Thursday, July 26, 2012

BPD acting “Normal” and Manipulation

“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." [1]

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. 


  1. You have really described this well. Society as a whole does have it's "limits" on how one should portray themselves. And as BPD's it tends to make it worse. We live our lives with the mask that society forces us to wear and when the final explosion happens, we take all them feelings and all them thoughts and open it so wide in order to let it out. They always use the words "Fake it til you make it"....What the hell ever. We are forced to Fake it but without help from other people we won't make it. Well we might could but it would be so very hard.

    1. I always hated the sentiment, "Fake it tli you make it." If you have to fake something that means it's not right for you. I absolutely do not agree with societies normative box o' ideals of behavior and acceptance. Forcing people to be other than they are only breeds discontent and ultimately more problems. Instead of faking it, maybe we should be encouraged to fix it, or explore better options, so that we can 'make it' in a way that encourages genuine happiness.

    2. Yes! I am a pastor's wife, student, and mother of two and the few people I have told I have BPD seem not to really believe me, except for my husband... It didn't take much to convince him! Ha! I am an excellent actor, which as you know is exhausting. I like your website and candid writing style! I'm a fan!

  2. I've been reading this blog for a little while now.

    I am compelled to finally comment.

    I think not only your inisghts extraordinary, but your ability to articluate the same simply remarkable.

    I read this blog and understand myself better and know I'm not alone.

    Thank you.

    1. Thank you for letting me know. It also helpful me to know that what I share has a positive impact on others. Makes me feel less alone as well.::hugs::

  3. would like to agree with Stuart above, and say thank you for your wonderful writing and thoughts, thank you

  4. I think as well that you have describe that so well. I know that I really get frustrated when people see me differently and so I am wearing my "ordinary" mask. It doesn't help much but at least others are not labelling me, thinking I am as they are. But then as you said in the moment I am alone this all comes back, hit hard and makes you so exhausted anxiety can be overwhelming with the huge impact of panic. I learned that people don't really want to help me, especially doctors they think I exaggerate, but they don't think how much power I wasted to come to see him and talk about it.

    Sad and pointless so I live as I learned to live. LOVE xoxo

    1. It's my hope that in raising awareness it will become easier and less stigmatized for us to get help when we finally muster the ability to ask for it. People thing what we say isn't important, but they don't realize that it's because they're don't understand that we feel differently and that we're used to so much invalidation on their part. It'll take time, but I still have hope that it'll happen. In the mean time, there are those of us that know.

  5. I think the community at large would benefit, at some point, from a book penned by you. Seriously. Your insights and writing is superior to at least half the books I've read on the subject.

  6. I agree with Stuart! Yes you should write a book,you are so talented!
    This post was excellent,exactly how I feel,the overwhelming anxiety & pressure building inside me that I must at all costs never show how I feel because when it is overwhelming & if I no-longer can hold in the depression or screams I get threatened to be hospitalised or abandoned because I am an uninteresting depressed person which further re-enforces the mask I feel forced to wear,because on the few times I have admitted my feelings/taken off the mask for a few seconds an explosion of emotion from violent sobbing,screams,angry expressions of feeling abandonment,panic & anxiety violently erupt.I would rather kill myself than ask what I did wrong that upset a person I love or admit what I feel,talk about screwed up.Asking for anything other than please pass the salt brings this sense of overwhelming anxiety,so I never get to ask what I need which leads to increased frustration & re-enforces the feelings of not being deserving.I was so terrified to admit to my parents I had a mood disorder in case they rejected me & didn't take me seriously so I forced myself to eat & hoped they wouldn't notice it,until I could no longer hide it.So scared to disappoint and get abandoned.Pure internal torture! With chronic invalidation & being told we are not in that much pain is it any wonder we want to prove to you that we are desperate for help by hurting ourselves/other proof?

  7. I am going to direct my clinician to your site. She is trying really hard to reduce the stigma surrounding bpd and I think your site could really help both me and her. You express parts of this disorder that I have trouble explaining to her in our sessions. Thank you.

    1. I'm very glad you've find my writing helpful. I'd be very interested to hear what your clinician has to say as well.

  8. Want this ride to stopAugust 1, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    Luv your blog so much. My boyfriend BDP we have been on and off a year and a half. To have some insight on what he may be thinking helps me understand our roller coaster relationship. Today I set boundaries. We need to be friends first. He needs to work on trusting me. Meaning to communicate and tell me whats going on with his day and feelings.

    His recent episode of infidelity has got me to this point. Its unexceptable and I am not tolerating it. He told me "You will never find anyone like me....maybe that's good" my heart fell. I couldn't beleive he said that. I told him lets have a platonic relationship and work on bonding without being physical. Six hours no answer. So fustrating!!! Any suggestions?

