My name is Sam Vaknin, and I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited.
My good friend, Joanne LaChapelle, was the first to describe the intricate dynamics, the dance macabre, between narcissists and borderlines. In her seminal book, The Narcissistic Borderline, first published in 1983, she was the first to put her finger on the fact that narcissists and borderlines have archaic wounds. Later, she relabeled this and called it the v-spot, the valorability spot. And she said that narcissists and psychopaths cater to each other's pathologies by activating or provoking these archaic wounds and then solving them.
More precisely, the borderlines' focus on her intimate partner is such that in itself it constitutes narcissistic supply.
The borderlines' concentration, the borderlines' intensity, the borderlines' dedication, addiction, really, to her partner are irresistible to the narcissist.
And of course, the narcissist provides the borderline with the drama she needs and with all kinds of triggers that are required to regulate her internal environment.
The dynamic unfolds more or less in several stages.
First of all, the borderline, the narcissist's meat, the narcissist's love-bombs, the borderline.
The borderline goes through a phase where she becomes convinced that she had found the prince of her dreams, the knight in shining armor, the men, because most narcissists are men and most borderlines are women. I'm going to use these genders.
So the borderline believes that she had found the men who would love her forever, who would never abandon her.
The borderline is obsessed with the issue of abandonment. She has separation anxiety or abandonment anxiety. She anticipates abandonment and she tries to preempt it.
Any sign of rejection, even the most minimal, even the most tangential, even behaviors which are not directed at the borderline, but lead to the absence of the partner.
For example, the partner has to travel or is busy with an engagement. All these provoke in the borderline a sense of impending doom and abandonment and the love-bobbing phase deceives her into believing that the narcissist will never abandon her.
And when I say never abandon her, I mean literally never, like every minute of every hour of every day for the rest of her life.
Of course, this is a tall order and it fades the reality test in the sense that no one can fulfill this kind of role, at least not in the long term.
Sooner or later, there are situations which evolve within the couple, which the borderline interprets as rejection. As rejections accumulate, the borderlines create a scenario in a head, a narrative whereby these rejections both lead to and are indicative of an intention to abandon, to abscond, to bail out, to eject from the relation.
Borderlines have very low tolerance for uncertainty and even lower tolerance for abandonment.
So what the borderline does then, she preempts the abandonment. In other words, she dumps the narcissist before the narcissist dumps her.
But before we come to this stage, let us discuss the issue of rejection and abandonment as it is perceived by the borderline.
Internally, the borderline has an attachment model. The attachment model is such that it includes elements of fusion and merger, very akin to co-dependence.
But as opposed to co-dependence, the borderline does maintain a separateness. She is separated and individuated. She doesn't really want to merge and fuse. She just wants her partner to be available all the time, to be there all the time. She craves the partner's presence.
So the merger and fusion have to do with logistical issues, actually. The partner has to be present. The partner has to be attentive. The partner has to cater to her needs. The partner has to provide endless support. The partner has to answer questions. The partner simply has to serve as an omnipresent, omnitemporal resource.
And when the partner fails in the eyes of the borderline, in fulfilling this role, the borderline does not interpret it as the partner having a separate existence. She interprets it as signals.
In other words, the borderline not only has a defective, dysfunctional internal model of attachment, but she also has a problem with interpreting signals and cues. And she also has a problem of rendering behaviors, misinterpreting behaviors within dysfunctional narratives that incorporate misinterpretation of signals.
So it's quite a mouthful. Let me try to elaborate on each one of the three elements.
The first element is a dysfunctional internal model of attachment.
In the borderline's mind, intimacy is pain. Intimacy is intimately connected to pain. Pain and hurt are inevitable outcomes of getting close to someone.
So she, in her mind, regards people who love her, people who seek her company, people who want to have a relationship with her, as potential sources of pain and hurt.
And this is not just your run of the mill pedestrian pain and hurt. This is a kind of pain and hurt that can lead her to suicide. Approximately 11% of people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder do commit suicide. And in some settings and so on, about 70% of them self mutilate or attempt suicide. So suicide is a very serious risk.
And cutting and mutilation and so on, they are also very serious risks.
And the borderline's only way to cope with pain and hurt is by self trashing or damaging herself. Reckless behaviors, such as, for example, unprotected sex or extreme substance abuse, binge drinking and so on. These are also forms of slow motion suicide, or forms of self mutilation. That's the borderline's way of coping with pain and hurt.
So whenever she finds an intimate partner, whenever she falls in love, whenever she gets attached, immediately there's a thought, he's going to hurt me. He's going to cause me intolerable pain, unbearable pain. I'm not going to survive this.
So within the borderline there's a dynamic, there's a clash between her fear of abandonment and her fear of ungovernance. We call this situation approach avoidance, repetition compulsion. She approaches, then her anxiety spikes because she expects to be hurt. She expects pain.
So she withdraws, she becomes avoidant.
But then as she becomes avoidant, she's afraid to lose her partner, her abandonment and separation anxiety spike. So she again approaches and again avoids and again approaches, etc.
