What is Splitting? – Living with BPD

Street art in Santiago

Whenever I break up with a boyfriend, or end a friendship, my heart becomes instantly cold towards them. It’s almost as if all my memories of them become fuzzy around the edges, and I feel nothing towards them anymore. I used to think that this made me a monster, but I can now see it as a defense mechanism. This is one aspect of splitting, which is a symptom of borderline personality disorder (BPD), also known as emotional dysregulation disorder.

Splitting is when you experience extreme black and white or ‘all or nothing’ thinking. Most people experience this to some degree, but the difference is that you can go from loving someone to feeling nothing towards them or hating them within a second. When I do this, I don’t mourn the loss of the other person anymore, and I emotionally feel like they were attached to a version of myself that no longer exists.

Splitting can also refer to your general feelings towards other people or yourself. You may completely idolise another person, and be unable to see their faults. You may see yourself as completely evil, and cannot acknowledge any positive aspects of your own personality.

Flowers and a house in the village of Guane.

Splitting is a defense mechanism.

When a man who I was casually dating told me that I was selfish and a horrible human being for trying to kill myself, I instantly became cold towards him. I discounted every positive aspect of the relationship, and did not mourn the loss of it. I went from caring about him to him instantly meaning nothing to me, and I cut him completely out of my life with no second thought. This could seem desirable to someone who recognises this as an abusive emotional situation, but I also have this response to much smaller stimuli.

I experienced splitting towards my current boyfriend several times when we were dating long distance while I travelled around South America. If we had a fight where I perceived him to be in the wrong, it was like my heart instantly became cold towards him. My brain intellectually knew that I still loved him, but I could no longer feel it. I felt like he was out to get me, didn’t care about me, and was trying to find ways to deliberately undermine me. My brain ignored any rational evaluation of the fight and just decided that the best course of action would be to cut him out completely at that time.

When I look at these events with more compassion, I can recognise that splitting is a way that my brain tries to protect itself. If I perceive a threat to myself, it is easier to cut emotional attachment to the threat rather than address it head on.

This is the same sort of thinking that fuels my strong belief that no one cares about me when I am upset. My brain tells me that I am completely alone and that no one could love someone like me. I think that it partly comes from a place of self-preservation. If I constantly tell myself that no one cares, then it hurts less if that turns out to be true.

Luckily, I can usually recognise when my brain is being unreasonable, because I am constantly on the lookout for flare ups from the symptoms of my BPD. In the case of my boyfriend, I knew that it was wise to outline how I was feeling to him, and talk through it until my mental barriers came down. In some cases, when I see the relationship as worth saving, I can work through the splitting.

Church and storm clouds in Cuitiva.

Splitting reinforces feelings of shame.

A major aspect of splitting for me is that when I am feeling bad about myself, I completely lose emotional attachment to positive parts of my personality. I no longer feel like they are true or relevant, and that everyone is lying to me just to make me feel better. All I can see is that I am an evil human being who deserves to feel terrible for the rest of her life.

In these times, I compare myself heavily to other people in my life and see them as perfect and faultless compared to my evil and useless. Even though I intellectually know that people are neither wholly ‘bad’ nor ‘good’, all I can feel is my inherent inferiority and wickedness. In this way, splitting reinforces feelings of shame by telling me that I don’t deserve to feel love or kindness from other people.

What might splitting look like in other people with BPD?

  • The inability to forgive someone who has wronged them or let them down.
  • The belief that their partner, friend, or family member is perfect and faultless.
  • The belief that they are evil and beyond redemption.
  • The belief that someone else hates them or is out to get them.
  • The inability to separate their concept of self from their symptoms of BPD.
  • A history of chaotic relationships and abandoning relationships once they are perceived to no longer be perfect.

I feel like as much as I can recognise my symptoms of BPD, that doesn’t make them any less prevalent in my life. I can notice them as they happen, but sometimes I just feel despondent and think that I will never recover from my disorder. Therapy has been the most important thing for me so far to learn how to regulate my emotions better and try to treat myself with more compassion. I don’t know if there will ever be a day when I can address emotional issues in a completely rational manner, but I hope to gain greater control over my pain and suffering.

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  1. Reply

    What an insightful post! I know people who have it so I’m glad I’m able understand a bit better. It also must be difficult when you’re actually justified in bpd thoughts but have to double guess them! Well done for finding some coping mechanisms that help you and I wish you luck on your continued journey xxxx

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • September 14, 2017

      It can be really tricky when you are second-guessing all your thoughts, because sometimes your feelings are valid and appropriate for the situation. In therapy we talk about fact-checking, where you have to look for evidence that supports your emotional response and to whether you should act on it.

  2. Reply

    Wow. How brave of you. This is an amazingly written post. Wish you all the luck for your journey!

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • September 14, 2017


  3. Thanks for sharing such a personal journey with all of us. I haven’t heard of this term ‘splitting’ but thanks for explaining it to us. It definitely makes a lot of sense to me now. I wish you all the love and peace in the future as you deal with this issue in your life.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • September 14, 2017

      Thank you 🙂

  4. Reply

    It seems that you are very well informed about this. I have family members who suffer from other sorts of mental disorders and have seen how they can take over life. I think it’s very positive that you are able to see when you are “doing it” and know how to address the thoughts brought about by splitting. Thank you for sharing your story:)

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • September 14, 2017

      Thank you 🙂 therapy has truly saved my life, and I feel like you can’t truly get better until you understand yourself and the reasons why your brain works the ways in which it does.

  5. Reply

    Wow. This is so brave of u to share something so personal. U have a great understanding and insight to Splitting. I know a couple of ppl like this. Didn’t know it was called splitting. After my first rejection / break up, for the next couple of guys I deliberately became like this . I wish u loads of luck and thanks for sharing :*

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • September 14, 2017

      Thank you
      I think it’s mostly called splitting relative to borderline personality disorder, so there might be other names for when other people do it. I know in one of the personality type groups that I am in on Facebook, they refer to it as “doorslamming” the other person.

  6. I usually have learnt to forgive and forget. This is a short life and if I dont gel well with that person, I try to avoid meeting them regularly and focus on other tasks. I would never wait to distance themselves in my mind, since that is a lot of work and causes way too much negative energy. But its interesting to know how the mind works, and each of us would be richer reading such content and figuring out what works for each of us.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • September 14, 2017

      I am working so hard on the concept of forgiveness, but it’s something that my brain inherently rejects when I feel like I have been “betrayed” by someone. I am however improving on forgiving myself for past errors, so I hope that I will get there one day with more therapy and practise.

  7. Reply

    Yes this is the way you make yourself strong. Hardly matters you travel solo or in groups. at the end you have to be solo again!

    I don’t mourn the loss of the other person anymore, and I emotionally feel like they were attached to a version of myself that no longer exists.

  8. Reply

    It takes a lot of courage to be able to share your personal story. It’s great that you’re trying your best to overcome it and I hope the best for you. <3

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • September 14, 2017

      Thank you, I appreciate it!

    • sj
    • September 14, 2017

    This is really brave of you to share such personal stuff. It needs courage. well written and good luck !

  9. Reply

    You are very brave for sharing this with all of us. Please know that you are not alone. Even if I don’t have BPD, I do react sometimes similarly. All of us have our faults, and I believe there is not a single person out there who is 100% “normal”, whatever that normal is. Therapy is indeed the best gift one can give to themselves. I for once, was at my happiest when I did this 6-month session. I feel I need to go back now that I deal with some personal issues! Thanks for opening up to us.

      • Her Travel Therapy
      • September 18, 2017

      Thank you!

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