Student Life

Splitting in BPD

By Eimy Nakahara

Let’s start with the basics, what even is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a common mental disorder that affects the way you perceive yourself and others. It corrupts the natural way of functioning and thinking processes in everyday life.

It can lead to the detriment of an individual’s self image , impulsive emotions and actions, and a series of patterns of unstable relationships.

We all visualise the world from unique perspectives, but a person with borderline personality disorder has an abnormally misshapen view of themselves and their surroundings.

People who suffer from the disorder often feel overwhelmed with intense emotions, unpredictable feelings which can make them grow immense hatred and anger towards themselves.

In worst cases, they may also intentionally harm themselves as a way of coping and grieving.

As someone who suffers from BPD, my life looks and seems like a massive roller coaster of emotions.

Tick tock, tick tock. I stop my alarm and I wake up, my first instinct is “oh, do i have to get out of bed today”, not “oh what a fine morning let’s start my day with my usual coffee”. This doesn’t seem like a major problem but that’s the thing, the negativity starts from something minor like that to something major.

People with BPD often have a lot of doubt and negativity floating in their head, it makes it difficult to see the positives. A term we use for that is called the splitting effect.

Splitting is a common challenge for people with BPD. It contributes to their unstable sense of self and makes it difficult to maintain relationships. The term splitting refers to all or nothing thinking.

Someone who is splitting is unable to tolerate opposing thoughts. They cannot see the good and bad parts of someone or something at the same time. They either see someone or something as 100% amazing or 100% awful.

Balance is important, if splitting is seen as so bad why do people do it?

Well no, not always bad. Splitting is an adaptive skill that children use to tolerate difficult situations growing up. Children don’t get to find new parents. Splitting keeps them emotionally safe if they live with an adult who is abusive or unpredictable. When the adult is kind, the child can fully embrace them and love them. When the adult is cruel, the child can fear or hate them.

This allows the child to accept love when it is offered and to stay safe when the adult is behaving abusively.

In an ideal home, caregivers meet their children’s needs majority of the time. When parents occasionally disappoint their children or fail to meet their needs the child is able to tolerate it because they think of the adult as “mostly good”. But if a child truly cannot predict an adult’s behaviour, it isn’t safe to think of an adult as “mostly good”. What if they expressed a need while the adult was angry, ill, intoxicated?

It is safer to think of the caregiver as either all good or all bad, depending on their behaviour and react to the adult accordingly.

What are the Consequences of splitting?

Although splitting is an important survival skill, it can have negative consequences as the child grows up. Because it happens unconsciously, the person who is splitting usually believes their thoughts as if they are facts. They think of someone as bad — so that person must be bad, this makes it difficult to maintain adult relationships.

For example, every time a friend or partner disappoints them they’ll split think that partner hates them or is about to leave them.

Splitting also heavily impacts someone’s sense of self, self-esteem and self-efficacy. People who split also turn this thinking pattern inward. They see themselves as either wonderful or horrible.

Furthermore this interferes with their ability to invest in themselves in the long term, like sticking with activities and learning new skills.

While BPD traits vary and some experiences scale high to lower, splitting is a trait that weighs the most on my shoulders. Moreover, I thought it would be valuable to help people get a better understanding behind it.

If this article raises an issues for you please seek support at:

Beyond Blue 1300 224 6363

Lifeline 131 114


Feature image: Photo: Nomad_Soul/Adobe Stock

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