Do People With Borderline Have Empathy?

Empathy is the ability to understand and feel the emotions of another person. Empathy levels are normal to high in people with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). However, it seems to completely disappear when they're overwhelmed by emotion.

I've read articles and forums where people are disagreeing about whether someone with BPD has empathy or not. Some people describe someone with BPD as hyper empathetic, while others claim they have no empathy at all. In this article, I will explain why both statements are false.


The misunderstanding that someone with BPD has no Empathy

Someone with BPD frequently has emotional outbursts or abuses the silent treatment without showing remorse. For this reason, it may look as if someone with BPD is only concerned about themselves and has no empathy.


Borderline is, among other things, characterized by feeling intense emotions, impulsivity, and an inability to regulate emotions. When someone with BPD gets upset, they get so hopeless and distressed that they do not consider their partner's feelings, even if they are crying and pleading. For someone with BPD, it seems like the end of the world at that moment because that is how they perceive relationships. They're scared of losing that someone who gives them a purpose to live. They internalize rage, sadness, or suicidal ideation, and there is no room for anything empathy-related.


Another definition of empathy is about a concern in which you not only understand what the other is going through, but you also care about it and want to help them. Those with BPD may show this characteristic as well, but they may be too overwhelmed by their circumstances to the point that they are blind to the needs of others.


The problem is that empathy is based on the perception of how they see someone else's feelings. People with BPD are hypervigilant, and they often misunderstand someone being disappointed or upset with them, which is not the reality. Their thoughts would exaggerate into "They despise you, and you are worthless." It's an internal conflict that has nothing to do with wanting to harm someone else. But as a result, they do hurt others. When people with BPD have calmed down and realized they have hurt someone, they will feel awful. Someone with BPD definitely has empathy, but it disappears when they're overwhelmed by emotion which can be frequent for someone with BPD.


Final thoughts

When I was a kid, the moment I got home, I remember I had to look at my father's facial expression to see if there was going to be shouting and physical abuse that day. I had to become an expert at reading his emotion because if I saw it coming, I had a chance to prevent the negative consequences. It became a survival instinct ingrained in my brain, and it misinterprets situations with people nowadays.


People with BPD can be very empathic since they can detect subtle feelings that others might overlook. They can identify specific signals better than the average person since they frequently come from unsafe homes. They need to sense what someone is thinking or feeling to survive.


People with BPD can have a narcissistic personality disorder, which means no empathy for others. Meaning that someone with BPD can have no empathy, but that is not due to the BPD itself. Empathy levels can fluctuate when emotions rise and fall, but BPD doesn't define someone's level of empathy.


Read more on 6 Ways To Be More Empathic