[NOTE: This topic may seem obsessive or repetitive or the posts may seem to have gone past being useful to being pedantic, but I am building toward two key points, and when I get to the posts that make those two key points, you will suddenly understand why I have been dwelling on and harping on this topic they way I have been. I ask that you be patient and wait for the payoff. When I finally make those two key points, all of the past few months of posts will suddenly become significantly more valuable to you and take on a whole new significance.]
I’m going to warn you, I’m a layperson and my viewpoint differs from how I think most of the official mental health experts view personality disorders, and if that bothers you stop reading now. This viewpoint is definitely a minority view, and I came to it from observing and deciphering my own family, which is filled to the brim with Cluster B disorders. I may not have the academic training in this, but I’ve sure as hell done decades of field research on the ground so to speak.
One thing people often get caught up on when learning about Cluster B emotional vampires is what specifically to classify them. I generally just call them Cluster Bs or lump them all under the term “narcissists,” but I don’t get too hung up on specifying whether or not they are specifically sociopathic, narcissistic, a borderline personality disorder suffer or a histrionic.
The reason why I don’t get caught up in the specific diagnosis is because I don’t believe they’re really separate disorders, but more like four different types of overcompensating behaviors done in response to the same underlying disorder, that disorder being addiction to narcissistic supply. I think of it like how two different people can have colds but the symptoms and the way they behave when they have the colds are totally different. One may primarily sneeze and have a runny nose, while someone else may be coughing and have a stuffed nose. We don’t treat each different expression of the cold as it’s own, special disorder.
The DSM-IV, when describing the Cluster B disorders, focuses more on the outwardly visible, overcompensating coping behaviors rather than the roots of the deeper, underlying themes and mindsets to the pathology, which I think are largely the same for all four Cluster B disorders: these include but aren’t limited to conditional acceptance by a parent growing up, a shaky, volatile, wildly fluctuating sense of self-worth, deep-rooted shame issues, inability to tolerate unpleasant feelings and moods, etc.
The fact that the underlying themes are largely the same for all Cluster B disorders is why there seems to be so much overlap between them in my opinion. It explains why when researching your emotional vampire, you can read a book on sociopaths and it feels relevant, then you can read a book on BPD and that seems relevant, then you read a book on narcissism and that seems to fit the bill too.
I recently wrote that the easiest, fastest way to understand a narcissist is to think of them as drug addicts, except their drug of choice is narcissistic supply. Just like a drug addict behaves for drugs, they will lie, steal, cheat, manipulate and coerce in order to get their narcissistic supply fix.
I think Cluster Bs go from borderline to narcissistic to histrionic to sociopathic based on which type of narcissistic supply, if any, they are craving at any given time, for whatever reason. The preferred forms of narcissistic supply for each type is as follows:
- Histrionic Personality Disorder: Anything that makes them feel like the center of attention. Flattering attention (especially sexual), flirtation, conquests, sexual teasing and withholding, romance, bodybuilding, loud obnoxious vocal displays and bright sports attire while watching sports games, drooling and double takes from others when wearing sexy or slutty outfits, obsession with abs, plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures, demanding grooming (lots of “mani/pedis” and hair appointments) or physical regimen (like Gym, Tanning, Laundry), making lovers jealous, making scenes in public, bravado and machismo, being fought over
- Narcissistic Personality Disorder: Anything that makes them feel flawless and omnipotent. Admiration, being envied, being feared, being idolized, being asked for advice and treated like an expert, compliments, whether earned or unearned,
- Borderline Personality Disorder: Anything that makes them feel like they have a committed partner dedicated to taking care of them. The presence of their mate, any indication that will reinforce the feeling that their lovers are devoted and won’t abandon them, making lovers jump through hoops, grand gestures from lovers, anything that indicates their lover is well-trained, like passing “shit tests,” getting lovers to forgive them and stay with them when the relationship is looking rocky
- Antisocial Personality Disorder/Sociopathy: This is when someone is a Cluster B but does not particularly need narcissistic supply from another human being. They don’t particularly crave admiration and being idolized like the narcissist, they don’t fear abandonment the way the borderline does, they don’t care about flattering attention the way a histrionic does. They don’t appreciate and fear consequences like normal people, which allows them to thrill-seek and manipulate for kicks. The other types of Cluster Bs do fear consequences to a degree, but not out of empathy or morality but because they fear losing good narcissistic supply. Meanwhile the sociopath is the Cluster B who doesn’t fear losing narcissistic supply from another human being. They may derive narcissistic supply from things like money, power, control, thrills, but not really from people in the way the other Cluster Bs do.
I think Cluster Bs tend to have a preferred form of supply, just like a drug addict may have a go-to drug of choice. Under the right circumstances though most of them will cycle through disorders and switch to a form of supply that isn’t their usual preference, just like an addict may occasionally go for a different drug than usual. For example, a Cluster B who is normally narcissistic and craves admiration, when feeling insecure about a relationship or getting signs a lover is moving on, may temporarily behave like a borderline and start craving the forms of narcissistic supply that indicate the lover isn’t going anywhere, and may even let down his normally grandiose persona in order to beg and cajole a lover to stay. Another example: a Cluster B who normally behaves like a borderline may begin feeling very sure of the stability of a relationship and confident that their mate won’t leave. As a result they no longer need the constant proof that their partner is devoted and has no plans of leaving, so they start feel secure enough in their primary relationship to now act histrionic and start courting flattering attention from others and making their primary partner jealous.
