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Do You Have "Quiet BPD"?  

Suffering in silence with borderline personality disorder.

Key points

  • Borderline personality disorder exists on a spectrum, with attention usually given to only one end of that spectrum.
  • Those with stereotypical BPD externalize their anger, while those with "quiet BPD" aim their emotional volatility at themselves.
  • Symptoms of "quiet BPD" include blaming yourself for everything and self-isolating based on the belief that you deserve abandonment.

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. BPD also manifests itself in different forms. American psychologist Theodore Million identified four types:

  1. Discouraged or "quiet" borderline
  2. Impulsive borderline
  3. Petulant borderline
  4. Self-destructive borderline

The diversity among BPD sufferers and the spectrum of symptoms can be misleading, with the majority of us tending to focus only on one end of the spectrum. While the media reinforces the stereotypical image of BPD as someone who acts out and externalizes their anger, we forget to spare a thought for those with Quiet BPD who suffer in silence.

What Is Quiet BPD?

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

If you have Quiet BPD, you "act in." 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 turmoil on the outside. Instead of lashing out, you direct the anger, hate, and blame toward yourself.

Trauma psychotherapist Pete Walker described four of our basic defensive structures: Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn. Most of us employ all of these strategies, depending on the situation. If you have Quiet BPD, your predominant coping mechanism is freeze.

Do You Have Quiet BPD?

  • Do you experience extreme mood swings that last from a few hours to a few days, even when 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 occur?
  • Even if you don't tell them or show it, do you find yourself idealizing someone one moment, then devaluing or discarding them the next?
  • Do you feel chronically numb, empty, and detached from the world?
  • Are there times when you feel "surreal," like you are in a movie or a 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 don't talk to anybody?

Symptoms of Quiet BPD

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 recognize or describe emotions. Because you lack the vocabulary for your feelings, you end up letting them fester inside of you.

You appear high functioning. Many people with Quiet BPD appear independent, successful, and high functioning. You may be highly driven and perfectionistic. 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 of self-esteem are removed, as in the case of unemployment, divorce, or financial losses, your sense of self will be at risk of crumbling.

You suffer from depersonalization and derealisation. You may retreat not only from the social world but your inner world as well. Whenever emotional pain gets too much, you dissociate from yourself. You may dissociate in the form of depersonalization 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.

You people-please at a high price. You might have adopted the pleaser role in your family of origin, at a time when you had no choice but to be a compliant helper to survive. It is not a conscious desire, but you continue to prioritize being liked over being respected, and panic when others seem to be angry at you or disagree with you.

When you fall for someone, you become excessively nervous, and panic at the slightest sign of someone being displeased. This puts you in a hypervigilant state and robs you of the creative energy you could use to be productive.

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

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

"Splitting" is a common BPD symptom. When you split, people get put in either 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 people or fight for your relationships. Instead, you withdraw and cut yourself off from them. You discard relationships easily, leaving the other person in confusion. When you look back, however, you may regret losing some friends.

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. 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 toward 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 can 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.

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, harshly scrutinizing everything you say or do, then criticizing or even punishing yourself for it.

You are confused about who you really are. You find it difficult to know who you are because your preferences, 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 period of time, 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.

You have a high need for control. You have a high need for control, structure, and order. You may impose rigid rules on your life in order to not get thrown off balance. This creates a kind of rigidity that limits creativity, playfulness, and spontaneity. You may be uncomfortable with unstructured situations where there are no rules or instructions. You may find social situations and unstructured activities exhausting because you never know what to do or say. Because of this, you may also find unstructured therapy difficult, as the therapist does not offer concrete directions or let you know if you are on the right path. (This does not mean the therapy is "bad" or not working, but it is worth sharing how you feel with your therapist.) You may also choose to avoid an intimate relationship. That makes sense, as relationships inevitably involve exposing your vulnerability and being subjected to factors you cannot control.

Healing From Quiet BPD

Because the understanding of BPD is limited, even among mental-health professionals, you may 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 are severe when you bear it on your own.

Although it may feel unnatural and difficult, reaching out is an essential step toward healing. You may feel that you do not deserve help; that is not the truth. In the past, you might have been silenced, dismissed, and scapegoated. Your system has learned that seeking help means being vulnerable, or that being needy will lead to rejection.

If you wish to move forward and live a different life, one that is fuller, richer, and more fulfilling, you ought to summon the courage to do something different.

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

Having Quiet BPD is painful, but it does not have to be your story for the rest of your life.

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