Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental illness characterized by trouble regulating one’s own emotions, which can lead to painful and unstable interpersonal relationships. Below, we’ve listed the nine classic symptoms of BPD, outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5). To receive a diagnosis of BPD, a patient typically meets five out of nine of the listed criteria.
Symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder
- Making frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
- Having a pattern of unstable relationships often characterized by idealizing or devaluing a person (also known as black and white thinking or “splitting”).
- Struggling with unstable self-image or identity.
- Engaging in risky or impulsive behavior.
- Having frequent suicidal thoughts or engaging in self-harm.
- Experiencing periods of emotional intensity, or frequent/rapid mood swings.
- Having chronic feelings of emptiness.
- Living with intense or uncontrollable anger.
- Dissociating or having an “out of body,” disconnected from yourself-type feeling.
Though we typically associate BPD with volatile, outward expressions of painful symptoms, not everyone experiences BPD the same way.
What Is ‘Quiet’ Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
Those who experience “hidden” manifestations of BPD symptoms are often called “quiet” borderlines. The term “quiet” BPD isn’t an official diagnosis, but rather a term to describe someone with BPD who doesn’t express their symptoms as obviously. For example, a person with quiet BPD might experience the same level of uncontrollable anger as a person with “typical” BPD, but instead of lashing out outwardly, they might direct their anger inwardly through constant negative self-talk or hidden self-harm.
This is something Mighty contributor Matthew Gemma Karamozov wrote about in his piece, “When You Don’t Fit the ‘Classic’ Definition of Borderline Personality Disorder”:
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… 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.
Because BPD doesn’t always present outwardly like we think it does, we wanted to shine light on the experiences of people with “quiet” BPD. Just because something isn’t as visible doesn’t mean it’s any less painful to live with. We wanted to know what the “hidden signs” of quiet BPD are, so we asked members of our Mighty BPD community to share with us one “sign” that typically goes unnoticed.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
Because people with BPD tend to feel more strongly than others, they experience emotions like guilt intensely. This can lead to chronic self-blame.
“I usually blame myself for a lot of things, even when it isn’t my fault. And a lot of the time I think my friends could do better than me. I feel like I annoy them too much or I’m too much trouble to bother with.” — Prue I.
“I take every little thing really personally even if there’s no connection to me. Like if my friend got mad at something, I would automatically feel like it’s my fault and they are mad at me even if I have nothing to do with it.” — Erica L.
2. Mentally Retreating
When triggered, it’s normal to retreat inward to protect yourself. If this is something you consistently struggle with, you’re not alone.
“Mentally retreating and feeling myself go down the spiral, while being able to maintain a good outward appearance. Nobody notices the change… Having to deal with depression and anxiety along with my BPD. People think I’m ‘doing better’ whereas I’m just good at hiding the hard things.” — Shana S.
3. ‘Beating Yourself Up’
Like we mentioned earlier, folks with quiet BPD often direct anger inward. This can lead to chronic negative self-talk. If you are struggling with negative self-talk, we encourage you to reach out to a therapist. Here’s a handy tool for finding a therapist in your area.
“I internally attack myself. Like a wolf attacking its prey, my mind rips me to shreds.” — Haley F.
“I replay all of the day’s conversations and beat myself up for them. I never answer well enough or I said something that made me look ‘stupid.’” — Shawna H.
4. Being a People Pleaser
People-pleasing or “fawning” is a typical response to trauma. The majority of people with BPD have a history with trauma. In fact, in a recent study, researchers found BPD was the mental illness with the strongest link to childhood trauma.
“I get attached to someone almost immediately and I spend 90 percent of my day trying to make them like me. If I think they are a little mad at me or dislike me, then my world crumbles and I feel like the worst human being alive.” — Kimberly B.
5. Being Afraid of Emotional Intimacy
Fear of abandonment can cause folks with quiet BPD to retreat from relationships entirely. Unfortunately, this leaves people without the support friends, family and partners can provide. Thankfully, many therapists specialize in relationship issues and can help you address your fears if this is something you struggle with.
“Most people wouldn’t consider [I have] borderline just because I never get that far in the relationship where they can see me truly. When I go out with ‘friends’ and I feel my emotions are going over the ‘standard levels,’ I take some moment to watch my breathing so I can lower my euphoria or bring myself to my center again. Nobody knows this. People regularly think I am ‘normal.’ I’m constantly working with my breathing when I’m around people without getting noticed.” — M.L.
According to Mental Health America (MHA), dissociation is a mental experience that causes a person to disconnect from their present circumstances, thoughts, memory and identity. Like most symptoms, dissociation exists on a spectrum from mild to severe. Dissociation is common in people who have lived through trauma.
“If me and my husband had an argument, I’d start shutting down and dissociating. I wouldn’t be ‘there’ because in my mind, it was either, ‘Oh god I was wrong and he’s going to leave me, I better shut up to not make it worse’ and I would sit for hours in my head, going over why I wasn’t good enough… But I’ve got a great husband who understands, and knows if I get that way it’s not the silent treatment, it’s me not being there and he helps pull me back to reality and ground myself.” — Aspen A.
7. Experiencing Internal Rage
Uncontrollable anger is one of the nine classic symptoms of BPD, and quiet borderlines are not immune to experiencing it. Though they may not act outwardly on their anger, the emotion itself can be intense and difficult to handle.
“Internal rage and a racing mind. The things that go through my head are so distorted and it leaves me trembling inside some days.” — Michaela S.
8. Fear of Abandonment
Making frantic efforts to avoid abandonment is one of the hallmark symptoms of BPD, and affects almost all people with the diagnosis. If fear of abandonment is impacting your day-to-day functioning and relationships, you might benefit from trying out “Wise Mind,” a dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skill recommended for folks with BPD.
“It’s not the typical fear of being left alone. It’s more like a constant fear I’m going to push people away.” — Amanda M.
Self-sabotage, or a deliberate attempt to interfere with one’s growth or goals, can be common for folks with BPD — especially if they struggle with self-harm tendencies. If you can relate, you’re not alone. To connect with people who understand, we encourage you to post on The Mighty with the hashtag #CheckInWithMe.
“I’m excellent at self-sabotage. Consciously or unconsciously, it’s always ‘me vs. me.’” — Mi C.
10. Feeling Suicidal or Wanting to Self-Harm After Social Interactions
One of the most notable parts of BPD is having unstable and stormy interpersonal relationships. When quiet borderlines experience social rejection or letdowns, they may have painful internal experiences like suicidal thoughts or engage in self-harm.
“I get set off and then just get mad at myself for it. Like I will get triggered, and instead of dealing with whatever my problem is, I just take that as a last straw and I just release the flood gates of emotion in my head. I’ll go from there to hating myself to whatnot and ultimately end up with suicidal ideation. Even when I don’t feel particularly suicidal.” — Alyssa D.
“If somebody makes me really mad, I almost immediately internalize it and want to self-harm over it because I feel it’s always my fault.” — Allison M.
11. Shutting Down
In classic “quiet” style, a person with quiet BPD is more likely to internalize and shut down rather than act out or lash out.
“I shut down rather than blow up. I’ve always internalized things, especially as a kid, so talking about/expressing my feelings aloud is still really difficult.” — Cecilia C.
Can you relate to these symptoms? Let us know in the comments below.