Ask About BPD – Splitting
Dear Ask about BPD,
If you’ve been diagnosed with BPD you know what splitting is and how it is something that is prevalent. How do you avoid letting it happen? And once it does, is there anyway to bring yourself around to forgiving the other person?
I can sense your frustration with the feature of splitting, but if you will bear with me a few paragraphs I am going to explain the feature to those who may not know what splitting is or why it happens.
Splitting it is where a person divides the world into a polarization of beliefs by focusing selectively on either their negative or positive attributes: black and white, all good or all bad, everything or nothing.
Splitting is a very common defense mechanism. It diffuses the anxiety that comes from our innate human inability to comprehend the complexities of a given situation. Splitting compartmentalizes a situation in ways that make it easier for our brains to process. Everyone has something they have divided in this way. Think about politics or religion.
But for people with BPD our emotions regarding the separation are amplified and all or nothing thinking takes over.
The best analogy I can make is a prism. For most people, when white light is split through a prism they can see a rainbow and understand that all of those parts come from a whole. With us, it is more like the white light goes into a prism and does not refract leaving only white and black. We have a hard time incorporating seemingly contradictory aspects of the same person or thing into one. This can leave us with a distinctly distorted picture of people and reality.
Splitting is not fun for either person involved. It is the one feature many will say is the most exhausting part of BPD. Racing thoughts. Feelings of love smacked with feelings of hate. Concern mixed with indifference. Back and forth flow of emotions.
At it’s worst, splitting can cause us to “split” a single entity into two opposing realities. Extreme degrees of internal splitting can result in a fragmentation of the self through dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality disorder).
Back to your question. How do we prevent this?
Splitting is a normal human defense mechanism, we can not prevent it from happening. We can manage how we use splitting so that it isn’t so disruptive or damaging.
Mindfulness, especially in the form of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), is the most common technique used for managing splitting. The goal of DBT is to relieve anxiety by helping you see the shades of grey you are missing.
Also, mindfulness will allow you to recognize the signs of splitting as they begin to occur.
Practical tips and tricks
– Recognize that the mechanism of splitting is often an unconscious process, but one that can be managed. You will always be doing the best you can with the skills you have.
– When you experience an episode of splitting forgive yourself quickly and without guilt.
– Anticipate and avoid getting too intense and emotionally hooked quickly; recognize when this is occurring and rationally consider other viewpoints.
– Avoid extreme responses and always allow yourself the right to walk away to gain perspective on a situation. If you feel your emotions skyrocketing excuse yourself for a moment and take a deep breath. Do not come back until you are feeling calm. Do not text, email, or post to social media when your emotions are extreme.
– Let go of unrealistic expectations or “unenforceable rules” we place on people about their behavior. Whenever you start dwelling on how things should be, or should have been, stop and remind yourself that there is more than one way to do something.
– Do not become defensive if someone asks you if you are splitting a particular person, event, or problem. Listen to them. They may see something occurring in the situation that you may be blind to.
– If you can tell you are splitting a situation but don’t know which side to land on, use a DBT pro’s and con’s table to see both sides rationally. If you are truly split and are blind to more than 2 sides (black/white) ask someone you trust to help you integrate the opposite perspectives.
– If you have hurt someone and they will not talk with you do not be afraid to bring in a third party to help mediate.
– Don’t be afraid to say I’m sorry. Splitting is going to happen, but once you recognize you have spilt a situation in a way that has hurt someone else saying sorry begins healing.
After you recognize an episode of splitting has occurred sit yourself down for a heart to heart talk. Be honest with yourself. Take a moment and answer in a journal the following questions:
1. What lead to the situation?
2. Were there any warning signs?
3. What role did I play in the situation? What role did other people play in the situation?
4. What did I have control over? What did I not have control over?
5. How did my thoughts and feelings hurt me? How did they hurt others?
Forgiveness – working through the hate side of splitting.
I’m guessing if you are considering forgiveness then you have begun to see the shades of grey you were once missing. I once read a quote that said, “ I did not forgive because it didn’t happen. I chose to forgive because the memory was too heavy.” Forgiveness does not excuse their behavior, but it frees you from the pain their actions have caused.
Think about it this way, holding a marble isn’t heavy, but keep adding marbles one by one and there will be a point you can not hold anymore. Think about each marble as an episode of splitting that you need to forgive. We can’t do it all at once. We have to remove each marble one by one without adding others at the same time. If we keep “adding marbles” we will live in an endless cycle of resentment and doubt.
The DBT skill that addresses forgiveness is radical acceptance. Radical acceptance is when you accept something in your mind, in your heart, and even with your body. It’s total and complete. When you’ve radically accepted something you stop fighting reality.
There are three parts to radical acceptance:
1. Accepting that reality is what it is.
2. Accepting that the event or situation causing you pain has a source.
3. Accepting life can be worth living even with painful events in it.
Tip for forgiveness and healing
– Understand that you practice forgiveness not master forgiveness. It is not black or white, all or nothing, but is a process.
– Understand exactly how you feel about a situation and then articulate what happened that was not OK. To avoid splitting, when you articulate make sure you address both sides of the problem. Combat each thought with its opposite.
– Recognize that your emotions are a reflection of the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago.
-Accept that anger will never protect you in the way you want it to; it will always hurt others including yourself. Splitting is often caused by us reacting negatively to what we don’t like about ourselves in others. Practice forgiving yourself for holding onto the anger and that action will flow through to others.
– Forgiveness is about personal power. Accept that we give up our power when we allow anger to control our thoughts. Accept that forgiveness doesn’t let them off the hook, but lets you heal.
– Accept that forgiveness does not mean reconciliation with the person who hurt you. Reconciliation is when we make peace with others. Forgiveness is when we make peace with ourselves. Forgiveness is an internal process and does not change the external reality of the situation.
– Accept the peace that fills you. When we let ourselves forgive peace fills us it can be a strange feeling. Anger is heavy. Peace is light. It’s okay to accept this feeling and enjoy it.
We cannot avoid splitting, but we can manage it. We cannot stop bad things from happening to us, but we can learn radical acceptance and personal power. The key to both is to be gentle with yourself. In being gentle with yourself, including self forgiveness, you will be gentle with others and when we act with gentleness we can not help but see the world not as black and white, but as a beautiful rainbow.