Category: <span>Borderline & Narcissism Issues</span>


Most caretakers believe that if they could just find the right words, voice inflection, or explanation, they could get the borderline or narcissist to understand why their behavior is so distressing. The hope is that they would then be willing to change how they act. You know that if you were told that you’d done something that was upsetting, cruel or unkind, you’d immediately try to change.

You want them to understand how difficult and hurtful their behaviors are.

However, it’s a mistake to assume that the BP/NP will respond emotionally or empathetically the way you do, or really understand how you feel.

People with BP/NP have definite social and emotional deficits. Their low levels of empathy make it hard for them to understand how others feel. They believe that you think and feel exactly like they do. In addition, they project their own feelings and thoughts onto you. Their accusations about you are exactly what they are doing, thinking and feeling.

BP/NPs may be aware that you’re upset, but they simply think you’re having the wrong reaction.

Explaining, clarifying, pleading, or in any other way of trying to get the BP/NP to think and act the way you do is futile. You can’t change their brains to function the same way yours does, nor can they get you to truly understand what it feels like for them.

Negative Reinforcement

If you want the BP/NP in your life to act differently, you have to make it appealing for them to act differently. Negative reinforcement works the best. When the BP//NP is acting rudely, hostile, argumentative, controlling or demanding, take yourself out of the interaction. Hang up the phone, walk out of the room, leave the house, or disengage in whatever way you can. Don’t respond with hostility. Simply say that you don’t want to continue the interaction, and then remove yourself so that it’s impossible to continue.

When the BP/NP is acting positively and normally, give them your attention. Be prepared, however, to exit quickly when things turn negative. They will learn which behaviors will hold your attention, and which no longer work.

Don’t try to solve the BP/NP’s problems

When you hear the BP/NP complain, demand, or want things to go differently, do you think you’ve done something wrong and jump in to try to fix or solve their problems? Instead of believing that you caused the BP/NP to feel or act a particular way, keep in mind that what’s really happening is that the BP/NP feels emotionally unable to cope and wants you to solve the issue by doing exactly what they want.

Every time you work to make things better for the BP/NP, the more they want you to take care of things for them, the more they believe that you are the cause of what makes things go wrong, and the more they blame you.

It changes everything when you look at the BP/NP’s complaints as problems they need to solve, instead of something you’re responsible for. Suggest that they would get the best results by checking on those things themselves, then let go of thinking that you have to fix anything. If they get angry, whine, or complain, keep focused on taking care of yourself and your children. Acknowledge that you’re aware of their displeasure, and let them figure out what to do about it. Remove yourself and your children and get involved in something else.

Letting the BP/NP solve their own problems, allows you to disengage from thinking that you’re at fault and need to do something to make it better for the BP/NP. When you change your perspective, you can relax and let them solve their own problems. That will give you time and energy to figure out what you want, and how you want to solve the issues in your own life.


How do people get these disorders?

The current research from the Karolina Institute in Sweden is that 75% of everyone’s personality is inherited. This includes narcissistic and borderline personalities. The family, culture, and environment provide the training.

The Mayo clinic identifies several specific factors that contribute to BPD and NPD. Genetics – inherited elements such as over-reactive emotions, inability to see other people’s perspective, poor impulse control, high anxiety, and even poor facial cue recognition. Neuro-biology – Intermittent or lacking connections in the brain between feelings, thinking, and behaviors. Parenting factors – A combination of overly-critical AND overly-praising parenting, or a combination of overly-protective AND neglectful parenting. Mismanagement of life stressors – Poor stress management skills, extreme need to maintain a perfect image, blaming others, desperate need for admiration, overly fearful of rejection, lack of motivation to change.

How does culture affect narcissism?

When a culture is very me and I oriented, more people are narcissistic. Cultures set the tone for what the society will put up with. Right now our society will put up with a lot of self-absorption, greed, and hostility.

What does the family contribute?

Of course, the family contributes the genetic predisposition. That also means that probably one or more of the parents and grandparents have identifiable personality deficits. They provide the model, including the rules, the skewed emotional reactions, and the willingness to accept and reward narcissistic and acting-out behaviors. Poor boundaries and lack of effective parenting strategies may also lead to physical and or sexual abuse which especially exacerbates borderline disorders.

