Splitting is an extension of the BPD black and white thinking. It’s the difficulty or inability to see people, including yourself, in shades of gray. In other words, people are either all good or all bad. A change in this opinion can happen randomly or be triggered. Periods of idealization/devaluation can last for any amount of time. If a switch to one is triggered, it doesn’t necessarily need another trigger to switch back.
Idealization can involve believing that everything a person does is good and right. It’s putting someone up on a pedestal. This can be a good thing, but it can also be dangerous. Idealization allows us to see all the good in people, but it also makes us ignore the bad. Idealization of my abuser is part of what kept me in an abusive relationship.
Devaluation is the opposite. It’s often triggered by a person not living up to the idealized version of themselves. However, devaluation can also happen randomly. Feelings of intense love and affection can switch to hate and revulsion. Just like idealization, this can be both good and bad. It can lead to arguments and make relationships more difficult. However, it can also provide the strength to end toxic relationships.
For me, if someone isn’t totally understanding and accepting of what I tell them, my idealization disappears. They weren’t who I thought they were, so I’m probably wrong about everything. I’ve also had to struggle with constant devaluation of a close friend. I had a few months of idealizing our relationship, but I’m now in almost constant devaluation mode. While I am able to recognize that he’s someone I care about and I want to protect our friendship, I also actively hate him.
Splitting can also apply to how you view yourself. I know that many people with BPD struggle to view themselves as good people. Every single little thing we do wrong can lead to a major devaluation period. It’s also possible for a person with BPD to idealize themself. For me, these periods of idealization and devaluation fluctuate with my high and low moods. They can be triggered by my mood or be the trigger for the mood.
The way I experience splitting is extremely intertwined with my other symptoms, so it’s difficult to talk about it as its own thing, but I hope that this makes sense and is helpful.
Anonymous asked: Hey, do you guys have anything to say about long-term splitting? I definitely split on people on a daily/weekly basis, but what tends to destroy my relationships the most is the fact that I'll go several months generally adoring a person, then out of nowhere I can't even stomach being in the same room as them. I hate them so much and it stays that way for several more months until I can't take it anymore and I explode and collapse the entire relationship.
Answer: I think the same principles apply regardless of whether splitting is happening on a short-term or a long-term basis. Personally, I tend to split on more of a long-term basis myself, like I will idealize someone and feel so much love for them for a month or more, and then suddenly I want nothing to do with them and all I can remember is all the things they did that hurt me or the times I hurt them and how I hate myself and I spiral out of control thinking things like “we can never have a healthy relationship/friendship/whatever because X happened two years ago” and it’s kind of ridiculous. Nothing in particular has to trigger the switch between idealization and devaluation, but if there is a trigger for splitting changing in either direction, it’s most likely going to be memories for me.
I don’t know how to cope with splitting though, because I don’t notice it happening as much as my other symptoms because of the longer-term nature of how I split on people. I even forget that I’m splitting if a period of idealization or devaluation has gone on for a month or more. It seems to be the same set of people that I split on a longer-term basis with, and then there’s everyone else who I split on a shorter-term basis with if I split on them at a all.
Though I do find that when it comes to the people that I experience longer-term splitting with, I don’t split idealization and devaluation equally. A person tends to be someone I either idealize predominantly, or I devalue predominantly.
For example, my second ex is someone that I idealize predominantly. I will idealize her for months, and then a memory or something will trigger me to split the other way, but the period of devaluation will only last about a week or two, and then I’m back to idealization. Perhaps that’s because I love her and the nature of our current relationship is a positive one so my feelings remain generally more positive.
In contrast, with my mother, I predominantly devalue her because she’s emotionally abusive, but there are times when I will idealize her and have really positive feelings towards her and it can be very confusing for me when this happens. It’s like I forget all the bad things she’s done to me even though I remember those the majority of the time, but for these two weeks or whatever, it’s like all those bad things never happened and I have a normal, healthy relationship with my mother until I’m triggered back to seeing her as a negative figure.
