Questions About a Partner’s Personality Disorder

Reader’s Question

I’m sure that my partner (no, we don’t live together) has BPD. Although we have great fun together when things are fine, the last five and a half years have been filled with endless arguments and angry outbursts on his part. He is never at fault and can’t be seen to look bad in even the smallest way.

I have two questions (about him and BPD in general). He is very sensitive and cries easily at commercials, movies, etc., and seems to have a lot of empathy for animals and people in general, but when it comes to me or my daughter, I don’t see much empathy at all. How can I reconcile these two perceptions of empathy? Is this a common discrepancy in those with BPD?

At some risk, I’ve suggested to my partner that he has BPD. His only response is outrage and hurt that I could possibly accuse him of having a mental disorder; he is “deeply offended.” He has a long history of being treated for anxiety and depression; is there any hope for a peaceful relationship with him if he refuses to consider that he might have BPD?

And, considering that those with BPD rarely take responsibility for their behavior, how is it that any borderlines arrive in BPD therapy at all?

Psychologist’s Reply

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is considered a “personality disorder” in mental health terms. A personality disorder is defined as an enduring pattern of inner experience (mood, attitude, beliefs, values, etc.) and behavior (aggressiveness, instability, etc.) that is significantly different than those in their family or culture. These dysfunctional patterns are inflexible and intrusive into almost every aspect of the individual’s life. These patterns create significant problems in personal and emotional functioning and are often so severe that they lead to distress or impairment in all areas of functioning.

In my observation, Personality Disorders that create the most interpersonal problems have core personalities of selfishness, insensitivity to others, narcissism, a refusal to accept personal responsibility, and a tremendous sense of entitlement that allows them to abuse/mistreat others when their selfish demands are not immediately met. Personality Disorders are extremely controlling and manipulative — often using obvious behaviors such as physical abuse/intimidation while at other times using subtle techniques such as manipulation, cons, and schemes.

Individuals with a Personality Disorder view everything in their environment as directly related to them. A child’s school play is viewed as an inconvenience to their schedule, even when they are the parent. They do not show normal attitudes and values when in traditional roles such as parent, spouse, employee, or friend. When their selfish behavior is brought to their attention, they are often explosive, blaming, and highly-dramatic — at the same time assuming a victim stance as though they are being harassed or incorrectly challenged.

Socially, individuals with Personality Disorders have shallow emotions, superficial loyalty, and tend to manipulate those around them. Some engage in criminal behavior and con and manipulate others for money, support, and other purposes. Personality Disorders are almost totally self-justifying and show little or no remorse, guilt, or regret for the manner in which they treat others.

In response to your questions, personality disorders can show emotions and empathy, but it’s always in a situation that doesn’t involve them. Like all their emotional expressions, however, these are shallow emotions. Once they are involved with someone, their emotions are controlled by their self-interest. Their emotional investment in others is shallow — like only investing $300 in your automobile. If it has mechanical trouble, you dump it and get another $300 one; if you need to move you don’t take it with you, and if it becomes expensive to operate you leave it.

Individuals with personality disorders often find themselves in treatment, although their investment in treatment is equally shallow. They seek help in times of crisis but discontinue when the crisis is over. They are often encouraged or forced into treatment by partners, the court, and other situations. They also use treatment as a manipulation, as in “Don’t divorce me! I’ll go to counseling and fix my problems.”

The way you describe him, he may also have features associated with Narcissistic Personality. Unlike BPD, the narcissistic personality is preoccupied with social image, perfection, and being idolized. Like all personality disorders, both are very difficult in relationships due to their “it’s all about me” approach to life.

You can expect his behavior to continue. He will be wonderful when things are going his way — very difficult when they are not. He will have little or no understanding or accommodation for you and your daughter. He will focus on life at his convenience. If he is offended in any manner, he will feel entitled to punish you.

You can find additional information about the methods used by personality disorders in my article entitled Identifying Losers in Relationships on this website. CounsellingResource.com also has an extensive blog on the subject.

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