Trigger Warning: Narcissistic abuse, abuse from those with BPD traits. “Borderline” and “Narcissist” are used as a label for simplicity & SEO purposes (battlers are not defined by their diagnosis). Read at your own discretion.
Why Borderlines & Narcissists Attract Each Other
A big topic in the BPD community is the borderline and narcissist relationship. ‘Bpd and narcissist couple’ is searched on Google thousands of times a month. Ask any mental health professional knowledgeable about BPD and they’ll tell you that these two types of personality disorders tend to be attracted to each other. The borderline and narcissist relationship is prevalent and most likely, incredibly toxic and abusive.
Inotherwords, it’s worth talking about.
According to Psychology Today, “most people choose romantic partners who are their approximate equals with regard to understanding how to sustain intimacy.” The reason the borderline and nacissist relationship is so widespread is because people with BPD and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) share some of the same intimacy issues. In a nutshell, both groups tend to lack ‘whole object relations’ which is the capacity to simultaneously see both the good and the bad [of a person].
They also lack something called “object constancy” which is a fancy way of saying they don’t naturally have the ability to maintain positive feelings over someone while they’re feeling hurt, disappointed or angry with them. People with BPD and NPD also struggle with maintaining emotional connections to someone who is no longer around.
Recently, this post I put together for BPD Beautiful made its round of shares on social media. In the comments, one user shared a screenshot of a text thread between them and their partner – it’s since been deleted for the user’s privacy. They’d sent the graphic to their partner in hopes to shed some light on the many bpd traits and bpd symptoms. Who doesn’t want to feel understood by the person they love?
But instead, the user was met with invalidation, ridicule and abrasiveness.
“Yes, I agree you have BPD. I’m aware,” the partner said in response [paraphrased]. “Don’t send this shit to me. I get enough of it on Snapchat, now you’re spamming our texts too.”
Of course, the responses to this screenshot showed alarm for the user’s wellbeing. “That’s abusive.” “You should leave.” “This isn’t someone who will help you get better.” “Even if you did talk about your BPD a lot, there’s no reason for them to be so harsh and minimizing. It makes sense you’d want to talk about it. You live with it everyday!”
The user was astonished with the other users’ comments. Despite being crushed by their partner’s reaction, they didn’t think the red flags were a big enough deal to consider leaving them over. They mentioned their partner had “some narcissistic traits” but that they were an overall chill person. I was happy to read by the end of the thread, the user said the comments had given them a lot to think about. Hopefully they’ve broken up with their partner by now.
If you can’t already tell, I’m of the opinion that a BPD and narcissist couple should not be. Of course there are exceptions to everything in life—but a big component of NPD, from my understanding (I’m not a mental health professional) is an inabilty to empathize. A person with BPD, on the other hand, requires a lot of validation and patience in a partner, both of which require empathy.
A Borderline and Narcissist Relationship
Back when I was in middle school long before I knew I have borderline personality disorder—I saw a borderline and narcissist relationship play out firsthand. This relationship was between my mother (the person with narcissistic traits) and her emotional and incredibly controlling boyfriend (the person with borderline traits). At thirteen, I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was wrong with this relationship but I knew deep down it was toxic, abusive and in no way something I wanted to experience myself.
The first time my mother met this man was at our home when he came to pick her up for their first date. She’d met him online during the early 2000’s when internet dating had just started taking off. Of course, having a stranger come to your house to meet you and your kids for the first time isn’t safe. My mom always had a habit of putting her love life above everything else, including the safety of her children, and she ignored any and all red flags.
As their relationship quickly progressed — her boyfriend didn’t want her to do anything without his approval. This could mean spending time with her children or friends, keeping her natural hair color, stopping home after work before heading to his place, driving back home from his place without talking on the phone, etc etc etc. If she did what she wanted anyway, which she often did, he’d blow up and say she didn’t love him. He’d beg, he’d cry and have public outbursts. It was like watching a toddler with unregulated emotions.
Later on, after the inevitable final break up (there were many), she told me about the red flags she’d ignored. She didn’t tell me these things to teach me a lesson but to confide in someone (even her teenage daughter). In spite of that—I listened, reflected and learned better.
“I knew he was trouble when I gave him our number and he called three times in a row,” she’d said. “By the third call, he left a message saying, ‘if you don’t want to actually go out, the least you could do is be honest and tell me!’ — who does that, right?!”
I nodded in blind agreement, my young eyes wide with interest. It was past 11PM and a school night, but my mom wasn’t concerned about me getting to sleep. And I was too busy enjoying the feeling of being included in yet another adult conversation to advocate for my own wellbeing.
“He came to my job, ya know, during a fight,” she continued. “He had a garage bag full of my stuff…clothes, things I left at his apartment. He yelled and ripped it open. Then he threw it all down the hall in front of everyone. My boss saw it and told me he could never visit again. I should have known then.”
