Stop Walking on Eggshells

When someone in your life has borderline or narcissistic personality disorder

Black and White Thinking Is Both a BPD and NPD Trait

Splitting causes massive confusion in family and friends

This is part 8 on my series on the similarities and differences between people with borderline personality disorder and those with narcissistic personality disorder. You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4A here, part 4B here part 5 here, and part 6 here and part 7 here.

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Being split black can happen out of the blue and can leave you reeling. One day you may be enjoying the "best" intimacy, sex, love, times of the relationship and the next you are dealing with a robot void of emotion, icy cold, and being completely ignored. (FromBPD Relationship Recovery -- Me Project).

Splitting, or all-or-nothing-thinking, has always been considered a borderline trait. But like emptiness, it commonly occurs in people with narcissistic personality disorder as well.

Splitting is a cognitive distortion and defense mechanism--a totally unconscious way BPs and NPs make sense of the world. It causes mood swings and contributes to arguments, criticism, and blame. For example:

  • Family members are seen as all good or evil; idealized and devalued. BPs and NPs put them on a pedestal (often at the beginning of the relationship) and knock them right off of it when the new partner invariably disapoints.
  • People with BPD (and sometimes the "vulnerable" type of NPD) see themselves as good or evil, idealized or devalued depending upon how they feel that day. When they see themselves as all bad, BPs are at risk for self harm or impulsive, reckless behaviors.
  • Situations are seen as great or terrible, e.g. losing a job means one will be unemployed for life.

Narcissistic vs. borderline splitting

Those with NPD value those who give them admiration, approval, and narcissistic supply. Unsurprisingly,  they devalue people who don't go along with their grandiose fantasies. As one NP says, "You value those who feed your world and your view of yourself." Narcissistic splitting seems to be focused more on "superior-inferior" terms, such as the competent parent versus the incompetent parent, or the supposedly financially brilliant NP versus the financial incompetent spouse.

People with BPD split depending whether or not others are meeting their emotional needs, whether that is not abandoning them or giving them some space when they feel engulfed (one follows the other and then back again). BP's see people as all-good or all-bad in "close relationship" terms, judging qualities such as trustworthiness, sexual fidelity, or betrayal.

When BPs get divorced, they often have custody or access battles over the children because they see the other parent as morally evil (making claims that the soon-to-be-ex will sexually abuse the child, abandon the child, or neglect the child). When NPs get divorced (or several years later when they have an unrelated set-back--a narcissistic injury) they often seek full custody of the child because they see themselves as a superior parent and the other parent as incompetent.

Examples from non-PD partners

Lynda: Before I met him, my boyfriend had many chaotic relationships. He would fall in love overnight, ask the person to move in with him, and then create fights to get them to leave. We can be incredibly close. He¹ll tell me that our relationship is the best he¹s ever had and that I¹m the most brilliant and sexy person in the universe. Minutes later, bam, we have a minor disagreement, it turns into a big fight, and he completely cuts himself off from me for two weeks at a time.

Splitting partners, children and friends

Janet: On rare occasion, he will say I am wonderful, one in a million. More often, he will say I am a bitch and I am the reason our kids have problems. He says the same about our kids: when our son does something wrong, like changes his mind about coming home from college for the weekend,  my husband will say our son must be flunking out. Or he'll say he must be on drugs; I won't give him another dime unless he shows me his grades. Other times he gives them gifts of money or other things.

Regarding his friends and acquaintances, my husband may maintain a friendship with someone for many years, then discover some flaw in that friend (something as trivial as poor academic ability) and end the friendship on a dime. Thereafter, he will have nothing good to say about that former friend and plenty bad to say about him. 

Splitting and mood

Edwin: He could be absolutely euphoric one moment and so angry the next. Like hanging out chatting and then getting a phone call from his sister or parents that drastically changed his mood. I learned to screen his calls.  

He loved me and said I was the absolute best, but if my gay friend from kindergarten called me, then I was a slut who didn't love him enough. He could be fine and listening to the kids goofing off in the car, to all of a sudden screaming at them because they were too noisy.  

He was euphoric and happy on a recent vacation but pretended (I think) he had a dream about my old boyfriends. He berated me the entire way home. He said, what was wrong with me? Why did I sleep with so and so? How could I let so and so touch me and so on. He also went from very down and sure he was stupid and unlovable to being happy and feeling more loved.  

Splitting and divorce

Kevin: She treated me like a prince when we were dating and through the early part of marriage.  After I filed for divorce (she refused to stop her extramarital affair), she turned on me, saying, "I'm going to make your life a living hell."  It was a face that I had never seen before, like looking at the devil. It was very frightening. And she made good on her promise.

Splitting and breaking up/getting back together

Vic: One day she wants to spend her life with me forever, I am so loving, so gentle and patient...and the next day, I am not fulfilling or sensitive enough or emotional enough or available enough....and the next day, she can't stand to be away from me and misses me terribly and can't imagine her life without me...and the next day I am too young, don't talk about my feelings enough.

And then it's, I still have a child at home and she is ready for a partner that doesn't have a child; and the next day, she loves to be with me, our bodies fit so perfect together, she has never let herself be loved so much or given so much to  a relationship; and the next day, the relationship isn't working, she needs her freedom, she wants to travel, she hates talking on the phone and having a relationship in which we rarely see each other (by her choice); and the next day she loves me and misses me terribly, and so on and so on and so on for eleven years.

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

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