The most common Personality Disorders (PD’s) that affect relationships are Borderline PD, Histrionic PD, and Narcissistic PD, because, unlike mental disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorders, they are initially hard to spot and the afflicted person is often in denial about their disorder.
From Sex Purpose Love Pages 115 – 121:
According to a study by psychologist Krystle Disney and her collaborators at the Saint Louis Washington University, the strongest predictors of divorce likelihood were by far histrionic personality disorder symptoms.[i]
People with this disorder show patterns of excessive attention-seeking emotions, inappropriately seductive and sexually provocative behavior, loud and inappropriate appearances, exaggerated behaviors, dramatic emotions with an impressionistic style that lacks detail, being easily influenced by others, excessive need for approval, and craving stimulation. Histrionic people are lively, dramatic, vivacious, enthusiastic, and flirtatious. HPD affects four times as many women as men.
Associated behaviors include egocentrism, self-indulgence, continuous longing for appreciation, and persistent manipulative behavior to have their own needs met.
People with HPD are usually high-functioning, both socially and professionally. They have good social skills and use them to manipulate others into making the person with the HDP the center of attention. HPD also affects a person’s social and/or romantic relationships, as well as their ability to cope with losses or failures. They may seek treatment for clinical depression when romantic or other close personal relationships end.
Individuals with HPD often fail to see their own personal situation realistically, and instead dramatize and exaggerate their difficulties. They often go through frequent job changes and many consecutive sexual relationships, as they become easily bored and may prefer withdrawing from frustration instead of facing challenges and uncomfortable feelings. Because they tend to crave novelty and excitement, they may place themselves in risky situations. All of these factors may lead to greater risk of developing clinical depression.
- Exhibitionist behavior
- Inappropriately seductive appearance or behavior of a sexual nature
- Constant seeking of reassurance or approval
- Excessive sensitivity to criticism or disapproval
- Pride of own personality and unwillingness to change, viewing any change as a threat
- Using somatic symptoms (of physical illness) to garner attention.
- A need to be the center of attention
- Low tolerance for frustration or delayed gratification
- Rapidly shifting emotional states that may appear superficial or exaggerated to others
- Tendency to believe that relationships are more intimate than they actually are
- Making rash decisions
- Blaming personal failures or disappointments on others
- Being easily influenced by others, especially those who treat them approvingly
- Being overly dramatic and emotional
Some people with histrionic traits or personality disorder change their seduction technique into a more maternal or paternal style as they age.
- Influenced easily by others or circumstances
- Emotional lability; shallowness
- Make-up; physical appearance is used to draw attention to self
- Exaggerated emotions; theatrical
This is a serious mental disorder marked by a pattern of ongoing instability in moods, behavior, self-image, and functioning. These experiences often result in impulsive actions and unstable relationships. A person with BPD may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety lasting anywhere from only a few hours to a few days, followed by euphoria and exuberance.
Some people with BPD also have high rates of co-occurring mental disorders, such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders, along with substance abuse, self-harm, suicidal thinking and behaviors, and actual suicide.
People with BPD may experience extreme mood swings and can display uncertainty about who they are. As a result, their interests and values can change rapidly.
Other symptoms include:
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
- A pattern of intense and unstable relationships with family, friends, and loved ones, often swinging from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
- Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self
- Impulsive and often dangerous behaviors, such as spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, and binge eating
- 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 with controlling anger
- Having stress-related paranoid thoughts
- Having severe dissociative symptoms, such as feeling cut off from oneself, observing oneself from outside the body, or losing touch with reality
Seemingly ordinary events may trigger symptoms. For example, people with BPD may feel angry and distressed over minor separations from people they feel close to, or when sudden changes of plans occur.
Studies also show that people with this disorder may imagine they see anger in an emotionally neutral face and have stronger reactions to words with negative meanings than people who do not have the disorder.[ii]
Relationships with people who have BPD usually evolve through three stages, often in a cyclical pattern: (1) the vulnerable seducer, (2) the clinger, and (3) the hater. This evolution may take months, and sometimes even years to cycle through. In the later periods, the personality often swings wildly back and forth from one phase to the next.[iii]
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) have significant problems with their sense of self-worth stemming from a powerful sense of entitlement. This leads them to believe they deserve special treatment, have special powers, are uniquely talented, or that they are exceptionally brilliant or attractive. Their sense of entitlement can lead them to act in ways that fundamentally disregard and disrespect the worth of those around them. They are further characterized by their persistent grandiosity, excessive need for admiration, and disdain and lack of empathy for others. They often display arrogance, a sense of superiority, and power-seeking behaviors. People with NPD are preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success and power, so much so that they might end up getting lost in their daydreams while they fantasize about their superior intelligence or stunning beauty. These people can get so caught up in their fantasies that they don’t put any effort into their daily life and don’t direct their energies toward accomplishing their goals.
