Signs of Quiet BPD — Are You Suffering In Silence?
Quiet BPD looks different from ‘typical’ BPD. Having Quiet BPD means you ‘act in’, rather than act out. You may not have stereotypical BPD symptoms such as frequent anger outbursts, but you suffer in silence. You may appear calm and high functioning, and instead of ‘exploding’, you implode and collapse from within. Your arms and legs may be covered with scars, but you hide them. Your heart is close to breaking, but you never want to burden anyone around you.
While there is now more awareness about BPD, most people don’t know that BPD manifests itself in different forms. Psychologist Theodore Million identified four types of borderline personality disorders – 1. discouraged or the ‘quiet’ borderline (Quiet BPD), 2. impulsive borderline 3. petulant borderline, and 4. self-destructive borderline.
Perhaps the word ‘subtype’ is misleading. It is not that there are four ‘different groups of people’. Instead, these categories describe different ways of coping with an incredibly painful condition— some people fight, some people flight, some people dissociate. It is a matter of spectrum, rather than categorisation. No one has either completely ‘classic’ or ‘quiet’ BPD, or should be labelled as such. As we discuss ‘quiet borderline’ or Quiet BPD, please be mindful that it is a survival strategy, not a definition of your personality.
What is Quiet BPD?
The stereotypical image of BPD is one that involves ‘dramatic behaviours’— anger outbursts, big arguments with partners. These characteristics describe someone who ‘acts out’. Having Quiet BPD, however, means you ‘act in’. You feel and struggle with all the same things— The fears of abandonment, mood swings, extreme anxiety, impulsiveness and black and white thinking (splitting); but instead of ‘exploding’, you implode. You may not have frequent anger outbursts, but you internalise your painful emotions and struggles. The aggression or irritation is directed towards yourself.
When you are triggered, rarely do you lash out at others, but you go into isolation and engage in self-injurious behaviours. Your arms may be covered with scars from self-harming, but you hide them.
You may feel that your emotions are wrong, you are ‘too much’ for others, your existence itself is a burden, or you don’t deserve a place in the world. You would rather be in pain than to affect other people, so you hold everything in.
People with Quiet BPD tend to have an avoidant attachment style; many have co-morbid Avoidant Personality Disorder traits. Instead of other reactions’ fight’, ‘flight’, or ‘fawn’, you’ freeze’ in the face of trauma and pain.
Quiet BPD is more dangerous than the classic form of the disease because it’s tough to fathom the emotional distress inside you. When you have emotional needs, you tend to numb out or dissociate. Instead of seeking help, you withdraw from those who care for you. Even if they try, you are not allowing them to help you.
Do You Have Quiet BPD?
Do you experience an intense emotional roller coaster ride often?
When you are upset, is all the shame, hate, or anger directed towards yourself?
Do you often find yourself thinking, “I must have said or done something wrong,” or “I must have been at fault”?
Do you stay awake at night with paranoia because someone you care for did not return a mobile text?
Do you distance yourself from friends or colleagues without having first tried to speak to them about what’s upsetting you?
Do you find yourself thinking that your very existence is a burden on others?
Do you live in denial of the anger you feel?
Do you spiral into crushing depression or tend to isolate yourself at the slightest mistakes you make in your interactions with people?
Are there incidences where you have cried for days, stayed in bed and remain unmotivated towards life without anyone knowing?
Here are eight specific symptoms that characterise Quiet BPD:
1. Self- Blame
Do you –
Blame yourself even if it is not your fault?
Feel that your friends and partners can do a lot better than you?
Feel that your presence is annoying to others?
Physically punish yourself when you feel that you didn’t do your best or were at fault?
Always criticise yourself for your behaviour and even your thoughts?
Do you over-apologise for everything,?
Most individuals suffering from Quiet BPD blame themselves for everything wrong. You tend to shoulder too many responsibilities for conflicts or arguments in a relationship. Even when you were abused, you may blame yourself rather than directing your anger towards the ones who have hurt you.
