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Borderlines: No Win Relationships, BPD Enigmas Decoded

Uploaded 1/16/2022, approx. 22 minute read

Ah, borderlines. The only thing better than one borderline in your life is two borderlines in your life. A drink to all the wonderful enchanted magical amazing unicorn creatures known as borderlines, and to the havoc they cause and the pain and the trauma.

Today, I am going to discuss many unresolved issues in the understanding of borderline personality disorders and the interaction between borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.


Joanne LaChark, my good friend, was the first to write a book about narcissistic borderline couples way back in 1982, if memory doesn't fail me, and so she is a pioneer.

Today, I am going to elucidate the complex dynamics in the borderline's mind and how these dynamics manifest or rather explode and erupt when she is in an intimate relationship with a narcissist.

Stay tuned, because they are going to hear things about borderline personality disorder and borderlines in general, which you have never heard before. You are hearing it here first.

My name is Sam Vaknin. I am the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited, a professor of psychology and a long-time admirer of borderline and borderlines and hostage to them.


Okay, borderline shoshanim, we are going to delve right into the black hole. Follow me if you dare.

In borderline personality disorders, I am saying disorders because there have been various descriptions of borderline conditions throughout the years, starting in the 1960s. So it is far more accurate to use the plural than the singular.

At any rate, in borderline personality disorder, there are two anxieties in play, not one.

A lot of the literature is mistaken on this. A lot, many scholars, many self-styled experts and even real experts and let alone laymen, make the mistake of believing that borderlines have abandonment anxiety.

Now the clinical term for abandonment anxiety is separation insecurity and borderlines do have abandonment anxiety. They react very badly to perceived rejection and abandonment, real imaginary or looming. They develop something called anticipatory anxiety. They anticipate the abandonment of the rejection and they react to it.

But they have another type of anxiety and it is known as engulfment or enmeshment anxiety. It's the anxiety of being subsumed in the intimate partner, of disappearing into the intimate partner, of merging with the intimate partner, fusing with the intimate partner, never to be seen again.

And these two anxieties are constantly at play in the tortured psyche of the borderline.

On the one hand, she is terrified of being rejected, abandoned, humiliated and ignored or neglected by her intimate partner. And on the other hand, whenever he tries to get closer to her, whenever he tries to develop intimacy in the relationship, whenever the relationship becomes more intense, closer, more loving, she senses that she is disappearing. She senses that her existence is at peril, imperiled. She has an overriding sense of ominous menace. It's atmospheric, it's ambient and she feels like she's suffocating and dying.

So it's very difficult to find the golden point, the golden middle between abandonment and engulfment.

If you get close to the borderline, if you get intimate with the borderline, she feels that you're about to take over. She experiences it as a hostile takeover.

And if you try to stay arm's length, respectful of her boundaries and to give her personal space and personal time, she would experience this as abandonment and rejection.

Actually, borderlines interpret or misinterpret almost anything and everything as abandonment and rejection.

If you are busy, if you're going on a trip, if you're talking to someone for too long, if you're not paying them constant attention, 24-7, 365.

The problem is both anxieties, the separation anxiety and the engulfment anxiety, both of them put the borderline in touch with her empty schizoid core.

Remember that at the core of many cluster B personality disorders, there's an emptiness. Avoid a black hole, the howling corridors of an abandoned mansion.

So when the borderline anticipates or experiences abandonment, she negates herself. It's like the borderline defines herself similar to the narcissist. The borderline defines herself via the other's gaze.

The intimate partner carries out many important functions for the borderline. The borderline is unable to regulate her internal environment. She is unable to control her moods and her emotions and many of her cognitions. She is not exactly in touch with reality. She has impaired reality testing.

So what the borderline does is she outsources these functions. They're known as ego boundary functions. She outsources these functions to the intimate partner. She lets the intimate partner, for example, affect her moods, regulate them. She lets the intimate partner provoke her emotions and then control the intensity of these emotions so that they don't overwhelm her. And she lets the partner serve as a mediator between her and reality. She mediates reality. Reality is mediated through the intimate partner.

So all these are ego functions. Healthy people do all these things from the inside. They don't need anyone outside to do these things, to perform these functions.

Borderlines and narcissists do.

So when the borderline anticipates abandonment, she actually anticipates an amputation of part of her mind because intimate partner is perceived by the borderline to be an extension of her tortured mind.

