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 – instead you suffer in silence.
You may appear calm and high functioning, 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. 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 flee, some people dissociate.
It is a matter of spectrum, rather than categorization. No one has either completely ‘classic’ or ‘quiet’ BPD, or should be labeled 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.
“Each of us has his own rhythm of suffering.” ― Roland Barthes
What Is Quiet BPD?
‘Quiet BPD’ is not an official term in the DSM, and there are various ways of understanding it. The following is a synthesis of what I can find in the literature and my own conceptualization. It is based on existing research, theories, and my clinical observations.
The stereotypical image of BPD is that it involves ‘dramatic behaviors’— 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 internalize 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 behaviors. You may not act out impulsively, but when you reach a breaking point, you still engage in self-harming or self-sabotaging behaviors of different forms. Your arms may be covered with scars from self-harming, and you hide them.
Deep inside, 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 affect other people, so you hold everything in.
People with Quiet BPD tend to have an avoidant attachment style; many have comorbid Avoidant Personality Disorder traits. Instead of other reactions like ‘ fight’, ‘flight’, 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 do not allow them to help you. Built into Quiet BPD is the ability to tolerate distress and avoid outwardly expressing their needs. This keeps you in a loop of quiet suffering for a long time.
Research shows that many people with BPD get better as they grow older (Zanarini et al., 2010; Abrams & Horowitz, 1996). This, however, does not apply to people with Quiet BPD. This is because you have less dramatic symptoms and do not cause any concern for those around you. People around you do not usually know you are suffering and are less likely to offer help or feedback.
Do You Have Quiet BPD?
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 have a high need for control and don’t know what to do in situations where there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’?
When someone upsets you, do you withdraw from them without having first trying to speak to them?
Do you deep down believe your very existence is a burden to others?
Do you mentally dissociate and feel empty and numb?
Do you live in denial of the anger you feel? Perhaps to the point where you don’t know how ‘anger’ feels anymore?
Do you spiral into crushing depression or tend to isolate yourself at the slightest mistake you feel you have made in your interactions with people?
Are there incidences where you have cried for days, stayed in bed, and remained unmotivated without anyone knowing?
“Darkness comes. In the middle of it, the future looks blank. The temptation to quit is huge. Don’t.” – John Piper
Related: 7 Surprising Positive Aspects Of BPD
Here Are Some Specific Symptoms That Characterize Quiet BPD
1. You are Calm on the Outside but Suffer on Inside
Due to an innately hypersensitive nervous system and/or the Complex PTSD you might have experienced, you constantly live with low-grade anxiety, which can escalate into a panic when triggered by particular stressors. However, no matter how much you are struggling, you are likely to downplay or hide your distress and put on a stoic facade to the outside world.
Perhaps deep down, you do not feel you deserve time, attention, and care from others; Perhaps when you do show your vulnerabilities, you are plagued with guilt and shame, so you would rather hold things in. As time goes by, you become good at camouflaging— saying what others need to hear and presenting yourself in a socially acceptable way.