The Borderline Personality as Transient Sociopath

Editor’s note: This article was submitted by Steve Becker, LCSW, CH.T, who has a private psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and clinical consulting practice in New Jersey, USA. For more information, visit his website,

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.

These unstable trends are not explained by a core psychotic orientation, although individuals with borderline personality can sometimes lapse into psychotic thinking when feeling hurt and rejected enough. Borderline personalities tend to see others in “black and white,” as either all-good or all-bad; they struggle to retain more flexible, ambivalent views of others. Others are either idealized, or devalued; these swings of perceptions can be sudden, volatile, and complete.

Perceptions and/or experiences of abandonment often elicit the borderline’s dysfunctional responses and psychological deterioration. In his or her more stable state, the borderline personality can sometimes function well and seem to be well-adjusted. But more intimate involvement with him or her, over time, will expose an underlying, poorly disturbed sense of self and incapacity for mature relating.

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.

Once inside this mentality, I’m suggesting that borderline personality-disordered individuals can lapse into a kind of transient 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.

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.

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.

Case example

I worked not long ago with a male, 24, who slit his ex-girlfriend’s tires in the parking lot of the restaurant in which she tended bar. He’d suspected her of cheating with her manager. Notably, they were still together at the time of his act. Although his girlfriend surmised his guilt, he wouldn’t admit it, suggesting foolishly that the perpetrator was probably the manager. While his suspicions of her infidelity had some basis, the important point is that they activated an inner-self crisis and desperation characteristic of borderline personality structures.

Specifically, he feared losing her—a prospect so traumatic that rage was summoned to help mobilize his fragmenting self. His rage was experienced as cold, not volatile. He regressed into paranoia, as one who had been betrayed and, cruelly, left helpless. His failure to soberly examine the circumstances and his inflammatory reactions represented a form of mild dissociation/detachment from reality that enabled the paranoid experience, and processing, of his fear; his detachment (and regression) enabled him to formulate and execute his revenge with his empathy (and guilt) conveniently iced. In other words, he could perpetrate his vengeance with the detached calm of someone who has experienced a trauma, as in a state of depersonalization.

Upon emerging from this state, it would be as if emerging from a sort of dream, or seizure. The rationalization would kick in: what I do in those states really isn’t me, so I don’t really have to take full responsibility for it later on. It’s as if the borderline individual surfaces from his dip into sociopathy once again a borderline (and no longer a sociopath).

Motives that drive patterns of problematic behaviors frequently illuminate and distinguish the personality disorders. In this case, what seems to have driven my client was his crumbling sense of self in the form of an inarticulate terror of being abandoned. For this reason (among others), I can confidently say that he wasn’t a sociopath. But when he was in that regressed, dissociated, fragmented state—for as long as it lasted—I suggest he was.

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106 Comments on "The Borderline Personality as Transient Sociopath"

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I’m just trying to figure out how I should feel about the person who made me her victim. If she has BPD then I feel like I should feel sorry for her, but if she is also a sadistic sociopath who genuinely gets pleasure from other people’s pain and uses others to boost her own ego with no concern for the damage she causes, then I can’t feel sorry for her and will feel more anger instead. I’ve read that seducing married people can be a BPD thing as it makes them feel self worth because they feel that they are being chosen over the spouse.

Oh, cupcake, it sounds like you are no victim. Typical of males, you are led by your penis and cheated on your wife. Now you want to blame the borderline. But nobody forced you to cheat and you aren’t an innocent, victimized “nice guy”. You simply want to defend your frail male ego. I also have a different theory, in that us borderline women are in fact sociopaths, but we are sadly pathetic ones who dip into moments of insecurity, neediness etc. Toxic shame can also prevent us from our full sociopathic potential. I lovehoning in on my sociopathic side. Its fun while escorting. I do not want to work, and I make good money. These men pay me hundreds of dollars, I charm them and then I get them to cater to me. Its my way or the highway, and they do anything to make me feel happy. In fact, their need to please me results in long time clients. Sometimes I. Shower them with praise and affection, other times I act offended and this spurs them to “fix” it by giving me more money or spending an hour massaging my back. Its funny, and fun and well men deserve it haha. Women? I don’t bother with them much. I don’t have much to gain from them.

Bringing this article back up for anewstepmom.

Good comparison of BPD and Spath I am reposting in response to questions someone had on another article.


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I would love to hear some of your feedback and any comments you might have.


I completely disagree with this persons assessment of this guy who slashed some tires.

First and foremost, this was a 24 yr old still wet behind the ears barely grown man. Second yes he flipped out cause he thought his woman was cheating.

Third, it sounds to me that he just flipped out, hes young, and went and did something stupid and immature, thinking somehow that he was getting back at her, that DOES NOT make this kid a sociopath, or hell even a borderline, so a very young man made a bad choice based off his heart being broken, that does not constitute a personality disorder, sounds more like immaturity to me.

Thanks for the article. I have suspected psychopathy for some time but now I know it is BPD. Sociopathy is lurking up to the surface, due cause of substance abuse. I plan very mean things in order to hurt people – for gain: self justification.

So my problems are the rapidly changing emotions, brutal rage some times, several break downs on coke and alcohol without it the world gets plain and boring.

I made all my loved people gone away. When I really need help as per suicide is hanging too.
They dont understand this and I think I could have nearly killed myself with an overdose. Nobody takes it serious.

My issue is huge

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