Why doesn’t their behavior make sense? People with BPD and NPD will scream at you to convince you to love them, or blame you and then expect you to understand their feelings, or push you away only to beg you to come back. These are all due to the poor brain connections between their feelings, thinking and ultimate behavior. They confabulate reasons for why they act this way—often blaming you—but it’s their disordered brain functioning and confused reasoning that are the real reasons.

Why do I end up feeling depressed and anxious after a fight, while the BP/NP seems perfectly fine? You feel terrible after a BP/NP’s chaotic bout of anger, emotional outrage, and hostility because you think there’s a relationship reason for your loved one’s behavior. In addition, you continue to think about the conflict and wonder what you did to cause the BP/NP to be so upset.

Whereas, the borderline/narcissist may actually feel better after these events because they have just released all their negative energy and given it to you. They aren’t even thinking about it anymore. So, when you want to talk through the problem and figure out how to fix it, they will tell you it’s all in the past, and you should just forget about it. They may not even remember what they said or how they acted because they were in a heightened state of arousal.

What can I do to help the NP or BP change? You really can’t do very much. You can’t change how their brains work. You can’t use reason to convince them to be less angry. You can’t change how they think. You CAN stop reinforcing their negative behaviors by not fighting with them when they are emotional. You CAN quit giving into their tantrums. You CAN stop trying to give them advice, which they perceive as criticism. You CAN leave if the relationship becomes abusive and detrimental to your health.

Can you teach a narcissist/borderline to be more empathetic? The BP/NP doesn’t listen to other people’s suggestions, so you can’t make them change, but they can learn to act more empathetic. A highly motivated BP/NP who is desperate to stay in a particular relationship, can learn what to say and do what is demanded. However, it is exhausting for them, and it takes minute-to-minute awareness and attention which is very hard to sustain, and most BP/NPs don’t feel it’s actually worth it.

Why do I think I’m the one who’s wrong or crazy? The BP/NP has hundreds of reasons for their negative behaviors—most of which involve blaming you for saying or doing something they don’t like. AND, as a caretaker, you’re very vulnerable to thinking you cause other peoples’ feelings and behaviors. You don’t cause the BP/NP to think, feel, or behave in any particular way. They act as they do because of their dysfunctional brain, their unwillingness to take responsibility for what they say and do, and because they frequently get what they want by acting as they do and blaming you. People with BPD or NPD rarely ever think they are crazy or wrong.

How can I stop getting my feelings hurt by the narcissist? The easy, quick answer is to stop interacting with him or her. Your feelings get hurt because you expect something from the narcissist that he or she can’t or won’t give you, and then you are disappointed. You can’t expect kindness, generosity, caring, emotional support, etc. when you need it. The BP/NP may be able to deliver caring occasionally in a good moment or when he or she is very motivated to get something from you. Otherwise, don’t count on getting your expectations met. The best attitude for you to have is to not care what the narcissist says to you or thinks about you, and not depend on what the narcissist promises or says they will do.

Am I being abused? Signs of abuse include: Having your wants and needs discounted or demeaned, hurtful joking, blaming, trivializing your feelings, name calling, ordering and demanding, hostility, judging and criticizing, blocking your efforts, dominating, accusations, belittling, and threats of or actual emotional, financial, or physical harm. Only you can decide how much abuse you are willing to take. Pretending these actions aren’t abuse or not demolishing your self-esteem, or affecting your ability to parent well, or future well-being is counter-productive.

Should I leave or stay? Leaving or staying primarily depends on your own unique circumstances—length of relationship, age of children, finances, housing options, health issues, intensity and frequency of the BP/NP’s negative behaviors, your age, your support system, your goals and values, and so many other factors. There is no one right answer. If you are waiting for a certain make or break event to happen, I would, instead, highly recommend that you formulate a plan rather than taking an impulsive action.

