Empathy In Borderline Personality Disorder

Today’s post may be slightly different from others, as I’m going to be exploring into things outside of my personal experience with it. Since I got told that I had BPD traits, I realised that there is a confused community. It consists of people who feel too much emotion for other people, are overly empathetic. Then there are people who do not feel it at all. I was really interested to look more into empathy and how it is affected by personality disorders. Not only those, but other mental illnesses as well.

I don’t feel empathy for other humans, and I have BPD. However, whether those two things are connected or not, is the debate. I do feel somewhat empathetic towards younger people such as small children, and also animals of any kind. So for me to say that I lack complete empathy would be a lie. I don’t think I really ever feel sympathy, either. Unless the emotion is connected directly towards someone that I truly care about, I don’t feel a lot of anything when someone is sad or hurt.

I wanted to see if I could find out whether me being like that was directly linked to my BPD, my other mental illnesses, or whether it was a trait of a different mental illness or personality disorder. Bare in mind throughout this post that it is very likely for people with one personality disorder to actually have another one, or inherit traits from others at the same time.

Different types of empathy.

There are three kinds of empathy that a person can feel, as stated by Daniel Goleman – a psychologist and science journalist.

  1. Cognitive Empathy – Knowing what the other person is feeling or thinking.
  2. Emotional Empathy – You feel what the other person is feeling alongside them.
  3. Compassionate Empathy – You know what they’re thinking, feel how they feel, and because of that are compelled to help them.


I think what I gathered from that is that if you were to feel absolutely no empathy whatsoever – you may have something other than BPD. Narcissistic personality disorder, anti-social personality disorder (psychopathy), or even histrionic personality disorder. They all may have more of a higher likelihood of feeling complete lack of empathy, including the basic cognitive empathy.

I think I fit more into the cognitive empathy category. I can recognise and list off emotions and/or feelings that someone may be experiencing in a moment of time. That does not mean I can relate, understand, or sympathise with that person. It sounds mean, and harsh, and I know it does. That’s why I felt it was important for me to look into other possibilities as to where that way of thinking has come from. If the general consensus is that people with BPD feel more empathy than no empathy, where did my lack of it come from?

Cognitive empathy is often heard of being used as a tactic. By thinking of a situation logically and listing emotions being felt by the other person, you can then mimic them – often falsely. You don’t actually feel that way, but it is very easy to reciprocate as you have analysed what they want to hear.

Subtypes of BPD

As much as all of the personality disorders somewhat interlink with each other, BPD also has its own subtypes within itself. These subtypes describe the different forms that BPD can show itself in a person, and from what I can understand, it depends on your background.

  1. Discouraged Borderline – Also can be known as Dependant Borderline. Clingy, somber, dejected. Often angry or frustrated at the actions of others. More likely to harm themselves than others.
  2. Impulsive Borderline – Cousin to Histrionic Personality Disorder. Flirtatious, elusive, sultry, captivating and superficial. Always seek thrill and excitement.
  3. Petulant Borderline – Unpredictable, impulsive, irritable and impatient. Want to rely on people but also afraid of disappointment.
  4. Self-Destructive Borderline – Self bitterness which turns into destructive and reckless behaviour towards themselves. Self hatred, low self esteem.

After looking at all of these subtypes it makes it easier to see why some of them would feel more empathy towards people than others would. I believe that I fit more into the subtypes of petulant and impulsive, than the other two. The fact that my personality and my moods are often very superficial and not exactly how I really feel can add to the fact that I cannot empathise. I don’t really know how it feels to feel the range of emotions that most people do, hence I can’t relate.

I feel as though I also have subconsciously stopped myself from empathising, in a way. My BPD obviously means I feel things a lot heavier than most, and a lot more intensely. This then means that if I were to empathise with everyone who had come to me with their problems, I’d be overwhelmed very quickly. Feeling my own emotions as intensely as I do right now is overwhelming, let alone feeling everyone else’s in the same fashion.

Empathy vs Sympathy

I’m going to pull a direct quote from this article on Psychology Today from Douglas LaBier Ph.D to explain the difference. Only because I couldn’t describe it any better than he did. I’ve used [] to replace parts of the quote which weren’t necessary to my point.

“Empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy reflects understanding another person’s situation – but viewed through your own lens. That is, it’s based on your version of what the other person is dealing with. (“Yeah, I can sympathize with your problem with your elderly mother, because I have my own problems with mine …”). The narcissist can be sympathetic in this way.


In contrast, empathy is what you feel only when you can step outside of yourself and enter the internal world of the other person. There, without abandoning or losing your own perspective, you can experience the other’s emotions, conflicts, or aspirations from within the vantage point of that person’s world. []”


There’s a test which I sent to some of my friends, you can find it here. The main consensus from two of my friends/family who do not suffer with any serious mental health issues is that they would feel empathetic (wanting to help, regardless of whether they could or not) towards the second version of the situation told here. This is because the boy needs help in that situation, whereas in the other scenario, the man is being selfish and/or reckless.

I also asked two other one friends, one suffers with BPD and one suffers with various mental health issues. They both said that they would feel bad about the situation, but not necessarily empathetic. They knew they couldn’t help the boy themselves. I wondered if they then expected others to feel empathy towards them when they are feeling down – even though they know that the only person who can truly help them is themselves.

I don’t ever feel bad for not feeling empathetic or sympathetic towards a lot of situations. People hear that and immediately jump to the idea that I’m a bad person, or I don’t care about people, which isn’t true. I am able to feel those things in very specific situations which include specific criteria; I just have an unknown issue, or issues, which stop me from feeling it all the time.

There isn’t a right or wrong way to be when you have BPD. You may feel no empathy at all, or too much of it, but either way you’re suffering. You still need to be dealt with, with compassion and love. The more people turn against you, the worse it is, either way. I think both of them are equally as toxic as one another.

What do you think about empathy? Leave me a comment below or tweet at me on Twitter to let me know!

Chaz x


Hi! I'm Chaz. I'm the Founder of The Green Button Project, I run my own mental health blog, and I'm also a mental health volunteer with Time to Change and 7Cupsoftea.com. I also love dogs.


  1. Chaz,

    Thank you for your insights!
    Like you said, it is comprehensible why you most of the time don’t feel a lot of empathy/sympathy:
    you are experiencing so much emotions yourself that there is no place for an other human being.
    I’m by nature an empathic person, but I also had periods in my life that I was so stressed and anxious that there was only space for my own troubles. And if people don’t know you, they will think you are selfish.

    Keep up writing more about (your)mental illness. I would like to read more about BPD.
    Maybe you can write an article about the differences between BPD and narcissistic PD?
    They seem to have a lot in common ( tendency to manipulate and lying, mood swings, impulsive, black-white thinking, abondenment anxiety, self-destructive behavior etc.), but what are the differences ?

    Thanks and have a nice dag!


  2. Do you feel remorse or guilt when you realized that you have hurt someone for the 1st or 10th time…?

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