Borderline personality disorder BPD causes unstable moods, challenging behavior, and, in many cases, trouble managing relationships. Patients with borderline personality disorder often struggle to regulate their emotions and often see things in black and white. They may struggle with intense emotions of worthlessness or insecurity as well as impulsivity.
Patients with BPD often engage in “splitting” or seeing the world as black and white. Patients who engage in splitting may perceive things as good or evil, always or never, instead of being able to hold opposing views or values simultaneously. Splitting behavior can, for many patients, result in dangerous or destructive behavior patterns.
If you feel that you or a loved one may be struggling with BPD, we have a BPD self-test that can help you better understand if you need to seek help from a professional.
What Causes Splitting?
Splitting occurs because of a BPD patient’s “all or nothing” view of the world. Patients with BPD may experience episodes of splitting for a variety of reasons. They may experience splitting due to any type of event that causes them to experience an extreme emotional reaction.
Someone else, under similar circumstances, might not have the same response or powerful emotions related to that event. Still, those emotions and challenges are genuine to the patient with BPD.
Splitting episodes could be caused by things like:
- Minor disagreements with a friend or family member
- A change in life circumstances
- The need to step outside the patients’ comfort zone
Patients with BPD may suffer extreme reactions to those stimuli. For example, a disagreement or argument with a friend or family member could spark strong feelings of abandonment, causing the patient to view that person as “bad” or “evil.” Needing to adapt to changing life circumstances could cause a patient to think that life is “always bad” or that they “never get anything right.” That negative self-talk and overall negative self-evaluation can lead to significant challenges for the patient.
How Common is Splitting with BPD?
Splitting is a very common symptom for patients with BPD. Patients with BPD tend to view the world in extremes. They often engage in dangerous behavior because of those viewpoints. As a result, they may be very likely to react strongly to perceived stimuli, even when those stimuli are what people without BPD might perceive as comparatively minor.
Splitting episodes can be relatively small, or they can last long-term. For example, amid a splitting episode, patients with BPD might have difficulty holding the opposing viewpoints that life is relatively good and things are bad at the moment. During those events, patients with BPD may have difficulty maintaining positive thought patterns or redirecting those impulses, leading to increased challenges in everyday interactions or social connections.
Can Splitting Be Dangerous?
Splitting in borderline personality disorder is not necessarily inherently dangerous: that is, it does not, itself, pose a substantial danger to the patient. However, splitting can lead to several negative impacts that can have heavy consequences for patients with BPD and those around them. Mental health professionals can help people navigate their BPD symptoms, including splitting.
Splitting May Negatively Impact Relationships
Splitting often harms the relationships of patients with BPD. Usually, a splitting episode will dramatically change how BPD patients view friends and loved ones. Often, that can lead to changes and challenges in their interactions that can permanently impact interpersonal relationships. Over time, that can lead to significant emotional isolation, further increasing negative thought cycles and patterns.
Patients with BPD may swing between viewing loved ones as “angels” and “demons” or as “good” and “bad.” When things are going well, they may perceive that loved one as the “best person” to be around or spend time with.
However, a disagreement, argument, or any change in perception can quickly create a negative thought spiral that may impact the way those patients interact with friends and family members in the future. They may begin to avoid that individual or drive them away. Even if perception shifts again in the future, it can prove very difficult to reconstruct those damaged relationships.
Splitting May Increase Dangerous and Impulsive Behavior
Patients with borderline personality disorder often find themselves pulled or drawn toward the activities they perceive as “good,” even if those activities pose a substantial danger. Patients with BPD may have difficulty recognizing those activities’ dangers.
For example, they might perceive drug use or alcohol abuse as “good” because of the good feelings it gives them, ignoring the potential adverse side effects and the risk of addiction. Patients may drive too fast or break the law due to their internal perceptions rather than following the expectations created by society. They may also struggle to break negative habits or shift to positive ones.
Splitting May Leave Patients Vulnerable
The perception of something or someone as absolutely good may make it very difficult for a person with BPD to perceive anything negative about that person or thing. As a result, patients may become vulnerable to someone who wants to take advantage of them or to something that can pose considerable danger. In many cases, patients may entirely fail to recognize the threat until it creates a devastating impact on their lives.
Codependency May Result from Splitting Behaviors
In some cases, patients with BPD may become heavily dependent on someone they perceive as “good” or “perfect.” They may place all their emotional needs on that person, leading to an unhealthy relationship in which they rely on that person for nearly everything. In many cases, that can place a heavy drain on the relationship and may lead to challenges for the target of that codependency.
How Is Splitting Treated?
The most common treatment for BPD splitting is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT helps individuals learn how to manage their emotions by using techniques like mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Through DBT, individuals learn how to become aware of their own emotions without being overwhelmed by them and then use cognitive techniques like problem solving and reasoning to help work through these issues in a more rational way.
It’s also important for individuals with BPD who are experiencing splitting to find a therapist or counselor who specializes in this particular disorder. A specialized therapist will be able to provide more personalized care and help the individual create treatment plans around their specific needs. Additionally, support groups are another great way for individuals with BPD who are struggling with splitting to connect with others who have similar experiences and offer each other support while they go through their recovery journey together.
Find Help for BPD with Acera Health
Treating BPD can be the most effective way to address splitting behaviors. Through treatment, people with borderline personality disorder can heal their unstable relationships and learn how to manage their symptoms.
Treatment can prove essential to managing symptoms for patients with borderline personality disorder. Understanding the symptoms of BPD and how to address them, dealing with any underlying challenges, and building a healthier overall lifestyle can help many patients live fuller lives. At Acera Health, we offer residential treatment, outpatient treatment, and intensive outpatient programs designed to help patients address the symptoms of various mental health disorders and conditions, including BPD.
Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how they can benefit you.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.