Status is very important to people with NPD. Associating with famous and special people provides them a sense of importance, yet these individuals can quickly shift from over-idealizing others to devaluing them.
People with NPD often feel devastated when they realize that they have normal, average human limitations, that they are not as special as they think, or that others don’t admire them as much as they would like. These realizations are often accompanied by feelings of intense anger or shame whicht they sometimes take out on other people. Their need to be powerful and admired, coupled with a lack of empathy for others, makes for conflicted relationships that are often superficial and devoid of real intimacy and caring.
NPD is different from having a strong sense of self-confidence; people with NPD typically value themselves over others to the extent that they disregard the feelings and wishes of others, and they expect to be treated as superior regardless of their actual status or achievements. In addition, people with NPD may exhibit fragile egos, an inability to tolerate criticism, and a tendency to belittle others in an attempt to validate their own superiority.
Individuals with NPD have most or all of the following symptoms:
- A grandiose sense of self-importance and exaggerated sense of achievements and talents
- Dreams of unlimited power, success, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
- Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions
- Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
- Unwilling or unable to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
- Need for constant admiration from others
- Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
- Believes he or she is special and unique and can only be understood by or should associate with other special or high-status people (or institutions)
- Unreasonably expects special, favorable treatment or compliance with his or her wishes
- Exploits and takes advantage of others to achieve personal ends
- Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
- Has a pompous attitude of arrogance or acts that way
True NPD symptoms are pervasive, apparent in various situations, rigid, and remain consistent over time. However, for those with NPD, the same is true of their self-judgments. They tend to vacillate between feeling like they have unlimited abilities, and then feeling deflated, worthless, and devastated when they encounter their normal, average human limitations.
Individuals who became wounded or traumatized in ways that predispositioned them for the development of PD’s in early life then develop symptoms that reflect the evolution of their pathologies over the course of their lives. Their behavior in normal day-to-day life is similar to people who are mentally healthy. In fact, the often charming, winning, extroverted, self-centered, manipulative, inconsiderate, and needy ways make people with PD’s often more popular and successful (at the expense of others) than healthy people. As a consequence, people with PDs see no need to change—until they can no longer succeed through the behavior they grew accustomed to and become increasingly isolated, or fall into depression, develop physical illnesses, or become suicidal. If they would or could change, their life as they know it would fall apart and they would have no frame of reference for how to navigate the world.
The personality traits of people with PDs take on a particularly maladaptive form once they try to form intimate love relationships. Their distorted sense of self, unstable emotions, and out-of-control behavior would require any long-term partners to be willing and able to put up with a great deal of turmoil and abuse, especially when life circumstances aggravate the already precarious hold on the feelings and behavior of their significant other with the PD. Healthy partners often feel betrayed when the initially considerate, attentive and seductive person that they fell in love with “disappears” as time goes by or turns against them, which makes them feel unloved, unseen, lonely, and less sure of themselves. Consequently, their otherwise healthy sense of self, stable lives, and independence all steadily decline. In varying degrees, they find it difficult to express their rights, needs, and feelings, and find it almost impossible to set healthy boundaries, especially when their own boundaries weren’t respected during their childhood. These relationships then have a pattern of going through 22 Stages of Decline.[iv]
Occasionally, people who have a partner with a PD experience recurrent flashes of the warmth and caring from the person with whom they first fell in love. For after all, these troubled lovers are often brilliant, creative, talented, successful, and handsome or beautiful. They say they long for the emotional connection they once had and insist that they that they’re committed to staying in the relationship—if only they felt more loved and appreciated.
In defense of well-meaning and empathetic lovers with weak boundaries who continue to stay enmeshed with unhealthy partners in co-dependent love relationships, PDs are often hard to spot, especially by laypeople but even by professionals (who are often afflicted themselves—a reason why they chose to get into the helping profession in the first place) because, unlike other challenges to mental health, personality disorders do not represent a particular pattern of “illness” that can be “cured.”
