Bordering on Sociopathy?

A reader from another blogged asked me a question that roused my curiosity: Are people with BPD always sociopaths, never sociopaths, or some of each?”

My immediate response was never. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that someone with BPD is sociopathic. Though clearly we’re grouped together in the spectrum of Personality Disorders. Sociopathy is classified under Anti-Social Personality Disorder which is Axis II, Cluster B along with Borderline Personality Disorder.

There are reasons as to why we are grouped alongside one another.

So, after a few seconds contemplation my response changed from ‘never’ to; there are some shared characteristics, but still no.

Dictionary Definition of a Sociopath: “Someone whose social behavior is extremely abnormal. Sociopaths are interested only in their personal needs and desires, acting without empathy, without concern for the effects of their behavior on others”. I’m not even going to bother explaining how inadequate of a definition this is for describing sociopathy. It’s the same thing as grabbing a two sentence definition of Borderline. Let’s run with this though shall we…

A case could be made that BPD has sociopathic traits: Our behavior is extremely abnormal, we have a skewed sense of empathy, we act with regards to our immediate needs without concern for how it will affect others (most notably with Low Functioning BPD; High Functioning BPD we may want to act this way but we can often restrain the impulse), we’re impulsive, manipulative, etc.
But seriously, welcome to the world of personality disorders. There’s bound to be some overlap between a great deal of these traits. While both disorders may display many common traits, our motivations, intentions, reactions, perceptions, and presentations are very different. For someone with a Borderline Personality Disorder we are often moved to do the things we do out of a need for attention, sympathy, closeness, reassurance… while the sociopath is not going to have these things as their driving force.

Where the sociopath will have a very limited sense of empathy and low emotive threshold, the borderline is almost the complete opposite. We have a heightened sense of emotional response. Responding to things too quickly in a way that is out of proportion to the situation that has provoked the response.
This reader also had questions regarding our potential penchant for sadism (masochism), and being able to empathize or take pleasure in the injury and suffering of others. I don’t believe this is generally the case. Personally, unless it’s someone I care for, I rarely feel anything for strangers and therefore have a neutral, uninterested view of such things. I may not be interested in their suffering but I don’t’ relish in it either. Now, if it’s someone I’ve split into an all Bad category because of how they’ve treated me poorly in the past; I may take a certain amount of satisfaction in their pain. I’m willing to bet that this crosses the line to how many normally empathic people feel though. No one’s perfect, and most people have some small vindictive streak.

Not happy to go off of my own guesses and assessments I tried to find something already written about this. I found a LoveFraud article (don’t get me started on her bullshit) but as it was submitted by a private psychotherapist names Steve Becker I gave it a read. The title of the article is: The Borderline Personality as Transient Sociopath.

 “It is not unusual in my clinical experience to see, sometimes, some quite chilling sociopathic activity from my “borderline personality-disordered” clients. When someone has a “borderline personality,” it’s quite likely, among other things, that he or she will present with a history of emotional instability; a pattern of chaotic interpersonal relationships; and poor coping skills under stress, reflected in self-destructive/ destructive acting-out and a tendency to suicidal behaving.”

Quite likely, huh? I’m fair certain by definition we are likely, nay expected, to present with a history of emotional instability. Of all the criteria we may present with, this is the one overarching issue we share in common. How do you diagnose someone with BPD without this?

“A question I’ve found myself considering is: When the borderline personality is acting, and looking, like a sociopath, is it the case that he or she, in these states, effectively is a sociopath?

It should be noted that behaviors per se are never sociopathic, only the individuals perpetrating them. Sociopathy is a mentality from which antisocial, exploitative behaviors gestate and emanate with a destructive, historical chronicity. But one can infer the presence of the sociopathic mentality from a telling pattern of behaviors.

Clearly there are fundamental differences between borderline personalities and sociopaths, differences which I appreciate. At the same time, when the borderline personality’s rage or desperation is evoked, one sees (and not rarely) responses that can closely correspond to the sociopath’s calculating, destructive mentality.”

I’m not saying I can’t be calculating and destructive, but this combination doesn’t take over in the moment of provocation. Destructive, quite likely. Calculating comes when the storm has subsided and I can think clearly. I also won’t say this is all borderlines. We are obviously all different, but I’m not immune to barbing and hurting those that I care about. I talked about Alienation the other day and this certainly comes into play there. It’s one of the things I know beyond most others that I’m trying to stop.

