Stop Walking on Eggshells

When someone in your life has borderline or narcissistic personality disorder

Pay Attention to Me! When Is It Borderline Disorder?

Borderlines want attention; narcissists want admiration and attention

This is part 2 of my series on the similarities and differences between borderline and narcissistic disorders. You can find part 1 here.

Several years ago, my husband and I adopted a black and white cat from the pound. We picked him out of the dozens of cats there because while the rest were mostly sleeping, he was standing on top of his scratching post, meowing, begging to be picked up and played with. Then he jumped to the floor and reached his paw out to us from under the door.

His former owners had filled out a form about his behavior, which we read as the helper went to get the cat out of its jail cell. In big letters, bolded, and underlined three times the cat's previous owner had written:

Needs Attention!

Admire me
It didn't take us long to see that was true. When Buddy is not sitting on top of us or perching on a shoulder, he is following us around like a dog. Unless he's sleeping, he's watching us intently, waiting for us to make a move to meet one of his many needs: being petted and cuddled, being fed, or being taken out for a walk (I said he was dog-like). Buddy doesn't like being alone. When we go out of town, we have two neighbors take care of him because one just isn't enough.

Now, imagine another cat; a white, long-haired haired Persian show cat being fussed over by its owner as she readies it for a competition. Little Pussykins has been bathed and brushed; her toenails are trimmed and she sports a pink bow. Were we to be anthropomorphic about it, we would say that Pussykins needs admiration--similar to Buddy's need for attention, but not quite the same thing. Buddy doesn't want us out of his sight. Pussykins want to be a fine sight. Almost but not quite.

Like Buddy, people with borderline disorder don't want to be alone. You need to be immediately available by cell. A cancelled date sparks real or IMAGINED fear of abandonment. They need attention. Yes, they want to be admired as does everyone. But the fear of abandonment (an upcoming blog topic) is at the core of their need. Without continual attention, they can get a bit desperate and self harm, rage, call you incessantly, make accusations of infidelity, and so forth.

Narcissists, on the other hand, mostly need admiration, although attention sure is appreciated and might be the next best thingNarcissists need admiration all the time. They don't show their need in the same way; Pussykins does not grovel. But she surrounds herself with others who will give her positive reinforcement for her sparkling wit, wonderful personality, and so on and so on.

When someone with NPD in your life is in immediate need for admiration, he may have experienced cracks in his superior self-image and need an admiration injection.

Attention and admiration can be confused. To make it more clear, I have some examples.

First, here is how Sam Vaknin, someone who has NPD and is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism: Revisited, says, "I would do anything not to be ignored, to constitute the center of attention, and to memorably 'shine.' I am very aware of my 'legacy': the afterglow of my presence, the awe that I aspire to inspire, the hushed tones with which people discuss me and my work. I thrive on these susurrations [murmurs]; they are my fuel."

 Here is how another narcissist describes his need for admiration:

Since I have risen from such adversity, I expect others should look on me with admiration and respect at getting this far from so little. They should be awed at my accomplishments and know the man before them has done things they themselves have never even had the balls to even dream of doing. My kindness should be praised, my wisdom should be sought, and my touch should be craved.

If I decide I want to talk to you or hear your opinion, I want you to think before you speak to me and give me your best answer. Anything less I could have come up with myself. I also require your full attention should I be giving you mine. Anything less is crass, and will get you on my bad side fast.

Not even mindless sycophants and love struck admirers give me the admiration I think they should. I want a super-human amount of admiration from a super-human person for my super-human deeds. Want. What does want have to do with it? This is what I am due. No compromise, no half measures.

While I always say I don't need anything from anyone, I need everything from everyone. I need to be the center of attention, and will be the martyr if that is what works. I would never admit any of this, as it would be shameful to admit I need anything from another, and if I have to ask, whatever you give isn't worth anything anymore.

Karen, who had an NPD girlfriend, says:

My ex-girlfriend constantly needed to be acknowledged, adored, and admired. She would get mad at me if I didn't call her each morning on my way to work and on the way home (we didn't live together), yet she would also get upset because she said it felt like pressure for me to call her. She said, "I don't want to have to answer, but I want you to call and at least leave a message because I need to know that I matter." The same thing occurred with her wanting me to text her all the time. If I didn't respond to her texts within a few minutes, she would text again and say "did you get my text?"

She would get mad at me while we were watching television if I got too involved in watching the show and didn't respond and talk to her at least every few minutes. I couldn't shift my gaze at all while she was talking to me. If I did, she would get mad and say that I wasn't paying attention to her and that she didn't matter enough for me to stay present to her.

Once we were on vacation, laying in the sun, reading. The whole time she was texting, emailing, calling people on her phone. I was reading a book and responding to her each time she spoke to me. After about two hours, I fell asleep for about ten minutes. My phone rang and I answered it because it was a contractor doing some work at my house. I was on the phone for about five minutes with him and she got up, mad, came over and said, "I am going somewhere else, I didn't come here to have you fall asleep and listen to you on the phone, I came here to spend time with you."

Keep in mind that people can have both BPD and NPD; the the co-occurrence rate is about 37%.

Randi Kreger is the co-author of Stop Walking on Eggshells.

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