Did you know that over 75% of individuals diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) experience splitting behavior?
A hallmark symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder, splitting is responsible for damaging numerous relationships, with some studies showing that over 90% of individuals with BPD report difficulty in maintaining long-term relationships. Splitting behavior can have devastating consequences, with studies showing that individuals with BPD who engage in splitting behavior are more likely to engage in self-harm and suicidal behavior.
We will explore more about BPD splitting along with methods and strategies to effectively deal with it.
Splitting is a common phenomenon that can be observed in individuals with various mental health conditions. Splitting mental health is a defense mechanism that involves dividing people, events, and experiences into all-or-nothing categories, without the ability to see the nuances and complexity of situations. Splitting is often associated with borderline personality disorder (BPD), although it can be seen in other conditions such as narcissistic personality disorder and schizophrenia (1).
The phenomenon of splitting can be classified into two types: primary and secondary. Primary splitting refers to the automatic split that occurs in response to a stimulus or event, whereas secondary splitting involves a more conscious effort to justify the initial response (1).
Splitting can be a coping mechanism that individuals use to deal with intense emotional experiences. However, it can also be detrimental to their relationships and functioning. For instance, individuals who engage in splitting may struggle to maintain stable relationships, as they may view people as either entirely good or entirely bad. This can lead to the idealization and devaluation of others, which can be confusing and hurtful to those involved (2).
Some studies have explored the risk factors for developing splitting as a defense mechanism. For example, one study found that children of alcoholic parents may be at an increased risk for using splitting as a coping mechanism, due to the unpredictability and instability of their family environment (3). Another study found that individuals with BPD who exhibited high levels of neuroticism were more likely to use splitting as a defense mechanism, suggesting that certain personality traits may contribute to the development of this coping mechanism (4).
The pathophysiology of splitting is not yet fully understood, but recent research has shed some light on the topic. For instance, studies have found that individuals with BPD exhibit differences in brain function and connectivity compared to healthy individuals. Specifically, they tend to exhibit decreased connectivity between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, which are regions involved in emotional regulation and decision-making (4). Other research has suggested that individuals with BPD may exhibit alterations in the neural circuitry involved in processing emotions, which could contribute to their tendency to engage in splitting behavior (5).
In short, splitting involves dividing people and experiences into all-or-nothing categories, without the ability to see the complexity of situations. Splitting can be a coping mechanism that individuals use to deal with intense emotional experiences, but it can also be detrimental to their relationships and functioning. Risk factors for developing splitting as a defense mechanism include exposure to unstable family environments and certain personality traits. The pathophysiology of splitting is not fully understood, but recent research has suggested that it may be related to alterations in brain function and connectivity.
Now that we have an idea of splitting as a defense mechanism, let’s move on to what splitting means in BPD.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a complex and severe mental disorder that is characterized by significant instability in effect, behavior, self-image, and interpersonal relationships. One of the key features of BPD is “splitting,” which is a defense mechanism where individuals with BPD tend to view people, situations, or even themselves as either all good or all bad. Splitting is a significant challenge for individuals with BPD, and it can have significant implications for their interpersonal relationships, as well as their ability to function in everyday life.
Types of Splitting In BPD
Splitting is a concept that is unique to the psychoanalytic tradition of mental health. According to this tradition, splitting is a defense mechanism that allows individuals to manage overwhelming anxiety, fear, and anger. Splitting allows individuals to avoid the pain of ambivalence or uncertainty by compartmentalizing things into all-good or all-bad categories.
Two primary types of splitting are commonly associated with BPD: interpersonal splitting and self-splitting. Interpersonal splitting refers to the tendency to view others as good or bad, which can lead to significant difficulties in forming and maintaining healthy relationships. Self-splitting refers to the tendency to view oneself as good or bad, which can lead to significant difficulties in developing a stable sense of self.
The pathophysiology or mechanism of splitting in BPD is not well understood. However, research has suggested that a variety of factors may contribute to its development. One research study found that individuals with BPD had an implicit and explicit self-concept of neuroticism, which was associated with increased levels of negative affect and emotional instability. This finding suggests that individuals with BPD may be more prone to splitting as a way to manage these negative emotions (4).
Another study found that rumination, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and mood symptoms were significantly associated with BPD. This suggests that individuals with BPD may be more likely to engage in splitting as a way to manage the distress associated with these symptoms (5).
Risk factors for BPD and splitting are also not well understood. However, research suggests that genetic, environmental, and developmental factors may all play a role in the development of BPD. Studies have suggested that individuals with a family history of BPD are at increased risk for developing the disorder themselves. Additionally, childhood trauma, abuse, and neglect have been associated with an increased risk of developing BPD (6).
Splitting is a significant challenge for individuals with BPD, and it can have substantial implications for their ability to function in everyday life. Although the pathophysiology and risk factors for splitting are not well understood, research has suggested that a variety of factors may contribute to its development, including genetic, environmental, and developmental factors. As such, early detection and intervention for individuals with BPD may be critical to minimizing the impact of splitting on their lives.