If he goes away, he will have taken with him a part of her mind. So it's like losing her mind.

Abandonment is perceived as losing her mind.

And what is when you lose your mind? You lose yourself.

So it is self extinction, self annihilation. Abandonment is perceived by the borderline as the equivalent of mental death. Engagement, on the other hand, is exactly the same because engulfment negates the separateness of the borderline. Engulfment means that the borderline vanishes and then reappears within the intimate partner. They become one, merger, fusion, they become a single organism with two heads.

And to do that, the borderline needs to disappear.

In a typical relationship with the borderline, there's the intimate partner and an emptiness. An emptiness where the borderline used to be.

Now the borderline is inside the intimate partner. It's a kind of haunting or position or body snatching or mind snatching. That's what the borderline does to her intimate partner.

And so both abandonment anxiety and engulfment anxiety force the borderline to get in touch with her schizoid empty core. They negate her existence in different ways.

And this is, of course, a terrifying experience. Being in touch with your own emptiness, with your non-existence is a terrifying experience.

So this creates in the borderline a repetition, compulsion, in other words, a behavior that repeats itself, regardless of negative outcomes.

So repetition, repetition, compulsion, specific to the borderline is known as approach, avoidance, approach, avoidance, repetition, compulsion.

The borderline approaches her intimate partner. She wants, she craves intimacy. She wants to be desired. She wants to be in a relationship. She needs the companionship. The intimacy for her signifies that she exists. She's being seen. The gaze of the partner defines her, outlines her contours, which are a poor substitute for boundaries in healthy people.

So the intimate partner is like a scanning, scanning laser that sort of creates the demarcation and the outline of the borderline and separates her from the rest of the world, brings her into life as an entity.

And so she approaches the intimate partner because she needs to be regulated via the intimate partner. She needs her mate to mediate between her and herself and between her and her world.

She craves intimacy.

But then when she gets it, when the intimate partner is responsive, loving, caring, compassionate, holding, empathic and warm, she gets terrified. She becomes terrified because she feels that she's about to be subsumed in the intimate partner, swallowed and digested, assimilated. She's about to vanish.

And so she begins to avoid the partner. She develops avoidant behaviors, approach, avoidance, approach, avoidance, hot and cold. These behaviors are very disorienting.

The borderline intimate partner becomes very confused and then irritated and then aggressive. She provokes in the intimate partner abusive behaviors. This process is known as projective identification.

But many, many partners of borderlines describe the following situation.

The first six months, one year or two years of the relationship were wonderful. There was no untoward behavior. There was no problematic conduct. Everything was okay. Intimacy was growing. Love was flourishing. Smiles were all around. The couple was getting more cohesive and more bonded. Attachment was growing. Everything felt perfect.


Let's say the first six months or the first year or first two years.

And then suddenly out of the blue, seemingly without any provocation, the borderline changes. She becomes aggressive, often violent. She misbehaves in public. She acts out. She does crazy things. She becomes defiant and reckless. She engages in very hurtful, injurious and painful behaviors. For example, she cheats compulsively with strangers or she develops alcoholism and substance abuse.

So, and this happens suddenly after an initial phase of perfect harmony, ideal couplehood.

What happened? Why this sudden transition?

If you use the twin construct of the two anxieties and the approach avoidant behaviors that they create, you can interpret this sudden transition.

At the beginning of the relationship, the borderline feels in control. She feels in control because she's the focus of attention. There is limerence. There is infatuation. There is a laser-like focus on her. She is the pivot around which her intimate partner's life revolves. She is the core. She, I mean, the intimate partner becomes obsessed with her and is all over.

And so she feels that she has leverage. She feels that she can always kind of modify the intimate partner's behavior and avoid abandonment and rejection. In other words, she has an internal locus of control. She feels that she is in charge of everything that's happening in the relationship because she has a lot of power over her partner, generally engaged in power plays and tend to interpret everything in terms of power matrices, who is on top, who is winning, who is losing. They're very competitive and very possessive.

And so at the beginning of the relationship, and it can last a month, six or two years, at the beginning of a relationship, the honeymoon fades.

The borderline doesn't experience abandonment anxiety or engulfment anxiety. She cannot be abandoned because the intimate partner is all over her, clearly infatuated and will never let her go. She's the best thing that ever happened to him. He is enchanted. He's under a spell.