Some Cluster Bs are full-time sociopaths, meaning they rarely ever need narcissistic supply from others like approval, admiration, or presence. All Cluster Bs however do behave sociopathic at least some of the time. I call this situational sociopathy. This is when a Cluster B who is normally narcissistic, histrionic, or borderline is in a situation where they don’t need narcissistic supply from someone. Maybe the person they’re dealing with in this situation isn’t important or impressive enough for the Cluster B to desire narcissistic supply from them. Maybe the person in this situation is one of the Cluster B’s former sources of narcissistic supply but is no longer ideal, either because the Cluster B has replaced them with a superior, consistent source of supply or because the person has gotten so fed up or sucked dry of self-esteem that there is no more supply to squeeze out of them. When the Cluster B reaches the point where they no longer need any supply from you specifically or feel you can’t or won’t provide the supply they need, they will go into sociopath mode and ruthlessly drop you cold turkey with no remorse.
This situational sociopathy, which occurs at the point where a Cluster B feels you either can’t or won’t supply good narcissistic supply and are therefore worthless, is why devaluing and discarding is a hallmark of all Cluster Bs. So while not all sociopaths behave like narcissists, histrionics, or borderlines to any appreciable degree, all narcissistics, histrionics, and borderlines do often behave in a sociopathic way when they don’t need narcissistic supply from a specific source at a specific moment.
Some Cluster Bs are drug addicts in the vein of Keith Richards or Jim Morrison. They seem to like all forms of supply equally and indiscriminately. They are constantly pinballing from narcissistic behavior to histrionic to sociopathic to borderline and then back again.
Richard Skerrit in the great book Meaning from Madness goes into this dynamic, describing these disorders as being all based on fear (narcissism and borderline) and fearlessness (sociopathy):
It turns out that the abusive disorders fall at either end of a spectrum of sensitivity. On the extreme of being hypersensitive to interactions, those with both borderline and narcissistic personality disorders are subject to being triggered – responding with tremendous energy to a very small event or observation. On the opposite extreme of being insensitive to interactions, sociopaths (those with antisocial personality disorder) have little or no empathy, remorse or conscience. They care so little about what others think or feel that they are nearly completely free of any fear of the outcome or results of their actions. As a result, they may choose to do things that normal people find stunning in their callousness and insensitivity…
I have come to believe that both narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and borderline personality disorder (BPD) are actually the same basic disorder [I'd personally throw HPD in there too. - T.] The differences between the two, as I see them, are different coping strategies and different levels of success in coping.
Both those with NPD…and those with BPD…are driven by a constant and deeply motivated drive to find safety in their lives by avoiding things that trigger their terrifying fears. Bother narcissists and BPs perceive a threat in the judgments of the people around them, one so great that it is terrifying to them…
[S]ociopaths have a huge fear missing from their psychological dynamic. Sociopaths have what can perhaps be described as a brain function deficit: they lack all sense of value and concern for other people. Where normal people have a natural fear of causing harm to other people, a sociopath has no such fear or concern…It simply does not matter to sociopaths what happens to other people, including their family members and intimate partners, nor does it matter who or what causes the harm. Their brains simply lack the connections that would lead to these thoughts and feelings. A sociopath might appear to care about others, or fear hurting others, but the fear is entirely self-centered. A sociopath is not at all bothered by the hurt felt by someone else. Any effort they make to avoid such hurt is simply to make their own lives easier.
I think this supports my view. When a Cluster B is desperately craving a fix of narcissistic supply and needs you to provide it, they are in the grip of fear: a fear of losing a fix of narcissistic supply, especially if they still value your form of supply and they don’t have another potential source of supply lined up. When a Cluster B who is normally narcissistic, borderline, or histrionic is in a situation where they don’t need a fix of narcissistic supply from you, they lose that huge fear (of losing valuable narcissistic supply or receiving narcissistic injury) and attain the fearlessness and coldness of the sociopath. This is why you can be the center of a Cluster Bs world one minute and they will act clingy and fearful and swear they can’t live without you, then they will suddenly and inexplicably dump you out of the blue later on, and not seem the least bothered or remorseful about it.
The reason this post is important is because I notice a lot of people contact me to talk about this stuff, and they end up understandably confused about why the person they have dealt with or are dealing with seems to fit multiple categories of personality disorder and they waste time a lot of time obsessing over the categorization. Don’t bother. For the most part, the only thing you really need to understand is that the person is a Cluster B, period. At some point, every category will seem to apply, and I hope this post explains why.
So I’ve made clear that I believe that Cluster Bs can best be described as people who self-medicate their emptiness and self-esteem issues with different forms of narcissistic supply. Next post, I’m going to into further details about my addiction model of Cluster B personality disorders.