Saturday, February 12, 2011

High Functioning, low functioning - Part two: High function in Borderline Personality Disorder

Getting back on track.

High-functioning borderlines act perfectly normal most of the time. Successful, outgoing, and well-liked, they may show their other side only to people they know very well. Although these BP's may feel the same way inside as their less-functional counterparts, they have covered it up very well-so well, in fact, that they may be strangers unto themselves. Non-BP's involved with this type of BP need to have their perceptions and feelings confirmed. Friends and family members who don't know the BP as well may not believe stories of rage and verbal abuse. Many non-BP's told us that even their therapists refused to believe them when they described the BP's out-of-control behavior. 

This description of High Functioning BPD is spot on for me. Even down to the comment about the therapist refusing to believe me when I told her about the out of control behavior of my youth. The violence and uncontrollable wrath. (Which I discuss here).

One of the biggest differences between high functioning and low functioning BPDs is the ability to recognize how much of a problem this disorder is and not allow it to overrun their lives completely. To recognize how adversely it will affect their professional and social lives if they let anyone see it. To make a conscious decision to present a different image. I see clearly how easily it can consume my life and destroy my relationships. I can foresee the results of letting go of  my control. Foresee how other people will react to how I feel and impulsively want to react; alienation and abandonment from the people I need to have around me. In understanding how this impulsive behavior can affect me, I can avoid some of these behaviors.

I’ve always refused to be controlled. By anyone, or even by my Self; me darker urges. Always fighting against letting this overrun my life. I won’t tell you this is easy. It’s a constant struggle, one that I am not able to overcome some days. Often it feels like a losing battle. But this war isn’t over and I’m doing all that I can to gain an advantage over this enemy within. I analyze myself, my behavior, how I interact with others, how I present myself. I push myself to get out of bed and live my life out loud.

When I meet new people it sometimes feels like I’m living a split personality. The witty, sociable, successful woman that knows everyone and laughs a lot. It’s not until I reluctantly let someone closer to me, that my fa├žade begins to break down. Little by little letting them see who I really am. I guess part of me still is that sociable hostess that smiles and masquerades. It’s not a complete picture though. I hide the darker aspects of myself as long as I can. To the casual observer, I do this very well. To those rare few that are willing to break through my mask, they see how much I’m crumbling inside. Maybe not the full extent, because part of me still refuses to show such weakness to anyone, but when I am in closer contact with people that seem to care about me, it is impossible to continue to hide who I can be.

Low functioning BPDs tend to externalize their problems; unable to maintain a regard for those around them, consumed by their own emotional catastrophes, they lash out at each instance of instability; lost in the moment. While high functioning BPDs may feel the exact same emotional crisis, they tend to internalize more. Instead of lashing out in the moment, they control the impulse and wait until they are alone and take it out on themselves. Only affecting those absolutely closest to them. To the person suffering, and to those around and caring for the person suffering, one is not better than the other. Not emotionally, not mentally. For me, while I may not be able to stop the emotional melt down, I can usually recognize that, despite how it feels, my world is not actually ending. Having at least one solid relationship, one stable support makes an incredible difference as well. Knowing that there is someone I can turn to, that is willing to help me, see that there will be a tomorrow can make all the difference. Tomorrow I will pick myself up, and do what I need to do. The same as the day before, and the day before that. There is a small comfort in knowing the sun does continue to rise, and tomorrow is one more chance to keep going. Sometimes we just need a reminder.

High functioning BPs often consume their daily lives with a self imposed structure; scheduling away every hour, every minute. Proactively attempting to avoid emotional disaster. This provides an external stability that makes the internal instability a little easier to bear. While things are so frantic inside, there is a calm in knowing there is order in the world. I have done this ever since I was little. Every hour scheduled away with activities, sports, studying. At University when I was so often alone, at some of the loneliest points I’ve ever been in, I kept a ridiculous course load, maximizing the number of credits I could take, developing rigorous study schedules that consumed my day allowing little time to be left to my own thoughts. This didn’t always work. It didn’t actually fix the fact that the sadness and depression was still there, waiting to surface when I could no longer keep up my guard. But in pushing myself, providing myself with a goal, I had something to reach for. Something to motivate me to keep going.

Maybe that’s another attribute of the high functioning BP; the ability to look to the future. Having something to look forward to, to reach for and achieve… It’s hard not to feel a little proud, a little relieved in knowing that such things can still be accomplished, despite it all. 


  1. Wow, there's a lot of food for thought here, thanks Haven. And congratulations on your new job btw! :)

    Hmm, I'm sort of a mixture of the two, high and low. At school and uni, I was extremely high functioning. Uni was also a bad time for me and the depression kicked in properly then. My grades didn't suffer however. Only after uni, everything in my life went on hold, i was definately low-functioning, although ironically, still not showing people how everything inside me was just breaking down and falling to pieces. Only those closest to me could see something was up though I refused to tell. Partly cos I knew they simply wouldn't get it. And partly cos i never spoke about my feelings to others since i was a child.

    Socially, i'm very extrovert and upbeat, no one ever knows or suspects i live with chronic depression. And funnily enough, my psychiatrist also didn't believe me at first, which quietly incensed me! lol.

