We're back on track on our series on the similarities and differences between people with borderline personality disorder vs those with narcissistic personality disorder. Here's part 6. You can find part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, part 4A here, part 4B here and part 5 here.
Both borderlines and narcissists get into rages in which they blame and criticize others. They both seem like small children throwing tantrums, frightening those around them. However, the rages are slightly different and are motivated by different things. Keeping these differences in mind will help you anticipate the rage and respond when it happens.
As you know, people with BPD are emotionally unstable. Nearly all emotions go up and down, but anger is the one that others find most hard to take. Their intense and annihilating anger comes from believing that others don't care about them, are not listening to them, or are not meeting their core needs. Their pain is your punishment. You're still, though, the equal in the relationship.
Conventional BPs (self-harming, suicidal, evident low self-worth) may feel shame, embarrassment, and desperation when they calm down and realized they've pushed people away. They may apologize and promise not to do it again. But unless they're in treatment, the underlying issues don't go away. Some conventional BPs do not get angry at all, but hold it in or express it inward through self-harm.
The anger of narcissists, on the other hand, can be more demeaning. Their criticism evolves from their conviction that others don't meet their lofty standards--or worse, aren't letting them get their own way. "Narcissistic injuries," or wounds to the ego, often pave the way for narcissistic rages, which can be passive-aggressive or planned out, as well as sudden. They are above you and you have displeased them and probably deserve punishment they will dole out.
Sarah can't predict just when her borderline husband Ron will go into a rage. But she knows the cycle by heart. And she knows that whatever is really behind it, he'll say it's her fault.
A few days before the triggering incident, she feels the tension start to build. Then Ron gets huffy. He'll sigh, stomp around, and shut the closet doors too forcefully. If she asks what's wrong, he'll say, "Nothing, I'm fine," with a little bit of a bite to it. She leaves him alone, stays quiet, and tries to stay out of his way.
Then he withdraws more, spending all of his free time on the computer. If she asks him to help with dinner or watch one of the kids, he huffs and rolls his eyes, showing her what an inconvenience this is for him. Or, he'll launch into a minor rage about how he never has any time for himself.
Then he'll use quiet--but nasty-language to tell her all her faults. He'll say she has double standards--but he can't give her any examples. Next he'll scream at her about how she doesn't allow him to feel any emotions. She denies this, but he keeps arguing the point (using validation techniques would be extremely helpful here).
Soon after, Ron becomes completely irrational and possibly dangerous. He's screaming, pacing, pulling his hair, slamming his head in the wall, and throwing things. He tells her that sometimes he gets so angry that he wants to destroy her possessions. Instead of breaking her things, he breaks those of the kids. Or he puts holes in the wall. Or drives wildly and dents the car (all borderline impulsive reckless behavior).
After the energy is spent, much like a tantrum, he collapses on the floor, sobbing about how she just doesn't get it and how she'll never get it (he still feels invalidated). He'll also say he's such a horrible person, a horrible husband, and that he knows if he doesn't change that he knows she'll leave him and he'll be a lonely, divorced, middle-age man (all clearly borderline features).
Then he apologizes, says he doesn't want to act that way and that she deserves better. He'll say that he's sorry-but--as in, "I'm sorry, but sometimes I just try so hard to be the person you want me to be, deserve for me to be, that I just can't take it anymore." Then he's on good behavior for about a week.
And then it all starts over again.
Not all people with BPD rage in cycles. It often seems to come from nowhere and can last from minutes to days. A man says of his borderline wife:
On Monday, her anger escalated into a full rage and she accused me of lying and hiding things from her. I can never do anything right. On Tuesday she continued the rage by saying that she is miserable, unhappy, that everything is my fault and that I just don't care. Meanwhile the dogs are cowering in the corners of the house, shaking while she is screaming at the top of her lungs. She calls me up at work, texts me constantly, and wakes me up late at night to continue arguing.
Now let's take a look at NPD.
In a previous post, I discussed the narcissist's frantic need for "narcissistic supply," constant ego-stroking that sustains the NP's underdeveloped sense of self and confirms his grandiosity, entitlement, and superiority. Friends and family are prime sources of narcissistic supply, which is an almost drug-like substance required for well-being.
If you interrupt the NP's supply by doing such things as a) Neglecting the narcissist 2) Paying too much attention to others 3) Criticizing or blaming him or 4) Stop giving him special treatment, you will threaten his sense of superiority and call his entitlement into question, inadvertently triggering a narcissistic injury.
A narcissistic injury is just as painful to the narcissist as abandonment is to the borderline. Thus, just as the borderline is hypersensitive to abandonment, the narcissistic is hypersensitive to anything that smacks of a narcissistic injury.
Sam Vaknin, self-acknowledged narcissist and author of Malignant Self Love: Narcissism Revisited, says:
I am constantly on the lookout for slights. I perceive every disagreement as criticism and every critical remark as complete and humiliating rejection--nothing short of a threat. Gradually, my mind turns into a chaotic battlefield of paranoia.
I react defensively. I become conspicuously indignant, aggressive, and cold. I detach emotionally for fear of yet another (narcissistic) injury. I devalue the person who made the disparaging remark, the critical comment, the unflattering observation, the innocuous joke at my expense.
According to Rokelle Lerner, author of The Object of My Affection is In My Reflection, the three usual reasons for a narcissistic injury are (p.44):
- The threat of losing the primary source of narcissistic supply, be that a job or a relationship
- A failure of old strategies to work, for example, someone challenging their power or trying to take control away from them
- An unexpected situation in which their "robust sense of self dissolves and they become desperate"
Lerner says that after an injury, narcissists may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol or make a mad dash to find alternative sources of attention and admiration. But mostly, they become enraged that others don't go along with their entitled demands. They strike out like a despot whose subjects threaten a revolution. They may be up-front with their rage or be more passive aggressive about it. In divorce, narcissists may fight to get things they may not even want just so their ex-partner can't have it. This includes custody of the children.
Hannah: When our dishwasher malfunctioned right after dinner, we called the repair man. I left the house to visit a friend down the street, who had been expecting me. My husband was left home alone to wait for the repair man and watch TV. During my visit, he called me up, enraged that I was not at home for the repair man, and cursed and yelled at me. All he had to do was show the repair man to the dishwasher. Another time, I worked an hour late, and he was enraged that his dinner was not on the table at the usual hour (feelings of entitlement).
Sofia: My spouse's anger comes very suddenly and his rage is icy cold. He very rarely says anything, but his body language is quite clear. He will become extremely sarcastic when offended. He then starts making noise by banging things around. Or, he leaves the room and as soon as he's outside starts shouting and yelling. Sometimes he just sighs and lifts his eyebrows to make the people around him feel as if they were less than nothing (superiority).
Don: We were discussing one of our trees once. It was a large and beautiful tree. I suggested we cut it down a bit, which she found ridiculous (had to have the superior opinion). The next day she had placed the branches near a lawn chair where I often sit. The bottom was completely bare; she had cut off all the leaves. She was rather proud of herself for doing that and satisfied to see how shocked and hurt I was (planned out rather than impulsive, done to demean the other person).
Linda: When he gets angry, he puts my delicates in the dryer when he knows better. Once he threw our baby's poop-coated clothing in the laundry basket because he was angry that I finished dinner before dealing with the laundry. He has left urine drops on the toilet seat (again, shows his superiority in a demeaning way).
He has spoken out in anger a few times. Those are the times when I finally get to know what he's been thinking and what's behind his acting out. It's usually when he's tired and annoyed and I make the mistake of trying to talk to him. It's usually just a couple of biting sentences then it's over.
You can find chapters on communication and dealing with rages in my books.