When we think of borderline personality disorder (BPD), our mind often goes to the symptoms of the disorder that manifest outwards.
That can include “splitting,” extreme emotional mood swings, explosive anger, impulsive self-destructive behavior and/or self-harm. For most people living with BPD, this is their painful, sometimes debilitating reality. However, borderline personality disorder doesn’t just look one way. Some folks have “quiet” BPD. Instead of acting outward as a response to their BPD, people with quiet BPD act “inward,” internalizing the things they feel.
As someone who is very quiet and diagnosed with BPD, I focus my intense emotions, impulsivity and actions inward. Contrary to behavior where one may act out in rage episodes in public, become aggressive or even throw outbursts and tantrums, someone with “quiet” borderline acts inward.
So what does “acting inward” look like?
For example, someone with quiet BPD might greatly fear abandonment, but instead of exploding angrily with accusations towards the person they perceive will leave, they might withdraw and self-loathe or overthink. But their silence doesn’t mean they feel pain any less, they just may not verbalize it. And when they do, it can often be presented as a “lie” so as not to let anyone in on how they really feel.
To help us gain further insight, we asked The Mighty’s BPD community about the “lies” folks with “quiet” BPD tell and why.
Here’s what they said:
1. “I’m fine.”
“‘I’m fine’ and ‘you don’t need to worry.’ I’m rarely fine, but despite popular belief of the disorder, I really don’t want attention at all. It’s taken me years to open up and actually tell my close friends when I’m struggling, but it still sparks lots of paranoia and self-critique when I do.” — Kim A.
“When asked, ‘Hey, are you OK?’ My response normally is, ‘I’m fine,’ with a smiling face. Meanwhile my chest feels completely empty, my brain is yelling at me and suicidal ideations [are] passing through my mind like a train passing through a tunnel. The moment I have time to myself, I completely break down and become a stranger to everyone in a world of isolation.” — Erica B.
“I tell everyone that I’m OK because I want to remain in control. If I need help, I want to be the one asking for it, I don’t want anyone knowing how bad it all is and forcing me to get help.” — Lucie L.
2. “Nothing’s wrong.”
“’It’s all good.’ ‘No worries.’ …So pretty much my simple lies are to a) avoid telling people I’m annoyed by them or frustrated, b) to avoid spilling my guts, c) to avoid upsetting others with the truth, d) to avoid seeming unreliable, e) to avoid appearing unwell, f) to avoid placing a burden on others.” — David M.
“I don’t break down because I don’t like people trying to touch my insides with their dirty clumsy attempts at a connection that’ll never last long enough to actually relieve my anguish.” — Jenna V.
3. “That didn’t upset me.”
“I never tell people when I am angry or upset with them. To me, anger should only be reserved for myself like I somehow ‘deserve’ it.” — Courtney A.
“‘That didn’t upset me.’ I’m so sensitive that even a change to your tone of voice or a small change in body language can have me second-guessing my worth and/or inducing suicidal thoughts.” — Nicholle U.
4. “I’m tired.”
“‘I’m tired.’ It’s not necessarily a lie, I am exhausted, but it’s not from a long night with the kids or something. My constant range of highs and lows are exhausting, it’s not just something I can get a better night’s rest with. I’m so worn out and I don’t think I’ll ever not be tired. It is what it is, I guess.” — Chrissy H.
“‘No worries, I’m alright.’ ‘I just need to focus on myself right now.’ ‘I’m just really tired.’ All [are] excuses I’ve used when I’m freaking out. I’ve based my whole life wearing a happy mask. I only take it off when I’m alone or with those whom are very close to me, like family.” — Kady L.
“I tell people I’m just tired when I’m feeling down, it’s hard to explain to people that I feel the same as someone with ‘classic BPD’ because I don’t act the same way and I don’t express my emotions outwardly, I express them all internally.” — Georgie R.
5. “I’ll have to see how I’m feeling.”
“I can’t make plans. I always say, ‘I’ll have to see how I’m feeling that day.’ No one asks me to make plans anymore because I can’t commit; I never know if I’m going to have the energy to be social on that particular day.” — Robin E.
“‘[I’m] having an off day.’ It’s just easier than explaining what really is going on. People don’t understand and it would cause me more stress and anxiety having more people know about my ‘issues.’” — Susan L.
6. “I don’t feel good.”
“[I say] ‘I just don’t feel good’ when someone asks what’s wrong.” — Christina L.
“‘I just feel a bit sick, that’s all.’ People can read my facial expressions really well so if someone’s figured out that something is wrong, I sometimes tell them that it’s a minor physical ailment like a cold or a stomachache. I get so hurt by things that, to other people, might seem inconsequential or things that, to me, feel like selfish reasons to be upset, so I don’t want to express those feelings.” — Lucy L.
7. “I can handle this.”
“‘I can handle this.’ It may be something that on a good day, I can handle. If I am having a particularly difficult day, I won’t want to show it. I feel like my family and friends feel like they have to walk on eggshells with me on most days. If there is a task I can normally handle that I can’t for whatever reason that day, I don’t want to let them down more by asking for help or saying I can’t today.” — Hannah E.
8. “I’m OK.”
“‘I’m OK,’ because it doesn’t feel worth explaining how un-OK I am.” — Steph R.
“‘I’ll be OK, always will be.’ Or I’m tired and need sleep but then I always care for everyone else but never myself.” — Debbie W.
“That I’m OK, just tired, not self-harming, not alone. It’s too hard to explain to people what I find hard to understand myself and I’m tired of opening up to the wrong people.” — Nikki T.
9. “Don’t worry about it.”
“‘I’m not so bad, thanks. ‘Hey it’s fine, don’t worry about it,’ and ‘I don’t really know how I feel.’” — Gareth M.
“‘Yeah, I’m good. Don’t worry about it. Trust me, I’m fine.’” — Eunice K.
“There are moments or days when I go quiet. [I] become generally unresponsive and start staring into space. I tell anyone who asks if I’m OK, ‘Oh, don’t worry, I’m just out of it,’ when really, I’m numbing my pain with dissociation. Most times I’m too embarrassed to say I’m dissociating because I was triggered by something small to everyone else but enormous to me.” — Kelsie W.
10. “I’m just being over-dramatic.”
“‘I’m just being over-dramatic,’ just to be funny. I use humor as a defense mechanism every second of every day. I don’t let anyone know what’s really wrong and somehow if I can make someone smile, they won’t feel what I am feeling.” — Erin C.
If you have “quiet” BPD and you’re struggling with navigating your inner turmoil or even self-harm, you are not alone. The truth is, it can be a vicious cycle. But there is help out there for you. Check out the resources below.