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Author Topic: Narcissistic - Borderline Couple - Bridget Murray, APA  (Read 2395 times)
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« on: May 04, 2007, 11:52:43 PM »

Mixing oil and water

Psychologists often find that opposites attract in couples with personality disorders.

BY BRIDGET MURRAY, American Psychological Association Monitor staff[/color]


By now, Florida psychologist Florence Kaslow, PhD, has seen the pattern so often among some couples that it's practically a clinical archetype: Both parties have personality disorders (PDs)--but on opposite ends of the spectrum.

The fastidious, stoic spouse with obsessive-compulsive PD clashes with the often messy, flamboyant spouse with histrionic PD. Or, likewise, the self-absorbed, self-important person with narcissistic PD spars with the needy, clingy partner with dependent PD.

It may seem like an oversimplification, but all too commonly one person with a PD attracts someone with a different one, Kaslow has found in her 30-plus years of practice. What might underlie that pattern?

"They seem to have a fatal attraction for each other in that their personality patterns are complementary and reciprocal--which is one reason why, if they get divorced, they are likely to be attracted over and over to someone similar to their former partner," Kaslow says.

And although empirical research on the pattern is generally lacking--clinical trials on it are few and far between--support for Kaslow's contention appears in a number of books and reports in the literature, such as a theory paper on narcissistic PD in couples by Paul Links, MD, that appeared in 2002 in the American Journal of Psychotherapy (Vol. 56, No. 4). In it, Links maintains that a narcissist's PD severity and willingness to change can make or break a couple's attempts to fix problems.

Personality schisms, however, can complicate such attempts. Even if only one partner has a full-blown PD, the other partner often shows personality tendencies in the opposite direction, notes Los Angeles psychologist Marion Solomon, PhD, who wrote a chapter on treating borderline couples for a book Kaslow edited on couples treatment (see further reading). Most often, Kaslow and Solomon see attractions between people diagnosed with Cluster B (antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic) and Cluster C (avoidant, dependent and obsessive-compulsive) personality disorders.

Kaslow offers a theory on the attraction between Clusters B and C: "Someone in Cluster B or C will more likely seek a polar opposite they see as exhibiting qualities they lack and assume this will make them feel more complete or whole," she explains. "So, for example, the histrionic is attracted to the OCD perfectionist because of the histrionic's need to be stabilized, and the OCD person is fascinated by the histrionic's devil-may-care attitude. But after a while they start to rub each other the wrong way."

Fatal attraction

Problems derive from each partner's unexpected reaction to the other, Kaslow says. She explains: "These people often literally see the other person as 'their other half.' But that half is one they have cut off in themselves, so they're essentially attracted to the thing they've rejected or have a negative attitude toward."

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that each partner stirs up some unconscious, unresolved developmental issue in the other, says Joan Lachkar, PhD, a Los Angeles practitioner who writes on partners who exhibit certain traits and characteristics of narcissistic and borderline PDs. For example, explains Lachkar, an instructor at the Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute, the borderline's neediness chips at the narcissist's armor against intimacy, and the narcissist's rejection stokes the borderline's abandonment anxiety, reaction to shame and tendency to feel shunned or abused.

Such partners are frequently developmentally arrested, forming a pattern that Lachkar calls "the dance" in a narcissistic/borderline relationship. The dysfunction in that dance--the narcissist's emotional withdrawal and the borderline's need for rejection and emotional upheaval--can stem largely from childhood attachment problems, a hallmark of personality disorders, Lachkar argues.

In adult relationships, Solomon adds, people with PDs may act out early abuse, neglect, violence and other forms of childhood attachment failure--although, as pointed out in the literature on PD underpinnings (see page 42), it's not clear how much these failures stem from parental abuse, already existing childhood pathology that elicits negative parental reactions or an interplay of both.

Causes aside, Solomon maintains that the ingrained PD mechanisms form early: "When a child is terrified at 0 to 18 months, the left brain--the rational language part of the brain--has not yet developed, so the right brain either puts up a shield or views the self as flawed," Solomon says.

Treatment approaches

Combating those right-brain reactions by adding left-brain cognitive functions is key to treating couples battling PDs, Solomon says. However, practitioners lack research on how to effectively do that, says Links, author of the article on couples' treatment prospects for people with narcissistic PDs. In that paper, Links drew on his own clinical experience to argue that, when the partnership involves a narcissist, its survival depends on that person's ability to:

* Curtail acting-out behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol, overspending, acting in sexually compulsive ways or physically or verbally abusing a partner.

