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Author Topic: BPD BEHAVIORS: Splitting  (Read 67241 times)
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« on: August 27, 2007, 05:03:04 PM »


Splitting refers to a primitive defense mechanism characterized by a polarization of good feelings and bad feelings, of love and hate, of attachment and rejection.

Splitting is a powerful unconscious force that manifests to protect against anxiety. Rather than providing real protection, splitting leads to destructive behavior and turmoil, and the often confused reactions by those who try to help.

Some degree of splitting is an expectable part of early mental development. It is seen in young children who, early on, press to be told "Is it good?" or "Is it bad?"  We hear their frustration when we answer, "Situations are more complicated" "Yes, I know all that," they say, "now tell me, is it good or is it bad?"

Normally, mental maturing advances the ego's ability to accept paradoxical affects, and to synthesize and balance complex situations.

How do you deal with Splitting?

Individuals suffering from borderline personality disorders live in an immature psychological world, fueled by certain constitutional vulnerabilities, where they attempt to shield themselves from conflict and anxiety by splitting the world into all good and all bad. Although this produces an sense of psychological safety, in fact, it renders relationships fragile and chaotic and drives away the very people who are so badly needed to provide stability in the boirderlines life.

According to Kraft Goin MD (University of Southern California), splitting borderlines need a person who is a constant, continuing, empathic force in their lives; someone who can listen and handle being the target of intense rage and idealization while concurrently defining limits and boundaries with firmness and candor. Borderlines require someone who can provide them with the necessary experience of being understood and accepted, and who will not be overwhelmed by their needs, fears and anxieties.

On the surface, meeting these needs might not seem insurmountable.

We all enjoy being admired and respected and are tempted to believe in this veneration.

At the same time, the cry of a screaming child touches the heart of a feeling person, and hatred directed with fierce intensity sears the soul of the most hardy. But the intensity of emotional reactions that surface in dealing with a borderline whose primary mechanism of defense is splitting can be surprising, frightening, damaging.  Since we cannot escape the impulse to recoil or be overly protective, how do we try to cope? 

Often we cope by pushing our own feelings, and our self esteem aside and immerse ourselves in the world of the borderline and become defined by it.


This workshop is to examine different types of splitting to understand the nature and degree of this behaviour. 

The workshop is also to explore ways to better cope with an individual that relies on splitting as a defense mechanism in various scenarios such as romantic relationships, child / parent  relationships, co-parenting relationships, and legal and legal conflict relationships.

I thank the senior members for participating in this workshop.



This board is intended for general questions about BPD and other personality disorders, trait definitions, and related therapies and diagnostics. Topics should be formatted as a question.

Please do not host topics related to the specific pwBPD in your life - those discussions should be hosted on an appropraite [L1] - [L4] board.

You will find indepth information provided by our senior members in our workshop board discussions (click here).

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« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2007, 04:20:58 PM »

So with splitting, to put it in a nutshell - you're either good or bad.

But can this be dependent on other people's status?

For example, I've noticed that when I'm good, my BPD person's other closest friend is bad (she only has two friends, essentially - him and I). And when he's good, I'm bad. We can never both be good, or bad. One is always fulfilling the good role, and the other, the bad role.

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« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2007, 05:21:47 PM »

Sakudaira, this often happens with somebody with BPD.  Children of BPD moms mention this phenomena often:  One child is "good" (the white child), one is "bad" (the black child).  Sometimes the good/bad roles switch, but sometimes someone is good or bad all through their relationship with the BPD.   

Not all with BPD split in this way, but it is very typical. 

Sometimes a BPD spouse will split a child "good" and the other parent "bad". 

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« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2007, 08:52:52 PM »

As a kid, one child was always evil, and another was always exemplary.  In very extreme circumstances, all of us were evil or all of us were admirable, but that was only when we were being foiled off some other audience who would be the exact opposite of whatever we were.  If you were really lucky you weren't worth attention at all, and you'd be ignored but not distorted.  Otherwise, it was like being cast as the villain or savior in a really bad soap opera, without knowing any of your lines.  The BPD does their own dubbing anyway.
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« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2007, 06:46:00 AM »


I believe this is the source article credited to Kraft Goin in the Workshop introductory post, correct?

