Selfishness and Borderline: Three Questions to Ask

November 25, 2014 Becky Oberg

While not one of the nine criteria for a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD), selfishness can be a symptom of the disease. Selfishness interferes with healthy relationships, worsens risky behavior and worsens addiction--all symptoms of BPD. How do we know when we're being selfish? There are three questions to ask.

How Selfishness Manifests in Borderline Personality Disorder

According to HealthyPlace, selfishness in the case of BPD arises from unmet needs:

People with a borderline personality often report being neglected or abused as children. Consequently, they feel empty, angry, and deserving of nurturing. They have far more dramatic and intense interpersonal relationships than people with cluster A personality disorders (odd or eccentric personality disorders such as paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder). When they fear being abandoned by a caring person, they tend to express inappropriate and intense anger.

In other words, we're selfish because we're hurt and we don't know how to react. But there's good news--an honest examination of our behavior can help. This leads to the first two questions we should ask ourselves and answer honestly.

The First Two Questions about Selfishness

People with borderline personality disorder are often selfish, but how do we know we're being selfish? Check yourself with these 3 questions about selfishness.As people with BPD, our emotions are often intense and scary. We often forget how to consider the other person's needs. We need to be honest with ourselves and examine our motives. The questions are:

  • Am I putting myself ahead of this person's needs?
  • Are they hurt by my choice?

If the answer is "Yes", we need not be ashamed. We are human beings first. We are, by our very nature, selfish--we've had to be in order to survive. But the good news is we don't have to be any more. There is a three-fold remedy for selfishness: service, empathy and spirituality. While we need to be on guard for toxic relationships, we need to put God first, others second and ourselves third.

I've found service to be incredibly healing. When Hurricane Katrina hit, I went to Biloxi in search of God. I learned that you get what you give, that someone always has it worse than you and that service brings you closer to your Higher Power. Service teaches empathy, which promotes spirituality.

The Third Selfishness Question: Am I the Problem?

This is a difficult question for someone with BPD, because we often think we're the problem when the real problem is our illness. For those of us with addiction, however, this is a vital question to ask. In my case, alcohol and self-injury are symptoms. The real problem is me--or more accurately, my illness.

So what do we do when we're the problem? The good news is we're not responsible for our illness, which more often than not makes us the problem. We are, however, responsible for the treatment of our illness. We are responsible for taking steps to get better. We are responsible for staying in treatment, staying on our medication and monitoring our symptoms. As HealthyPlace reads:

Living with borderline personality disorder can be difficult. You may fully realize that your behaviors and thoughts are self-destructive or damaging yet feel unable to control them. Treatment can help you learn skills to manage and cope with your condition.

Other things you can do to help manage your condition and feel better about yourself include:

  • Sticking to your treatment plan
  • Attending therapy sessions as scheduled
  • Practicing healthy ways to ease painful emotions, rather than inflicting self-injury
  • Not blaming yourself for having the disorder but recognizing your responsibility to get it treated
  • Learning what things may trigger angry outbursts or impulsive behavior
  • Not being embarrassed by having this condition
  • Getting treatment for related problems, such as substance abuse
  • Educating yourself about the disorder so you understand its causes and treatments better
  • Reaching out to others with the disorder to share insights and experiences

Remember, there's no one right path to recovery from BPD. The condition seems to be worse in young adulthood and may gradually get better with age. Many people with the disorder find greater stability in their lives during their 30s and 40s. Their inner misery may lessen and they go on to sustain loving relationships and enjoy meaningful careers.

You can also find Becky Oberg on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and Linkedin.

APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2014, November 25). Selfishness and Borderline: Three Questions to Ask, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Becky Oberg

September, 8 2023 at 2:42 pm

Don't you think it's kinda hard NOT to be all about yourself or getting your own needs met, when you're now 51 yrs old, have barely survived recently attempted suicide, & are now crying, begging and pleading for validation, attention and love from your own family of origin.... Only for them to continue to invalidate, avoid accountability, refuse to take ownership, apologize for your lifetime of suffering... They don't understand why you can't just "move on"... When they are the key to why your unresolved trauma remains UNRESOLVABLE!
So have I been selfish because I'm not the most empathetic person in the world? Hmmm... Where would I have learned that from? Not my immediate family! To be honest, I do try to treat people the way they treat me... And someone's gotta see to it that my needs are met and apparently, that's gotta be me!!! Out of survival, not out of selfishness!!! And how dare you speak of the importance of God in this article. Do you really think that so many of us with BPD would be suicidal if we believed in anything?? Anything at all?? Don't go there, dear. You have no right to preach.