So no abandonment anxiety, but also no engulfment anxiety because she is the one doing the engulfing. She is in control. She dictates the tempo. She is the one who delineates the parameters of the relationship, intensifies, reduces. She's totally in charge.

And so no abandonment, no anxiety.

But then the relationship evolves. Daily life has its own rhythm and its own calculus. It's friction. There are debates. There are disagreements. There are negotiations. There are compromises to be made. There are common goals to be set. There is the tedium and boredom of routine.

And all this interferes with the borderline's self-perception as God-like. That's her grandioseities, grandiosity speaking.

And so daily life in this sense is a narcissistic injury. It's a challenge to the borderline's grandiosity. It undermines it.

The borderline begins to realize the limitations of her power within the dynamic of the relationship.

And so the twin anxieties suddenly are evoked. They are provoked. And the locus of control shifts from internal to external.

Now the borderline becomes more and more dependent on her intimate partner, more and more demanding, more and more clinging, more and more needy because her abandonment anxiety had kicked in.

But whenever he tries to accommodate her, to provide her with more intimacy and love and compassion and affection and warmth and acceptance and empathy and sympathy, she reacts by pushing him away. And she pushes him away because her engagement anxiety kicks in.

Now she can't admit to any of this, so she tends to project. And she would say that she's not the one pushing her partner away. She is the one being pushed away.

It is the intimate partner who is doing the pushing away. He is the one who is destroying the intimacy. He's the one who is introducing conflict and aversion and aggression into what hitherto had been a paradise, an ideal liaison, a dyad to die for.

She's very angry at him. She becomes aggressive because she feels that he is undermining and destroying everything they had built together. Although in reality, she is the one. She is the one doing it. She is the one pushing him away. She is the one who renders herself insufferable and her behaviors become more and more unacceptable until they escalate to the point of acting out. Acting out usually happens when the borderline perceives imminent or actual abandonment and rejection.

At that point, a psychopathic self-state takes over. The borderline becomes a secondary factor.

Two psychopaths, not a classic psychopath, but a factor two psychopath, actually a dysregulated psychopath. She decompensates all her defenses crumble.

The narrative that she had constructed where she was on top and her intimate partner was actually her extension, a kind of external regulator of her ego functions, that narrative crumbles.

In a way, the borderline creates the equivalent of the Marxist shared fantasy. It's a narrative, but it is a solipsistic narrative.

The borderline doesn't bother to involve her intimate partner in her shared fantasy. The shared fantasy is exclusively hers. She lives inside a piece of fiction, a script that she had created.

And in this fictional account, she is a goddess worshiped and admired and adulated and catered to and attended to by her intimate partner.

Daily life and what daily life brings, which is usually conflict and friction, undermine this storyline, this storyboard, and everything falls apart.

At that point, she decompensates. The compensates means all her defenses and her personal shared fantasy. They fall apart. They fall to dust and she acts out. She becomes a psychopath.

It's a protective measure. She can't tolerate the pain and the hurt. They overwhelm her. They disregulate her. They threaten to drown her.

Borderline use many borderlines use metaphors of water. She's about to drown. And so she becomes a psychopath. She says, Who cares? I'm defined in your face, my way or the highway. I'm going whatever I want to do. I'm going to do whatever I want to do.

And then she, she actually dysregulates behaviorally. And she becomes defiant and reckless and dangerous to herself and to others.

All this process involves dual mothering.

Now we already established that the borderline has her own variant of concern, her own variant of shared fantasy.

The narcissist shared fantasy involves two people. The narcissist shared fantasy is a theater play for two actors.

One is the narcissist and the other is the intimate partner. The shared fantasy of the narcissist was first described by Sander in 1989, not by Wagner.

The borderline has her own version of shared fantasy.

But the borderline shared fantasy is a theater play for one. It's a monodrama. It's a single actor or actress.

And that would be the borderline.

The borderline creates a shared fantasy where only she exists. The intimate partner's role is to allow the play to go on.

The intimate partner in the borderlines world is a prop. He is a stagehand. His job is to make sure that the curtain goes up on time, all the furniture and props are on stage, and the stage is set for the borderline's performance.

His job, in other words, is to provide the borderline with the internal harmony and stability, homeostasis and equilibrium, that will allow her to carry on with her life. And this is her shared fantasy.

