Confessions of an Introvert With Borderline Personality Disorder

I have quiet borderline, which means I implode emotions rather than explode them. 

Imagine you are looking at a photo album of your life. Through this collection, it is possible to remember places, trips, birthdays, graduations, friends, family. In short, moments that marked different stages of your story. Then you decide to add new photos to the album, but realize there is no more space. Even so, you manage to overlay one photo with another so no memories are left behind. Even with all the photos in the album, you still have the feeling that something is missing.

Making an analogy with my bordered way of being, this is how I experience my mind: full of memories, loaded with the most diverse feelings, which despite frequently being overwhelmed, always finds a way to add more emotion, despite the constant emptiness that never manages to be satiated.

The emptiness has even tried to have a name: parties, friends, travel, graduate school, relationships, sex, chocolate, career. However, when the excitement behind all these things ends, the void becomes empty again.

This is what it’s like being an introvert who has borderline personality disorder, a very common condition that affects about 3 million people in the U.S. every year.

What It Means to Have ‘Quiet Borderline’

I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) earlier this year. This mental condition brings together a set of characteristics in which people have difficulty regulating emotions, problems with self-image, instability in interpersonal relationships, impulsivity, and self-injurious behaviors. People with this disorder present sudden outbursts of mood and usually act out feelings of anger and irritability.

Before my diagnosis, I never thought I could present BPD, because I don’t externalize my anger to other people. Due to the fact that I am an introvert, I end up imploding my emotions instead of explode them. What I didn’t know was that borderline personality disorder has four different ways to manifest: quiet borderline, impulsive borderline, petulant borderline, and self-destructive borderline.

To be very clear, not all introverts have BPD, and extroverts can have it too. As far as I know, there is no connection between BPD and introversion, although these two aspects of my self overlap and shape one another. BPD doesn’t present in the same way for everyone; this is my story, and your experience with it may be different.

In my case, I have more features of quiet borderline, meaning I implode emotions rather than exploding them. So instead of acting out, I act in what I am feeling. This way, symptoms such as chronic feelings of emptiness, fear of abandonment or rejection, fluctuations in mood, excessive guilt, and anxiety and depression are suffered silently, giving the false impression that I am a calm person.

But inside, my mind is about to collapse.

Emptiness is a feature that deserves attention. This chronic feeling is so intense that the only way to mitigate the pain is to fill this gap with something or someone that brings comfort and security. It is precisely in this moment that the “solution” to the void gives way to compulsion.

I am a studyholic. Every day for hours, I study subjects that interest me, and this seems to “complete” my incompleteness for a certain period of time (until I have to start another cycle of studies). I start and end my day listening to online lessons about the subjects that I write about. This is a kind of compulsion that I have developed to relieve my feelings of emptiness. When I’m studying, I feel my mind filled. 

The World of Me, Myself, and I 

What about the feeling of inadequacy? It’s like running at one pace while the world runs at another. This was more evident when I used to participate in job interviews. At the beginning of the selection process, I was very excited. However, as I passed each stage, my mood decreased until I became numb. Eventually I convinced myself I wasn’t fit for the job.

Today I work from home as an educational writer for blogs, magazines, and journals — and that comforts me. I don’t have to face people and explain to them why one day I’m socializing and the next day I prefer to be alone with my thoughts and feelings. It’s like one day I am energized and the other day I have to reload my battery.

It’s no different with interpersonal relationships. Due to splitting (black and white thinking), it’s difficult for me to manage my feelings. A person can be entirely good or totally bad depending on their attitude toward me. The exaggerated fear of trusting in people made me pistanthrophobic. It was as if there were no more sincere and genuine relationships left in the world, and at any moment, I was going to be disappointed again.

The fear of abandonment or rejection is a crucial issue for a border person. When a border loves, it is beyond measure. It’s like you stop what you’re doing to pay attention to your loved one, and everything revolves around him/her. Unconsciously there is a loss of identity. So, for example, if a border gets involved with a group that listens to rock, he/she will end up listening too. The same occurs if the border relates with an intellectual person. In a short time, he/she may become a great lover of literature.

