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.