2. You are calm on the outside but suffers on inside
Since you do not feel you deserve attention and care, you hold things in. You are incredibly good at camouflaging— saying what others need to hear and presenting yourself in a socially acceptable way. People think that you are doing well, and may not reach out as you struggle in isolation.
You may suffer from what is known as Alexithymia—the inability to recognise or describe emotions. Research has found that people with BPD are highly responsive to other people’s feelings and can feel other people’s pain as their own, but since they do not have the language to identify and express these feelings, they come across as unempathic. (New A.S. et al., 2012)
Since you do not have the language to channel your pain, you ‘express’ your anger and hurt through a series of self- destructive behaviours including alcohol or drug abuse, binge eating, compulsive stealing, reckless driving and etc.
3. You Appear to be ‘High Functioning’
It may be due to your childhood or social condition that you have developed what psychologists call a ‘false self’. You hold up a ‘happy, successful and normal’ image even when you are paradoxically crumbling on the inside.
You maintain a facade of perfection and keep up with your external achievements, because somehow somewhere, you have learned that you are not fundamentally and inherently worthy of love. You trade your time for recognition and your soul for external approval. As you hide behind the socially successful persona, others do not get to know the real you and do not see that you need help. You lock yourself in a glamorous-looking but lonely place. This leaves a void in your heart, and the pain of not living a full life would eventually erupt.
4. You Socially Withdraw
Socially, you feel as though you are sleeping on a bed of nails. As much as you would like to engage, being around others fuels your self-doubt and anxiety. Disagreement at work, an indication that your partner is unhappy with you, or if your parents compare you with someone else, can push your buttons to an extreme degree. Eventually, you would rather socially withdraw to avoid shame and emotional storms. You become increasingly disconnected from the world.
You may engage in a common BPD symptom called’ splitting’— where people become either ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’, or when you go from intensely loving someone to hating them. When someone offends or hurt you, they become someone you hate (all bad). In quiet BPD, instead of confronting them or bursting out in rage, you shut down. You may disappear, ignore the offender, unfriend them on social media, or give them the silent treatment. If you don’t give others a chance to explain or to try and mend the relationship, they may not even be aware of what has happened. As a result, you might have lost friends and feel aggrieved and isolated.
5. You Mentally Retreat or Dissociate
Because avoidance is your primary coping mechanism, you avoid not just social situations but also your inner world. You tend to shut down when feelings get overwhelming. When you dissociate, you become empty and numb.
You may experience depersonalisation and derealisation, where you feel out of touch with reality, like you are observing yourself from the outside, or experience reality as unreal. When things become stressful, you run your life on autopilot while feeling nothing on the inside. Not just emotionally, you may physically feel numb, unable to taste or sense anything. You feel like you are living in a movie or a dream, or are living someone else’s life. You might have forgotten a big part of your life story and suffer from part amnesia, not able to string together a coherent narrative of your life.
6. You avoid conflicts and anger at all cost
The lack of emotional validation is at the core of the BPD wound. It makes sense, therefore, that you would want to seek from your partner or those who are close to you what you have wanted all your life but could not get. You may be constantly trying to make ‘everyone’ happy. Perhaps you put an excessive amount of time and efforts in being the mediator, confidant and peacemaker. Or you are unable to say no even it means sacrificing your own needs. You may do anything just to avoid conflicts and anger.
When you get emotionally attached to someone, you sensitively hang on to every word and action of them, constantly trying to decipher if they like you or care for you. Even at the slightest hint that someone is upset with you, you feel your world starts to crumble. You become incredibly anxious about potential rejection if friends or partners don’t keep plans or return your calls.
Because you are afraid of conflicts, you are always editing and checking yourself to make sure you never offend anyone. You may feel rigid, contrived, and not able to enjoy friendships and relationships in a carefree way.
7. You fear both abandonment and intimacy
The stereotypical image of someone is BPD is that they are clingy and needy. A person may fight, beg and cry to stop imagined or actual abandonment. The fear of being left behind causes chronic anxiety, panic attacks and hyper-vigilant physiology. In terms of attachment patterns, these behaviours relate to the anxious-ambivalent attachment style.
