Feelings of emptiness and shame lie at the core of all “disorders of the self.”
From time to time, I have heard the term “borderline narcissist.” I was always a bit confused about exactly what that meant. Did it mean a person who was on the borderline of having NPD? Or was it a person who was comorbid for both BPD and NPD (a not unusual combination, since these disorders often appear together in the same person).
Actually, it means neither of these things. There’s a theory floating around (I currently have no sources or knowledge of whose theory it is but I’ll research it further) that borderlines are essentially narcissists, located at the middle level of the NPD spectrum.
I found a good description of how this works on a psychology questions and answers site, by an anonymous contributor.
All borderlines are narcissistic to some extent but not all narcissists are borderline.
All people who are described as having Borderline Personality Disorder also, as a prevailing clinical fact, display strong traits of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, although to wildly varying degrees. It’s just that, with Borderlines, Borderline Personality Disorder is the prevailing pathology. It is definitely possible to have both.
To explain into further detail, BPD and NPD are more of on the lines of a continuum. They are both clinically grouped as “Cluster B Personality Disorders” (to which Histrionic Personality Disorder- a disequilibrium best described in a few words as somewhere in between both but not located on the same continuum- also belongs). To people who have “only one” of these disorders, they display varying characteristics in relation to their place on that continuum. For example- the merciless cold calculative and uncaring corporate executive Narcissist who has more normalized personal relationships would be “low” to “none” on the borderline comorbidity scale; vs a similarly described individual who has chronic personal relationship issues who would be “high” on the borderline part of the scale.
Borderlines, for their part of the continuum, start at “mild” or “medium” on NPD comorbidity, and there is no such thing as “low” or “none” going from this particular side of the continuum.
To continue, Borderlines often are unofficially categorized into 4 sub types- the waif, the witch, the queen, and the recluse (the least common type). Without going into detail about each type (the names are descriptive of the particular subset nuances) it is not difficult to ascertain that waif and recluse types fall more mid-way on the Narcissistic section of the Borderline-Narcissist continuum with witches and queens falling much higher on the Narcissistic side of the scale.
To restate part of my argument, ALL OF US are narcissists to some extent, 5-20% degree of Narcissistic behavior to put it in a perspective, due to evolutionary factors far beyond our control. All Borderlines are also going at something like 30%-80% degree of Narcissism. Narcissists are 100% degrees of Narcissism, but not necessarily any degree Borderline.
No wonder I’ve been so confused over these past six months about my own diagnoses, and spent about four of them absolutely certain that I was really a covert narcissist (which BPD closely resembles anyway). If the borderline-narcissist continuum theory is correct, then I really am on the NPD spectrum after all, as are all borderlines. Of late I’ve been seeing a lot of similarites between BPD and Complex PTSD and have considered they may really be the same disorder. Could NPD itself be a more pathological and intractable manifestation of severe Complex PTSD? All of them have at their core a compromised sense of self, and chronic feelings of emptiness and shame. So is it possible all these labels really mean nothing at all and mental health providers should be focusing on and treating the symptoms rather than a “disorder?” You just can’t throw people into a box and expect them all to fit.