The Emotionally Abusive Personality: Is She a Borderline or a Narcissist?
If you’re involved with an emotionally abusive woman, at first you probably wondered, “What’s wrong with her?” If you’ve been with her for a significant length of time, you probably now wonder, “What’s wrong with me? Why does she treat me so bad?”
Emotional abuse grinds you down over time and leaves you feeling depressed, anxious, helpless, and worthless. You don’t deserve to be treated badly. You’re not the one with the problem. People who are emotionally abusive typically fall into specific personality types and in extreme cases, personality disorders.
The Cluster B disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Histrionic Personality Disorder (HPD), Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), and Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD) are often abusers in their relationships. These disorders lie on a continuum. Depending on the day, hour, minute, or second, your wife or girlfriend may exhibit different characteristics of these disorders. They’re all similar flavors of crazy.
So how can you tell if your emotionally abusive girlfriend or wife has Borderline or Narcissistic traits? The following are general rules of thumb I use when trying to tease out the difference.
How do they approach relationships?
The Narcissistic Woman: “Love me–or else.” If you don’t unconditionally accept the NPD and all of her horrible behaviors, you are, as one of my readers describes it, “unforgiving and mean.” At first, many of them charm you and then they often try to bully you into loving them. If you reject her or she thinks that you’re criticizing her, you’re treated to a narcissistic rage episode or cold sullen withdrawal and the death stare.
Every now and again a narcissist will be nice to you, even affectionate. This is because she is
- about to manipulate you into doing something for her;
- making a public display in order to be seen by others as magnanimous or loving;
- celebrating because she’s duped or tricked you about something; and/or
- lulling you into a false sense of security because she’s about to clobber you again
In other words, if she’s being nice to you, be afraid. Be very afraid.
The Borderline Woman: “Please love me. I didn’t mean it. Don’t leave me.” Initially, the BPD will mutate into the woman she thinks you want her to be. This ideal fantasy woman has nothing to do with who she is in reality. She’ll do everything in her power to please you in order to make you love her and then the mask starts to crumble.
Can you feel sympathy for her?
The Narcissistic Woman: The NPD woman is a very unsympathetic creature. It’s damned near impossible to feel sorry for her. If she manipulates you into feeling sympathy for her, it’s to get you to let down your guard so she can steamroll you again. They invented the term crocodile tears for NPDs. She cries when she’s terrified of losing control over her half dead mouse–that would be you–or of having her true self exposed.
The Borderline Woman: Even when she’s off the charts crazy, there’s still something sort of pitiful about her. It’s easier to feel sympathy for a BPD, but pity and guilt shouldn’t be the glue that holds a relationship together. It doesn’t negate the consequences of her emotionally abusive behavior, whether the hurt she inflicts is intentional or unintentional.
Is she capable of accepting personal responsibility?
The Narcissistic Woman: She rarely, if ever, admits she was wrong unless it’s to zing you with a thinly veiled insult. For example, “I thought you were a kind and generous man. I see now that I was wrong.” She rarely if ever takes responsibility for her hurtful actions. If you call her on her bad behaviors, she claims it was your fault for pushing her into it (in other words, you deserved it) and you’re a bad man to make a good woman like her act that way. You should be ashamed of yourself!
Alternatively, she’ll use dime store psychology, dogmatic religion or false consensus building to justify her inexcusable behaviors. For example, “A true christian practices forgiveness” or “You have unresolved issues with your mother” or “My therapist said I should do what my gut tells me to do” or “I told my family and friends about this and they think I’m right and you’re wrong.” These are nothing more than tactics for deflecting responsibility.
The Borderline Woman: The BPD will admit what she did was wrong, BUT she’ll follow it up by blaming you for triggering her. That’s not real personal responsibility. It’s what a 5-year old says when they get caught doing something wrong. “Yes, what I did was wrong, but it wasn’t my fault” or “I was really hurt and angry, but I didn’t mean to say all of the horrible things I did, so you have to forgive me.” The NPD usually won’t acknowledge any wrong-doing unless you really have her on the ropes or you’re about to end the relationship–that’s the difference. Most NPDs believes she was right to hurt you; some BPDs might feel bad about hurting you, but she was hurting, so she had to hurt you and ‘couldn’t help [herself].’
Is she capable of empathy?
The Narcissistic Woman: The NPD is virtually incapable of feeling empathy for others. She is 100% ENTITLED, which means other people’s feelings don’t really matter. There is one exception. If someone else is giving you a hard time, the NPD will say, “Well I never had a problem with ‘Joe.’ He’s always been nice to me. He must be really stressed. You’re probably bringing this on yourself.” The NPD woman shows empathy for others at your expense.
The Borderline Woman: BPDs can be guided to feel empathy by reminding them of specific instances when they felt bad, but it’s usually pretty fleeting. Bottom line: A BPD’s emotional distress takes precedence over everything and everyone else, no matter how empathic she may seem to be from time to time. Furthermore, empathy from a BPD often comes with strings attached.
Is she capable of giving?
The Narcissistic Woman: That would be no, no and no. NPDs are primarily takers. It’s definitely a one-way street when you’re involved with a narcissistic woman. She may make a show of being kind and generous in front of others, but that’s only because she wants to protect her highly controlled public image. Alternatively, if she does something “generous” it’s because she believes “those are the rules” of etiquette, society or her religion. NPDs are big rules and regs types. She will then expect to be lavishly acknowledged and praised for her act of generosity (or something as minor as cleaning up after herself in the kitchen) and never lets you forget it.
The Borderline Woman: BPDs are givers, but it comes with a price. It’s part of what I mentioned earlier about doing anything to please you to get you to love them.
Most of the behaviors I’m describing are entirely unconscious. These behaviors are learned at an early age and some of them may be hardwired. Whether she’s more NPD or BPD, both traits are extremely painful and damaging to the people who love them.
by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
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Two Face Woman by matthew manuel puentes on flickr.
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