Why is it so hard to leave a relationship with a BP/NP? The BP/NP is actually desperate to make you stay with them. They try to convince you to stay with promises of better behavior, alternating with blaming you so you will feel too guilty to leave. They make threats of worse behavior if you leave, offer sex, and remind you of past wonderful times together. Their fear and anger at your abandonment often explodes into so much chaos that you become too anxious, depressed, or exhausted to leave.

As a caretaker, you often stay because of your vows and promises, your need to be caring and helpful, dwindling self-esteem, fear of managing on your own, hope of changing things, and even lack of awareness of the abuse you may be experiencing. And, if you have children, you also worry about the effect a divorce may have on them.

See my books for more in-depth discussions of these topics:

Stop Caretaking the Borderline or Narcissist

Healing from a Narcissistic Relationship

Raising Resilient Children with a Narcissist or Borderline


As I was reflecting on the BP/NP’s changeable, erratic, and frequent reversals in thoughts, feelings, and actions, it became clear to me that they are constantly and often suddenly changing things around. This creates much confusion and bewilderment for you.

For example: They’ll be fanatically focused on one thing, e.g. moving to the Baja, buying a new car, socializing with a certain person, and by the time you’re finally agreeable, the BP/NP seems to have forgotten about that passion and may even be embracing the opposite idea. Now you feel muddled, disoriented, and also annoyed or angry.

Why do they do this? Several symptoms of the disorder can help explain this.

BP/NPs are always in the NOW.

They frequently refuse to discuss or even think about anything in the past—which includes 5 minutes ago. They talk about the future but usually in fanciful and unrealistic ways. To the BP/NP this moment, this feeling, this idea right now is the only one that’s important. That’s why they have such passion, zeal, and emotional reactions. All their energy is focused on this moment. This can be very exciting, but also overwhelming and out of control. It also makes it hard to discuss anything else, make future plans, or trust anything they say.

BP/NPs have very poor memories.

Their extremely strong emotional reactions to things in the moment seem to result in fewer memories being put down. When one moment is over, they’re into the next moment. They can even contradict themselves in the same sentence, because they don’t remember what they just said. This is totally crazy-making to you. It’s deeply frustrating when you’re hurting from what they’ve said or done, and they seem to have completely forgotten it.

BP/NPs just want to feel good.

They spend almost all their energy trying to be in control, which they think will make them feel safer and happier. Their emotions are often so strong, variable, and unhappy that they spend tons of time on trying to feel good. They pay very little attention to how you’re feeling and what you want. They try hard to get you to go along with their ideas convinced that they’ll feel better if you do. If they can’t get your cooperation by being pleasant and appealing, they’ll flip to attacking and blaming, and then back and forth. Their focus is entirely on convincing you that they’re right and you should agree that they often forget what they really wanted in the first place—to feel good.

The BP/NP’s plans often fail.

BP/NPs are easily sidetracked by their changeable emotions, competing goals, lack of memories, and fears of looking bad. People with BPD are usually very poor at planning or following through. While those with NPD are often so single-minded that they forget about the other people and events that they need to arrange in order to reach their goal. So, they end up with a lot of failures. Their inner fears and vulnerabilities demand that they blame others for things that fail, and quickly move onto the next new thing—which they’re convinced will be fabulous.

BP/NPs have little empathy.

They’re barely aware that you’ve been inconvenienced, upset, or confused by their sudden changes of ideas, feelings, or reactions. They’re not good at reading body language or facial expressions in others. They typically misread others’ reactions as primarily negative and threatening. So, they’re always on the defensive, trying to save their own shaky self-esteem rather than tuning into what is happening for you.

What can you do?

  1. Remember that most of what BP/NPs say they want to do, or are going to do, will never materialize.
  2. Always have a plan B for yourself and your kids.
  3. Try not to take anything they say or do personally. They’re in their own peculiar fantasy world.
  4. Don’t attack back. That will only make things worse.
  5. Keep your eye on your own goals and keep moving toward them.

Avoiding Drama

Dramas happen in every relationship. When you’re involved with a borderline or narcissist, dramas happen a lot. Often the issue being fought over is less important than the underlying reason the drama is happening.

