I’ve had a person from my past recently attempt to make contact with me again. My mind instantly jumps to the usual thoughts: “They’re poison. They’re subhuman trash. They have nothing to contribute to society. They’re completely worthless.” This person, my ex-companion, wronged me so they shall forever live in my mind as a sort of gollum: repulsive, ugly, and banished from living in the sunshine of my mind. It’s not that I think in extremes, this person deserves that label. They caused me pain. A decent person would never, EVER have done anything to cause me pain. Good people don’t do that. This person is clearly no good. Every good deed, gentle word, tender moment together, they were all part of a masterfully crafted ruse to disguise their inner ugliness. Shrewd devil, I saw right through you.
And yet, somehow I feel inferior to the non-accomplishing zero that seems to have replaced me. I can’t not be the best. I can’t just be ‘superior to them in so many ways’. I have to be superior in every way. How could I possibly be good if I’m not the best? How could I possibly be the best if I’m not perfect? Why do I even care? I’m in a happy and healthy relationship with an amazing person now and I could never see myself going back to someone so obviously vile, so why be bothered by their attempts to reconnect? I hate you, don’t leave me–A common phrase used to highlight the thought process behind ‘splitting’. For me, it’s more like I hate you, leave me alone, but pine for me forever. My finger hovers over the blue-glowing screen for what feels like minutes, though I’m sure only seconds have passed. Finally, I delete the messages, lock the screen, and once again they are little more than a bad dream.
So what happens when I split the other direction? Is it so wrong to see a person as the very embodiment of perfection? Perhaps not, provided that every interaction goes exactly to plan, but when was the last time anything actually went according to plan? Life, to me, seems like a series of poorly executed plans, like a parade in which every float is missing a wheel.
The more I look inside, the more I recognize my proclivity toward compartmentalization–I have a driving need to stuff people into boxes. When something doesn’t fit the category, I remove it like a wart. You. You are good, so you will fit nicely and neatly into the ‘good’ box. I don’t care what you’ve done, those extrusions have been removed, for now. The compartments shift like a mechanized, steel maze: solid and unyielding walls whose alignments and contents shift and change on a whim. One poorly chosen word is all it takes and the walls move; your ‘facade of goodness’ is stripped away to let your true badness show forth. No, wait, they didn’t mean it. They’re sorry. They love me so much. I’m so, so sorry it’s all my fault. I should never have thought all those terrible things. I love you, just don’t do it again. “Just don’t do it again.” The problem is that it’s already been done. Once more, the walls of the maze shift and what was once perfect is now broken, flawed, and terrible.
I suppose that the good news is that it isn’t just a Borderline issue. Splitting is a cognitive distortion we all face, it’s a defense mechanism that we evolved with. In his book The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life, author Paul Seabright discusses our long-running social conditioning of a ‘brothers or others’ mentality. ‘Others’ are dangerous, and it is imperative that we recognize them and deal with the threat quickly before they are able to wreak any havoc on our lives. The problem with this tendency is that those with a political agenda have learned to exploit this fear of ‘others’ and polarize us. America’s 2 major political parties have been doing a wonderful job with ingraining within us this notion that any who disagree with our ideals are inherently bad and that they have no business spouting their ideals to others. We see the same thing in religion, sports fandom, anything that makes people feel impassioned. How absurd to dislike somebody simply because you’re a Packers fan and they happen to like the Bears! I’m not above consternation here, I get annoyed going out to watch a game in public and hearing people root against my team. But just because most of us do it, doesn’t mean it makes an ounce of sense. I will be completely black and white in saying that it is impossible to lump people into simply black and white categories. We are all gray. Deal with it.
This is a difficult subject for me to find material to write about because it’s been such a difficult flaw for me to recognize. Reality is relative, and stepping outside of my own mind to gain a broader perspective is hardly a comfortable experience–there’s a reason babies cry when they’re born. But recognizing that I have this personality trait has become an enlightening experience. Feelings are not facts. Feelings are not facts. Feelings are not facts. I sometimes find this reminder on repeat inside my head now. People will fail to live up to expectations from time to time. It happens, and that doesn’t mean that one instance of being let down by somebody makes them a guaranteed failure for the future.