The Mighty Logo

How I Cope With ‘Splitting’ Because of Borderline Personality Disorder

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

One of the hardest things about having borderline personality disorder (BPD), for me, is splitting. Splitting is defined as the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together the dichotomy of both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole. This is also known as black-and-white thinking or all-or-nothing thinking.

Splitting means I oscillate between idealizing and devaluing myself and others in my life. Stress, real or perceived rejection and the fear of abandonment can all activate this defense mechanism. I have come to realize that the more I care about someone, the more often I will split with them. My brain is trying to protect me from being vulnerable and the chances of being hurt by demonizing the person in question and encouraging me to walk away before they leave me. Clearly, this reasoning is unhelpful and by acting on my impulses when my mind screams to run away, I will only make my fears become a reality. However, in the heat of the moment, logical reasoning is nowhere to be found and I take my thoughts at face value.

The reason splitting is so difficult is this: when black exists, white does not, and vice versa. This means if my friend, who is generally very good to me, does something that signals the potential for rejection in my head, I completely dissociate from every good thing they’ve ever done and see them as horrible and cruel. This can be canceling a hangout, not talking to me for a few weeks or even responding differently to a situation than I thought they would. Once this split happens, I begin to pull away from them due to the fear they will leave me. By treating them differently, they might begin to think I’m not a good friend anymore or that I no longer like them and they could possibly end the friendship. Splitting and the actions we take because of it can make our fears of abandonment become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Splitting doesn’t just focus on the people around me, though; it also happens to me. This means that, some days, I feel confident, lovable and good about myself while other days I feel disgusting, unworthy and shameful. My splitting can blow my perceived flaws out of proportion and wipe away all the good I know is inside me. On days like this, it’s hard to remember what I’m fighting for but I do my best to remind myself that everyone, including me, has both negative and positive traits.

There are resources and tools out there for people with BPD that can help with splitting. I use a variety of them depending on the situation. Some of my coping skills include:

1. Writing lists of all the reasons I value my friendships and relationships and looking over these lists when I split.

2. Writing lists of the things I like about myself and reading them when I start to hate myself.

3. Doing the opposite action, which is acting in a way that opposite to my urge. For example, if my thoughts tell me to leave someone, I will go to spend time with them. If my thoughts tell me I’m awful and don’t deserve love, I will practice self-care.

4. Practicing gratitude for someone if I feel myself devaluing them.

5. Practicing remembering someone’s positive and negative aspects at the same time.

6. Being patient when I can feel myself idealizing or devaluing someone and not making an impulsive decision based on those feelings.

7. Seeking support in BPD groups on Facebook.

8. Talking about my feelings with someone I trust

9. Reminding myself that splitting is a normal part of having borderline personality disorder and I’m not a bad person for doing it.

At the end of the day, my actions are my choice. I can decide to do my best not to allow splitting to change the way I treat people. I can choose to act according to my values even if my mind is screaming not to. I can remind myself that nothing is purely black or white. Life is made up of shades of grey.

Photo by Fernando Paz on Unsplash

Originally published: March 4, 2019
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home