    I have a solid pattern - I hold myself together outwardly, no one suspects what i'm feeling inside, until one day, i crash and burn.

    I wonder Haven, does acting/putting on a mask, make you resentful? Or do you enjoy playing a part? (perhaps to you it doesn't feel like wearing a mask, it's perhaps more second nature than that). I think it would be very hard for someone who felt like a fraud, to keep up a facade for the sake of being prosocial constantly.

  2. It's not called your dark self, it is called your true weak self, you self punish, us sociopaths and narcs have a dark self we punish others not ourselves.

  3. @notme... When I was younger I was definitely a mix of both. I had a much harder time holding in how I was feeling and would frequently melt down and freak out. I've gained a lot more introspection and self control as I've gotten older.

    "I have a solid pattern - I hold myself together outwardly, no one suspects what i'm feeling inside, until one day, i crash and burn."
    I related to this a lot.

    Putting on the mask makes me a little resentful. Resentful of myself, because it's necessary for me to do this in the first place and I can't have a brain that functions 'normally'.

    On the other hand, I can lose myself in the mask so much so that I can push away from my turbulence and sometimes actually enjoy my life. When I'm out and about being very social, it is very much second nature for me and I don't even really have to think about it. When I was younger I didn't have this though. I was myself through and through and wore my turbulence and depression for everyone to see.

    I don't feel like a fraud, but the discrepancy causes a disconnect for me. I dissociate and feel like I'm not actually myself.

    Oh, and thanks! I'm stoked about the new job.

  4. Good luck on the new job. I hope that this finds you well.

  5. i think you hit the nail on the head about what makes a high-functioning PD - the self awareness of it. i think of a high functioning PD as being like a meta-PD; when you can take a step back and see your own thought processes as a symptom it gives you much more control over your life and how it pans out. you can to some extent ignore some impulses you recognise as being unhelpful.
    congrats on the job - at brookhaven is it? did nominative determinism play a part!?

  6. "Putting on the mask makes me a little resentful. Resentful of myself, because it's necessary for me to do this in the first place and I can't have a brain that functions 'normally'."

    yes, i relate to this.

    I have another question. When I was not aware about PDs etc. I found that every so often, I'd have this grand epiphany about myself, like i'd reached a threshold, conquered something that I was battling with mentally for ages. I'd feel elated, like I was embarking on a new beginning.
    In retrospect, i'd only just won a battle, and that something else just comes along and takes it's place - a new experience that would throw me back into old self-destructive habits.

    Is this something you've ever experienced?

    I'm hoping that with my new found awareness, I can be extra careful about these (although they are lovely!) moments, and remain conscious that BPD will always be there regardless. It's not a pessimistic view, it's a realistic one i think. Making peace with it, maybe that's part of the solution.

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  8. @ib... Doing pretty well actually. And thanks =)

  9. @Res... Absolutely, having a solid self awareness is something that is very important for me. More importantly I think it's something that most PDs can work on to help them handle their disorders.

    Yes, indeed that is where. Nominative determinism, hah! It's as if I were meant to work there =)

  10. @notme... that's definitely something I've experienced. Much more in the last few years than when I was younger. Or I should say, when I was younger I would have these revelations, but my emotions were so out of control that I could not hold onto the epiphany I just had and it would be lost in the next bad experience. These past few years though I've been very mindful of all these little/big things. Even if it's just one battle at a time, it's still an accomplishment.

    Being realistic is the best way to go. Keep reasonable goals in mind and it will make it much easier to retain hope.

  11. Hi. This is wonderfully written. Thank you. It describes exactly how I am too. My brother always used to say to me, "how come you don't act this crazy when you're out with everyone else, huh?" I was never able to reply. I've been learning so much since I found out about my diagnosis in April. Thanks again. :)

    1. You're quite welcome. I'm glad I could help.

  12. I know you wrote this post a while ago but I wanted to thank you for it. I've recently found out that I have BPD on my records (it's been discussed but never formally diagnosed, so I was a bit annoyed to find that it had been without my consent!). Anyway, what you say, how you say it is really insightful and it's practically what I do! It explains my obsession with time and minutes and why I have to factor in every single second, possibly to avoid being alone. I knew I was obsessive about it but I never thought of it as protection. This piece is also validating in terms of how people say "you're looking well/better/you're smiling so everything must be amazing"... I guess that's not how it works.

    Thank you.

  13. Thank you for writing this. It is likely I have high functioning bpd. For most of my life, everyone around me insisted I was normal, and I just lived my whole life believing them. This post describes how I feel inside completely :)

  14. This is so well written and couldn't speak to my experience as a "high functioning borderline" any more accurately. I think it is the insight and understanding of our issues that make it bareable yet there are still dark moments. Thank you for posting.

  15. Hello, just found this amazing site....Diagnosed with BPD and some other stuff - I just have such a lonely moment at home. It is as if I were constantly trying to run away from myself - do you know what I mean? Right now, I got a scholarship and work in England (originally from another country) - I am struggling everyday, some days more, some days less ... if I have every minute planned it is ok .... but as soon as I calm down I dissociate, does anybody know this problem?