Typically, dramas that happen over and over are really about control, dominance, or anxiety. Underlying issues often include:

Who gets to make the decisions?
Who is right?
Who has the most power?
Who is needing reassurance?
Who is feeling unimportant, abandoned, or disregarded?

It’s easier to see the borderline or narcissist’s distress, than your own. You may not even notice your own anxieties and need for control or your fears about not being loved, but they also contribute to the dilemma. So, you fight it out over things like who left the toilet seat up, or who didn’t clean up or put things away.

If you want to stay out of these dramas, here are some steps to take:

Speak up right away.
When something isn’t working for you, mention it in the moment. Don’t discount your feelings, think about it for days, and then blow up. State your preferences clearly and quickly.

Talk about yourself. 
Say: “I would like, I want, I would prefer,” rather than “YOU did, you think, you want.”

Listen carefully.
What feelings do you recognize in yourself and the other person? What do you think the real issue is? Can you put the issue into a clear sentence in your mind?

Observe and share. 
For example: “I hear that disagree with me, and I notice that you look angry. Is there something more we should talk about?”

Yes, and… 
Don’t dismiss or discount your partner’s feelings or your own. Instead, state his/her feelings and add your own feelings and views. “You’d like to watch the game all day Saturday, AND I’d like to spend some time just the two of us together.” Using AND instead of BUT indicates that you are valuing his/her preferences as well as your own. It encourages both of you to problem solve, instead of arguing.

Walk away.
Whenever you notice negative changes in facial expressions or body language, voices being raised, or hurtful and angry comments, it’s a sign that you’ve moved into DRAMA. Instead of a discussion between partners, you’re now adversaries. It’s a sign to STOP the interaction. You both may find that you want to keep pushing to get your point across, but everyone is too activated to solve anything at this point. If the issue is important, you can come back together when you’re both calm, and finish discussing things again.

Stay respectful.
Don’t engage the borderline or narcissist about their behavior in the moment. Asking “What’s wrong?” or saying, “That was rude,” will likely start a fight. Hostile words thrown out during dramas can haunt the relationship for years. If the borderline/narcissist continues to be hostile, rude, or disrespectful, that’s a sign to walk away, not escalate by saying something nasty to them.

Dramas that can’t be solved by talking. 
Dramas that happen when either of you has been drinking, using drugs, or is emotionally or physically exhausted, can’t be talked out. Mental illness is also a drama that you can’t solve. If you’re with a borderline, narcissistic, severely depressed, bi-polar, or psychotic partner, those issues are NOT something that you can cure or fix. The person needs to get professional help before your relationship can move forward.

Certain feelings may develop over the life of a relationship that cannot be healed. These include scorn, passive aggression, bitterness, resentment and lack of trust. When the scars are too deep, the relationship may need to be let go. Continually fighting and creating drama about these issues doesn’t solve the problems and only adds more anger and hurt. Let go instead of continuing to pour hostility onto each other–for your sake and the sake of your children.

Don’t Put Up with Bullies!

People who are willing to use sarcasm, yelling, name calling, threats, intimidation, withdrawal of love, and even physical attacks when you won’t do what they want, or you don’t think the same as they do, or you don’t feel the way they prefer—ARE BULLIES. It is not just that they are frustrated, hurt, or angry, it is the fact that they choose to try to make you have the response that they want by doing something that hurts you, scares you, or makes you feel coerced. When someone attacks your self-esteem or your sense of well-being in order to get their own way, they are bullying you–even if that person is someone you love or someone who says they love you.

Being in a relationship means compromising and making accommodations to meet each other’s needs. That means your needs and wants should be accommodated as much as you accommodate the other person’s needs and wants. People who make those adjustments good naturedly and in a calm, loving and considerate manner create respect, ease your discomfort, and demonstrate their love. If you are being bullied by someone you love, it’s time to ask yourself:

Am I feeling loved when this happens?

What excuses am I making for the other person?

Do I believe deep down that I don’t deserve better treatment?

How often does the other person act this way?

Have I spoken up about it? What happened when I did?

Have I seen any improvement toward more positive behaviors?

If there has been minimal improvement, why am I still putting up with it?