This is the full quote from the article (emphasis added):

What Do These Patients Need?

Splitting patients need a psychiatrist who is a constant, continuing, empathic force in their lives; someone who can listen and handle being the target of intense rage and idealization while concurrently defining limits and boundaries with firmness and candor. These patients need someone who can provide them with the necessary experience of being understood and accepted, and who will not be overwhelmed by their needs, fears and anxieties.

The article was published in 1998 in Psychiatric Times, a professional journal for  clinicians.  I hope you will excuse my interruption here, but I feel the description of what borderlines need in the Workshop introduction gives the impression that the behavioral responses described above are needed by borderlines from their significant others, rather than from their professional caretakers. This is very wrong.  I feel the omission of the clinical nature of the article might lead to inappropriate interpretations of Kraft Goin's writing here. 

All of the literature I have read, including Stop Walking on Eggshells, as I recall, cautions strongly against assuming the therapist role in a relationship with a borderline - even if you are a therapist.  I wouldn't want your BPDFamily.com members to make a wrong turn that could cost them dearly in emotional wear and tear because of this misunderstanding.

Thank you in advance for permitting my input here.
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« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2007, 12:15:53 PM »

Thanks for providing a link to the article and your thoughts. 

You raise a good question - Should behavioral response tools only be used by licensed therapists in the course of a therapy session?

My understanding is that there is a strong encouragement comimng from the medical community that the behavioral response tools not be just the province of the therapy session.  One of the key objectives of the NEA-BPD Family Connections Program is to teach family members these behavioral responses for use the home.  This is also the basis idea behind SET and PUVAS, which are fundamental behavioral response tools outlined in Stop Walking on Eggshells and "I Hate You, Don't Leave Me".

For me, the most important aspect of dealing with splitting is "understanding".  I know I got caught on this one - I had no understanding about what she was doing when she was splitting so I assumed all the wrong things... mostly that she was confused, or she didn't hear me, or that she was overwhelmed, or her mother was pushing her, or... All things I tried to help her deal with.  All wasted and frustrating efforts for both of us. 

I'd never experienced "black and white" thinking before... so I tumbled down into the black hole of BPD relationship confusion... blaming myself, feeling bad, grinding my self esteem, etc.

Once you know what "Splitting" is - you can try to deal with it constructively - and most importantly, not be consumed by it personally.

Kraft Goin MD (University of Southern California) uses the words "constant, continuing".  John Gunderson MD (Harvard), in the NEABPD handout (pdf download) uses the words "consistent, calm"... "maintain family routines as much as possible."  They encourage you to understand "Affect Dyscontrol - that a person with BPD has feelings that dramatically fluctuate in the course of each day."

Goin uses the word "empathetic" as does Jerold Kreisman, MD in his communication tool SET (support, empathy, truth),  in I Hate You, Don't Leave Me in 1991 (link). 

E= Empathy. Empathy refers to communicating that the loved one understands what the BP is feeling, and focuses on "you." It is not a conveyance of pity or sympathy, but instead a true awareness and validation of the feelings of the BP: "I see you are angry, and I understand how you can get mad at me," "How frustrating this must be for you."  It is important not to tell the BP how she is feeling, but instead put her demonstrated feelings into words. The goal is to convey a clear understanding of the uncomfortable feelings she is having and that they are OK.

Dr. Goin also uses the words "boundaries".  Dr Gunderson talks about setting limits by stating the limits of your tolerance. Let your expectations be known in clear, simple language. Everyone needs to know what is expected of them. Too often, people assume that the members of their family should know their expectations automatically. It is often useful to give up such assumptions with a BP individual.

