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When asked about BPD, most people who know about the disorder immediately think of the “classic” symptoms: impulsive behavior and episodes of rage. The same holds true for many mental health professionals.
But rage and impulsivity are only two out of the nine criteria in determining whether someone has BPD. Some people with BPD, myself included, meet the criteria for a diagnosis but do not use these “acting out behaviors.”
So what does it mean to have quiet BPD?
Probably, you still suffer from extreme mood swings and emotional reactivity, self-harm and suicidal ideation, chronic feelings of emptiness, paranoid ideation, dissociation, lack of identity, and the intense fear of abandonment we love so very much (disclaimer: we hate it).
And it may well be that your relationships are stormy as well – even if the other person has no freaking idea how distressing said friendship is to you.
How is that possible? Well, we feel the same things that others with BPD feel: we idealize you and become deeply emotionally attached to you, then suddenly we become emotionally cold and distant toward you over a minor disappointment, we’re kept awake at night by paranoia that you secretly hate us because you didn’t text us back immediately, and we spiral into crushing depression over the littlest things you say and do.
The real difference lies in how we express it.
With “classic” BPD you may tell the other person what you’re feeling. You may accuse the person of lying to you, avoiding you, abandoning you, etc. You may display anger toward the other person or get into arguments. The other person becomes aware of what you’re thinking and feeling.
Not so with quiet BPD.
I almost never tell my friends what’s going through my mind unless they ask. I’m too terrified of being a burden to them. I internalize this tempest of dysphoria, letting it fester for weeks and months. I will drop off your radar, distancing myself from you without you even noticing. Unless you reach out to me, you’ll never hear from me again. I’ll isolate myself, forever convinced you hate me and that you’re better off not dealing with my burdensome self… even if there’s no evidence to suggest this. Even if we’ve actually been best friends for years.
You may not notice this shift at all, simply because I don’t express it. The friendship may not be distressing for you, but it’s sure as hell distressing for me. I’ve cycled through so many friendships inthis way, in near-constant agony as a result, and the vast majority of my friends have had no idea.
I’m obsessed over this idea that I’m a burden. That my very existence is an annoyance to everyone, and so I frequently deny myself the very emotion so often associated with BPD: anger.
I loathe myself so much I feel I don’t have the right to be angry for myself.
Sure, I can feel anger, all right. If you slight a friend or family member of mine, I cannot begin to describe the rage that wells up inside me.
But if you insult me? I’ll sink to depression and probably agree with you (this has happened to me many, many times).
People with different types of BPD respond differently to the same triggers. For some, if they feel you’re going to abandon them or that you don’t care about them, they respond with anger. Others act impulsively in the hope of relieving some of the pain. I respond by turning inward. I justify these “signs” that everyone in my life hates me – the same signs recognized by people with “classic” BPD – by deciding that if I’m going to be abandoned, well, it’s because I deserve to be. If you do hate me, it’s because I am, in fact, absolute scum. My BPD takes these signs and twists them into reinforcement of my extreme self-loathing. If anything, I’ll be angry with myself.
This translates into “acting in” behaviors that aren’t as obvious as impulsive behaviors. I self-harm and don’t tell a soul about it, I lock myself in my room and cry for hours, I become so emotionally numb I just stare at the wall all day, I’ll sleep for an entire weekend to escape my pain, I’ll even deny myself food because what’s the point of extending my lifespan, especially if I don’t deserve it?
Any kind of BPD sucks, quiet or otherwise. But raising awareness about quiet BPD is crucial: professionals may not realize we have BPD because we don’t fit the “classic” model, and thus we end up spending years misdiagnosed or in treatment that doesn’t address what’s actually going on with us. We could be spared years of additional suffering by getting the correct treatment as soon as possible. So let’s raise awareness, shall we?
Tequila Mockingbird is an undercover correspondent for Painted Brain News and a member of UCLA’s Active Minds program.
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