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Borderline PD, Narcissistic PD And Relationships

Dr. Aaron Kipnis
Dr. Aaron Kipnis

We’re continuing our discussion with Dr. Aaron Kipnis about relationships between people with borderline personality and disorder narcissistic personality disorder. (Read more in our first post, Narcissistic And Borderline Attraction)

How does gender factor into these relationships?

Many people with borderline personality disorder tend to be female and the majority of people with narcissistic personality disorder are male.  It is even possible these are gender-based/influenced versions of a similar disorder.

Can these kinds of relationships be extremely volatile, violent even?

I think that might be how it goes at its worst. An intense, vibrant attraction eventually ends in some form of individual or mutual destruction (Think Glen Close in Fatal Attraction).

Less disturbed couples with these tendencies, however, have a much better chance of long-term compatibility and stability through their capacity to provide some of the other’s missing parts.

Happiness, for such couples, however, is often illusive and conflict frequently abounds. I believe therapy can help many such couples—if the therapist has good training in working with personality disorders and is tough, grounded and compassionate, with strong personal boundaries.

The person with BPD needs to learn how to become more self-validating without constantly seeking the approval, love and acceptance of others in order to feel whole. And the person with NPD needs to learn that they must allow themselves to let others in and to feel what someone else’s experience is like, so they do not emotionally suffocate in the prison of their own self involvement.

People with BPD have the capacity to penetrate the walled off emotional body of people with NPD and to help them feel more. And people with NPD have the capacity to help people with BPD feel more contained and in command of themselves. So, it is possible they can actually gift each other with some of what the other is missing.

Interesting! And a beautifully stated positive viewpoint. Because both of these personality disorders have a profound impact on relationships, and in fact, core behavioral components of both these disorders involve relationship-functions, do BPD/NPD couples end in up in marriage and family therapy often? Or are they resistant to it?

People with BPD tend to be serial consumers of psychotherapy and its providers [especially if the type of therapy isn’t effective]. People with NPD tend to think there is nothing wrong with them. From their view, everyone else seems to have a problem, so they generally avoid therapy unless they think they are going to lose their emotional supplies (which they get from their partner) or they are referred to therapy by the courts for partner abuse or other such acts. BPD partners thus tend to be the driving force toward seeking relationship therapy.

What are the emotional experiences of children of these marriages?

We can imagine that such children grew up in volatile home with an overly involved mother and a distant or disengaged father. Such children often experience their boundaries violated in various ways around their normal needs for privacy and autonomy of thought and action.

The emotional instability and/or unavailability of the adults around them can cause these children to feel a lot of confusion, anger and withdrawal, and to even start acting out themselves. Personality disordered parents often inappropriately use their children for emotional support, which can cause them to have to grow up faster than normal, taking some form of a co-parental role in their family system.

Many children in such households are very anxious to leave home early. Substance abuse is often a feature of these sorts of personality disorders. So imagine what many of us understand about children of alcoholics and then multiply it. The children of these kinds of parents often wind up in therapy, because their own parents never did. This is another good reason for couples with these sorts of challenges to seek professional help in stabilizing their relationships.

For more in depth reading about this particular subject I recommend:  The Borderline Narcissistic Couple, by Joan Lachkar. And in general, I highly regard various works by Otto Kernberg on personality disorders.

Thank you for sharing your insights, Dr. Kipnis.

!cid_ABC71106-514D-40C4-9CAE-46231C4DA623@homeDr. Aaron Kipnis is a licensed clinical psychologist with a private practice in Santa Monica, California. Since 1997, he has been a full-time psychology professor at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara County. Dr. Kipnis has written five books, many book chapters and articles, a produced play and an award winning documentary film. His most recent book is: The Midas Complex: How Money Drives Us Crazy and What We Can Do About It. He has been an expert witness in court proceedings and a consultant to educational, mental health, corporate, and governmental organizations. He is often featured on national news media, as a keynote speaker for professional conferences, and periodically offers his Midas Complex workshops around the country. He lives in Topanga Canyon, California with his wife and two children. For more information or to contact please visit:


Borderline PD, Narcissistic PD And Relationships

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2014). Borderline PD, Narcissistic PD And Relationships. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2018, from


Last updated: 25 Mar 2014
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Mar 2014
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