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Whats the difference between Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder?

* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.

Some of the behaviors of people with Borderline Personality Disorder and those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder may look superficially similar to the untrained eye. They both have deeply entrenched highly emotional styles that can seem equally illogical to someone on the receiving end of their anger.

When someone with BPD is screaming at you or accusing you, it can be hard to stop and notice how this is different from someone with NPD doing something similar.

But…when we take a closer look and know what to look for, it is fairly easy to see that BPD and NPD are very different with regard to their underlying motives, emotional issues, “triggers,” and life strategies.

If they are so different, why do people confuse them?

  • Both groups lack “whole object relations”

They cannot see themselves and other people in a stable way that simultaneously includes both good and bad attributes. This results in un-nuanced, black and white thinking. If you are not all-good, you must be all-bad.

  • Both groups lack “object constancy”

They cannot maintain their positive emotional feelings towards someone (or themselves) when they feel hurt, disappointed, frustrated, or angry with the person. Instead, they “lose” all their positive feelings towards the person and all sense of the past positive history that supported the good feelings. Love turns to hatred in a moment.

  • Both groups tend to have unstable personal relationships

Without “whole object relations” and “object constancy,” it is difficult to maintain intimate relationships with other people. Both those with BPD and NPD tend to have a history of relatively brief relationships that usually end badly.


  • Underlying Motives

BPD: Seeking love and nurturing

NPD: Seeking validation of their self-esteem

  • What They Fear

BPD: That they are inherently unlovable. That they will be abandoned or engulfed by the emotional needs of the other person.

NPD: That they are inherently worthless garbage. That they will be publicly exposed as a fraud and imperfect.

  • Main Triggers

BPD: Anything that stimulates their fear of abandonment.

NPD: Anything that threatens their self-esteem

  • Main Deficits

BPD: Difficulties with routine self care and long-term planning. Difficulty being alone. Difficulty tolerating negative emotions without immediately doing something to distract themselves.

NPD: Difficulty seeing other people as equals. Builds status hierarchies and sees everyone as either “above” them or “below” them. Little or no empathy for other people that is coupled with a hypersensitivity to perceived slights.

  • Why they get angry

BPD: They feel abandoned.

NPD: They feel that they are being disrespected.

  • Why they devalue you

BPD: They want to punish you for abandoning them.

NPD: They want to support their self esteem by putting you down below them in their chosen status hierarchy. This could be because they feel challenged or criticized by you, or simply for entertainment, or because they feel entitled to disparage other people.

  • Strengths

BPD: They are frequently warm, fun, and creative people. Their clinging is the glue that keeps many relationships together.

NPD: Many Narcissists support their self-esteem through working hard to rise to the top. In the process, they build businesses that often benefit other people. Whenever I see a new hospital wing with someone’s name prominently displayed, I usually assume that a wealthy Narcissist has again done something helpful in support of their self-esteem.

Punchline: in order to understand the main differences between Borderline Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, you need to look at what motivates their behavior.

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