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 had the capacity to emotionally ‘hold’ you.
Instead of acting as a safe provider for many of your infantile and childhood needs, they were put off when you sought attention and perhaps avoided touching or playing with you. Or, they were physically present but emotionally blank. They might have reacted contemptuously to your call for connection and condemned you for being ‘too much’.
As a child, being needy was your way of expressing love and seeking connection from others. However, if your parents were easily overwhelmed and responded to your needs with impatience, frustration or even disgust, you may fail to internalize a sense of fundamental worthiness.
Some parents are afraid of conflict or intense emotions. When you cry or are frustrated, they panic, and in turn, punish you for what they feel. If your parents responded to your anxiety by escalating the situation or becoming hysterical, you would receive the message that your presence was a nuisance or even a threat. They may have been 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 would soon become apparent that any intense emotions, especially anger, were unwelcome. Therefore, the only choice you had left, was to turn any frustration you experienced towards yourself. It was safer to drive all blame onto yourself than to risk losing attachment and love from the people you depended on.
There was nothing you could have done to control people who were more powerful than you, so all you could do was carefully monitor yourself, 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 was your trauma invisible, but you were also trained to remain silent about it. The way you 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 turmoil later in life. As Freud put it: “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth in uglier ways”. The trauma you 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.
“She was a stranger in her own life, a tourist in her own body.” ― Melissa de la Cruz
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 recognize that you need help, so it can take much longer to get an accurate diagnosis. Mental health professionals often overlook Quiet BPD when assessing someone who has it. Since you do not display the classic signs of BPD (i.e., anger and explosive behavior), you may be given other diagnoses such as bipolar, depression, anxiety, or Asperger’s syndrome.
Not too long ago, the popular opinion in the medical profession was that BPD was untreatable. Now there are several treatment options, such as psychotherapy, Schema Therapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Transference- Focused Therapy, and Mentalization-Based Therapy (MBT). In addition, there are ongoing improvements to the way these treatments are offered.
The treatment you need for Quiet BPD will be different depending on your circumstances. Not always, but many people with Quiet BPD have more problems with being ‘over-controlled,’ isolated, and avoidant, rather than being ‘under-controlled’ and dysregulated. That way, standard DBT or being in group therapy with others who have more ‘externalizing’, volatile ‘classic BPD’ symptoms may not be the best for you.
If you have been relationally wounded and have an avoidant personality characterization, person-centered, process-driven, relational/ intersubjective therapy or a novel approach known as RO-DBT have the potential to offer something different and effective.
Diagnosing Quiet BPD can sometimes be difficult as there are no outward symptoms of distress. Because you continue to bottle up your emotions, even loved ones may not recognize the signs of your impending breakdown. But in your heart-of-hearts, you know that something is amiss, and if reading this article has laid bare your internal strife, then you may be 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 channeled, your Quiet BPD will be transformed into material for your growth and connection with others.