Of all the BP behaviors with a high functioning borderline, splitting is one of the toughest to understand, and the most damaging.


« Reply #6 on: October 11, 2007, 04:29:59 PM »

Borderlines who do not choose to get into therapy and stick with it and make a serious commitment to it will inevitably continue to revert to the primal defense mechanism of splitting each and every time they are stressed and/or triggered.

Borderlines, in the active throes of BPD, are not often conscious of just what it is they do to others when they split them.

Borderline splitting is at the heart of "get-away-closer" and "I-hate-you-don't-leave-me" polarized all-or-nothing relating. It is not an over-statement to say that unless and until a person with BPD deals with this polarization and need to protect what is essentially a combination of the lack of self and the false self

he or she is not capable of healthy adult relating in any consistent way.

It is the very reality of this unhealthy, incongruent, and inconsistent self-defeating borderline polarized style of relating that forms the foundation for everything that is toxic and punishing in the way that nons end up being treated by the borderline in their lives.

This defense originates directly from the original core wound of abandonment as I explain in my ebook, The Legacy of Abandonment in BPD. When the borderline is stressed, regressed, and/or triggered by attempts to relate as an adult or attempts to remain close or attempts to tolerane the moving in and out between intimacy/closeness and distance he or she will then be re-experiencing his or her past in the non borderline here and now. That's why so much of what the borderline does is for the non borderline so situationally-inappropriate, age-inappropriate and seems to come at you from left field in a way that you can't really make sense of. It doesn't make sense in the here and now, that's why.

Borderlines in this dissociative re-play of their unresolved abandonment trauma treat you as if you are the person with whom they experienced the abandonment, the trauma, the ruptured relationship, failed bonding or attachment with that lead to their original loss of self.

This means that for the non borderline relating to a regressed borderline in the here and now, you don't even really exist. You are but a mere extension of the borderline's toxic fusion with someone from wherein there was a very painful and real rupture of attachment. This rupture of attachment is played out with you, the non borderline, in the here and now, over and over and it form the "all-bad" of half of the split.

When the borderline isn't stressed or has just played out the all-bad cycle and so for a time is relieved of stress and somewhat calmer (no matter how brief that time may be) he or she then flips back to the feelings associated with the person with whom they experienced the abandonment trauma, the person that they needed and looked up to as a young child. So, you then become the person they need, cling to, want, can't get enough of and the person who is fabulous just as suddenly as you were and will again be the exact opposite.

This is something I know like I do because i lived it. I had BPD and I recovered. It is important, I believe for non borderlines who, luckily, don't have my experience (or the experience of the borderline in your life) of feeling and living this - it is very painful - to realize that you will never make sense out of splitting. It doesn't make rational or logical healthy sense. It makes sense only in its toxic dysfuntional protection of the borderline from his or her original core wound of abandonment trauma.

Non borderlines need to detach from this borderline cycle. It isn't easy. It is often what ends relationships. Whether you detach from the chaos and drama of it or not please know that trying to hang in there to rescue the borderline in your life can't and won't work. I know this because, when I was borderline, no one, absolutely no one could rescue me. People tried and they were punished for their efforts way back when, sadly I have to admit. I also know this because long after I recovered from BPD, I ended up in a relationship with a borderline-narcissist who I, of course, tried to rescue. The futility was in some ways even more painful than what it was like for me when I had BPD.

In my opinion, nons need to hold borderlines responsible for their behaviour, even when the borderline may well not "get it". What nons will benefit most from doing is refusing to allow the borderline to treat them abusively as the pendulum of their "borderline reality" swings back and forth from one side of the split to the other. Sometimes, the "all-good" side of the split can be as abusive, by the way, as the "all-bad" rage etc is. It is often on the "all-good" side of borderline spitting that you will experience the covert manipulation of the borderline's learned helplessness and neediness. You can be their hero don't you know if you are just there to do and do for them. Then in that process of doing for them because you are everything to them in the "all-good" split inevitably something will stress or trigger the borderline back to the "all-bad" split often with lightening speed - and around and around it goes.