In her shared fantasy, the intimate partner is a part of her and she is a part of him. They are one. They are single organism. It's a merger and fusion fantasy.

Very similar to the codependents shared fantasy. But the codependents shared fantasy actually is closer to the narcissist. Because in the codependents shared fantasy, there are two figures. In the borderlines, there's only one. The borderline is not able to recognize the separateness of her intimate partner because such separateness would threaten her too much. If he's separate, he can walk away. And if he can walk away, he will walk away. He will abandon her.

So her abandonment anxiety precludes her from recognizing the individuality and separateness of her mate. And her engagement anxiety precludes her also from recognizing his separate existence because she is one with him. And she is terrified of this, of the fact that she is all alone.

The borderline's universe is totally solipsistic. Into this mess, into this mix, come trotting the charming narcissist.

When the borderline comes across a narcissist, a magical alchemy takes place. Indeed, many borderlines tend to team up with narcissists in intimate relationships.

The borderline narcissistic couple is a very well-established clinical fact.

Why do borderlines gravitate to narcissists? Why do they seek them out?

There are many answers to this. And Joanne LaCharki had tackled this issue, in my view, most profoundly when she said that the borderline and the narcissist trigger each other's wounds, what she calls the V-spot, the vulnerability spot.

And so by triggering each other's wounds, they're actually catering to each other's needs, emotional needs.

That's one answer. And I'm sure it's completely valid.

But there's another. And the other answer is dual mothering.

Now, you remember from my conversations, from the conversations I had with Richard Grannon, that I suggested that the narcissist becomes a maternal figure when the narcissist comes across a potential intimate partner.

The narcissist strikes a deal with the intimate partner. The narcissist says, I'm going to be your mother. I'm going to love you unconditionally. I'm going to idealize you in the love bombing face. And I'm going to love you unconditionally. And in return, you're going to love me unconditionally. I'm going to mother you. You're going to mother me. We're going to mother each other. We both are going to regress to infancy and childhood and re-enact our childhood with much better outcomes.

That's the Faustian deal that the intimate partners of narcissists strike with the narcissist.

The same happens with a borderline. In relationships with non-borderlineites, the narcissist and his intimate partners are good enough maternal figures in a shared fantasy. They are a kind of fake family. It's a fake family concept.

The narcissist comes to the intimate partner, idealizes her, and then lets her have access to her idealized image. He grants her access to this idealized image of her that he had created. And she falls in love with her own idealized image through his gaze, through his eyes.

The narcissist becomes a conduit of self-love, a vessel, a container of self-love.

So when the narcissist idealizes his partner, he is acting as any mother does. Mothers tend to idealize their children and they tend to offer the child unconditional love, love that is not conditioned on performance, love that is not conditioned on behavior. Mother's love is not dependent or conditioned upon any external parameter. It's just there. It's a fact of life. It's a force of nature.

The narcissist imitates this, emulates this very convincingly because in the love bombing and grooming phases, the narcissist appears to be maternal in the sense that he accepts his intimate partner in her totality, flaws and warts and shortcomings and frailties and weaknesses, everything. He glorifies her, he glamorizes her, he renders her perfect in his eyes and he broadcasts this message to her. He says to her, I love you the way your mother should have loved you and never loved you. I love you the way a good enough mother loves. And all I'm asking is that you love me back the same way. And I'm going to test you. I'm going to abuse you. I'm going to abuse you egregiously and I'm going to see if you will still love me. And if you still love me after I had abused you, that means your love is unconditional.

So this is the sick dynamic between narcissists and non-borderline intimate partners. In relationships with borderlines, the narcissist offers the same unconditional love, the same unconditional love.

Narcissist says to the borderline, I'm going to love you. The narcissist says to the borderline, I'm going to love you. I'm going to love you as you are. I'm going to accept you as you are. I'm going to assimilate you. I'm going to merge with you. I'm going to fuse with you because I find you perfect and I find even your weaknesses perfect, even your frailties, even your shortcomings, even your mistakes, everything in you is perfect. My love is unconditional. It has nothing to do with your performance and nothing to do even with your qualities. I just love you because you are.

That's the narcissist's message to the borderline.

But there's a huge difference between relationships with non-borderlines and relationships with borderlines. When the narcissist teams up with the borderline, the borderline message is not, I'm going to do the same. I'm going to love you unconditionally.