* Reduce levels of defensiveness and show vulnerability.

In addition, says Links, the Arthur Sommer Rotenberg Chair in Suicide Studies at the University of Toronto, the couple needs to "rebalance" itself so that that the narcissist's partner--likely a more masochistic, dependent type--still gratifies the narcissist's need for admiration, but also can glean increased love, approval and support from the narcissist. By comparison, in a borderline rebalancing, the other partner needs to stop feeding the borderline's impulsivity and emotional volatility, notes Links in other writings.

It's challenging enough to achieve such rebalancing when one person is personality-disordered and the other is relatively healthy. But when both parties have PDs, treatment can only work if it pinpoints where the PDs interlock, then pries the disorder

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« Reply #1 on: December 11, 2007, 03:35:51 PM »

Interesting article... .not a whole lot of substance, but, it is something I have wondered about since DB (who is very obviously BPD) hooked up with the new girl (who is obviously NPD) - They have broken up/made up about 5 times in the last year, usually every few months until she (surprise) ended up pregnant... .

I've wondered how exactly that dynamic would work... .with the desperate need for attention on both sides... .

This describes them almost exactly, although they both seem to have some similar traits to the other... .

the self-absorbed, self-important person with narcissistic PD spars with the needy, clingy partner with dependent PD.

Now that is a truly crazy relationship, huh?  In some really sick way balancing each other's insanity... .

Another link/article in searching for info on this subject, had the following information... .


One may ask at this point what it is that bonds/binds or attracts such individuals together. It appears that two narcissists or two borderlines would never "make it" together or "do the dance," because of their dynamics and defenses. But together, these oppositional types seem to maintain a bond. I see each as the perfect counterpart for the other. For instance, the borderline holds to the fantasy that if he/she were better the other would meet his/her needs. The borderline's lack of impulse-control and the tendency to criticize and attack tends to cause the narcissist to withdraw. The withdrawal brings out the borderline's fears of abandonment and separateness which leads to more anxiety and attacks. In such a dyadic relationship, the narcissist is continually faced with his/her limitations threatening the image of perfection, beauty, entitlement, grandiosity, etc., and the struggle to turn to others in the external world for validation/confirmation or approval. This withdrawal evokes profound anxiety in the borderline. The borderline, feeling threatened upon the potential loss of the narcissist, then attempts to win the narcissist back at any cost. The inclination of the borderline to subjugate self (be an "as if" personality) leads him/her to again reenact or play the role of the perfect mirroring self object for the narcissist and holds to the promise that he/she will improve ("do better". The narcissist then returns in light of this promise; however, the promise is impossible to keep due to the lack of impulse control in the borderline and the feelings of emptiness that are provoked by this pretense. Thus the cycle starts all over again.


It has been stated that the narcissist is dominated by a need for specialness and appreciation, has a need to preserve a special relationship with another who he fantasizes will provide him with narcissistic gratification. While the borderline is preoccupied with proving his "existence," the narcissist is involved with proving he has s "special sense of existence." The narcissist is often feeling short-changed, let down and unfulfilled by the borderline spouse. Narcissists seemingly have a distorted or a pseudo sense of entitlement (as in feeling more entitled, as in withholding visitation rights), and seek out others who can mirror their grandiosity and reaffirm their "entitlement" needs. For the narcissist, this is preferable to facing up to his/her real self and its personal limitations and defects.


In short, both would rather invest time and energy blaming/attacking or running away rather than taking charge of their lives. Letting go, coming to terms with reality, may mean facing up to their own limitations in themselves and the other. Frequently, one would rather prove the other partner wrong indefinitely, than to recognize their own personality deficits. For the borderline, developing a sense of self may mean giving up the idea that the narcissistic partner is the only one who can validate them. It may mean learning something about developing normal dependency relationships and recognizing that parasitic relationships do not lead to real bonding and growth. For the narcissist it may mean learning how to evaluate their own accomplishments without needing constant validation/confirmation from others, and to rely more on their own thinking such as in realizing that they may not be as entitled as they imagine. .

A very disturbing dynamic to say the least... .


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