I don’t know if that experience applies to how your longer-term splitting works since it sounds like you usually go from idealization to devaluation and you can’t seem to split back to idealization? That’s how I”m reading your ask, at least. I don’t know if there’s any way to trigger yourself to “flip back” to the other side of the split if you don’t want the ultimate result of your splitting to be a complete collapse of your relationships. I know there are ways to “flip” yourself into mania but I’ve never heard of anything like that working particularly on splitting, perhaps because splitting isn’t talked about a whole lot expect by people who like to demonize borderlines. Perhaps you can figure out what triggers the switch, like is it a behaviour of theirs? It is a memory? Is it an interaction in general? Is it connected to any of your other symptoms? Can you think of a time when you went from devaluing someone to idealizing them? If that’s happened, think about why that happened, because it seems that that direction requires a specific trigger a lot more often than the other direction of going from idealization to devaluation. Try and think about what made you go from “black to white” so to speak. Maybe that will give you clues about how to flip yourself out of severe devaluation of someone so that you can salvage some relationships. I dunno, maybe you don’t even want to salvage those relationships. Do you feel remorse or regret afterwards for ending those relationships? Or do you still feel like it was the right course of action?
If you feel like it was the right course of action then I don’t really think there’s much for you to do. But if you feel like you’re losing relationships and friendships to this type of splitting that you don’t want to lose, then you’re just going to have to do some soul-searching and some self-analysis to figure out how to get out of those devaluation periods. Perhaps therapy would help shed some light on the issue if therapy is a financial option. DBT would be particularly helpful. You can find links in our FAQ about finding the right therapist and such.
I don’t know if this is what you were looking for when you asked this question, but I hope this gives you something to think about.
Edit: As @lostsexpuppy mentioned in their reply, DBT doesn’t address splitting specifically, but it does teach you a concept called “Opposite Action” which can help you reverse the effects of splitting. Also if you bring up splitting specifically as a major problem for you I’m sure a DBT therapist would find a way to address your splitting with some of the foundational strategies that DBT teaches. Try looking into the concept of Opposite Action as a way to stop splitting.
Anonymous asked: is it possible to split w empathy levels? I used to have a ton of empathy and now I only care about myself
Answer: Yep, it’s possible for empathy levels to go up and down according to a number of factors. It can be very hard to feel empathy when you’re overwhelmed by your own emotions so your mind sacrifices feeling empathy which would only further overload you in order to protect you and focus on yourself.
That’s actually where the idea that people with BPD have low empathy comes from, that we’re self-centred and can only deal with feelings about our own problems and there’s “no room” for the problems of anyone else. And that does happen. I’ve had it happen many times to me when I’ve just been having such a bad day psychologically that I can’t bring myself to care about anything I see on my dash, or even when my mom lost her job I was just… flat, like I had enough going on with this storm of emotions inside me that there was nothing to spare for other people even though I knew I should be feeling empathy at the time since I usually have extremely high empathy.
Your empathy can also be affected by splitting on people. Like if you’re in the devaluation stage of how you feel about a person, often you won’t feel any empathy for them.
Also people with BPD tend to give and give and give so much of our time and effort and empathy and compassion to other people that we very rarely leave any for ourselves and sometimes we just get fed up with that and we’re very justified in feeling a little selfish by then and in order to protect ourselves we start to only care about ourselves, especially if we feel we’re not getting the same level of care and dedication back from the person we’ve been putting our own needs aside for. If you’ve been putting your own needs aside for the sake of someone else because of the empathy you feel for them, you have every right to say “I need to take care of me now, I need to prioritize myself.”
It’s also possible that you might have comorbid traits of another PD that can have low empathy like ASPD or OCPD or StPD since it’s very common for people with one personality disorder to have traits of other personality disorders. Having traits of disorders like that would probably best explain how your empathy kind of comes and goes like a switch has been flipped if you don’t think it’s triggered by and overload of emotional input or any of the other things I mentioned.
Anonymous asked: Is it possible to split on myself? Like I have npd so I feel like when I do something wrong I split on me? Am I making sense?
Answer: I think it’s totally possible! I can’t speak for NPD, but I can talk about this in terms of BPD.
When you’re a borderline individual and you split on yourself, this is deeply tied to your self image, which is usually highly unstable. Our poor memories also contribute to this. When we do something wrong, we think that thing defines us and we can’t remember times when we did that thing right, or the times when we knew/felt we were good people. So we view ourselves in black and white terms, where doing something bad means we are entirely Bad, and doing something good means we are entirely Good. We forget about the times when we’ve been the opposite, or we’ve been both.
