When You Don't Fit the 'Classic' Definition of Borderline Personality Disorder


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

The “quiet” borderline. It’s not something most people are familiar with, the perception of borderline personality disorder (BPD) is one who acts out. That’s the “classical” definition, but like every disorder, the condition manifests itself in different ways. BPD is one of the most misunderstood and I believe one of the most stigmatized disorders. Well most personality disorders seem to be. The perception of a typical borderline is someone who is violent, manipulative, aggressive, hostile and in essence… a bad person. While these things can be present in the disorder, most people with BPD are not violent people and are some of the most loving and caring people you will ever meet. We just have great trouble in regulating our emotions. It escapes me now but it was once said people with BPD are like people covered in third degree burns all over their body.

So we all know the “classic” borderline as someone who acts out. So what does being the “quiet” borderline mean? “Quiet” BPD is acting in, rather than acting out, but internalizing all the emotions they feel. The fears of abandonment, mood swings, anxiety, self-injurious behaviors, impulsiveness and even suicidal tendencies and black and white thinking (splitting) are all part of being a quiet borderline. But those emotions are typically acted against ourselves. We feel disconnected from the world, isolated, spending time rationalizing and internalizing emotions, which leads to self-destructive behaviors and suicidal gestures, including self-harm. One moment we have all the confidence in the world and then without warning or explanation, we come crashing down hard. We love you at one moment and then hate you in the next. Rather than telling you about it we act “in” on it, separating ourselves from you and then making up some bullshit excuse as to why we went AWOL without telling you the truth. I hate you — don’t leave me.

Oftentimes I myself find I feel disconnected to the world, like I am not part of it, many times questioning if I exist at all. Abandonment, whether perceived or actual, is often present in my life. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked friends and my girlfriend if they are leaving me and if they still love me. It seems no matter how many times I ask, the constant fear of being left is present. The quiet borderline can be summed up in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s quotation:

“I swear to you gentlemen, that to be overly conscious is a sickness, a real, thorough sickness.”

To cope with these emotions we turns against ourselves with self-hatred. Personally, I always cut myself to atone for how bad of a person I was. You drove them off. You deserve pain. It’s only fair you atone for this. Once I had self-harmed, I felt like I had atoned for how evil I am. Eventually it got so bad there was barely a spot on my body which hadn’t been inflicted with some form of pain. Once again, acting against ourselves. Sometimes done out of self-hate, sometimes done as a punishment to someone we saw as bad, even though just moments earlier we had been talking about how great they are, what a saint they have been.

Many times the quiet borderline refuses to face these symptoms or even acknowledge them. We don’t act out so therefore how could we meet the symptoms for BPD? This results many times in the quiet borderline going years without any diagnosis or being misdiagnosed. It was my refusal that landed me into a psychiatric ward for a stint. The cuts, the scars, the suicidal ideation finally caught up with me. In a way, it was like being arrested when my friend Whitney told me, “You are going to the hospital.” I was given an ultimatum, either I go willingly and check myself in or go in by force against my will. So I went “willingly.”

A few months back I was discharged. My arms are free from cuts and though many scars are prevalent, my destructive behavior isn’t quite there anymore. In the midst of episodes, I still want to cut myself. That’s something I don’t think I will ever be free of. I accept this. My doctor therapist and my friends and girlfriend hold me quite accountable in this respect.

Recovery from BPD is possible, but it is a long and hard journey. We have so many wounds that need to be healed, a lot of which we have repressed so deep it takes months of searching and meditation. Had my priest not told me to get help, I don’t where I’d be.

If you know someone with behavior like this, talk to them. Research what a quiet borderline is. Help us to help ourselves, because sometimes we just can’t. If you are a quiet borderline, you aren’t alone. I am with you in this fight. Medication and therapy can help you so much. There is no shame in seeking help. There is no shame in having a mental illness. We have a real sickness, just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Step into our mind, then you’ll know damn well it exists.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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