October, 17 2023 at 9:14 pm

In my experience my partner became so self focused they didnt recognize their own abuse and dismissal of me and our kids. They have leaned into it as an excuse and escape from responsibility. Their behavior is not everyone else's responsibility. They need to learn to treat others as they want to be treated.

October, 12 2019 at 7:19 am

A family member has this illness, but her therapist won't diagnose her. She drinks and does drugs, blames everyone for her problems. She wasn't even upset when a close family member had cancer. She makes everything about herself. If someone won't get help, it's not possible to help.

March, 17 2019 at 2:44 pm

All sounds good. All I read is for the person with bpd. How about telling the care giver. The best way to answer the person with bpd so they will stay calm, calm down or want to get better?

April, 2 2021 at 10:39 pm

Exactly what I was thinking.....again it's all about me, me, me again.

October, 1 2022 at 9:44 am

An article about BPD for people with BPD. How selfish of them...
Not saying people with BPD can't be selfish but things like this literally exist to aid in introspection. Furthermore while people with BPD do cause harm they are not all the same statements like these are bigoted, they stigmatize the illness further and increase the likelihood that those with BPD won't get the treatment they need thereby harming everyone...
Just sayin

January, 4 2019 at 2:19 am

I had to stop reading as soon as you said our first priority is to god. There is no way that anything else you wrote could have any scientific backing after that load.

April, 3 2018 at 6:48 pm

Wow, sounds so familiar! My fiancé is very temperamental. Things can be great one minute and the next minute if things do not go his way he goes off. He is,like Jeckle & Hyde, hot then cold. He drinks daily, drives wrecklessly.... being in a relationship with a borderline is like riding an emotional roller coaster..all the time.

August, 2 2017 at 12:14 am

I went into a relationship with a BPD. She was a very good woman at first. What I saw from her was lack of empathy, emotions, and...soo soo selfish and greedy. She would always blame someone else, but later she said she qas wrong. But I ALWAYS had the feeling she was acting. She was weak to pot, and booze. She also tried. She could do the most inconsiderate things. that are obvious. I couldnt wrap me head around how she could not see how that would hurt me. When I confronted her, she put on a stupid face, and then go lie down like a child. Then she was fine. Deep down, all she did was care aboit herself. She looked for a reason to break up. I treated her like a queen. BPH are selfish. And no sympathy, empathy, or guilt. Horrible.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

mike coers
January, 12 2018 at 9:06 am

Dude.....been there exactly..6 years together ..ive moved out three time due to incredibly inconsiderate, downright thoughtless selfish bitchy greedy bad behavior.......most recently.. I came home for the holidays to vivist family from a different state, and while there , a barn collapsed on me and btoke 11 ribs and two bones in my knee , torn ACL, and meniscus I'm staying with family till im healed because so told me.. " i dont want you cback here ..i dont want to tale care of you.. we still talk on the phone...last night she had a litle breakdown on the phone because she said she had a dream about her dog who has i listened, sympathized etc..she cried etc......i waited till she was throguth to talk about me...she said hows things.. " well, my entire family has gone on vacation , so im here alone and it sucks right now " repay.. " i dont want to hear your are lucky to have a family period "....just blew my moind after i listend to her about her dead dog, ( which happened way back in june )....i have life chanaign injuries and she " doesnt want to hear about it."
i told her she was very rude and hung up on her.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

February, 4 2018 at 4:50 pm

I have bpd. And my partner tells me these same things. He tries so hard to get me to see what im doing wrong and i just dont see how its so bad. I feel like a horrible person. I want to die alot. Im also 6 months pregnant. I hate bpd and what it has done to my life. I feel like if this relationship doesnt work i dont want to ever love again. I dont know who i am mostly and what i want to do with my life. I also shut down when i am confronted. My x is a sociopath so i felt like it was always his problem. Now i see i have so many issues i cant even hardly function as a responsible adult. I forget adult things like apointments and bills. My partner gets upset and doesnt understand why i cant do what others do. I guess i wanted to say to u two about how this is a very real and defeating illness. And yes very very selfish. And i hate it. Ill never make friends like normal people im very social but i wont let anyone close and those who get close see my dark side and run away. I try to tell him about my illness and he tells me im not my illness. But the shoe fits and i become overwhelmed with emotions and i cant shut my mouth. I dont mean to. But i do. Good luck

December, 2 2014 at 1:47 am

A very enlightening article which truly helps me to deal with my past. Thank you.

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