“Once inside this mentality, I’m suggesting that borderline personality-disordered individuals can lapse into a kind oftransient sociopathy. Commonly, victims of the “borderline’s” aberrant, vicious behaviors will sometimes react along the lines of, “What is wrong with you? Are you some freaking psychopath?” They will say this from the experience of someone who really has just been exploited as if by a psychopath.”

Just because someone doesn’t understand the reaction someone with BPD has, does not mean we’re actually psychopaths. Especially considering the base motivator is emotive and therefore not anything resembling the emotionless drive of a psychopath. Also, just because some person mentions the world psychopath, does not make for an actual diagnosis.   

“Because this isn’t the borderline personality’s default mentality (it is the sociopath’s), several psychological phenomena must occur, I think, to enable his temporary descent into sociopathy. He or she must regress in some way; dissociate in some fashion; and experience a form of self-fragmentation, for instance in response to a perceived threat—say, of abandonment.”

Our ‘vicious’ aberrant behavior is not someone with BPDs default mentality. I do agree with this. For the entire stigma and the accusation that a borderline is labeled with, our bouts of anger, impulsive lashing out and frenetic behavior are rare compared to our day to day state. However, that these things do occur is a hallmark of our disorder. This is part of what classifies us as Borderline. I’m willing to bet that most Sociopaths aren’t on the constant prowl to manipulate and victimize everyone around them. Day to day they probably just live their lives. The make up our personalities are predisposed to acting the way we do and those actions are what define our different disorders. That there is cross over does not mean that we slip into the mental state of the other. It is becoming increasingly more clear to me that this guy knows practically nothing about Borderline Personality Disorder and is simply trying to fit a square peg into a Sociopath shaped hole.

Several psychological phenomena must occur… if these are really the criteria that define slipping into a transient sociopathic state, than I might as well embrace the title. I live a good majority of my life in this comorbid ‘regression’; dissociation, unstable sense of identity, fear of abandonment… how do these characterize sociopathy?

“These preconditions, I suggest, seed the borderline personality’s collapse into the primitive, altered states of self that can explain, among other phenomena, his or her chilling (and necessary) suspension of empathy. This gross suspension of empathy supports his or her “evening the score” against the “victimizer” with the sociopath’s remorseless sense of entitlement.”

Now this does peak my interest. I do relate to these periods of suspended empathy. This is a product of my dissociation and detachment though. When I’m feeling like this, or more accurately not feeling like anything, ‘evening the score’ is not on my mind, because in not feeling anything for myself or for anyone else, I can’t care. I may not empathize; not feel for someone else; not care about what they’re going through… but I also don’t feel for myself, and I certainly am not thinking to plot some revenge. I can see where this ill formed train of thought may come from though. As is especially the case in Low Functioning BPD, when something triggers a borderline and they do rage, and lash out, unable to control their emotional state, they will focus that hurt and aggression on those they love. I don’t think this is due to a lack of empathy though. No, they’re not thinking about the other person’s needs or well-being, this is true, but it’s not for lack of wanting to. Their own emotions are so heightened and out of control that they can’t see beyond their own scope. I’m not saying it can never happen, but the detachment of empathy and the lashing out against the victimizer are often separate feeling states, not maliciously aligned.

In my states of detached emotion and lack of empathy, my mind may roam to places that I don’t care what happens to another person/people, but at the same time, since I am not clouded by emotional responses I am at my most rational and don’t think to act on my lack of empathy. My motivation to lash out is void because the emotional drive is absent. However, my responses to people may be more callous, less guarded. This is almost always how I think though. It’s not some transient state I’ve slipped into, but a removal of the veil I no longer care to hold up. Normally, instead of acting out on my impulsive thoughts, I hold them in. Where someone more low functioning would act out and then need to apologize profusely to regain the favor of those around them, I generally manage to tame my temper outwardly. It’s my understanding of social interaction that stays my responses so I don’t alienate the people I desperately need in my life. This doesn’t mean the feelings aren’t always there, but my awareness of my actions guides my behavior.

