What are the best ways for me to deal with a person who displays some traits of narcissistic and borderline personality disorders. This person is engaged to a close family member, and I don’t think she is going away anytime soon, so I need to know how to deal with her better. Thanks.
- Dr. Dombeck responds to questions about psychotherapy and mental health problems, from the perspective of his training in clinical psychology.
- Dr. Dombeck intends his responses to provide general educational information to the readership of this website; answers should not be understood to be specific advice intended for any particular individual(s).
- Questions submitted to this column are not guaranteed to receive responses.
- No correspondence takes place.
- No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Dombeck to people submitting questions.
- Dr. Dombeck, Mental Help Net and CenterSite, LLC make no warranties, express or implied, about the information presented in this column. Dr. Dombeck and Mental Help Net disclaim any and all merchantability or warranty of fitness for a particular purpose or liability in connection with the use or misuse of this service.
- Always consult with your psychotherapist, physician, or psychiatrist first before changing any aspect of your treatment regimen. Do not stop your medication or change the dose of your medication without first consulting with your physician.
People are able to get along with other people because they understand one another; they have ‘mapped’ what each other is likely to do or think, and those maps are more or less accurate, enabling people to predict and accurately assess the motivations and states of mind of the other person. Narcissistic and borderline personality disorders are thought to occur when these social maps don’t form properly and people are either unable to properly interpret the meaning of other’s actions, or fail to comprehend the importance and reality of other’s experiences. A narcissist will treat you as though you were an object to be manipulated and not a person, but it isn’t because that narcissist is evil – it’s because he or she has a malformed self- and other-concept and is looking at you through a twisted lens. Similarly, a borderline person’s dramatic and often hostile presentation seems very reasonable to them, in light of their fears of abandonment and inability to adequately comprehend that adults can have both ‘good’ and ‘evil’ impulses at the same time. It is as though someone got to adulthood with the under-developed social understanding of a toddler or young child. It’s not actually like that – but it’s sort of close. It was not generally a choice why this person would end up like that; There are reasons for why this occurs – generally abuse and poor parental modeling.
Understanding that the social boundaries of your new family member are likely to be unstable or malformed and to clash badly with your own and those of the other people around you, you must be vigilant regarding your own boundaries lest they be trampled. An assertive attitude (neither aggressive/hostile nor passive/coddling) will suit the situation best. Be compassionate for this individual’s misfortune, but don’t allow that compassion to let them manipulate or harm you either. Try not to get sucked into the machinations of it all, and do what you can to stay cool when they become unavoidable. Distance yourself when it is not possible to otherwise cope.