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The Quiet Borderline is often misunderstood and does not present or come across like the classic “acting out” borderline. A look at how the quiet borderline is different from the “average” borderline.

Much is written about the more classic presentation of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The more classic presentation more often than not involves outward raging, projections and “acting out”. Acting out refers to the fact that many borderlines will act out their pain and visit it on others as opposed to allowing it to rise to a conscious level within, feeling it, and dealing with it internally.

Then, there is a presentation or variation of BPD, known as the “Quiet Borderline”. A quiet borderline does not rage outwardly or act out. A quiet borderline does not differ from the more classic or acting out borderline except in the expression of the pathology of BPD. That is to say that the underlying reasons for the diagnosis of BPD in those who are quiet borderlines is essentially the same as it is for those who are acting out borderlines. The most notable and main difference between these two “sub groups” of BPD, if you will, is in the manifestation and presentation – the relational style – and not in the underlying effects of what it means to have BPD.

In the group therapy that I had that was the backbone of my recovery from BPD, I encountered many a quiet borderline. I, myself, was the more classic, “acting out” raging borderline. I remember being so frustrated trying to help those who had this opposite style of relating or not relating as it often seemed. I remember how stuck many of them were and remained as I was able to find my way out of BPD. I remember how many times therapists would say things to those who were quiet borderlines that they needed to get things out, to connect with their feelings, to express their thoughts. I remember getting so angry when therapists tried to work with a few of these quiet borderlines by attempting to provoke, mirror, and/or tease out some of their repressed rage. These quiet borderlines would just sit there seemingly unaffected by the taunts and provocation of the therapists and I would become enraged because I would feel triggered and also because I felt so frustrated that these people were not in anyway actively engaging the process of therapy in our group – they were not getting any better either.

I think that people often mistakenly think that the quiet borderline is more functional than the “acting out” borderline or that the quiet borderline is more “together” than the “acting out” borderline or not as bad off type of thing. From my therapy travels I’d have to say in my opinion that from what I witnessed in others who were quiet borderlines they were suffering even more than I was – and I was not only suffering I was sharing that suffering, inflicting that suffering on others when I was in the active throes of BPD.

Anne, a quiet borderline, writes:

“I do not rage or SI (self-injure). I have never been able to express anger — my mother simply did not allow it and I have never found a manner to let it out. I am just too tightly wound to get angry.

For the most part, I feel utterly alone, empty and scared. I crave being alone but often end up abusing prescription meds when I am alone. However, I am terrified of people and avoid being around them. I am extremely anxious and frequently depressed.

I feel different–I feel like I am encapsulated. I am not like other people and do not know or understand how other people feel. Sometimes I feel like I am watching life go by, as an outsider. I don’t have much hope of ever feeling normal–I don’t know what it means.”

As Anne describes many who have BPD and are quiet borderlines feel a very deep, often, desperate depression. At the root of so much of BPD, is anger and rage because it is anger and rage that are summoned up to protect against the pain. If one is not acting out that anger and rage (classic borderline presentation) then one is more likely to have an even more severe depression since, essentially, depression is anger turned inward.

When Anne speaks of feeling encapsulated and like she is watching life go by as an outsider what she is experiencing is known as depersonalization. It is dissociative in nature. The quiet borderline turns so much in on the absence of self drowning emotionally on the inside in a rather quiet and often unnoticed way outwardly.

Depersonalization is a variety of dissociation in which one suddenly feels detached from one’s own body, sometimes as if they were observing events from outside themselves. It can be a frightening feeling, and it may be accompanied by a lessening of sensory input — sounds may be muffled, things may look strange, etc… Some people react to depersonalization episodes by inflicting physical harm on themselves in an attempt to stop the unreal feelings, hoping that pain will bring them back to awareness. This is a common reason for SI in people who dissociate frequently in other ways.”

Rachel, a quiet borderline, writes:

“There is no question in my mind that I am a “quiet” or “acting in” borderline. I have always had hatred towards myself. I felt as though I had the overwhelming power to hurt others and felt incredibly awful if I perceived that I did hurt someone else. All I ever wanted was to be loved and taken care of. Because I couldn’t get that, I didn’t think I deserved it.