This article is just one more way of demonizing someone with Borderline Personality Disorder under the guise of gleaning a better understanding of what BPD is. Personality disorders are demonized enough; do we really need the mutant hybrid versions too?  

In conclusion, do I think someone with Borderline Personality Disorder is Sociopathic? No. I do not.

Do I think this psychotherapist is an idiot? Yes, yes I do.

There’s a lot of bullshit out there about all the PDs. It’s no wonder people are so quick to judge. 

9 comments on “Bordering on Sociopathy?

  1. There’s a lot of bullshit out there about all the PDs. It’s no wonder people are so quick to judgeThat is the main reason for the stigma of PD. When docs don't understand/explain it properly, then how can people even begin to understand properly. This is why it is so great that there are people like you doing what you do. This is why I love reading your blog.

  2. I should not draw conclusions based on a sample size of one… but I do it all the time, why stop now? (she asks herself flippantly) Based on the sociopaths I know, they don't care about alienating people, because they trust their charm & wit to either repair the relationship or replace the player. Based on what I've read here, borders' (sorry, i read "bpd" and think bi-polar–selfishly, i don't want to confuse myself) don't want to lose anyone in their life.As you put it–it's the motivation for the action that is key. Most people are too blind to their own motives (either dark or light) to begin to see someone else's clearly. I work with someone who is firmly convinced that every man is a jerk, and any time they do something that doesn't match what she thinks they should do, that just proves it. If she doesn't get her way, people are being mean to her. She *flatly* refuses to look at any situation from a perspective other than her own.It's an angle of approach issue… the problem is, figuring out the angle is very much a "feel your way" deal. My guess is that psychotherapist isn't good at "feeling the way"–certainly can't write coherently! "They will say this from the experience of someone who really has just been exploited as if by a psychopath." What?!? (read this sentence 6 times–still makes no sense)

  3. the more i read 'official' individual sources of info on PDs the more i think that they are all lacking in the depth of understanding that comes from talking to people honestly about their PD. Perhaps only recently the internet age of talk with anonymity has really made that truly to whether BPD and psychopathy can be comorbid i've gotta say a simple no. i can't envisage what that hybrid would look like; simultaneously unemotional and emotional, flat affect and anxious? ok both can be said to be dissociative and manipulative and [for low functioning anyway] low self control, but those aren't exactly definitive characteristics.are the periods of absent empathy when you are on meds though – is that clouding the picture a little?

  4. @Maasiyat … ::smiles:: Yeah, stuff like this just perpetuates the misconception. Can’t stand it. @the red one … Yeah, it’s that motivator that pushes people to act the way they do. For people with PDs it’s not necessarily a conscious decision but they’re not the same between disorders. I mean, why have different disorders if you’re just going to try to fit them all into one! It makes no sense. Yeah, I don’t see socios caring an inordinate amount about pushing people away. When they’ve hit the point where they’re done they can cut ties and move forward, for those reasons you mentioned. Those of us with BPD are characterized by our fear of losing people (whether we want these people in our lives or not). Which is in complete opposition to this guy’s theory. This guy wants to see what he wants to see and is trying to make the evidence fit the theory instead of allowing the evidence to speak for itself. @Res … Part of it I’m sure is that people without a PD just can not fully grasp what it is to have a PD. Because the experience of it is so different than what they can envision they are still imposing their own perception to our experience that makes it not objective. Being open to the forums that we are on exposes us to that personal human aspect. It does make it much more accessible for the understanding of peoples experiences, but I still think that for accessible as this forum is, most are not as aware of it, or willing to invest the time to understand the perspective. Our interests are more vested so we enjoy the greater exposure. I agree. Co-morbid P/S & BPD just isn’t going to happen. We’re on opposite ends of the emotive PD spectrum. ::nods:: Like I mentioned, there is certainly some crossover traits between the PDs, but that doesn’t mean that the PDs are in any way the same thing. No human characteristic is unique to one group of people. Plenty of people are manipulative or over-emotional, etc, without having a PD. There’s no reason to assume that because a characteristic is shared that the rest of the characteristics are also shared. This guy is clearly biased and trying to make the evidence fit his own hypothesis. No, the periods of absent empathy for me aren’t only when I’m on meds, though I have certainly been noticing it a bit more. I feel like I fake empathy a lot because I know if I don’t I’ll lose the people around me. If it’s someone I’m intensely involved with I WILL be consumed with empathy for them. Everything else just seems like a means to support what they want, I’ll feel for other people/things because I know they do and I want them to be happy, or as a means to hold up an image I need other people to see. Or, I know a person is my friend, so I know that doing certain things for them will make them feel better or show I care but it’s more going through the motions than some deep emotional drive. I KNOW I care, I’m just not sure I feel I care. Like empathy ‘once removed’. Indirect empathy? Idk. There’s something clouding my empathy picture, that’s for sure.

