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Do you have 'quiet borderline personality disorder'?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is an excruciating, but usually invisible, mental health condition that can distort your view of both yourself and the world around you.

As with many other conditions, people experience BPD on a continuum. No two BPD sufferers have identical symptoms to the same degree.

As it turns out, BPD manifests itself in different forms. American psychologist Theodore Million identified four types of borderline personality disorders;

  • discouraged, or the 'quiet' borderline
  • impulsive borderline
  • petulant borderline
  • self-destructive borderline

This spectrum of different symptoms, and the diversity amongst BPD sufferers, can be misleading, and the majority of us tend to focus only on one end of the spectrum. While the media reinforces the stereotypical image of a BPD person as someone who acts out and externalise their anger, we forget to spare a thought for those with quiet BPD who are suffering in silence.

What is quiet BPD?

Stereotypically, a person with BPD exhibits symptoms such as anger outbursts, irrational accusation of others, and self-destructive, impulsive behaviour. In the case of quiet BPD, these things become invisible. The volatility is directed inward rather than out.

If you have quiet BPD, you 'act in', and you experience the entire gamut of emotions - fear of rejection, mood swings, rage, obsessive emotional attachment, self-doubt, anxiety, etc. However, you do not show your inner turmoils on the outside. Instead of lashing out, you direct the anger, hate, and blame towards yourself.

 Do you have quiet BPD?

  • Do you experience extreme mood swings that last from a few hours to a few days, even though you don't show them on the outside?
  • Do you suffer from toxic shame and feel guilty all the time?
  • Do you tend to blame yourself when conflicts happen between you and someone?
  • Even if you don't tell them or show it, do you find yourself idealising someone one moment, then devaluating or discarding them the next?
  • Do you feel chronically numb, empty, and detached from the world?
  • Do you have times where you feel 'surreal', like you are in some movie or dream?
  • Do you deny and suppress the anger you feel?
  • Do you often feel you take up too much space, or are somehow a burden to those around you?
  • Do you cut people off the instant they hurt you, rather than trying to talk to them about what happened?
  • When you are upset, do you withdraw into yourself and talk to nobody?

If you have answered yes to some of the above questions, read on for the symptoms of quiet BPD.

Eight symptoms of quiet BPD

1. You blame yourself for everything

People with quiet BPD drive all blame onto themselves, even when it is not their fault. If your friends get angry, you immediately feel you have done something wrong, even when there is no apparent connection. You always think you are annoying or burdening others. Even when you are treated badly, you believe you have done something to deserve it.

You may have symptoms of social anxiety, where you harshly scrutinise everything you say or do, then criticise or even punish yourself for it.

2. You hide how you truly feel

All your life, you have learned how to hide your true feelings. This may be because you grew up in a household where the expression of your needs and emotions was not allowed. Through social conditioning, you were led to believe that only the 'happy, calm, and normal' version of you would be accepted. So, no matter how much you are suffering on the inside, you hide it.

Many people with quiet BPD also suffer from a condition called Alexithymia - the inability to recognise or describe emotions. Because you lack the vocabularies for your feelings, you end up letting them fester inside of you.

3. You appear 'high functioning' 

Many people with quiet BPD appear independent, successful, and high functioning. You may be capable at work during the day, but collapse when you get home. Subconsciously, you have come to believe that by appearing 'perfect', beautiful, successful, and so on, you will be able to avoid painful abandonment or rejection. When these false pillars for your self-esteem are removed in the case of unemployment, divorce, or financial losses, your sense of self is at risk of crumbling.

4. You suffer from depersonalisation and derealisation

You may retreat not only from the social world, but also your inner world. Whenever emotional pain gets too much, you dissociate from yourself. You may dissociate in the form of depersonalisation and derealisation, where everything seems surreal. You feel like you are up in the air, watching yourself run your life like a distant and detached observer, unable to feel pain or joy. Even when it comes to your close relationships, you do not feel connected. You run your life on auto-pilot and have lost your inner vitality.

5. You people-please at a high price

You might have adopted the pleaser role from your family of origin, where back then you had no choice but to be a compliant helper to survive. It is not a conscious desire, but you prioritise being liked over being respected, and panic when others seem to be angry at you or disagree with you.

People pleasing becomes excessive when you find yourself unable to act spontaneously, and cautiously edit or harshly scrutinise yourself for fear of hurting or offending someone.

6. You isolate yourself to cope with social anxiety

Being in a social situation evokes enormous anxiety for you. Since it is easy for your buttons to get pushed, you know you are prone to feeling hurt, humiliated, or ashamed. When compared to others who seem thick-skinned, you walk around the world with a third-degree burn and no protection. Eventually, it seems 'easier' to withdraw from the world.

'Splitting' is a common BPD symptom. When you split, people become either in the 'good' or 'bad camp. The person you loved yesterday may become your enemy today. When you have quiet BPD, you would not directly confront them or fight for the relationship. Instead, you withdraw and cut off from them. You discard relationships easily, leaving the other person in confusion. When you look back, however, you may regret losing some of your friends. You may also become increasingly isolated and depressed.

7. You are afraid to be alone, but you push people away

As with 'classic BPD', you have a deep fear of abandonment, but instead of fighting for attachment in the form of clinginess, in quiet BPD you believe you deserve to be abandoned. The self-loathing can drive you to isolate yourself for days and weeks.

Deep down, you doubt your worthiness, and you are afraid that when others come close enough, they will 'find out' that you are defective. When someone expresses affection towards you, you close off or distance yourself, so they never get to see the real you.

You are so fearful of the prospect of being rejected that you would rather not start any relationship, or you end them before people could come close enough to hurt you. You tell yourself 'I am independent and I don't need relationships'. You may end up shutting the emotions deep within yourself and become chronically empty and numb.

8. You are confused about who you are

You find it difficult to know who you are because your preference, beliefs, and values seem to change on a day to day basis. You can be infatuated with a person, a project, or a regime for a while, and suddenly, as though a switch has been flipped, you lose interest. Because of this, you are not sure where you belong. Not having a solid foundation to work from also makes it harder to build self-esteem and self-confidence.

Healing from quiet BPD

Because understanding of BPD, even amongst mental health professionals, is limited, you may continuously be misdiagnosed with other syndromes, such as depression, social phobia or Asperger's.

Having quiet BPD isolates you. Most likely, you feel uneasy and even ashamed of having to seek help, but the pain and turmoil of BPD is severe when you have to bear it on your own.

Although it may feel unnatural and difficult for you, reaching out is an essential step towards healing. You may feel that you do not deserve help, but that is not the truth. In the past, you might have been silenced, dismissed, and scapegoated.

Claiming your voice does not have to be daunting. As soon as you open up, you will realise the world is waiting to hear from you. If you share your suffering, your past, and your story with someone, somewhere, you will find you have the power to heal the world.

Having quiet BPD is incredibly painful, but that does not have to be your story for the rest of your life.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Imi Lo - Consultant for Highly Intense and Sensitive People (MMH, UKCP, FRSA)

Imi Lo is a Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, the Founder of Eggshell Therapy and Coaching, author of the book Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity, and host of the Eggshell Transformations podcast. She specialises in Emotional Intensity, Sensitivity, Borderline Personality Disorder, and Complex PTSD. (www.eggshelltherapy.com).… Read more

Written by Imi Lo - Consultant for Highly Intense and Sensitive People (MMH, UKCP, FRSA)

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