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with Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

Personality Disorders: When Opposites Attract

By now, many of us have taken notice of the fact that individuals with differing personality disorders are often appear drawn to each other. Interestingly, but all too commonly one person with a personality disorder attracts someone with a different type of personality disorder, both parties have personality disorders (PDs)–but on opposite ends of the spectrum. People that suffer from personality disorders typically are attracted to others with personality disorders in which the disorder is complementary and reciprocal. Not surprisingly, when a relationship ends between partners with differing personalities disorders the exes often find themselves in future relationships with people similar to their ex. Even if only one partner has a full-blown PD, the other partner often shows personality tendencies in the opposite direction. Persons exhibiting borderline personality disorder (clingy, frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment, distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self, etc.) are often attracted to others that exhibit narcissistic personality disorder (inflated view of self, require constant admiration, take advantage of others to get what they want, has a sense of entitlement, etc.).

Although, these types of relationships usually start off complementary and reciprocal they quickly evolve into a relationship that is incompatible and toxic. Most of the problems that occur in relationships that include partners with competing personality disorders include unrealistic expectation of the other, failure to recognize or acknowledge their disorder, unwilling to accept they have a disorder, and unwillingness to make the necessary changes to improve and sustain the relationship. Adding to the relationship issues already present in the relationship is the fact that each partner stirs up some unconscious, unresolved issue in the other; for example, people with borderline personality disorder are often quite needy and clingy, while narcissists reject intimacy and closeness with others.

When a relationship involves a partner with NPD it is important to identify your own personal triggers and vices, reduce acting out behaviors such as drinking and substance use, refrain from impulsive acts such as promiscuity, aggression, engaging in defensive behaviors, and being more transparent and vulnerable in a relationship. Individuals with BPD are encouraged to explore their own personal feelings and fears surrounding abandonment in an effort to both establish and maintain a healthy bond with their partner rather than becoming overly clingy and suffocating.

Traits of Persons with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) Include:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  • A history of unstable relationships that include romantic, familial, social, etc., that often cycles between extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
  • Distorted view of self
  • Engage in impulsive and reckless behaviors
  • Recurring suicidal behaviors or threats or self-harming behavior, such as cutting
  • Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few days
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or problems controlling anger
  • Paranoid thoughts in response to stress
  • Having severe dissociative symptoms, such as feeling cut off from oneself, observing oneself from outside the body, or losing touch with reality

Traits of Persons with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) Include:

  • Inflated view of self
  • Engages in manipulative behaviors to serve personal needs and desires
  • Sense of entitlement
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Extreme arrogance
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Failing to recognize and respect the needs of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you

Relationships can be challenging, with or without the presence of personality disorders, however, problems in the relationship can become more pronounced when mental illness is involved. Relationships that consist of a partner or partners with PD’s are more likely to survive if both partners are willing to acknowledge, accept, and work on both their individual and relationship issues. Both partners must be willing to change or problem behaviors will continue plaguing the current relationship or any future ones they attempt. Romantic partners would benefit from receiving both individual psychotherapy and relationship counseling in an effort to mitigate current problems as well as develop problem solving skills to combat future problems.


Personality Disorders: When Opposites Attract

Tarra Bates-Duford, Ph.D., MFT

My name is Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford PhD, MFT, CRS, CMFSW, BCPC I have a PhD in forensic Psychology specializing in familial dysfunctions and traumatic experience. I work with individuals and families struggling with familial dysfunctions, trauma, rape, and incest. I also have a masters in Marriage, Couples, & Family therapy. I am a certified relationship specialist with American Psychotherapy Association (#15221). I have more than 15 years in the field of mental health, relationships, and behavioral sciences.

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APA Reference
Bates-Duford, T. (2017). Personality Disorders: When Opposites Attract. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 15, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Sep 2017
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