However, with Quiet BPD, your fear of abandonment may titrate with an avoidant attachment pattern. You do not only fear abandonment but also fear intimacy. You may avoid relationships altogether, or you avoid exposing yourself. The moment a romantic partner comes close to knowing the real you, you find a reason to break it off. Convinced that you would eventually be left, you would rather end the relationship before it ends on you.
8. You Hide and Self-sabotage
Having a good relationship or a job where you are appreciated fills you with uneasiness. You doubt yourself and deep down do not feel you deserve to have good fortune, appreciation and love. You would rather turn away joy than to later be disappointed. Therefore, you push away opportunities and hope. This pattern stops you from reaching your full potential.
9. You have an Unclear or shifting self-image:
You have ever-changing ideas about who you are, what you are doing, or where you are going in life. You want to feel like you belong somewhere, but at the same time find it difficult to commit to an endeavour. One minute you are totally into a person, a social movement, an idea, or a belief system, and the next moment you lose interest in them. With constant changes in your relationships and career, it is difficult for you to establish a sense of stability for your mental health.
The Psychodynamics Behind Quiet BPD— Anger Turned Inward
At the core of Quiet BPD is a thwarted relationship with anger, where instead of giving anger a healthy channel to be expressed, you have learned at some point in your life to turn it inward towards yourself.
Since the Freudian era, psychoanalysts have understood depression to be aggression that has been (mis)directed inward. Such an act, albeit mostly unconscious, is what depletes a person’s life force and energy, causes toxic shame, low self-esteem, people-pleasing tendencies and self- destructive urges.
Usually, this mechanism is developed out of the need to survive a childhood where our primary caregivers had been cold, critical or dismissive. Due to their immaturity, mental illness, undiagnosed neuro-atypical traits (such as autistic spectrum, Asperger’s or ADHD), extreme work or health demands, your parents might not have the capacity to emotionally ‘hold’ you. Instead of acting as a self container for many of your infantile and childhood needs, they were put off when you sought attention and avoided touching or playing with you. Or, they were physically present but emotionally blank. They might have reacted contemptuously to your call for connection, condemned you for being ‘too much’.
As a child, being needy was your ways of expressing love and seeking connection from others. However, if your parents were easily overwhelmed and responded to your needs with impatience, frustrations or even disgust, you would fail to internalise a sense of fundamental worthiness.
Some parents are afraid of conflicts or any intense emotions. When you cry or got frustrated, they panic, and in turn, punish you for what they feel. If your parents responded to your anxiety by escalating them or becoming hysterical, you would receive the message that your presence was a nuisance or even a threat. They were so emotionally volatile that they were hardly able to contain their own anger and distress, let alone yours. As a sensitive and empathic child, it soon became apparent that any intense emotions, especially anger, was unwelcome. The only choice you had left, therefore, was to turn any frustration you experienced towards yourself. It was safer to drive all blame onto yourself than to risk losing the attachment and love from the only people you depended on. There was nothing you could have done to control these people who were more powerful than you, so all you could do was to monitor yourself very carefully, and use self-blame as a way to make sure you don’t overstep. This unconscious survival strategy creates a set-up for Quiet BPD: Not only that your trauma was invisible, but you were also trained to remain silent about it. The way you have learned to preserve a relationship was through being an anxious subordinate.
Although this mechanism might have been necessary when you were a small, dependent child who had to cope with emotionally volatile parents, it is not sustainable and creates other psychological turmoils later in life. As Freud puts it: “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth in uglier ways”. The trauma you have held in your body and psyche would eventually erupt, resulting in a myriad of self-destructive Quiet BPD Symptoms such as chronic self-isolation and self-harming.
Healing from Quiet BPD
“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” – Mark Twain
Having ‘quiet’ BPD puts you in an isolating position because it’s harder for people to recognise you need help. It can take much longer to get an accurate diagnosis. Mental health professionals often overlook when assessing someone with Quiet BPD. Since you do not display the classic signs of BPD (i.e., angry, and explosive behaviour), you may be given other labels such as bipolar, depression, anxiety, or Asperger’s syndrome.