On the rare occasions that I am in a group of colleagues, I usually empty myself to enter into another person’s world. For example, when I’m with a friend that has children, I talk about motherhood, children’s routines, kindergarten, etc. It’s the same with my relatives. We talk about their interests, such as cooking, the weather forecast, a TV series, movies, and so on.

I mean, I always show motivation and empathy for the other person’s life. On the other hand, very few people are able to ask me about my routine, what I’m working on, or what I like to do most. Thus, being in the presence of several people can be more lonely than the state of permanent solitude. Through this, it’s easy to see that in my world, it’s me, myself, and I.

Growing Up an Introvert and a Border

Since I was a child, I always felt different. Like many introverts, I spent hours playing alone with my dolls, talking to imaginary friends, and dancing and singing in front of the mirror. When I wasn’t reading, I was immersed in cartoons and movie characters. At school, what I liked to do most was listen to stories and write essays. I was able to enter a state of flow whenever I wrote them.

In the neighborhood, the comparisons between my sister and I were inevitable. Because my sister is an extrovert, people often remarked about me: “Why is she so quiet?” “Is she sick?” “She doesn’t talk much,” and so on. Even as a child, I had a very peculiar way of seeing life. I remember at the age of 5, I was constantly thinking about the end of the world, and would people end up in heaven?

The Existential Depression of BPD

This is how I am: always questioning the purpose of everything on the earth. The problem is that the greater the number of questions, the greater the size of the empty. And filling the empty is difficult because different desires arise every moment.

Borderline depression is existential. Suddenly, for no reason, I find myself so immersed in my thoughts that I even forget where I am. The intensity and strength of the thoughts lead me to believe that I spent my entire day just thinking. These ruminating thoughts occur precisely because all the pain and anger are internalized within my mind. 

People who suffer from the borderline condition tend to see the world in a distorted way. According to Dr. Daniel Fox, a licensed psychologist who specializes in the treatment of personality disorders, it’s as if they are wearing glasses with the wrong prescription, which makes them have a negative perception of reality. Life is a mix of emotions, and learning how to manage them can make all the difference.

Another trigger for the emergence of depressive symptoms is emotional dysregulation in interpersonal relationships. Borderline people fear being rejected, but they do not realize that their attitudes end up driving people away from them. I used to have very high expectations of my friends, but over time, I learned that every human being is flawed, and therefore will never perfectly be able to meet my needs. 

Currently I’m in therapy, and through this, I have learned that peace, pleasure and balance are states that I have to achieve from inside to outside (and not the opposite). The constant feeling of emptiness has to be filled by myself through self-confidence and self-realization. I can’t deposit my wellbeing in people, things, or gratifications. The responsibility for my happiness is mine and nobody’s else. 

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Finding My Refuge

Like many introverts, solitude allows me to better regulate my emotions and prevents me from always having to appear cheerful, successful, and communicative in the presence of other people. This doesn’t mean I don’t like to be with people — I enjoy meaningful interaction too — I just don’t usually identify with the subjects and themes most people talk about.

But it is in art that I find my true refuge, because it allows me to alleviate my insecurities and distress, keeping me calm and safe. Whether through cinema, music, or literature, I see in the arts a form of language that translates visceral feelings into beauty and sensitivity. And it is through writing that my mind rises and becomes free: without masks, without fears, and without yearnings. 

I am who I am through the written word. And it is those words that give me wings, that give me the gift of life. Life beyond the border.

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Daniela Silva is a Brazilian educator and independent writer. She holds a BA in Pedagogy from Santa Cecilia University, Brazil, with concentrations in School Management and Business Education; an MBA in Personnel Management from Monte Serrat University Center, Brazil; and a postgraduate certificate in Neuroeducation from Estácio de Sá University, Brazil. Working with social projects in the area of e-learning and people development since 2009, Ms. Silva is a regular contributor to several educational websites, writing about teaching practices in the classroom; emotions and learning; evaluation and school planning; learning disorders; homeschooling; brain child development; parenting; Montessori education; andragogy and people training. Working in collaboration with The New Heights Educational Group, Inc., she has just published Unraveling Reading, a book on literacy education and learning disabilities in reading and writing. In addition, Ms. Silva has her academic monograph "Developing the creative potential of children by stimulating the window of opportunities," published by MoreBooks.