Borderline Personality Disorder vs. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: How are They Different?

BPD NPD differencesBased on overlapping symptoms, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) are often mistaken for one another. The two personality disorders even have a rate of co-occurrence of about 25 percent, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Though the two personality disorders share some common symptoms, they are distinct disorders with their own set of diagnostic criteria. For example, both BPD and NPD deal with conflict in a way that is unhealthy to themselves and those around them. It’s the expression of the anger that results from the conflict that is different.

In her article “Blame-Storms and Rage Attacks,” Randi Kreger, co-author of Walking on Eggshells, points out the difference in how those with BPD and NPD express anger. While those with Borderline Personality Disorder may fly into a rage and push people away, they will often calm down, feel shame for their reaction, and promise never to do it again.

“Unless they’re in treatment, the underlying issues don’t go away. Some conventional [borderlines] do not get angry at all, but hold it in or express it inwardly through self-harm,” says Kreger.

“The anger of narcissists, on the other hand, can be more demeaning,” she continues. “Their criticism evolves from their conviction that others don’t meet their lofty standards — or worse, aren’t letting them get their own way.”

Symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder

Just like Borderline Personality Disorder, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) lists nine symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. If you exhibit five of these nine symptoms in a persistent manner, you meet the criteria for diagnosis of NPD:

  • An exaggerated sense of one’s own abilities and achievements
  • A constant need for attention, affirmation, and praise
  • A belief that you are unique or “special,” and should only associate with other people of the same status
  • Persistent fantasies about attaining success and power
  • Exploiting other people for personal gain
  • A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment
  • A preoccupation with power or success
  • Feeling envious of others, or believing that others are envious of you
  • A lack of empathy for others

NPD and BPD: Similarities and Differences

Narcissistic Personality Disorder can exist on its own, but can also be found co-occurring with Borderline Personality Disorder. Mix and match five out of nine symptoms of NPD with five out of the nine symptoms of BPD, and you get someone who will likely be described at least as “difficult” or “high maintenance,” and who certainly is having a tough time in day-to-day life.

Both people with BPD and with NPD deal with an intense fear of abandonment. Enhancing that fear of abandonment is the fact that sustaining relationships with others in the face of these symptoms is a challenge to say the least. “Intense and stormy relationships” is, in fact, one of the characterizing symptoms of BPD.

In an article for Psychology Today, Susan Heitler, PhD, author and Harvard graduate, describes emotionally healthy functioning in the absence of BPD or NPD: “Emotionally healthy functioning is characterized by ability to hear your own concerns, thoughts, and feelings and also to be responsive to others’ concerns.”

In the world of the narcissist, that second part just isn’t present. Narcissists are unable to step outside of themselves to imagine any weight behind someone else’s opinion. This renders someone with NPD socially and emotionally ineffective, and affects their ability to maintain relationships.

On the other hand, those with BPD are often over-responsive to other’s concerns, especially when they are in the “idealization” phase of a relationship. But anger and resentment from putting the other’s concerns first inevitably cycles around, causing resentment, at which point the relationship will enter the “devaluation” phase.

The key to a healthy relationship, says Heitler, is finding the point where both parties’ concerns are taken into consideration. “When differences arise, socially effective folks are pros at finding win-win solutions because they routinely hear and take into consideration both their own and other people’s concerns,” she said.

Personality Disorder Treatment

A personality disorder treatment center can help you with an accurate diagnosis so that you can design an effective treatment plan to overcome the symptoms of both Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder and have healthier and more fulfilling relationships.



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8 Responses to “Borderline Personality Disorder vs. Narcissistic Personality Disorder: How are They Different?”

  1. MaryAnne
    August 11, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Thank you for this article. I found this article clear, concise, helpful & interesting.

  2. February 23, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Thank you for so accurately quoting me. Good job. I was delighted when I stumbled on your site today.

    I would love also if you could add a link to poweroftwomarriage.com, where I teach the skills for the kind of win-win mutual listening and problem solving you describe.

    Warmest thanks, both for the quotes and potentially for adding a link to our relationship skills program,

    Susan Heitler, Ph.D.

  3. G
    April 24, 2014 at 10:44 pm

    Thank you for an article that explained both disorders without demeaning those who suffer from these disorders. As a person who struggles with Emotional Disregulation (what I believe to be a more accurate and less stigmatizing term for people with BPD), I am finding out that my latest vortex of a relationship was with a narcissist. Just know that there are people who suffer from these issues that are actively working to not succumb to characteristics they are prone to. This article is a step in the right direction to educate sufferers in a non-judgmental way. It is a welcomed anomaly in the many articles bashing people who suffer from these types of mental illness. I appreciate your consideration either intended or not while writing this article.

  4. Suzanne
    May 11, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    This helps me understand my daughter, who has many symptoms of both disorders. Thank you for the clarity.

  5. Josh
    May 26, 2014 at 11:03 am

    I have been researching both disorders ever since I realized it may not be my now ex wife’s fault for being the way she is… I am no professional who can truly say she has either or both, yet it makes a lot of sense when I am researching… I left my wife because of it all and cause of all the hurt… When I read that a spouse can feel “shame” as well even though they don’t have NPD and or BPD is a relief to hear… I hurt so much since my marriage ended. I feel a lot of shame and started to while I was still married… I had two step daughters and want to be their for them but am not allowed to.. My ex told me that “you don’t get then without me”.. I am so worried about the girls because ones father is dead and the other has a father who is my ex’s first ex husband and doesn’t get a male as female roll models who are n’sync with how they want to be for her…. I just want the best for the girls and my ex… I still love all three and feel a sense of leaving was wrong, but then again I know how unhappy we all were and no matter what I tries or suggested, I was made to feel inadequate and wrong all the time… I am also very angry with my ex for taking my love and want to be good to her and her girls for granted and acting like I wasn’t worth the time or effort a marriage needs in order to work… I want to be a family man and desire to make another person happy…. Now I have my own issues as well, but never could share with my ex……. Man, I am starting to see that I need a professionals help to work all this out and move forward in life, and except everything for what it is… I’m scared that I am falling into a depression and I don’t know what to do

  6. June 24, 2014 at 5:30 am

    This is a male’s opinion of his own narcissism. I do not love myself, therefore I am incapable of love. I feel badly about this and I assume others around me feel bad because of this. This is stated to point out that I understand my narcissism affects people in my life. I do not understand how to change. I can empathize for people in situations that seem similar to mine but lack a basis for universal empathy. I practice changing my behavior but this seems like an exercise in futility. I will keep practicing anyway. I wish I could get outside of myself. Inside is a horrible place to be.

  7. June 24, 2014 at 5:39 am

    Apologies for venting on your site. Are there any sites for male narcissists? From a professional standpoint, am I capable of change? I don’t feel capable of change.

  8. Clearview Women's Center
    July 8, 2014 at 4:06 pm

    Hi Michael. It may not feel as though you are capable of changing, but recognizing a problem is always the first step to change. So it sounds like you’re on the right track! You may want to check out these forums as a resource: http://www.psychforums.com/narcissistic-personality/

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