People with depression don’t usually self-harm (which I did on a daily basis), and the self-hatred I felt wasn’t like low self-esteem or even no self esteem. I actually wanted to “kill” myself – not suicidally – it was more like homicidally. I have read about many borderlines who when they get angry at someone else can become almost psychotic. The rage that is directed outward is incredibly powerful and can almost knock you down. That same rage in me is directed inwards. I wanted to do horrible things to myself – violent things. I could never do that to anyone else. It has only been very recently that I have even had thoughts like that towards other people. But I would never act on them because of my intense fear of abandonment. I don’t ever want anyone to leave me.

I think that as a general rule, borderlines who act in do all the same things that “acting out” borderlines do – just to themselves instead of others. But a borderline is a borderline. We all feel things way too deeply. I read somewhere that we are like emotional haemophiliacs – that we have emotions and can’t clot them. That’s definitely me…”

Whether a borderline “acts in” or “acts out” his or her inner-turmoil and angst the results to the void of ‘self’ are the same. A pathological, rigid, and polarized cycle is adhered to by the borderline false self in a very patterned way. The more one “acts in” or “acts out” the more one’s pattern of illogical thoughts or magical thinking will support the further alienation of the authentic self from the false self. The quiet borderline, however, may not have as great a chance of being understood or recognized as the average borderline does. The quiet borderline is likely more misunderstood by others (including professionals) than the classic borderline is. Whether one is high-functioning or not the quiet borderline suffers in a screamingly-silent kind of way.

The quiet borderline tends to experience an imploding self-destruction whereas the acting out borderline’s experience is that of an exploding self-destruction that flings emotional shrapnel on any and all who get too close. Both are emotionally unavailable more often than not. The quiet borderline uses avoidance and silence as ways of protecting against feared intimacy and the acting out borderline uses confrontation, intimidation, and often berating criticism.


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Rachel describes a more pronounced fear of abandonment and rather than act in a way that may lead others to abandon her, she continues to abandon herself (and her inner child) by repeatedly being self-abusive and by hating herself. She turns this fear of abandonment in on herself. Many borderlines, the acting out borderlines, project this inner conflict out onto others. In Anne and Rachel’s case they, as “acting in” borderlines experience a much more inwardly focused expression of the borderline pathology. Rachel would rather continue to abandon herself because it is familiar to her and expected by her than to have to try to cope with others abandoning her. This leads an “acting in” borderline to quietly, yet relentlessly “emotionally” bleed inward, deeper and deeper on and into that void where one’s self needs to be known. In the absence of knowing that self, the repeated abuse, abandonment and annihilation of that self, even to the “acting in” borderline are experienced as being perpetrated upon them by a foreign persona — a false self.

The intense fear of abandonment that most borderlines have can lead them to either “act out” their fear and pain on others or to “act in” that same fear and pain against the self. One’s authentic self does not have a chance to emerge, mature and be known to the borderline because the unresolved issues usurp that authentic self by feeding what is, in many borderlines, and ever-strengthening false self. The false self perpetuates the cognitive thought distortions which are fuelled largely by dissociated feelings that are often unknown to the borderline consciously.

It is all too easy to lump all borderlines together in one category marked with stereotyping and prejudice. It is important that we all take a long hard look at this. Borderline Personality Disorder does not ‘play itself out’ in the exact same way for all borderlines. When is the helping profession going to address this?

When are mental health systems going to address the need to recognize the different presentations of BPD? When will the stereotyped and feared borderline, “acting out” or quiet be seen for the hurting, scared, wounded soul that he or she is? Perhaps when this shift is made more will be able to truly heal?

The quiet borderline is not the ‘traditional borderline’. The quiet borderline is not the most feared borderline. The quiet borderline does know the same rage as the “acting out” borderline. The rage is directed inward instead of outward. In many cases it is the quiet borderline that may well be at greater risk. These “acting in” borderlines, however, are hurting themselves at alarming rates and evening killing themselves. The failures of mental health systems to adequately address this is yet but one more abandonment imposed upon the quiet borderline. The quiet borderline is often not taken seriously enough or heard in time to make a difference.

The word quiet is rather a misnomer in a sense in that the quiet borderline, the “acting-in” borderline is just as borderline as the more classic borderline. It is time to recognize this presentation of BPD for what it is and to take it as seriously as the classic outward display of BPD. The quiet borderline’s suffering must be given expression in order that lives may be saved and that the quality of those lives may be drastically improved.

© Ms. A.J. Mahari – July 7, 2000 – with additions July 31, 2008 – All rights reserved.

A.J. Mahari is a Life Coach who, among other things, specializes in working with those with BPD and non borderlines. A.J. has 8 years experience as a life coach and has worked with hundreds of clients from all over the world.

The Quiet Borderline