Borderline-Narcissistic Couples – why so much drama and attraction?

Personality disorders occur along psychological dimensions. A person can rank higher or lower along various dimensions. For example, on the dimension of SPONTANEITY one can rank from boringly / routine-like sticking to plans to being overly impulsive and unpredictable in their next actions.

There is no clear cut to decide if someone is spontaneous or not. We can merely measure if someone shows more or less of a typical characteristic or symptom. This happens on a continuum, i.e. from “little spontaneous” to “sometimes” to “very much” or “very often spontaneous” to “always”.

In my work with individuals and couples I work along those cognitive-behavioural and emotional dimensions, which means that I don’t use diagnoses. It is more helpful to bring awareness to beliefs, patterns of behaviour and emotional as well as physical experience. Having said that, please understand the classifications below as shades of grey rather than black and white.

The dimension “Sense of Self”

People diagnosed with NPD generally have a stable but false image of themselves and often believe they are of primary importance in everybody’s life or to anyone they meet. They are often arrogant, display snobbish, disdainful, or patronising attitudes and are needy specifically for the admiration and envy of others. They hold persistent fantasies about attaining success and power and exploit other people for personal gain with a lack of empathy for others.

Whereas people with BPD often demonstrate and present with: Overpowering emotion with rapid changes in mood and trouble regulating the intensity and onset, intense unstable interpersonal relationships, fragmented sense of self, need to be attached with abandonment anxiety (actual or perceived) with tendency to feel shunned and abused and engaging in impulsive behavior. They can be Chameleons who adopt an “identity” that suits the moment to make others accept them. They can exhibit empathy, feel remorse and guilt.

One of the challenges for narcissistic and borderline behaviours in a lacking or confused sense of self. This often combines with a struggle to build and maintain secure and enduring relationships and sexuality. Both probably were facing adversities in early childhood when an injured sense of self occurred. Each with a tendency to lie, manipulate, act out destructively and to feel offended easily. Both frequently experiencing internalised or externalised anger.

What is the attraction and why is it so strong?

People desire partners who have traits which they lack and which can meet their own needs. A narcissistic person presents as very confident and charismatic thereby very appealing and attractive to the borderline’s lack of self-esteem. The colourful exaggerated successes attract a person with a fragmented sense of self who idealises a strong sense of self.

The narcissistic manipulative controlling nature will be attracted by the borderline’s fear of being abandoned. The NPD’s embellishments of power are attractive to the BPD’s need of stability and strength. A person with BPD is emotionally energised and can radiate this energy – often feminine erotic energy – which matches the NPD level of energetic grandiose ambition.

Unfortunately the mutual attraction can play out as a trauma bond. Based on traumatic experiences with an underlying readiness for abuse and to be abused. In addition based on the borderline’s dependency which matches with the narcissistic need to feel important.

What can be done to ease the pain?

While the attraction is based on reciprocal and complementary patterns, it often turns into resentment and even repulsion over time. When stress is high in the relationship, each partner evokes the unfinished business within the other. Since both types are similarly self-centred they struggle to regulate inter-personally by supporting each other.

Best chances for change and long-term success:

  1. Both are willing to work on their own trauma
  2. Both stand up for the relationship
  3. Both can see through the attraction and understand the trauma of the other