Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental illness characterized by intense emotional reactions that can affect mood, behavior, self-image, and relationships. According to recent studies, the condition affects 1.6% of the general population. As common as BPD is in the mental health profession and community, there is a less known type of BPD called quiet borderline personality disorder. What makes quiet BPD different than other forms of BPD?
What is Quiet Borderline Personality Disorder?
Quiet borderline personality disorder is a type of BPD in which a person directs their intense emotions such as shame, anger, sadness, and more inward towards themselves. It is also often referred to as acting in rather than acting out towards others. With other BPD forms, a person might take the intense emotions they feel out on others around them. A person living with quiet borderline personality disorder will typically internalize their emotions, which creates invisible feelings of turmoil that can make life extremely difficult.
People with quiet BPD might seem high functioning on the outside. Still, on the inside, they are often dealing with extreme bouts of shame, self-loathing, fears of abandonment, mood swings, obsessive emotional attachment to others, and many more debilitating symptoms. Someone with quiet BPD can typically hide their symptoms easier than other BPD types, which can allow someone to seemingly function within their career, relationships, and life. However, just because someone can appear functioning doesn’t mean they are okay on the inside.
8 Signs of Quiet Borderline Personality Disorder
Frequent Mood Swings
Experiencing a frequently changing roller coaster of emotions is a common quiet BPD symptom. Someone with other BPD forms might act out towards those around them when this happens, but someone with quiet BPD often sits with their everchanging emotions in silence.
Instead of letting the emotions out, a person with quiet BPD will try their best to hide how they’re feeling, pretend as if everything is okay, or shut their emotions down entirely. Many quiet BPD sufferers feel shame about their uncomfortable feelings and might withdraw from others instead of opening up to someone close to them.
Many who experience quiet BPD identify with people-pleasing behaviors, but what is often occurring is a fawn response. Fawning is a component of the fight-flight-freeze response that usually develops during childhood to evade abuse and mistreatment from adults. Children experiencing trauma adapt to fawning as it feels safer to placate their abuser(s) and hope it will stop the abuse from occurring.
Many people with BPD have a history of childhood trauma in which fawning is common. This strategy can still appear in adulthood throughout relationships. It might look like excusing a partner’s toxic behavior, avoiding conflicts with friends or family members, or molding themselves into someone they believe will be well-liked and accepted.
Self-blame is a common occurrence for people with quiet BPD. Most people go through situations where they blame themselves for how something played out, but many with quiet BPD struggle with this on a much regular and emotionally intense basis. Sometimes, sufferers of quiet BPD will blame themselves for instances that they are not at fault for. As the guilt sits with them, they might struggle with feelings of unworthiness, shame, guilt, and believe that they do not deserve happiness, connection with others, and love.
Fearing Emotional Intimacy + Abandonment
People with quiet BPD often feel afraid to let others get too close to them on an emotional level. They often believe, “If I let this person into my life, they can leave me, and that will be unbearable.” This belief can make it difficult for those with quiet BPD to build and maintain genuine, healthy connections with others. In addition to fearing that others will decide to leave them, people with quiet BPD also often worry that their condition and accompanying symptoms might push people away.
Many with quiet BPD, especially those who experienced childhood trauma, hide their feelings because that is what they learned to do to survive when they were younger. You might believe your emotions are only acceptable if you appear in good spirits. Instead of showing up authentically, it feels safer and more comfortable to hide the pain and pretend everything is okay.
It’s common for people with quiet BPD to struggle with alexithymia or an inability to describe how they feel. Even if someone with BPD feels overwhelmed with emotion, they might find it challenging to identify what they are feeling and how to communicate it.
Dissociation in Quiet Borderline Personality Disorder
Many sufferers of quiet BPD experience feeling disconnected from themselves and others. When their feelings become too unbearable, a person with quiet BPD frequently will detach emotionally from their experience, also known as dissociation. This can feel as if you are watching your life happen from afar and disconnected from painful feelings and desirable feelings such as happiness and love.
Engaging in self-injurious behaviors is not uncommon for people suffering from quiet BPD. Studies have found that 75% of people with BPD engage in some form of self-harm. Self-injurious behavior can include: cutting, burning, pricking, aggressively scratching, or any method of deliberately injuring one’s skin or body.
It’s common for people with BPD to struggle with suicidal ideation; however, self-injurious behaviors are not always done with the motive to end their life. Why do people with quiet BPD self-harm? For many, it’s because their emotions feel so intense and unbearable that they take their pain out on themselves physically to attempt to alleviate the pain they feel internally.
Appearing High Functioning
Some people with quiet BPD can hide their condition and appear successful, independent, and overall high functioning. You might be able to hold a job during the day, but crash into a depressive, anxious, or dissociative state when the day is over. Think of quiet BPD as a mask. When a person is around others, they might appear to be present and get through the day with little discomfort; however, they are often suffering behind the front.
It’s only when the person with quiet BPD is away from others that they can take the mask off along with the disguise of “perfection” they are often trying hard to cultivate. It can take a large amount of mental energy from someone with quiet BPD to pretend they are okay outwardly when they struggle so much internally.
Quiet BPD is a complex and consuming condition to struggle with. That said, people struggling with quiet BPD don’t have to suffer in silence. There is help via therapy and support groups that can provide helpful coping strategies, support, and resources for those who need it.