“You know he hit me once. I didn’t tell you this because I didn’t want to scare you. But he did. In the parking lot at work. I even told my sister: ‘if anything happens to me, it’s him.’”
“I know, I know,” she waved me off with a twinkle in her eye. She enjoyed every second of this conversation. “But he was so romantic and loyal. He never would have cheated on me like your father did. That’s why I stayed.”
It didn’t dawn on me until years later that mere faithfulness is the lowest standard a person could have for a partner. Loyalty is the bare minimum. There’s also emotional health, communication skills, mutual respect, shared values, shared life goals, a stable career, financial responsibility, etc etc etc. But I digress.
Of course, through my mother’s perspective, she didn’t play a role in the toxicity of this failed borderline and narcissist relationship. But she absolutely did.
My mother—a narcissist, fed off the emotional reactions of others. She pushed buttons by not caring or by pretending not to know better, invalidated concerns and enjoyed being the center of attention when shit hit the fan.
Her boyfriend—a person with many borderline traits, feared her abandonment and would desperately try to prevent it by abandoning her first.
“She doesn’t want to come over tonight, so I’m punishing her by leaving early,” he’d said to me one day during one of their many arguments. I’d come outside to try and stop him. Because as a daughter of a narcissistic mother, it was my job to try and save her from heartache.
“Why don’t you just talk about it with her? I’m sure she’s just tired from work. She doesn’t mean to hurt you.”
“No, if she cared she’d come over.”
And so he left. I watched him get on his motorcycle and ride away down the street.
I remember thinking his response was odd and unhealthy. I don’t know how I had that insight at thirteen years old with no healthy relationship to model after (apart from TV couples like Eric and Annie Camden from 7th Heaven or Martha and Jonathon Kent on Smallville), but I did. I also knew, deep down, that I acted the same way with my own boyfriend.
In many ways, I related to this man and I felt for him. He wasn’t necessarily a bad guy that wanted to harm the person he loved, he was just incredibly lost and mentally ill. Maybe that’s a big reason why I’m better today. I didn’t want to be like him in my 40’s. And I didn’t want to be with someone like my mother, or be anything like her.
That night ended with my mom relaxing in her room like nothing was happening and our house phone ringing off the hook as he called, over and over again to no response. The voicemails he left sounded like an abandoned child’s. He went from sobbing and raging to yelling and begging all in the span of minutes.
They got back together the next day and this cycle continued on for a very long year. I watched as my mother ran dramatically to his arms when he came over the next evening. I remember cringing and quickly turning to go back to my bedroom. Watching them make up became more and more off putting the more I saw it.
BPD in Relationships
Of course, the above mentioned BPD and narcissist couple is just one example of how these two personality disorders or traits can play out together. Neither were happy. Both were toxic. And ultimately, the relationship failed (but only after my mom’s boyfriend found someone new to replace her).
That’s not to say every person with borderline personality disorder will fall for a narcissist. Sometimes they’ll fall for person who also has BPD or someone who exhibits BPD traits.
There are also times the borderline is the abuser to someone without a personality disorder at all. And, there are times someone with BPD isn’t naturally an abuser but will exhibit toxic, abusive traits that won’t make for a healthy relationship. The ladder could potentially be improved with treatment and hard work if the person is willing to take that step.
BPD in relationships make things complicated. But I do believe there’s hope. I’ve said this many times on social media and on this blog, and have sometimes received criticism in response (by people with BPD and without), but I’ll keep saying it: it’s been proven that BPD is treatable.
Recovery is possible for people living with BPD. Contrary to old beliefs in the medical world, recent research & studies of BPD have confirmed that treatment is not only possible but that BPD also has a high recovery success rate.
According to Perry D. Hoffman, Ph.D. of the National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder, research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health shows:
- After two years, more than 50% patients recover.
- After 10 years, more than 80% recover.
- 88% remain in recovery.
Because our BPD is treatable, we are capable of having healthy relationships. They take more work than the average couple and I still wouldn’t recommend dating an untreated person with narcissistic traits when you have BPD, but it’s not hopeless. If you’re struggling with BPD, get help. Join a DBT program. Learn about healthy communication and the red flags of an abusive relationship.
(Read ‘Healthy vs. Toxic Relationships: BPD Edition’)
Sign up for online therapy with Calmerry or Online-Therapy.com (save 20% first month!)
Take accountability for the toxic traits you may possess and be okay with being less than perfect. Self-reflect and consider your relationships with others. Are they toxic? Do they help you grow? Are you preventing them from growing? These are important questions to consider.
Practice self-care. Practice mindfulness. And most importantly, don’t give up on yourself. Believe you can do better and eventually, you will.
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Make it even easier to find out if your relationship is toxic or not. Measure how healthy or unhealthy your relationship is with the Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationship Checklist. Click here to download the printable.
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