Not too long ago, the popular opinion in the medical profession was that BPD untreatable. Now there are several treatment options, such as psychotherapy, Schema Therapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Transference- Focused Therapy, and Mentalization-Based Therapy (MBT). There are ongoing improvements to the way these treatments are offered.
The diagnosis of Quiet BPD can be difficult as there are no outward symptoms of distress. Because you continue to bottle emotions, even loved ones may not recognize the signs of your break down. But in your heart-of-heart, you know that something is amiss, and if reading this article has laid bare your internal strife, then you are on the verge of an epiphany. No no matter what your childhood conditioning has taught you to believe, you are worthy of love, care and healing. If you can create a safe place for your past to be processed and your pain to be channelled, your Quiet BPD will be transformed into materials for your growth and connection with others.
Healing milestones for Quiet BPD
The deepest wound of someone with Quiet BPD is that they are undeserving. Perhaps years of childhood neglect or abuse, or any chronic situations that have led you to internalise the idea that you are someone defective and deserve less than other people.
Perhaps you were bullied and silenced, and it was never safe to express your true feelings. Maybe you were the target of toxic envy and sibling rivalries, so you learned it was safer to hide. It could also be that the adults around you are afraid of conflicts and have difficulties with healthy anger, so you never learned how to act assertively.
In one way or the other, you have been robbed of your childhood to serve someone else’s emotional needs. You had never learned that you, too, are allowed to break down, be vulnerable, and reach out for help. Instead, whenever you get in touch with you genuine needs, all you feel is guilt and shame. Your inner critic tells you that you must be perfect to be loved, that your real self is too much for others, or that you should feel ashamed for feeling needy or vulnerable. All these beliefs further paralyse you and hinder you to go from healing to thriving. To step out of Quiet BPD is to slowly undo the deeply ingrained beliefs that have kept you in isolation and perpetuated your psychic injuries. In truth, everyone in the world, including you, are perfect in their imperfections. Slowly and gradually, allow yourself to be flawed and learn to accept that people who care for you, do so with all your imperfections.
Your BPD becomes ‘Quiet BPD’ because from a young age, you have learned that it was not safe for you to express anger. Now a part of you is convinced that it is always ‘safer’ for you to blame yourself than those you depended upon. This mechanism has followed you into adulthood; even today, you equate anger with the loss of attachment; so you would rather stifle your own needs and wants than to risk ‘rocking the boat’ with anyone important in your life.
A common reaction to trauma or childhood memory that caused severe emotional stress is to block them out. A part of you wants to pretend nothing bad has ever happened. Even if you do remember the pain from childhood, you do not want to acknowledge the past is still prevalent in the present and that it is hampering you from leading a full life. Perhaps you are worried that once you open the floodgate of memories and tears, they will never stop. You fear that once you start blaming your family, the anger will subsume you and destroy all your relationships.
At first, it may be unthinkable that you could tell your story without the burden of guilt or shame. But you could begin the process by having an ‘enlightened witness’ such as a therapist. When you are able to do healing work in a therapeutic space, carefully crafted and held with compassion, you will realise processing trauma from the past is not only safe but essential for you to move forward in life. In a safe space, you may ‘emotional time-travel’ to when it all happened. How were you silenced and stifled? Were your innocent needs met with affection or hostility? What episodes could you recall about your childhood? The goal in therapy is not to be stuck in blame, but to release what needs to be released.
In this process, you will also learn how to befriend and manage your emotions, including unpleasant ones such as sadness, and the seemingly threatening ones like anger. You can get through your emotional storms, even if they feel uncontrollable. A part of this may be to cultivate mindfulness, so you can be an observer of your own emotions, rather than being in the middle of it. You can learn to see that just because you are feeling something does not mean that it’s the reality. You acknowledge and accept your intense feelings, but that does not mean you need to act on them.
The next step to healing is to acknowledge that the past is no longer present and that people do not have the power to hurt, threaten or oppress you. You are much stronger than you were, and you could trust yourself. With guidance and practice, you are now capable of setting firm boundaries, acting assertively and protect yourself where necessary.
