What is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a type of personality disorder that affects about 1-3% of the population (Vansteelandt, 2020). People with BPD struggle with self-image, and their behavior and view of others can change quickly as they battle waves of sadness, anger, or anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, BPD may be linked to traumatic events, brain chemistry, and family history, but these factors aren’t always present in people with the disorder (2017).
Hidden, or quiet, BPD occurs when symptoms of BPD are present, but internalized (Healthline, 2020). Because symptoms of hidden BPD are not displayed outwardly, it can be difficult for someone without BPD to understand that a friend, partner, or family member’s actions are due to borderline personality disorder and not a toxic personality or a different mental disorder like anxiety. With that being said, here are 7 hidden signs of borderline personality disorder:
1: Self Hatred/Self Harm
One hidden sign of borderline personality disorder is drastically low self-esteem or self-hatred. People with BPD often see the world in extremes, and struggle to maintain a sense of identity (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). This can create internal conflict like constant self-criticism, negative self-image, and feeling like you are a bad person. Self-harm is another sign of borderline personality disorder, and this can escalate into suicidal thoughts or attempts at suicide (National Institute of Mental Health, 2017).
2: Difficulty Regulating Emotions
People with BPD often have a hard time regulating how they feel. They might cycle between periods of intense emotions like emptiness, sadness, anger, and anxiety, and struggle to feel in control of their emotional responses to situations. This is called affective instability, and it’s more intense and longer lasting than hormonal mood swings (Vandsteelandt, 2020). Because people with hidden BPD tend to internalize their feelings, their mood swings likely won’t be as noticeable to others (Healthline, 2020).
It’s important to note that intense mood swings can also be a sign of mood disorders, which is why it’s so important to get diagnosed by a mental health professional. In some cases, a person may be diagnosed with both borderline personality disorder and a mood disorder such as bipolar disorder (National Institute of Mental Health, 2017).
3: Internalized Anger
Intense anger can also be a sign of BPD. Some people verbally or physically lash out at others when they go through a period of anger brought on by BPD. In the case of hidden BPD, this anger can either be turned inwards against the self in the form of self-hatred or be suppressed (Healthline, 2020). But this anger can also manifest as repeated frustration or extreme irritation when faced with interpersonal stressors that people without BPD or other personality disorders can handle without getting upset (Berenson et al, 2016).
4: Fear of Rejection
Fear of rejection is another hidden sign of BPD. This could manifest in an irrational fear that loved ones will leave you, social anxiety, or a desire to please everyone around you to try and prevent them from rejecting you (Healthline, 2020). The fact that people with BPD often struggle to maintain relationships only adds to this fear.
5: Unstable Relationships
Another hidden sign of borderline personality disorder is difficulty maintaining interpersonal relationships like friendships, sibling bonds, or romantic relationships. It can be difficult for people with BPD to preserve relationships because they often idealize (think very highly of and romanticize) someone for awhile and then devalue (distrust or become disgusted with) them (National Mental Health Institute, 2017). A 2016 study published in the Cognitive Therapy and Research journal suggests that some people with BPD react to relationship stressors with impulsivity (Berenson et al).
6: Impulsive Decisions
While cycles of impulsive decisions commonly occur in those with bipolar disorder and other mood disorders, they are also one sign of BPD. Examples of impulsive decisions someone with BPD might make are substance abuse, spending or gambling sprees, skipping work or appointments, unprotected sex, binge eating, or reckless driving (Mayo Clinic, n.d.). Impulsive decisions are a hidden sign of bipolar disorder because others may think this impulsivity comes from low impulse control or another mental disorder instead of BPD.
Finally, people with borderline personality disorder may dissociate more frequently and for longer periods of time than typical functioning people. Dissociation is when thoughts or emotions enter your mind and you find yourself incapable of focusing on your actions, instead operating on autopilot or watching yourself do things without feeling connected to your body (International Society for the Study of Dissociation and Trauma, n.d.). Dissociation is a hidden symptom of BPD because others may assume someone who is dissociating is just tired or distracted. Dissociation can also be a symptom of PTSD or dissociative identity disorder (DID) but if it occurs alongside the other signs, it is likely a hidden sign of BPD (International Society for the Study of Dissociation and Trauma, n.d.).
Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with BPD? Let us know in the comments below. It’s important to remember that mental disorders affect everyone differently. Someone who has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder may not experience all these symptoms. They might also experience symptoms not listed here. That’s why it’s so important to seek help from a licensed mental health professional with experience in personality disorders if you think you or someone you love might have BPD.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255)
TTY: 800-799-4TTY (800-799-4889)
- Crisis Text Line: Text HELLO to 741741 (US and Canada) or 85258 (UK)
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
- Mental Health and Addiction Insurance Help.
- Berenson, K.R., Gregory, W.E., Glaser, E., Romirowsky, A., Rafaeli, E., Yang, X. & Downey, G. (2016). Impulsivity, rejection sensitivity, and reactions to stressors in borderline personality disorder. Cognitive Therapy & Research 40, 510–521. DOI:10.1007/s10608-015-9752-y.
- Healthline (2020, May 28). All about quiet BPD (borderline personality disorder). Retrieved 9 July from https://www.healthline.com/health/quiet-bpd#symptoms.
- International Society for the Study of Dissociation and Trauma (n.d.). Dissociation FAQs. Retrieved 9 July https://www.isst-d.org/resources/dissociation-faqs/.
- Mayo Clinic (n.d.). Borderline personality disorder. Retrieved 9 July from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/borderline-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20370237.
- National Institute of Mental Health (2017, Dec.). Borderline personality disorder. Retrieved 9 July from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml.
- Vansteelandt, K., Houben, M., Claes, L., Berens, A., Sleuwaegen, E., & Kuppens, P. (2020). Self-criticism and dependency predict affective variability in borderline personality disorder: An ecological momentary assessment study. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, 11(4), 270–279. DOI: 10.1037/per0000374.