By the way, what usually triggers the "all-bad" split from the stance of the "all-good" split often is the very thing that you as a non borderline long so much for with this borderline in your life - closeness or intimacy. Sadly, the second it is achieved (after all you go through to get back there) the borderline cannot tolerate it and the cycle of splitting begins all over again.

I see evidenced in the continuous cycle of the borderline maladaptive defense mechanism of splitting, the utter no-win futility and toxic nature of the "borderline relational style" which as its roots such terror and trauma that it can't help but perpetuate from the borderline abuse - namely punishing vindictiveness.

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« Reply #7 on: October 15, 2007, 08:38:54 AM »

The thing that I've found to help alleviate splitting is finding the truth in whatever the person is saying.  Clearly the reality of things is hovering somewhere in between nothingness and totality.  So at least some of what the person is saying must be at least partially true!  When I can find that bit of truth and confirm it for the person, they feel validated and loved, and are able to come down from the fight-or-flight state of mind that leads to the primitive emotional reactions that BPD sufferers are known for.  It really does work wonders!

Peace, Love, and Bicycles,

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« Reply #8 on: October 15, 2007, 09:02:06 AM »

It occurs to me that it might be helpful to have some examples of what I mean by finding something truthful in a black-vs.-white statement...

Black-vs.-White: "It's hopeless!"

Me: "It certainly does seem like it will be very difficult." 

Me: (waits patiently for a response and avoids the dreaded "but..." statement which will screw up the whole thing :-)

Black-vs.-White: "It's too difficult.  I don't think I can do it anymore."

Me: "It may indeed turn out to be too difficult for you.  I'm sure you've been trying very hard to make it work."

Black-vs.-White: "Yeah."

(calm silence)

This leaves both of us at a healthier, less explosive stage of the conversation, and the silence at the end allows my parter some time to calm down and think a bit more productively about the situation.  When the conversation starts up again, and as long as I can continue to find the bit of truth in my partner's statements, we are likely to get to a good point and make some progress in seeing the world in a more full spectrum way, or at least in a black-AND-white way!

Here's another example:

Black-vs.-White: "You're crazy!  You need therapy!"

Me: "I do definitely have some issues that I would like to work on."

Black-vs.-White: "Yeah!  You've got to get some help."

Me: "Do you think that therapy will really be able to help me?"

Black-vs.-White: "Probably not.  It's probably hopeless."

(calm silence, and then start the aforementioned "It's hopeless." dialog up!)

Each time I agree with my partner while including terms like "some" or "maybe" it gives them a more realistic, less absolute, frame to work with.  And it helps them feel less insane, which is a good thing!

It's not easy to do this, especially when we are so used to fighting and black-vs.white thinking in the mainstream media, in schools, and in our own homes.  But it can be learned, and it's well worth it, in my experience!  I still fall into the fighting type of conversation a lot, but I also can manage to pull off this more effective "finding the bit of truth" technique enough of the time to help make things better for my partner.

Peace, Love, and Bicycles,

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« Reply #9 on: October 19, 2007, 11:22:31 PM »

Splitting is not just about good and bad. That is only one kind of splitting. For me it is getting trapped into one mindset and not being able to see any other. You can only see your point of view. You can only feel one emotion. If you are afraid you are a slave to that emotion and cannot imagine that there is an alternative emotion. Same for anger and depression. If you are right that is all you can see. You cannot see the world that others live in, only your own. It goes on and on. You not only compartmentalize yourself, you are trapped there until the spell in broken. Then you wonder what you were thinking or how you could have been feeling such powerful feelings and being so unable to see anything else at any given time. When I split I am on a mission. I cannot shake the place I am in. It is horrible. I hate splitting. I wish they had a pill for it. I am recovery for this and I am at a place where sometimes my therapist can break the spell by telling me I am splitting. But others who don't understand it don't know what to do with me.
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