You may be feeling a lot on the inside, but most of the time, you would hide it from others. Sometimes, you even hide it from yourself. Thus, you appear flat and un-emotional. This is very different from the ‘dramatic’ expression someone with ‘classic BPD’ may exhibit. People think that you are doing well, and may not reach out as you struggle in isolation.
You may also suffer from what is known as Alexithymia—the inability to recognize 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 unempathetic. (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 behaviors including alcohol or drug abuse, binge eating, compulsive stealing, reckless driving, etc.
2. You Have a High Need For Control
In general, you crave structure and order. You prefer things to be planned and would want to avoid uncertainty and unplanned risks in life. When something unexpected happens, you feel thrown off balance; even when they are ‘good’ things, you feel suspicious of them. Because of your need for control, you may have many written or unwritten rules that govern your life. This creates a kind of rigidity that limits creativity, playfulness, and spontaneity.
You may be uncomfortable with situations where there are no rules or instructions. You prefer things to be predictable, controllable, and that you can always get the confirmation you are doing the ‘right’ thing. Therefore, you may find social situations and unstructured activities exhausting, because you never know what to do or say.
This need for hyper-control can affect your willingness to engage in therapy too. If you meet with a therapist who leaves the session relatively free-flow, ask few questions, or did not give you specific activities to do, you may feel lost and uncomfortable. You try to do or say the ‘right’ thing but your therapist neither approves nor disapproves. You may even blame yourself for not using the session well afterward.
(This does not mean the therapy is ‘bad’ or not working; but it is worth sharing how you feel with your therapist. Hopefully, they will have an understanding of Complex Trauma/ CPTSD and the inhibition defense that comes from that. Together, you can hopefully slowly get used to taking up space for yourself, and trusting your organic expressions, rather than relying on external directions)
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.
3. You Withdraw From People
Compared to people with ‘classic BPD’, you are more likely to have an avoidant attachment style rather than an anxious attachment style, which also means you may abandon relationships easily— with therapists, partners, and friends— whenever conflicts arise.
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 hurts 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 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.
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. Disagreements 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.
“Indeed, she often wondered if she were dead, or dying from the inside out, and that was the root of her calm, the reason she could surrender her character.” ― Gregory Maguire A Lion Among Men
4. 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 depersonalization 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 also feel physically 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 partial amnesia, not able to string together a coherent narrative of your life.
Because of your disconnection with the inner emotional world, you may have incongruent and odd expressions at times. For example, you may compulsively laugh or smile when you talk about somethings distressing. Even if your friends or therapist point that out, you cannot seem to help it. Or, Even when others show deep empathy for the trauma you have gone through, you are not able to feel anything or show signs of upset.
5. You Have an Unclear Sense of Self
As a result of the disconnection with yourself, you also do not have a robust ‘sense of self.’ This means you generally have a low awareness of your own emotions, desires, motivations, and needs.
Emotions are there to signal us what we need; but if you have been severely neglected or abused, you might have learned to shut them down. If your experience has taught you that there is ‘no point in knowing your needs, for they will never be met, you would of course find it easier if you are no longer aware of your needs. After all, continuing to be made aware of our needs and not having them met is a painful state to be in.
But when we shut down our emotional system, we face many other consequences. For one, the way it works is that we cannot only shut down negative feelings. When we attempt to shut down our feelings of neediness, anxiety, anger, we also stop feeling joy, love, and a sense of fulfillment. You may end up living life on auto-pilot as if you are watching it go by without being in it.
Without a solid sense of self, you may 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 is difficult to commit to an endeavor. 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 optimal mental health.