Highly evolved people with an interest in psychology, spirituality, personal growth, and compassion for others often find partners with PDs fascinating and highly attractive, because they often share similar interests in healing and growth, and the person with the PD is able to challenge them. The caretakers enjoy the initially deep emotional and spiritual connection, romance, attention, and sexual intensity … until the tables turn.
In the end, the persons with the PD will exploit and abuse the empathetic “helpers” and eventually discard them, blaming them for being “unenlightened,” “unevolved,” “unloving,” “selfish,” “passive-aggressive,” or “having taken advantage of them,” when in fact it was the other way around. And to add insult to injury, they often shame and denounce the helper publicly.
Most laypeople even side with the person with the PD, as they only experience their radiant, charming and vulnerable side in public, and see them as the poor and abused victims when they hear about their troubled and miserable private love lives, instead of recognizing them as the perpetrators. Famous examples include Princess Diana,[v] or Marilyn Monroe.[vi]
If you are in a relationship with such a person, it is vital to seek professional help and to work on your boundary issues to end an existing abusive relationship—even if it feels cruel and unloving—and to prevent such toxic relationships in the future. Living and sharing your purpose as described in Part 2, and forming an Integral Love Relationship as described in Part 3, is more important than trying to be the savior of one person and going down with him or her in the name of unconditional love and altruistic compassion.[vii]
[i] www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201306/two-warning-signs-your-relationship-may-not-last and www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3569846/
[iii] To learn more about relationships with people who have a BPD visit the following websites:
[iv] 22 Stages of Relationships Between Empaths and People with PD’s.
- The empath gets attracted to a person with the PD. Their relationship starts. The empath loves deeply and unconditionally. He or she feels emotionally fulfilled even though the person with the PD plays no role to develop a stronger bond. The empath feels satisfied and thinks their love is reciprocated just by being around the person with the PD.
- The empath gets the false notion that they have finally met the kind of love that people don’t find even once. Person with the PD affirms this by creating an illusion that leads the empath to believe that what they have is special. The empath feels a deep bond that is almost impossible to break free.
- Sometimes it appears that the person with the PD wants this relationship as much as the empath. Actually, what they want is someone who invests their time, energy and love and is in their complete control.
- As the time will pass, the person with the PD will make the empath feel weak, unconfident, and bereft of the abilities to do even the simple things. The person with the PD will never launch an open attack, but use statements like “don’t want to hurt you but…” to point out some shortcoming. They will try to take over anything which symbolizes control such as handling bills or making decisions about purchases. The empathy will be looked down upon for their interests and many such things that form their identity. Gradually, the empath starts to believe that they are less capable and they “need” someone like the person in their life. They get the notion no one would want them.
- For an empath, this relationship will be everything as they are the ones who are in love. Out of love, they would always want to soothe and cheer the person with the PD, talk to them, help them and do whatever that makes them feel good. The persons with the PD project themselves as the victim of their past, their relationships, and the circumstances. The empaths are givers; they try to make up for all the unfortunate things that have ever happened to the person with the PD.
- The empath has a good and a clear heart and cannot imagine the deep and unresolved wounds of the person with the PD are not the same as their own. Healing those wounds is different from their own.
- The relationship is all about the person with the PD. The empath realizes this slowly, and a time comes when they feel afraid to talk or fight for their needs and desires. In their attempt to please they don’t want to voice their true needs. They would rather be likable than give any reason to be disliked. But, secretly they are not too happy.
- The more devotion, love, care, affection, and effort the empath puts into the relationship, the person with the PD feels completely in control over the relationship. The empath literally dances to the tune of the person with the PD. As long as the empath continues to appease the person with the PD, it’s impossible to detect any problem in the relationship. The problem occurs when the empath finally reaches the breaking point.
- Finally, the empaths raise their her voice because they can no longer keep up with the suppressing ways of the partner with the PD. Day after day their emotional needs remain unfulfilled. This happens because from the beginning of the relationship they have believed their partner’s emotional needs are all that matters. When they finally understand their well-being also matters, and speak out, they seem selfish. The person with the PD does not like it.
- People with PD’s are attention seekers. They get satisfaction when people fuss around them. Their needs can never be met, they can never be satisfied. They may move to other partners, open a new business, travel around the world, get involved in new creative pursuits, and so on and so forth, but they will never be happy. The empath isn’t aware of this fact.