With humility, you may also start to see the dark consequences of passive-aggressiveness or the lack of assertiveness. These strategies may help you escape conflicts in one or two occasions, but are in the long run detrimental to any relationships. With some practise, however, you can undo the pattern of conflict-avoidance. You can start with minimal steps, such as stating your wants and preferences in small matters. When you realise that not only these attempts did not bring about negative consequences, but are welcome, you will feel more able to take the next step.
If you have surrounded yourself with people who take advantage of your submissiveness, you may have to make some conscious effort to reshuffle and protect your interpersonal space. With deliberation, move away from people in your life who are negative, judgmental, and dominating. Instead, surround yourself with people who have the emotional capacity to support your journey of self-discovery and healing. Bear in mind that when you can authentically live out your best self, others will also benefit. Prioritising yourself is the opposite of selfish, but the first step to becoming the best self you can be.
The diagnosis of Quiet BPD can be difficult as there are no outward symptoms of distress. Because you continue to bottle emotions, even loved ones may not recognize the signs of your break down. But in your heart-of-heart, you know that something is amiss, and if reading this article has laid bare your internal strife, then you are on the verge of an epiphany. No matter what your childhood conditioning has taught you to believe, you are worthy of love, care and healing. If you can create a safe place for your past to be processed and your pain to be channelled, your Quiet BPD will be transformed into materials for your growth and connection with others. No matter what your childhood conditioning has taught you to believe, you are worthy of love, care and healing. Despite your struggles, you also have a lot to offer the world.
Healing involves reaching out, and that may at first feel threatening for you. This process calls for tremendous courage and tenacity. You need to summon all the self-love you could have for yourself, even when it feels unnatural at first. But you can achieve significant progress by putting one foot in front of the others, taking one small step at a time. One day, you will look back and be very glad you have embarked on this journey towards coming out and healing.
REACHING OUT TO SOMEONE WITH QUIET BPD
Due to the very nature of Quiet BPD, it can be difficult to tell who might be suffering from it. It’s also indiscriminative, affecting people from all different walks of life. Those around you who appear normal or successful could be suffering in silence. They are typically highly sensitive, intuitive, and creative, when their mental health takes a downturn, however, they lose control of themselves and become vulnerable.
Most Quiet BPD sufferers live with a sense of failure and shame. They feel as though they’re lying to their friends and family or not being true to themselves. If you suspect that a friend, a loved one or a colleague is suffering from Quiet BPD, please understand that they are trying their absolute best to survive, and are in tremendous pain. However frustrated you may be, don’t try to confront them or force them to admit they have a problem.
One of the best ways to help someone who’s struggling with Quiet BPD is to simply offer your support and make sure that they know that you’ll be there for them. You might not be able to understand exactly what’s going on inside their hearts and mind, but you can make yourself available to them if they are ready to reach out.
Even though the push-pull pattern could be challenging, try not to desert or punish them. Set kind and firm boundaries, give them space to come to terms with their own struggles and try not to patronise or attempt to rescue them.
Ultimately, understand that it is not on you to alter their path. You can be a caring but respectful ally but nothing more.
Their behaviours may not make sense from your perspective, but please remember that their symptoms are a result of unspeakable pain and trauma. Whatever it is that they did or are doing, they do so to survive.
If you are able to show your friend or family member that you are there for them with an open heart, when they feel safe enough, they will open up to you.
Many people with BPD are incredibly gifted, sensitive and creative. They have a lot to offer the world. If they can find a way to heal from their past and learn to manage their stormy emotions, they can channel their empathy and creativity into becoming the best lovers, artists and empathic leaders of the world.
I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.
YOU MAY BE INTERESTED IN:
New, A. S., Rot, M. A. H., Ripoll, L. H., Perez-Rodriguez, M. M., Lazarus, S., Zipursky, E., … & Siever, L. J. (2012). Empathy and Alexithymia in borderline personality disorder: clinical and laboratory measures. Journal of Personality Disorders, 26(5), 660-675.