What is Splitting?

‘Splitting’ is a commonly used term for a defense mechanism people living with BPD use subconsciously. It is an attempt to protect themselves against intense feelings such as abandonment, isolation and loneliness. People living with BPD often seek validation from others, which makes them more prone to splitting as an attempt to shield themselves from pain and anxiety.

It is a distorted way of thinking – everything is black or white, good or bad, all or nothing. It allows the people to discard the things that they have deemed as ‘bad’, and it allows them to embrace the things they see as ‘good’. This distorted way of thinking can lead to a person embracing ‘good’ things that are actually dangerous or harmful.

A person who is splitting will frame events which happened, or peopleand their behaviour or attitudes, in absolute terms with no middle grounds – this can cause problems in relationships as there is no grounds for discussion, only good or bad.

Splitting may be triggered by a range of things – a minor argument, a loved one travelling away for work (which causes fear of abandonment), or criticism from a boss. These events may seem ordinary to someone else.

Splitting may include:

  • situtations where things are ‘always’ or ‘never’
  • people can be evil or perfect
  • news is either completely true or a lie
  • opportunities – such as jobs or investments – can be completely free from risk or a con

People who are splitting are often seen as being histrionic or over-dramatic. When they declare that things have ‘completely fallen apart’ and are unable to discuss an alterative view, it can be difficult or exhausting for their loved ones. It can also cause confusion for someone trying to help a person with BPD.

Many people living without BPD can have behaviour similar to splitting, but in BPD it is a consistent behaviour which usually occurs in cycles, usually accompanied by behaviours or symptoms such as:

  • acting impulsively without consideration to the consequences
  • projecting their own feelings on to others
  • denying a fact or reality
  • passive agressive behaviours
  • believing that they are superior in their knowledge of the situation

Periods of splitting can vary in severity and how long they last. An episode could last for days, weeks or even years.

Splitting is often a defensive mechanism that was developed by people who experienced an early life trauma. Long-term treatment includes learning coping mechanisms to help you improve your perspective of what is happening, and help reduce anxiety.

If you need help dealing with a splitting episode, here are some things you can do:

  • Grounding exercises. Say out loud: 5 things that you can SEE. 4 things that you can FEEL. 3 sounds you can hear. 2 things you can SMELL. 1 thing you can TASTE.
  • Calm breathing. Breathe in to the count of four, hold your breath for four, breathe out slowly for four, hold your breath for four, repeat. Some people find it useful to draw a square (each side is equal to the count of four) while doing this exercise.
  • Reach out to a professional – your GP, mental health professional, psychiatrist or therapist. You can also call Samaritans anytime on 116 123.
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