  5. Hi, Haven. I am the OP of that question from the other blog. I just wanted to say thank you for exploring that topic so thoroughly. I really appreciate your taking so much time on it. Very interesting and enlightening.

  6. As a recent victim of precisely the behaviour the PD describes I disagree with you. What you seem to do is look at yourself, do not see any recognistion and therefor the PD must be completely wrong. Well he can't be, because he is completely right in my case. He also talks out of experience with many borderliners. No, not all will be like that and he doesn't say that they are sociopaths, but at times thye behave as such (in contrast with sociopaths, who behave like that throughout their lives).My GF went to kick her potsmoking habbit. After the intake took her last one and was sent off immediately. End of paln. Collapsed and went into a clinic. Since that time she has been demanding on me, her spouse, and her family who have constantly supported her,not judged her. She became manic and started to spend loads of money which she does not have, had grandiose ideas, became psuychotic, stole form mum, stole form aunt. I have intervened on her behalf many times in order to help her when she was completely stuck. Until 4 july she was in love with me like the past 7years, we had a very good relationship despite her crises. She has said until 4 july how most that she haves in this world is thanks to me. That she would always love me…On 14 th july she asked me to pay her rent. She is always goodwith money but obviously she wasn't anymore. So i said: I do and you give full cutody over your bankaccount to me. She became furious. We already payed her debt (taxes) and we knew she was overspending. 2 days later: she hugs me when I give her money for the hairdresser (70 euro) and gives me an envelope. a big heart on it and "please lend me themoney for the rent…" No, I won't. With her sis we araanged that she could pay the rent later, so I told her.This is where indeed the sociopath surficed.She had left without a trace three times leaving everybody worried. Was found near a roadside with suicidal thoughts. And now she was gone for weeks. I got her on the line. This was her punishment for us, she knew we would be worried sick and she enjoyed it. And why: because she thought we wanted to teachher a lesson…She also had another boyfriend, was exceptionally cold and had not any empathy. She was having fun doing this. I was almost emotionally wrecked by this. How can someone I have had a good relation with, who fell in love with me so many times also this year again and again. who indeed has had all the support and patience of me she could ask do this? right: because all the stress has turned her into this sociopath. In her blackandwhite world, I am completely black, familly too (only those who gave her money not..) and that is it. She has done this to others in the past, I have spoken to these people recenty describing exactly the same things. So I wholeheartedly agree that borderliners can turn into sociopaths. Not all, I don't know how many but the PD says he has seen it before and I have witnessed it too. and indeed this is a way of coping with her own ack of judgement and therefor circumventing the guilt she would feel if she would see that she is responsible for: not entering the drugclinic, going to France without any money, betray me, making debts, selling her phone in France to get a room, not being able to pay any of her bills and hurting her familly and me emtionally in a horrible way….If she faces this, we are in for a long and deepdepression. But after mania, this is almost inevitable anyway…

  7. As an addition: I came up with thismyself before reading the work of some pro's. Her brother is atherpist, her uncle pyschiatrist and her sister works with mentally ill patients….I wrote to her brother that I found her behavior bordering psychopathy an dhe at least saw that connectionvery well….So this article did not gave me a new insight, but in fact supported my views.

  8. I am sorry that your girlfriend did that to you, that is a really horrible thing, but I really think you are getting it wrong. I have Borderline. I have manipulated people, I have hurt people, but never ever have I been on the border of sociopathy. When I’m not disassociated, I have so much empathy and love for most people. Those actions that you describe seem to align with Bipolar. The mania, the excessive spending and emotional detachment all are very characteristic of that disorder.

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