You remember when the narcissist has an intimate partner who is a non-borderline, they both mother each other. They both provide each other with unconditional love.

When the narcissist teams up with the borderline, he provides her with unconditional love. She provides him with the ability to be a parent, with the ability to be a mother.

Now, this is a very interesting twist. The borderline allows the narcissist to act simultaneously as a mother figure to her and as a parentified child.

So the borderline becomes a child and a mother. The narcissist mothers the borderline as a child. He loves the borderline unconditionally as a good enough mother should do. And the borderline laps it off. Loves it up. She loves it.

That's one side of the equation. The other side of the equation, the borderline becomes a mother to the narcissist. It's dual mothering. The narcissist mothers the borderline. The borderline mothers the narcissist.

But the borderline becomes the narcissist's dead mother. I repeat this, it's very important.

The borderline becomes the narcissist's dead mother.

And by becoming his dead mother, he actually had in reality, in life. The dead mother who had made him into a narcissist. By becoming this dead mother, she allows him to parentify himself. She allows him to mother his mother and to have a chance at healing her and fixing her and saving her.

This is a super crucial insight. The reason narcissists bond, trauma bond with borderlines is because the borderline recreates the narcissist's real mother, his original mother.

The borderline is not a good mother. The borderline is a dead mother, a bad mother, an unavailable mother, a withholding mother, an absent mother, a depressed mother, a narcissistic selfish mother.

In other words, the borderline becomes the mother, the narcissist, actually had. And so she gives him a second chance to mother that mother, to parentify himself and become a parent, a mother to his real mother through the agency of the borderline.

And to have a second chance with his real mother. And the narcissist develops this rescuer, savior, healer, fixer, obsession.

Here he is face to face again with his real mother. It's unbelievable. It's a time travel experience. He's back to childhood. And now he can make it right. He can parentify himself. He can become his mother's mother, his mother's parent, and with his love, dedication, and energy, vital energy, he can revive his mother. He can heal her. He can fix her. He can cure her.

And the borderline gives him this illusion, this delusion, because she is in need of saving. She is in need of being protected. She's a drama queen. She's constantly on the verge of suicide or on the verge of a crisis. So I don't know what. She's constantly overwhelmed, constantly dysregulated.

And the narcissist feels, here's my chance. Here's my chance to fix my mother. And if I only fix my mother by being a good mother to her, by parentifying myself, all will be well. All will be well. And life will have been restored and justice and everything.

I mean, it's an irresistible fantasy. And only the borderline can provide the narcissist with this.

Hence the intensity and strength of the bond between narcissist and borderline.

When the narcissist teams up with just anyone, any intimate partner who is healthy, has boundaries and so on, yeah, there is dual mothering. The narcissist's mother is the intimate partner. The intimate partner mothers the narcissist. They are both good enough mothers initially.

But it doesn't work. It falls apart. It falls apart because the narcissist never had a good enough mother. He doesn't know how to deal with good enough mothers.

So he begins to abuse his intimate partner.

But with the borderline, that's his comfort zone. The borderline is a bad dead mother. He knows how to deal with bad dead mothers. He is the world's leading expert on bad dead mothers. And here's one right in his backyard, waiting for him, waiting for him to change her, to transform her, to cure her, to heal her, to fix her. And by doing so, to fix himself, to cure himself, to save himself, to rescue himself. It is redemption, vicarious redemption by proxy.

And the borderline gives the narcissist this illusionary chance, second illusionary chance, and he takes it and he runs with it.

And the deeper he is immersed in this shared fantasy, the more it's difficult for him to extricate himself.

And the borderline knowingly sometimes plays this role by using intermittent reinforcement, approach avoidance, and other psychopathic ploys when she is in the psychopathic self-state.

Because she feels that this binds the narcissist to her. This reduces her abandonment anxiety. She knows if the more dead as a mother she is, the less likely the narcissist is to abandon and reject her. She acts the dead mother with conviction and flair because this guarantees that he will never leave her. And also it guarantees that there will be non-government because the narcissist will never merge with his dead mother. The narcissist wants to fix and cure and heal and rescue and save his dead mother, rendering her a good enough mother so that he can merge with her.

But as long as the borderline resists this process, as long as she insists on remaining a dead mother, she will never be engulfed and she will never be abandoned.

Hence the perpetual dynamic, the perpetual mobiling of narcissist borderline dynamics in a couple, in a relationship.

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