Splitting is a complicated concept because it’s not just about seeing things in a black or white way, but by assigning value judgements to those thoughts by idealization and devaluation. It can be hard to idealize oneself, which is why it’s much more common to “split” on other people because we can put people on pedestals and then tear them down when we’re devaluing them. But people with BPD can still idealize themselves by feeling special and like someone to admire and thinking everyone should adore us, and we can obviously also devalue ourselves by downplaying our importance to other people and thinking we’re worthless and that we hate ourselves. I imagine that NPD is similar in this respect, that you can quickly go from idealizing yourself to feeling utterly worthless if you don’t live up to your own expectations or personal standards. I’m sure people with NPD can experience splitting, but I don’t know if that’s an NPD characteristic, since I’ve only seen it used as an indicator of BPD. So it’s possible that if you’re experiencing splitting, you might have borderline traits.
So yeah, while splitting on other people is way more common–for borderline people especially–it is absolutely possible to idealize and devalue yourself. This vacillation between idealizing yourself and devaluing yourself is usually triggered by your actions but can sometimes result from just a rapid shift in your personal perception.
Anonymous asked: Could you explain in further detail as to what it means for one to see in only black and white? (And more details than "it either is or it isn't" because those are the basics of what is mentioned for the term 'seeing things in only black and white)
Answer: “Black and white” thinking is related to the process called splitting. With splitting you can think differently about yourself or another person at random or when triggered.
Robyn made a great post about splitting here.
It doesn’t even necessarily have to be about people. You can split on ideas, movements, jobs, college courses etc. etc. and whatever else you might be able to think of. This isn’t to say a person who splits is going to split on everything in their life, but that splitting isn’t exclusive to just one thing and some people may split on many different things.
The black and white thinking is something we experience when we have trouble seeing the grey in people or subjects. We see certain things as all “something”, and when they might fail at being that “something” we may give up on the idea of them being that “something” entirely and go in the opposite direction with it.
That might sound confusing. Here’s a non-person example from my own life. I can love a show intensely by myself, I may see this show as a triumph in storytelling and something close to my heart. But then something happens in the show that I don’t like, or someone may point out a flaw, or a loved one of mine may have not enjoyed it and told me why. I get confused. This show clearly isn’t that great if these things happened? So it must be a failure. I can never watch it again because it is terrible due to these things. I reject it. I am ashamed of it.
I can’t embrace the fact that maybe there are flaws and people who don’t enjoy it, and yet still enjoy it myself. It’s all or nothing. Imagine a thermometer that is either red to the top or down to zero. That is black and white thinking. There’s little room for mediums and compromise in our thinking.
That’s not to say we can’t work to see those grey areas however. I have great difficulty with seeing grey in some areas but I have gotten better with progress and forcing myself to stop and think about them rather then from just going from hot to cold straight away. People with BPD are not incapable of seeing grey areas it is just harder for some of us.
Is It Possible to Split with Interests and Hobbies?
Anonymous asked: Is it possible to split on your interests/hobbies, or does that term apply exclusively to idealizing/devaluing people? I feel like I split on the stuff I'm into, like all of a sudden I have absolutely no interest in it at all. I don't just mean "my interests change"- one tiny thing goes wrong and then I never want to do the thing again. This happens with EVERYTHING I'm into and it's so frustrating to never have any lasting personal interests or hobbies. Is this part of my BPD or am I just flakey
Answer: This is a kind of splitting, yeah! You can split on pretty much anything. People, objects, interests, communities, animals, sex, abstract concepts, yourself. Any time you go from one emotional extreme to another, like from curiousity/interest/doubt to apathy/fear/certainty, it can be splitting. It happens because your brain can’t figure out how to compromise between different emotions. Here’s a comic that I found really helpful in illustrating how it works (click to zoom). It’s not always love/hate, but it is usually idealising/devaluing, ie associating something only with positive or negative values when it actually has both. We tend to think things are “all good” or “all bad” when we split on them.
Does Splitting Have to Be Caused by Fears of Abandonment?
Anonymous asked: does splitting have to be because of fear of abandonment? I don't think I have that symptom but I do split on people. I think it happens more when they annoy me or make me mad rather than a fear of abandonment?
Answer: This is valid. A lot of people split due to fear of abandonment, but splitting can be triggered by pretty much any combination of emotions that you can’t process together (because they’re too intense and conflicting). Being annoyed or frustrated can definitely cause splitting. For example, if your friend does something hurtful, your brain might be unable to combine your anger with how you usually feel about your friend (more positively, presumably), so it discards one of these emotions to focus on the other. Sometimes we idealise, which means discarding the negative emotions; sometimes we devalue, which means discarding the positive emotions.