    1. Oh goodness. Setting boundaries and not tolerating disrespectful behavior is excellent and very important.

      Sounds like he has a problem a lot of us do with saying things impulsively and in anger. My best suggestion would be patience. If you demand an answer too quickly, someone with BPD is going to go with their emotional gut, and that doesn't usually have the rational brain contributing. Give him enough time to calm down to a place where he make a more reasoned decision. For a decision that could be incredibly emotionally heavy and important 6 hours may not seem like a long time for him. He's probably also fluxuating wildly going through a lot of mental ruminations and conflict right now, so give it time. I know it must be so frustrating, but pushing an answer sooner than he's ready to give won't provide a good decision for anyone.

      Good luck!

  9. Want this ride to stopAugust 3, 2012 at 5:28 PM

    Haven -

    Thks for taking the time to respond to my question! Lol, yes six hrs I know but he plays the silent treatment...drives me crazzzyyyyy! But yes I should be patient. He tells me that all time. And tells me to enjoy the good times when he and I have them he says "I love being with u when we are together"

    Statements as such just make me wonder....? Are they moments I should cherish? Because when the tsunami comes I may never know how long it will last?

    Your amazing your advice is so on point and true! He currently is on one word text response with me. Guess thats a start.

    I told him friends with no bed time romps. Is my final offer. I am hoping he understands that accepting that option he cam let his guard down. And pretend to be someone he's not.

    I actually experienced his other side and it's raw, funny, honest. And that is who I want him to be.
    We can be at a restaurant and he would randomly say I wish I can say what I am feeling. I told him "Go for it" he says I feel like kicking that man that just passed us so rudely" And we laugh!! And he would get comfortable and side would stay.

    But he disconnects very randomly! And he breaks my heart! So if I remove my heart, Hopefully, he won't have the pressure of acting like a perfect boyfriend and give me the witty, rude, funny, guy I so enjoy with no added pressures!

    Hope this works!!!!!

    Haven keep up your blog up! There is no other blog like yours!!!!! It helps us NON BDP to understand something that's not talked about, taught about!!!

  10. Haven, I've been reading and back-reading your blog for months, and it's tons better than support groups/forums and therapy. I feel like you're the only person who "gets" it. When I can't explain something, I point people to your entries and use quotes from them to express myself. When I'm feeling utterly alienated and unreachable, I focus on reading your entries. At those times, it's the only thing that makes it bearable, that gives me any comfort. Knowing that you're here and that you'd understand - well. You talk about so many things I frequently brood upon, explain and express things so eloquently so that I'm exclaiming, "Yes, that! That's it!"

    You're amazing. Thank you for writing this blog, for sharing yourself and your experiences.

  11. I actually started to cry while I read this post. It's so nice to know that I am not alone. I see now what is meant by "manipulation". I internalize everything when I am around people or out in public, so much so that they think I am "normal" and don't need any help, when really I am screaming for help inside. I have always done this, even as a child & teenager.

    Unfortunately holding everything in makes my anxiety unbearable, and I just end up snapping at the most random times, usually at my poor husband over something insignificant, for something that's not even his fault. Then it's like all my anger, rage, and inner agitation all comes out at once. It can be so overwhelming.

    Thank you for directing me to (and writing!) this post. You explain feelings that I can't ever seem to put into words. I plan on reading more of your blog when I get the chance. :)

  12. Hey, I just found your blog after coming home from a psychologist appointment - I got the shock of my life today when, after 8 sessions of totally believing myself to having been honest with her about my current problems (mostly alcoholism and anxiety at the moment), she suddenly said "it's like your acting - almost like you're enjoying this!". I immediately reacted and got defensive, but also immediately realized she could be right - she says she thinks I'm enjoying my depression and alcoholism because it creates drama and I don't have to deal with life and can just live in the acting/drama of it all, even though it's pretty horrible... and even though I 100% didn't intend for it to be that way, I think she might be right. And then I remembered a couple of years ago when a psychiatrist diagnosed me with BPD... I had decided he was wrong because I don't get explosive or angry, but your blog describes me perfectly. Thanks so much for writing it so I had something to find and identify with today, I really needed it (and sorry for the giant comment, but I just wanted to write down my thoughts on it so I don't forget).

  13. HI, I don't have BPD, but something you said resonated with me. It was the part about how it can be hard to remove the mask when you've worn it for so long. That is true of me in a different way. As a youngest child, I was taught that expressing my own wants and needs was a bad thing and in order to be good, I needed to just go with the flow and do what everyone else wanted to do. It became a habit that I took into adulthood. I always thought I was just a really laid back person, but now I'm thinking that I'm only doing what I was taught and at the expense of my own happiness. I realized this because I often say things like "yeah, sure, that's fine." about things and then one time, something that I really did want happened and I felt the happiness well up inside me and a smile come across my face. It made me realize that must have been what I really wanted all along. I think I had forgotten how to even know what I wanted because I suppressed it for so long in favor of going along with everyone else and not rocking the boat. I have to look deep inside to figure out what my own preferences are and then have to try really hard to express them. It's so much easier to just do what everyone else wants. Anyway, not expressing my wants and needs was like a mask I wore as a kid in order to "be good" and now I'm having to try to tear it off and it's not easy, but it was impeding my happiness.


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

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