are marked by problems with the proper development of a sense of self, those people with BPD are most afraid of being abandoned. This is different from individuals with NPD who fear more the loss of their narcissistic supply which props up the false self they created to perform egoic functions.
Because of their fear of abandonment, the person with BPD demands that other people focus on their needs, but their extreme mood swings make it difficult for their loved ones to be around them. They also frequently engage in impulsive and sometimes self-destructive behaviors. They are at risk of harming themselves because of their chronic feelings of emptiness.
Like people who suffer from NPD, they also experience explosive anger, but unlike narcissists whose other emotions are often shallow, people with BPD have intense emotions all around. These symptoms make people with BPD very difficult to be around since they have high expectations of their loved ones, and like narcissists, no matter what their loved ones do, it will never be enough.
How Does BPD Differ from NPD?
There are several differences between BPD and NPD that might be difficult to ascertain if you’re the victim of emotional abuse by sufferers of either disorder. They are, however, important differences when a therapist is working to diagnose a patient.
The Greatest Fears
Sufferers of BPD fear abandonment more than anything else, whereas narcissists don’t think enough of the people in their lives to fear being abandoned by them. What they do fear is losing their narcissistic supply. They get that from the people around them and use it to prop up their self-esteem.
You might think of sufferers of BPD as ‘drama queens,’ because all their emotions are very intense. They tend to drain the people around them of their energy. They expect that you will react with the same level of intensity as they do, and they notice when you don’t.
People with NPD have mostly shallow emotions except for their narcissistic rage. They also drain the people around them of their energy, but that’s because they see them as extensions of themselves. Because of that, they expect them to cater to their every whim. That gets exhausting quickly.
Differences in Their Perceptions of Their Sense of Self
Another telltale difference is found in the fact that people with NPD have a sense of grandiosity that they constructed through their false self. They require others to prop that illusion up along with their self-esteem. Sufferers of BPD don’t have such grandiose delusions; rather they have a profound sense of inadequacy and fear of being abandoned by those they love.
Because of these fears, people with BPD are more likely to have suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming themselves. People with NPD, on the other hand, feel they deserve the best of all life has to offer, and while some may suffer from suicidal thoughts, most do not.
How These Differences Manifest Behaviorally
Because of some of these fundamental differences in their emotional state and their perceptions of their sense of self, there are some distinct differences in the behaviors of someone with BPD as opposed to someone with NPD.
People with BPD tend to show the people around them their sense of woundedness and vulnerability. They are quick to exhibit their fear of abandonment and use that to emotionally abuse their loved ones. People with NPD, however, do not want to show anyone any of their vulnerabilities. They loathe discussing any fears they have or any flaws. They feel it makes them appear weak.
Because someone with NPD depends on their narcissistic supply from the people around them to prop up their ego, they tend to manipulate and exploit their loved ones. They lack empathy and can’t see the damage they’re doing to other people.
The person with borderline personality disorder may show a lack of cognitive empathy, meaning they have trouble discerning how someone is feeling, they often have superior emotional empathy. That is to say, they can put themselves in someone else’s shoes and understand how they’re feeling.
How Can I Tell Which One My Mother Has — BPD or NPD?
This can get really tricky because the two personality disorders frequently co-occur, and both are Cluster B personality disorders. Let’s compare the signs of a mother with BPD versus a mother with NPD.
Mother With BPD
First, as Dr. Todd Grande points out, “The mother’s romantic problems with her romantic interests are brought up frequently in discussions.” This is particularly true in a mother/daughter relationship. This creates a problem with boundaries, however, and can create an awkward tension in the relationship.
Another symptom is that the person with BPD might accuse their loved ones of abandonment, particularly when they have suffered a breakup in another close relationship, most notably a primary romantic relationship.
Another common manipulation tactic a mother with BPD will use is to create a sense of conflict between the mother and their child, usually where no conflict exists. This is often because the mother feels as though she will ultimately be abandoned by her child.
The mother with BPD will couch this fear of being abandoned in terms of the child not having done enough for their mother. The problem is that they can never do enough, and so the resulting tension often causes the very thing that someone with BPD fears, that being abandonment as soon as the child is able to do so. It becomes, in essence, a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Mother With NPD
Mothers with narcissistic traits are self-centered, entitled, and exhibit grandiose ideation. There are differences between grandiose or exhibitionistic narcissists, who are very extroverted, appear confident, and are often critical of their children, and vulnerable narcissists who go about getting their narcissistic supply differently.
Mothers with covert or vulnerable narcissism may instead ignore their children or constantly try to guilt them into complimenting their mother. They want to seem like the perfect mother to the outside world but act very differently within the family unit.
Because of their particular disorder, all narcissistic mothers constantly try to manipulate their children. They lie and gaslight them, and they also often use triangulation between family members to keep them from uniting against her. Additionally, because they see their children as extensions of themselves, they often treat them like peers rather than children. For that reason, children of narcissistic mothers often end up acting as a parent instead of a child.
Both a mother with BPD and one with NPD are capable of emotional and sometimes physical abuse. The effects of that abuse can last a lifetime. Children of such mothers often need therapy to live a fulfilling, happy life.
Though both conditions are similar, there are notable differences related to how sufferers of each view their sense of self and get their needs met. These differences can be difficult to discern, but perhaps the more important issue is how you feel as their child. If you feel you have been the victim of either kind of mother, you’ll want to take the necessary steps to protect yourself from further abuse and to help initiate the healing process.
Now that you better understand the symptoms associated with borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder, you’ll want to check out this post about the differences between narcissists, sociopaths, and borderline personalities. It helps you understand how these mental conditions overlap and show similar symptoms.
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