- When the empath finally bursts out something like “My feelings also matter,” the person with the PD is quick to call the empath “crazy”. They call them over-dramatic, needy, controlling, jealous, etc. and their concerns as unfounded. This kind of dismissive behavior is the tactics used by them to gain control over the empath’s mind.
- The empath gets confused. Why they have meted out such behavior, is beyond their understanding. They start blaming themselves and wonder if they are at all worthy of being loved by anyone at all.
- At this point, the empath is not able to understand that they are just being manipulated. Their partner has bent everything around them to create a twisted view of the circumstances. There can be anything around them to let them know “the truth” that they are the one who is “right” and it’s the empath who is tremendously “wrong” and wicked.
- The empath will try to communicate with the person with the PD in all truthfulness. The person with the PD will, however, justify their behavior and pass the blame.
- It is normal at this point for the empath to feel lost, confused and hurt. But despite all the heartbreak, the empath will need to be calm and do some self-evaluation to figure out how they became so defenseless. This is how they will start transforming.
- The empath needs to know that they are by nature healers. They have the inner strength to help others in the right ways, sometimes as a duty and sometimes when life brings them to such situations.
- The empath has to realize the bitter truth that not everyone deserves their love, care, and affection. Not everyone who seems distressed and unhappy is revealing their true self. There are some people who have sinister motives and have a very different outlook towards relationships and people than they do. Not everyone they fall in love with can be protectso quickly.
- In this situation, the empath must realize that they too are in a very bad situation something of which the person with the PD in their life always spoke of. But, in their case, it would be different. They would make positive efforts and heal themselves. The person with the PD will not.
- For the empaths, this will be a painful awakening. They will learn from the experience to move ahead.
- The person with the PD will move on. In time they will find another victim.
- The person with the PD will continue as if nothing happened and they are completely innocent. They won’t remember for a moment that someone loved them so deeply and intensely. They won’t remember the powerful bond they once had with someone and just move on to find it somewhere else. A time will come when they will know they can neither connect with themselves nor with other people.
- The empaths will be stronger, wiser, and more cautious about who they give their time, affection, and love to.
[v] “She was a curious mixture of incredible maturity and immaturity, like a split personality,” said one of her friends. “It was so extraordinary how she handled ordinary people, but at the same time she did silly and childlike things. She was very impulsive.”
Indeed, Diana’s unstable temperament bore all the markings of one of the most elusive psychological disorders: the borderline personality. This condition is characterized by an unstable self-image; sharp mood swings; fear of rejection and abandonment; an inability to sustain relationships; persistent feelings of loneliness, boredom, and emptiness; depression; and impulsive behavior such as binge eating and self-mutilation. Taken together, these characteristics explain otherwise inexplicable behavior. Throughout her adult life, Diana experienced these symptoms severely and chronically. While she received periodic treatment for some of her problems—her eating disorder and her depression—neither Diana nor anyone close to her came to grips with the full extent of her illness.
Yet she tended to define herself in terms of the approval of others. “I think essentially that she was an ill person,” said Dr. Michael Adler of the National AIDS Trust. “She was very, very insecure. She didn’t believe in herself. There was not a sort of real center to her personality. Her identity was created for her, and she increasingly got herself into personal problems, which highlighted her inadequacies.”
[vi] While for many, Marilyn Monroe is one of the most enduring sex symbols of our time, behind her perfect curves and sultry personality lay a complex and troubled woman. And more than that—it is likely that the iconic actress suffered from borderline personality disorder, says science journalist Claudia Kalb. She explains: “What is clear is that Monroe suffered from severe mental distress. Her symptoms included a feeling of emptiness, a split or confused identity, extreme emotional volatility, unstable relationships, and an impulsivity that drove her to drug addiction and suicide—all textbook characteristics of a condition called borderline personality disorder.”
[vii] Integral therapist Dr. Mark Forman shared in a personal conversation that supporting each other as equals in the healing and growing process in a love relationship is fine. It becomes unhealthy when one person is constantly in the support role (as a lay or professional therapist, mentor, teacher, coach, etc.), and the other is the receiver. This becomes especially problematic if the “giver” requires some feedback or support, and is rejected and shamed by their partner as needy, unevolved, immature etc.