The Passive–Aggressive Borderline

Clinical Presentation

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In How to Talk to a Narcissist (Lachkar, 2008b), the passive-aggressive narcissist was presented as one who feels entitled, who feigns illness or helplessness to coerce others to perform his/her functions.

The passive-aggressvie borderline also coerces others to take on responsibilities, not so much because of a feeling of entitlement but because the passive-aggressive borderline is oppositional. They are the “imaginary invalids.”

Both the passive-aggressive narcissist and the passive-aggressvie borderline share a grandiose self in that they expect others to be responsible and do things for them and pick up their covert, nonverbal messages.

Both have a subversive way of evoking rage in their objects since they cannot express anger, which drives their partners and the people who know and work with them to frustration. Both are victims of traumatic childhoods, so they believe that the world owes them something and that people should take pity on them.

They do, however, have their own idiosyncratic differences in the way they experience entitlement. The passive-aggressive borderline, on the other hand, uses objects of entitlement in reverse. Their entitlement fantasies center on their oppositional nature as they covertly coerce others to feel sorry for them by feigning helplessness and pretending to be powerless. “I really didn’t want to go to the theater, so I lost the tickets. I just can’t understand why my husband got so pissed!”

Thus, while both may share the same symptoms, they are driven by different end goals and motivations. For the borederline, the drive is twofold. First, they are addicted to the mother of pain (illness, accidents, forgetfulness), and second, they bond with the unconditional caretaker who oversees them—a recreation of the parent-child dyad. These distinctions are of fundamental importance as we prepare communication approaches most suitable for the passive-aggressive borderline.

The Passive-aggressive borderline differs from the mainstream borderlineOpens in new window. The most notable distinction between these two is that mainstream borderlines allow themselves the full range of emotions—expressions of rage, anger, revenge—whereas the passive-aggressive borderline conceals and fails to express his/her rage.

A Portrait of the Passive–Aggressive Borderline

The passive–aggressive borderline personality is marked by such traits as helplessness, procrastination, parasitic dependency needs, forgetfulness, and a passive attitude toward social or interpersonal relations and occupational situations.

The personality traits of the passive-aggressive borderline are marked by a pervasive pattern of oppositional and negative attitudes. This is not an easy disorder to describe, because there are many variations on the theme.

Some passive–aggressive are very meek and mild, whereas others are outwardly negativistic, defiant, and intrusive. The first type is the manipulator, who coerces others to do things for him or her.

Therapists are often duped by the mild and meek manner in which these borderlines present themselves. They frequently convince others that they suffer abuse from society, their jobs, their marriages. They judiciously and unconsciously persuade others to take pity on them.

Because many passive–aggressive are victims of traumatic childhoods, they induce and produce concillatory responses. “Look! I’m all black and blue. I had to go to work at that dumb job, but I hit my head on the car door!” Passive-aggressives are notoriously klutzy; they fall, have accidents, and get ill frequently.

The term negativistic is not quite suitable for many passive-aggressive borderlines, who truly believe they are good and compliant and feel that others are the ones who are nasty and have negative attitudes. Many people who deal with these personalities are deceived by their innocent persona.

Even therapists are completely baffled about how and why their “innocent” patients are being so mistreated by society, only to find out later how the passive-aggressive borderline frustrates and provokes others through subversive behaviors. “Sorry, I’m late again. I had to make some important calls before coming here.”

At work, they defy orders and resist authority figures who tell them what to do. Because of this resistance, the passive-aggressive borderline presents many treatment challenges, although there are many openings for effective communication with these personalities.

See also:
  1. American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed., text rev.). Washington, DC: Author.
  2. James, L.M., & Taylor, J. (2008). Associations between symptoms of borderline personality disorder, externalizing disorders, and suicide-related behaviors. Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment, 30, 1 – 9.
  3. Lieb, K., Zanarinin, M.C., Schmahl, C., Linehan, M.M., & Bohus, M. (2004). Borderline personality disorder. Lancet, 364, 453 – 461.
  4. Linehan, M.M., Cochran, B.N., & Kehrer, C.A. (2001). Dialectical behavior therapy for borderline personality disorder. In D. H. Barlow (Ed.), Clinical handbook of psychological disorders (3rd ed., pp. 470 – 522). New York: Guilford.
  5. Norra, C., Mrazek, M., Tuchtenhagen, F., Gobbele, R., Buchner, H., SaB, H., et al. (2003). Enhanced intensity dependence as a marker of low serotenergic neurotransmission in borderline personality disorder. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 37, 23 – 33.
  6. Sansone, R.A., Songer, D.A., & Miller, K. A. (2005). Childhood abuse, mental healthcare utilization, self-harm behavior, and multiple psychiatric diagnosis among inpatients with and without a borderline diagnosis. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 46, 117 – 120.
  7. Soloff, P. H., Fabio, A., Kelly, T.M., Malone, K. M., & Mann, J. J. (2005). High-lethality status in patients with borderline personality disorder. Journal of Personality Disorders, 19, 386 – 399.