And all this within an attachment model that says you are safe with strangers. You can have sex with strangers. You can have fake intimacy with strangers. You can have a few hours intimacy with strangers. You can do anything with strangers because it's safe because they're strangers and they're never going to see them again. And they're not going to hurt you, hurt you. There's not going to be pain involved in this. I'm not going to touch to this person, but I must avoid my significant other. I must not give him the power to hurt me. And this leads to serious problems in relationships with borderlines generally and even more so in relationships between borderlines and narcissists.
Because the narcissist verbally abuses, physically abuses, sexually abuses, abusing is the narcissist's main mode of communication. It is via abuse that the narcissist reasserts his grandiosity, his omnipotence. It is via abuse that the narcissist safeguards control over important internal objects because the narcissist internalizes everyone and interacts only with internal objects.
So abuse is his way of maintaining control. Abuse is indispensable to the narcissist and major forms of abuse include silent treatment, being emotionally absent, being physically absent, upsetting oneself, going away, going no contact for a while.
In verbal abuse and psychological abuse, the narcissist would tend to be sadistic because using his cold empathy, he realizes that the borderlines may trigger his pain, so he causes her pain. He also leverages her abandonment anxiety. He heightens it. He amplifies it. And he does this very often. I wouldn't say unintentionally because there's intentional info, but he does it the way a virus infects a body. He does it the way a tiger. It's an antelope. He does it because that's his quiddity. That's his essence.
These forms of abuse are who the narcissist is. They are integral parts and aspects of his identity. If he were to stop abusing, he would have vanished in effect, at least as a narcissist.
And so the narcissist teams up with the borderline. There's a lot of bumpy face. The borderline starts her game of approach avoidance. She approaches the narcissist because she seeks and craves intimacy and love. And she wants to be actually engulfed. She wants to merge and diffuse, but then she terrorizes herself with her abandonment scenarios and separation narrativesand she anticipates pain and she anticipates hurt. And then she withdraws and the avoidance stage often involves extreme behaviors, which are very self-destructive and very other destructive.
So I mentioned, for example, casual sex, casual unprotected sex, substance abuse. These are extreme behaviors, which are very hurtful to the partner. Even if the partner is a narcissist, it causes pain within the relationship.
So she starts with this repetition compulsion, approaching avoidance. The narcissist reacts to this with abuse because he knows no better and he knows no differently. He starts to abuse her. He starts to abuse her, first of all, and above all, to reassert control, to rein in her avoidant impulses. And when this fails, the abuse escalates. The more he abuses her, the more avoidant she becomes.
Not only avoidant, but there is another mechanism that starts to operate. And that's the mechanism of dissociation.
The borderline faced with extreme abuse reacts by actually dissociating. She kind of breaks apart. And then she becomes very psychopathic.
In a previous video, I've explained that recent research begins to regard borderline personality disorder as a form of secondary psychopathy.
As the abuse escalates and the approach avoidance cycles lose their mettle, lose their power, the borderline changes, sometimes not gradually at all, switches to a psychopathic state. And she becomes a psychopath. She could become a psychopath for hours, for a few hours, or for a few days, or for a few months. But her behaviors, her traits, her mode of thinking are utterly psychopathic.
So she externalizes aggression. She loses impulse control. She becomes impulsive. She becomes reckless and hurtful. And she is more mad than sad. She also loses object constancy, totally. So when she acts against her partner, she doesn't regard him as a partner anymore. She splits. He becomes all bad. He becomes the villain. He becomes the enemy.
And then when she's away from him, her lack of object constancy, her object impermanence, make her forget completely that he exists. So when she's away from him, he doesn't exist. She doesn't remember him, literally doesn't exist.
Some borderlines take with them objects that belong to their loved ones in order to remind themselves of these loved ones. Object constancy and inconsistency, object impermanence in borderlines is very pronounced.
So when she's away from him, he doesn't exist. And she can do anything. And she does do anything and everything as though she has no partner. And when she's with him, he's the villain, he's the enemy because of splitting, dichotomous thinking, black and white thinking.
And on top of that, we have a layer of catastrophizing. She knows what she's doing. She knows that she's hurting her partner. She knows that she's cheating. She knows that she's decompensating and acting out. She knows that she's binge drink. She knows that she's stealing his money. She knows, I mean, she knows she's misbehaving. And she anticipates punishment.
Part of the reason, one of the reasons for the misbehavior is, as I said before, self destructiveness, self trashing. Also, the way she does things, it's very radical. So if she binge drinks, you binge drinks to the point of blackout, if she has sex, sex with a stranger, it's going to be unprotected and extremely sadomasochistic and kinky. It's whatever she does, she would exaggerate to and she would make sure that her partner knows about this, finds out about it.
Because ultimately, the borderline's goal is what is at least unconscious, goal is one and only. I'm going to dump you before you dump me. That's my message. A message to a partner is, I love you, you have power over me, and you are using this power to hurt me, you are using this power to cause me pain. So I anticipate fully owing to this rejection and owing to this abuse, I anticipate fully that you're going to dump me, you're going to abandon me. And when you dump me, and if you abandon me, I will die. I know that I will die by my own hands or otherwise, but I will die. And I don't want to die. Because I don't want to die. I'm going to dump you before you dump me.
That's the core of borderline, by the way, if I had to distill all the borderline diagnosis, all the 1000s of books about the disorder, millions of articles. If I had to distill the borderline's existence in a single line, it would be, I'm going to do to you what you're planning to do to me. And I'm going to do it first.