Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Jealousy in Narcissistic and Borderline Personality Disorder

Jealousy can prevent people from experiencing intimacy.

Key points

  • Individuals with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders feel challenged by others' success and good fortune.
  • People with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders cope with jealousy in different ways, but both are maladaptive.
  • Repairing a damaged sense of self can help people develop healthy coping skills and build intimacy in relationships.
Image by Daniel Burkett from Pixabay
Celebrate don't covet
Source: Image by Daniel Burkett from Pixabay

Jealousy is a prominent feature for those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder (NPD and BPD). These two groups use significantly different approaches to coping, resulting in different behavior patterns, neither of which is optimal. This post will contrast the two coping styles and then compare them both to healthy coping patterns.

The essence of the emotion jealousy is coveting, or desiring, other people’s things or situations. Examples of healthy coping responses to jealousy feelings include celebrating the good fortune or achievements of others and using others as an inspiration for personal growth or improvement.

NPD and BPD Processing of Jealousy

Sufferers of Narcissistic and Borderline Personality Disorders experience the good fortune and achievement of others as a personal affront. Because they both suffer from an unstable sense of self, they experience the good fortune and achievements of others as a demonstration that they are less than, or inferior.

It makes them feel badly about themselves and for this reason, they don’t celebrate the achievement of others unless it is in an area that they do not identify with. This is most unfortunate as it deprives them of a key aspect of intimacy: sharing good things that occur to people you are close to.

Narcissistic Coping – Competition

Individuals with symptoms of NPD have an inflated sense of self so when the good fortune or achievement of others challenges their self-worth, they compete. Sometimes they do this by bringing up events in the past where they were the beneficiary of good fortune or achievement that was even grander than the current situation. Sometimes they even exaggerate in order to boost their own status in their own minds. Other times, they diminish the good fortune or achievement of others in order to neutralize the challenge to their sense of self-worth.

In the following example, Louis, who has symptoms of NPD, is listening to his friend Skip tell the story of his getting a new job with a huge raise.

Skip: Louis my boy. I got great news.

Louis: You are moving out of state?

Skip: Very funny. No, I got a new job. I am being promoted to Vice President and doubling my salary.

Louis: Wow. That’s amazing. I remember when I got my current job they tripled my salary and gave me eight weeks vacation. How much vacation do you get?

Skip: I think four weeks.

Louis: Well, you will work your way up to my level if you keep at it.

Louis was unable to share in his friend’s good news. He expressed competitiveness after Skip’s first statement that he had good news. He made a snarky joke. He then went on to bring up his own experience where he apparently tripled his salary and then minimized Skip’s new job by competing around the vacation benefit. If you were Louis, would you keep sharing your good news with Louis? Probably not. This would effectively remove one of the best components of intimacy: sharing good fortune and success with someone who can celebrate with you.

Individuals who suffer from symptoms of BPD experience self-loathing and lack the confidence to compete. Their response is to punish, which is developmentally more primitive. Like the 4-year-old who is frustrated by a puzzle that makes him feel stupid, or incapable, and so he tears up the materials, the individual with symptoms of BPD punishes people for their good fortune or achievement. Examples include sabotaging celebrations, graduations or other benefits of good fortune or achievement.

In the following example, Beth, who is 31 and not in a relationship, and suffers from symptoms of BPD, is being asked by her best friend Katie to be in her wedding party.

Katie: Beth, I have great news. I am getting married and I want you to be in the wedding party.

Beth: Who are you marrying?

Katie: Tommy, of course.

Beth: Oh. How long have you known him?

Katie: Two years.

Beth: Oh. Has it been that long? I haven’t seen much of you.

Katie: I have been busy making wedding plans.

Beth: I hope you are not rushing into things.

Katie: Beth, can’t you be happy for me?

Beth: I am happy for you, but I just don’t want you to make the worst mistake of your life.

Katie: Why would you say such a thing?

Beth: Because when you are with him, you don’t have time for your friends.

In the above dialogue, Beth is jealous of the fact that Katie is getting married. She also is unable to celebrate with her friend. Instead, she punishes her friend by trying to shed doubt on her friend’s decision and then accusing her of being a negligent friend. Beth is not likely to share good news with Katie in the future. Beth will feel more distant from Katie.

In the two examples above, Louis, with symptoms of NPD, and Beth, with symptoms of BPD, were unable to share the good news and celebration with their friend and they were not inspired. Individuals who have difficulty sharing the good fortune and achievement of others need to heal their damaged or unstable sense of self through growth and improvement, not by competing or punishing their friends and relatives when they experience good news. The ability to experience intimacy depends on this.

More from Daniel S. Lobel Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today