“You know you’re borderline when you’ve spent so much time acting normal, other’s say ‘you’re cured’ so you show them you’re not." 
This is me. This is the plight of the Quiet Borderline. This is why it’s so hard for us to ask for help, and to get help, because so often when we do finally attempt to shed that mask, people look at us and say… But you’re so normal, I think you’re fine.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve run into this. xRoommate told me she didn’t think I was Borderline. Current Roommate (who is also a Psych major) has told me she would never guess I was Borderline. I think this is a two part problem.
1. The stigma surrounding BPD focuses so strongly on the angry, volatile, aggressive, explosive cases of BPD, that it’s become stereotyped to the exclusion of evidence to the contrary.
a. I find this funny because only criteria 8 in the DSM specifically mentions: inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights) . That’s one criteria. One. Growing up there would be zero doubt, zero, that this was an incredibly huge problem for me. It wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve turned more inward and the expression of my volatile anger has come under control. Note: That doesn’t mean I don’t still get enraged and furious at the drop of a hat, I’ve just learned to control the outward expression of it. Regardless, that’s only 1 criteria of 9 in the DSM and by all accounts you only need 5 criteria that significantly disrupt your life to qualify as Borderline.
2. I wear a mask. Constantly.
To the outside world I do not rage. I do not show how quickly my moods can change. I hold it inside until I’m alone and can let the façade slip. “Acting normal”, not letting people see my emotional instability, not letting people see things that would make them question whether I have it together, is vitally important. I learned growing up and from the abusive relationships that I’ve been in, that anything “abnormal” mentally and emotionally is something to be ashamed of and can be used against me to humiliate me and alienate me from the people I need in my life. How can someone love you if you’re broken? So I hide it.
Until it’s too much to hold inside. Until I’ve finally, finally reached a point where I need to reach out for help. When I’m literally dizzy and shaking from the anxiety, depression, rage, and pain I’m feeling and can’t keep going on my own anymore. When I finally cede that I need to try, I hear… But you seem so normal. You’ll be fine.
Invalidation. Of course I seem normal, because that’s all I’ve let you see! You don’t see what’s happening inside because I’m positive you won’t be able to deal with it and won’t like me anymore. Not to mention I feel guilty bringing my problems to you even this one time, let alone all the times when things feel like they’re too much for me to handle, so I bury them so you won’t be burdened with how much I’m hurting. Of course you don’t see all that is inside of me.
Breaking point. This is when I’ve hit mine. This is when I need something, anything to relieve the pain. Something that I can control when everything else seems so out of my hands. I can’t control the pain that is bombarding me from the inside, but I can control the pain I inflict from the outside. That’s often when I would reach for a knife to create some form of control. And a bottle to take myself out of my own head to boot.
Appearing “normal” is like the bottle cap on a carbonated soda that’s been shaken violently and kicked down a flight of stairs. It looks fine from the outside, but when it’s finally cracked even a tiny bit…. Explosion.
I’ve definitely had thoughts of, “You don’t believe me? Then I’ll just have to show you how serious I am.” Because it’s my last fucking resort. If I’ve asked for help, and been turned away because you don’t believe me, than what choice do I have but to give you proof?
Then there are other times when having help rejected has pushed me past the point of caring. I don’t care whether you believe me or not. No one will help, so I have to help myself. Unfortunately the only ways I know to make myself feel better are maladaptive and destructive and you can’t always hide that, so people still manage to see.
This is where I believe a lot of the Borderline “manipulativeness” comes into play. It’s not manipulation in a pre-mediated trying to get you to do something that you don’t want to do while making you believe it was your own idea, sort of way. It’s acting in a way that is destructive and extreme because it’s the only way we know how to cope, but is also pretty impossible for you to ignore, thereby we obtain what we needed as well: attention and help.
So why don’t you just let go of the mask and people will believe you? Because then the rest of my life will be even more dysfunctional, and I’ll lose the people I care about and need in my life… or so I believe. Remember I can’t internalize why someone would want me in their life if I’m not perfect and have too many problems. I have to protect myself, and keeping people away from the vulnerable sides of me is the only way I know how to do that. My mind runs away in a maelstrom of anxious ruminations, of every possible way my life would be affected and how things could go wrong if I let my mask slip. The accumulation of those outcomes seems overwhelmingly worse than the idea of showing people what we hold inside.
There’s also this; once you’ve worn a mask for so long, it becomes difficult to take off. Especially when you’re not always sure who you are some days, what does taking off that mask even mean? The mask isn’t a pre-molded construct. It’s an adaptation to the world around you to help you maneuver and function in a society that seems so different from how you feel. When do those adaptations become an actual part of you and when do those adaptations remain things that are separate?
When I was angry and volatile, people told me to act differently, to act “normal”. By “normal” I mean in a socially acceptable way, because there really is no normal. So I do, at least when the situation calls for it. But what people really mean is stop being so emotional, stop expressing how you feel, stop showing that you’re in pain. So I do. Changing how I appear doesn’t actually stop how I feel. It looks like it does though, so people say, “You’re cured! Look it worked! You just had to change how you acted and things would get better!” Except it doesn’t. It just invalidates how I feel, tells me that who I am is bad, and shuts down my ability to get help when I need it because now no one believes that I need help at all. All that’s left is to Act Out to show that no, in fact it hasn’t worked. I’ve just been backed into an emotional corner and shoved my heart in a drawer to make you more comfortable.
Happy now? I’m not.
I never wanted to wear this mask. It’s something I’ve felt forced into. I don’t even notice it half the time. Trying to take it off is like trying to tear off the scab on a wound that hasn’t fully healed. A band-aid on a bullet wound. It doesn’t come off easily yet it doesn’t heal what it’s covering over. It’s the product of years of trying to adapt. Don’t expect it to part from our skin quickly, or easily. It’s a product of the protection we’ve had to develop. I know people get frustrated because they think it should be easy for us to “just be yourself”. But when you’ve had a lifetime of being told that “being yourself” isn’t acceptable, a lifetime of conditioning doesn’t change overnight.
Tomorrow I have an announcement for something that could potentially be quite exciting! Stay tuned. I need your suggestions.