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

Getting back on track.
Highfunctioning 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 façade 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. 
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11 comments on “High Functioning, low functioning – Part two: High function in Borderline Personality Disorder

  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. @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.

  3. 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!?

  4. "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.

  5. @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 =)

  6. @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.

  7. Pingback: Research: differential diagnosis BPD or NPD? | My Blog

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