I have often heard Non-BPDs (or family and friends of those with borderline personality disorder – BPD) refer to their borderlines as “psychopaths”. There was the semi-famous story of the divorced husband who was running a blog called “the psycho ex-wife” (read more about that saga here) which had an “arm chair” diagnosis of this man’s ex-wife as having BPD. While she may or may not have BPD, the reference to the word “psycho” is a misnomer.
There are several BIG differences between borderline personality disorder and psychopathy. One of the most important is the function of the amygdala – an almond shaped structure in the mid-brain that activates when emotions are felt. Borderlines have an over-active amygdala while psychopaths have an under-active amygdala in certain circumstances.
Additionally, the aggression profile is completely different. Borderlines (and essentially all other mental disorders, including Antisocial Personality Disorder – ASPD) exhibit reactive aggression, while psychopaths exhibit instrumental aggression (more here).
Although my blog is mostly about BPD, in the past week months, I have become more interested in psychopathy. The reasons are two-fold: 1) the tragedies of mass killings, about which I am perversely interested – particularly the video posted by Elliot Rodger which to me reeks psychopath (although I’m no doctor) and 2) I have a close friend whose son behaves much like a budding psychopath. While I can go into why this boy seems psychopathic (and, believe me, I have never thought this about any other child I’ve ever met), I’ll reserve that for another time.
What I did want to post here is links to some information about psychopathy. If you spend a little time with the subject, you’ll find that psychopathy is NOT related to BPD (or is it the same as sociopathy or ASPD). Psychopaths are distinct from sociopaths as well as from borderlines. To refer to people with BPD as psychopaths is just plain inaccurate and incorrect.
Here are videos that can help in an understanding of psychopathy: