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Emotional Immaturity, Narcissism, and Borderline Personality Disorder

Updated: Jul 28, 2022

For a very long time I've had difficulty trying to understand the difference. Infact I never considered looking at narcissism as part of a personality disorder. Part of the reason for it's confusion for me is 1. Borderline personality disorder is hard to understand in general. There really is no "one size fits all" definition. 2. Narccisism- this word gets thrown around a lot by the average person. 3. You very rarely hear someone speak the words "emotional immaturity" as it tends to go straight to narcissism.

So let’s break down some basics in understanding personality disorders that fall under this criteria:

Cluster B personality disorders

"Cluster B personality disorders are characterized by dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behavior. They include antisocial personality disorder, borderline personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder."- Mayoclinic

Narcissistic personality disorder

  • Belief that you're special and more important than others

  • Fantasies about power, success and attractiveness

  • Failure to recognize others' needs and feelings

  • Exaggeration of achievements or talents

  • Expectation of constant praise and admiration

  • Arrogance

  • Unreasonable expectations of favors and advantages, often taking advantage of others

  • Envy of others or belief that others envy you

Borderline personality disorder

  • Impulsive and risky behavior, such as having unsafe sex, gambling or binge eating

  • Unstable or fragile self-image

  • Unstable and intense relationships

  • Up and down moods, often as a reaction to interpersonal stress

  • Suicidal behavior or threats of self-injury

  • Intense fear of being alone or abandoned

  • Ongoing feelings of emptiness

  • Frequent, intense displays of anger

  • Stress-related paranoia that comes and goes

Narcissism is part of the cluster B section of personality disorders (so is BPD) in the DSM manual which means it falls into the category of erratic and dramatic reactions. Emotional immaturity can mimic signs of narcissism and BPD. The reason I've spent a lot of time thinking about this is because a narcissist is not likely to change and they do not typically seek counseling but someone who is emotionally immature or has borderline personality disorder may/can. And I have found that communication with another person who fits one of these descriptions can be very strongly affected.

BPD includes seeking approval from others, black and white thinking (someone is all good or all bad), attention seeking and risk taking behavior. If they receive criticism from another person, they really struggle to see and understand their own identity from that perspective without internalizing it. If someone expresses that their feelings are hurt then this means they are a bad person (it goes back to the black and white thinking). They don't have an understanding that one can hurt a person's feelings without becoming a bad person in result. There are other mental health conditions that can also cause a person to feel this way (such as trauma).

Signs of Emotional Immaturity

  • Impulsive behavior

  • Demanding attention/needing to be the center of attention

  • Avoidance

  • Blaming others

  • Emotional escalations

  • Lying

  • Have difficulty owning up to mistakes made

  • Commitment issues

An emotionally immature person is able to grow and learn. Narcissism stunts emotional growth. Borderline personality can look like a mix of the two except they do feel empathy and vulnerability. However, their feelings and emotions seem to mirror another person's when on the same wavelength and when it doesn't, they appear void of emotion. Their biggest fear is abandonment. A narcissist doesn't worry about being abandoned (at least not on a conscious level as they are also very very insecure people underneath it all) because they will mostly likely discard you before you have a chance to do so. And if you do, please understand that they may try to retaliate with smear campaigns, contacting your family or close friends, showing up at your home or job.

One interesting thing I learned is that a narcissist usually is not as impulsive like an emotionally immature person is or someone with BPD. But they do have fits of rage when exposed for any wrong doing they may inflict on others. Their behaviors/actions are malicious in intent and manipulation is the only way to get what they want. They don't feel bad for this either. It’s been discussed/compared that a narcissist can relate to a sociopath in this sense. They cannot feel exposed for hurting another, they reject and invalidate your feelings, but they are also doing this internally. They truly believe they cannot be at fault. They aren't capable of acknowledging emotions of others and they also don't know how to regulate their own. An emotionally immature person may also struggle with seeing another person's point of view but are capable of feeling shame and guilt for their actions.

In the end, the most important thing to remember is even if someone is emotionally immature it can take awhile in coaching sessions or therapy to grow and learn new patterns of communication and behaviors. We all have inner work to do. Even with the support of family and friends, It's best to seek help from a life coach or counselor who can guide individuals to work through this process.

What are your thoughts on this topic? What have you experienced in your connection to others? Maybe you work with someone who is like this or you know a friend who can act this way? It can be anyone we know.

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1 Comment

L Blincoe
L Blincoe
Apr 20

Oh I was so hopeful to finally getting clarity but, unfortunately, I find I'm just as confused! My spouse is undeniably emotionally immature. PROFOUNDLY emotionally immature. But I can't tell if there's also a pathology at work. It matters because, as you said, someone ailed by emotional immaturity and BPD can heal and grow, someone with NPD cannot. We have 3 kids, we've spent 15 years cultivating our relationship (there was no evidence of the behaviors for the first decade), our family and marriage are valuable enough to me to stand by his side for him to invest in his growth; the patience and sacrifice is worth having my family and marriage in tact, but I can't intuit whether he's…

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