5 Environments that Distinguish Narcissists from BorderlinesThere is a lot of crossover between Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). They share some of the same characteristics yet the underlying needs and motivations are extremely different. For a person unfamiliar with the subtitles, this can be quite confusing.

Without an accurate understanding of the two, it is easy to misinterpret their behaviors and make a situation worse. Fortunately, NPDs and BPDs want to be appreciated for who they are and therefore make it clear in these five environments just which personality they are.

  • Walking into a relationship. At the start of any relationship, NPDs and BPDs are highly attentive. They have an ability to immediately connect with another person and draw them into their world. They act as if the other person is the most important person in their whole life.
    • At the heart of a narcissist is a deep rooted insecurity that they cover with a perfect exterior. So while the relationship begins fast and quick, it only goes so deep because the NPD is fearful of revealing their secret. This is confusing for the other person who thought the relationship would continue to progress.
    • At the heart of borderlines is an intense fear of abandonment. Any indication that the BPD will be discarded is met with intense anxiety and a desperate need to get the other person back. Many times, they come across as needy, demanding, or extreme. This is exhausting for the other person who is confused by the dramatic shift in the relationship.
  • Walking into work. Unless the NPD or BPD is the boss, they are likely to be dissatisfied at work. This may result in frequent job changes or an inability to maintain a job for long periods of time. However, when they are their own boss, they are likely to remain in a position longer.
    • NPDs believe they are right and won’t take criticism from a boss well. They tend to see everything as a power struggle for control, influence, money, or dominance. They can also satisfy their need for not working for someone too long by rising to the top of the ladder quickly. Their ability to see opportunities for gaining influence is amazing. Unfortunately, they have no problem taking advantage of others in the process.
    • BPDs can sense the dissatisfaction of a boss when they enter the room. This is traumatizing for them and in an effort to defend themselves, they react emotionally inappropriate. The key to their success lies in finding a mentor as soon as possible (preferably not a narcissist). Having a go-to person that is on their side can make all the difference.
  • Walking in the bedroom. Sex and intimacy tend to be the same thing for NPDs and BPDs. Their idea of emotionally connecting is the physical act of sex. Generally speaking, they tend to be very engaging during sex and see their ability to meet their partner’s needs as evidence of their love.
    • Unfortunately, this is the only environment that most NPDs are able to express intimacy. The idea that they would disclose inner feelings or insecurities is terrifying. So they frequently use sex as proof that they love their partner.
    • BPDs feel intimacy extremely deeply. They have a desperate need to express just how passionate they are about someone and words frequently feel inadequate in expressing their desire. They engage in sex as an extension of the intimacy they feel.
  • Walking into a party. NPDs and BPDs love to be the center of attention at a party. When they walk in a room, many times all eyes turn towards them. They are generally charming, energetic, tell fascinating stories, and absorb all of the energy in a room. They naturally draw a crowd around them.
    • Part of the definition of narcissism is an insatiable desire to have constant attention and affirmation. A party is the perfect environment to meet the needs of their ego. They can get small amounts of admiration from a large number of people without exhausting one person. At the end of the party, they tend to feel emotionally elevated.
    • One of the characteristics of a borderline is the ability to sense the emotional energy from others and mirror it. So when the party is a happy celebration, they naturally shine with jubilance. However, this process is exhausting and by the end of the party, they become drained and want to isolate.
  • Walking into therapy. Both NPDs and BPDs walk into therapy with their own agenda. They have something pressing on their brains and hearts that they want discuss immediately. However, the motivation is quite different.
    • NPDs want to control every aspect of the session. They like to focus on other people and avoid their contribution to a situation. When working with a NPD it is important that the therapist maintain control of the session, not the patient. This is the only way any real change can occur.
    • BPDs have pressing emotions that must be discussed immediately. If they are not released, the emotions will intensify and a blow up towards the end of session is highly likely. This is not about control, it is about emotion management. The therapist should allow the BPD to discuss their concern so the rest of session can be more productive.

These five environments provide an opportunity to differentiate between the two similar personality disorders. Observe the person in the surroundings and they will reveal who they are.

Christine Hammond is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a National Certified Counselor who lives in Orlando and is the award-winning author of The Exhausted Woman’s Handbook.