    Haven, I am going to have a look at all the things in a few days, so far I can say that it is so great to read some comments from an affected trying to make the best of life!!!!!..I hope you know what I mean, sry for my English...

  16. Even if you think you are hiding it well, others notice the little quirks. I've been told I have 'many faces' or am just 'a little bit mad' when I think I have been covering my instability well. Thanks or such a great post though - good to know you don't have to be falling apart outwardly all the time to fit the diagnosis.

    1. Until recently, I was unaware of the "faces ". I think it relates to feeling stressed but not sure. Someone recently described my mood as "dark " and I did not feel depressed at the time.
      This happened recently on the first week of a new job. At the end of the week, the employer read a laundry list of behaviors and I calmly said I could no longer work there and left quietly.
      I feel hurt, wronged, unable to fight for myself given the stereotypes

  17. Hi everybody, I too am suffering from this High Functioning BPD, I have word by word same story as Haven has, Thank you Haven to share your story, Now I am feeling that I am not ALONE, since my early Adulthood I was wondering about my weakness, but now I knew that this is BPD, thank you everybody for helping us.

  18. I think I could have this disorder I have been suffering from anxiety hypochondria and depersonalzition all my life and have also had some turbulent relationships things that set me of into anger an are noises like people slamming doors is sort of works like a door will slam then it puts me in a bad mood then my parents asking me a lot of questions makes me more angry its like someone flicking your ear once is ok but after the twentieth time you are going to crack I can become quite bitter and it makes me shake with anger It hasn't affected my life that much but only the people I get close to I am not sure weather I have this or not because I haven't been diagnosed but it could explain alot. I never rage out with anger because I grip on for my bare life and leave the situation. Any ideas info from people with high functioning bp would be nice

    Thanks Will

  19. I am reading this because my daughter has this disorder it took a long time to figure this out My daughter came from a loving home and my husband and I set normal limits She was quite hard to raise but we did everything to help her Chose not to work while she was being brought up because her needs were always alot to deal with but when she became a teenager everything i taught her seemed to go out the window she had some real tough relationships with others but we helped her thru and she seemed so happy we did We loved her and still do She has her own business and Married and has a very patient husband that probably drinks to much There both quite sussesful and are now having a baby Only since this has happened she has totally abanded me her mother and father she went from a very low bpd to a hpd and claims their is nothing wrong with her and we were the cause of her problems we were heart broken she nothing to do with us at all We probably wont even be able to see our new grandchild Its really sad u bring a child up u would like to see just a little fruit of what we did as parents instead she says she developed post traumatic syndrome from us We know thats not true she doesnt want to admit to anything She just wants to live her life without us almost like we were dead to her We of course are leaving her alone leeting her live her life without us The way we have handle this is thru alot of prayer and surrender to this tough illness . And if she does come back one day how are we to react, how manipulating will she be if we say the wrong things and i mean anything could set her off and we wouldnt even know it. But of course we will always love her but i will tell u she wears the best mask you have even seen

  20. Thank you. This is a fantastic post. Although I've not been officially diagnosed (I live in Peru at the moment and my Spanish is still not enough to go into therapy here) I suspect (have suspected for a long time) that I have BPD. I know it's dangerous to self-diagnose but I do have intimate experience with a diagnosed BPD sufferer (my mother) in which I was involved during years of her treatment. The thing is that I could never completely relate to the symptoms and physical acting out, especially self harm as mine is all internal. I'm really good a putting up a convincing facade. I'd never come across the term 'high-functioning' before now. I can completely relate to needing a schedule to keep on top and in control of things, although it doesn't always help. My main task is now to try and figure out what my anger triggers are and how to calm them. Making matters worse, I believe my partner suffers from the same disorder stemming from childhood sexual abuse (as was the cause of my mothers, we think). He thankfully is a native speaker of Spanish and has agreed to seek out therapy here, first time ever in 39 years. By taking responsibility for our feelings, recognising them, communicating them and getting help I think we can both live happy lives together. Thank you again for your post and blog, it's really helped me to read it!

  21. This information is extremely helpful! I have been grasping at what is going on with my adult son. He follows the same pattern over and over of pushing and pulling away from those who love and truly care for him - he questions what is their reason to want to be with him to the point of displaying bad behavior so they will want to separate themselves from him - then he doesn't have to deal with it. He escapes and will not have contact with anyone who is close to him - he turns to people who are less likely to have to answer to - people who do not have the same qualities usually - and has drinking binges. I feel he uses this as his crutch - and turns to a totally different side of his personality. He attracts nice people but wants to keep them for a short time and then leaves suddenly. Any suggestions as to how to communicate to him that this side of his personality fits into this mold and what are the best ways to begin a method to address it and try to find tools to grasp onto for improvement. What if he refuses to seek therapy and medication. I do feel the meds are somewhat of an answer - he has addressed that before and says that they did not seem to change his outlook or acceptance of the turmoil he is creating. We are at our wits end at seeing such a wonderful person destroy every relationship he has. He is like a time bomb - we are close to him to a point - but then he shuts us out! Any tips would be greatly appreciated! THANKS.


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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