The duration of BPD splitting can vary based on several factors such as age, gender, the severity of symptoms, and associated mental health disorders.
Timeline Of Splitting
Splitting is a symptom of BPD that typically begins in early adulthood and persists throughout the person’s life if left untreated. It is important to note that the frequency and intensity of splitting can vary depending on the individual’s circumstances and level of stress. Some people may experience splitting more often than others, and it may be more pronounced during periods of heightened emotional distress (7, 8).
Severity of Symptoms
The severity of splitting symptoms can also affect how long it lasts. Mild to moderate symptoms may be present in people with BPD who have received treatment, including therapy and medication. With appropriate treatment, these individuals may experience a decrease in the frequency and intensity of splitting. However, severe symptoms may persist despite treatment, and individuals may experience intense and prolonged episodes of splitting that can last for several weeks or months.
Duration Based On Age Groups
The duration of splitting may vary based on age. In a study published in the Journal of Personality Disorders, researchers found that younger individuals with BPD tend to experience more splitting compared to older individuals (9). However, the study also found that older individuals may experience more intense and prolonged episodes of splitting when it does occur. This may be because older individuals with BPD may have developed more rigid and entrenched patterns of behavior and thought.
Duration Based On Gender
Gender can also play a role in the duration of splitting. Women with BPD tend to experience more splitting compared to men, with males more likely to experience aggression and anger, while females may be more prone to suicidal behavior and self-harm (9). This may be because women are more likely to seek treatment for their symptoms, including splitting. In contrast, men with BPD may be less likely to seek treatment and may therefore experience more prolonged and severe episodes of splitting.
Duration Based On Associated Mental Health Disorders
The duration of splitting can also be influenced by the presence of associated mental health disorders. For example, individuals with BPD who also have comorbid mood or anxiety disorders may experience more frequent and intense episodes of splitting compared to those without comorbidities (7). Additionally, individuals with BPD and comorbid substance use disorders may be more likely to experience prolonged and severe episodes of splitting due to the impact of substance abuse on their emotional regulation and decision-making processes ().
Overall, the duration of BPD splitting can vary based on several factors, including age, gender, the severity of symptoms, and associated mental health disorders. Splitting is a hallmark feature of BPD that can cause significant distress and impairment in social and occupational functioning. Treatment, including therapy and medication, can help reduce the frequency and intensity of splitting and improve the overall quality of life for individuals with BPD.
Splitting can cause significant distress, both to the individual with BPD and those around them. In this article, we will discuss how to stop splitting in BPD, including dealing with splitting in BPD, therapy for splitting in BPD, levels of care for BPD splitting, and what type of help and support is available for BPD splitting.
Dealing with Splitting in BPD
When dealing with splitting in BPD, it is essential to recognize that this is a defense mechanism that individuals with BPD use to cope with intense emotions. Splitting helps them to simplify complex situations, categorize people as “all good” or “all bad,” and protect themselves from perceived threats. However, splitting can be harmful, as it can lead to difficulties in relationships, self-destructive behavior, and emotional turmoil.
To stop splitting in BPD, individuals can try the following strategies:
Become more aware of the tendency to split: By recognizing the pattern of splitting and understanding the triggers that lead to this behavior, individuals can begin to develop a more nuanced understanding of their emotions and reactions.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing and grounding exercises, can help individuals to stay present and avoid becoming overwhelmed by intense emotions.
Seek support from loved ones: Individuals with BPD can benefit from the support of friends and family members who understand their struggles and can provide a listening ear or a calming presence.
Therapy for Splitting in BPD
Treatment for BPD is a long and challenging process. The therapy approach that is most often used for treating BPD is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which includes both individual and group therapy sessions. DBT is based on cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and aims to help individuals with BPD learn how to manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors more effectively (10). This therapy includes specific skills training in areas such as emotion regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness (11).
Therapists who specialize in treating BPD can also work with individuals to develop a better understanding of why they are experiencing splitting and teach them new coping skills to help them manage these feelings. They can help individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts that contribute to splitting, such as black-and-white thinking and catastrophic thinking (12). Therapy can also help individuals with BPD learn to recognize their triggers for splitting and develop more adaptive coping strategies, such as mindfulness and relaxation techniques, to use when they feel overwhelmed (13). Other forms of therapy that may help address splitting in BPD include:
Schema Therapy: This type of therapy helps individuals to identify and change negative patterns of thinking and behavior that contribute to BPD symptoms.
Mentalization-Based Therapy: This therapy helps individuals to develop the ability to understand their thoughts and emotions and to empathize with others’ perspectives.
Levels Of Care For BPD Splitting
There are several levels of care available for individuals with BPD, depending on the severity of their symptoms and their ability to function in daily life—the levels of care range from outpatient therapy to inpatient hospitalization.
Outpatient therapy is usually the first level of care for individuals with BPD, and it can include individual, group, and family therapy sessions. Inpatient hospitalization may be necessary for individuals who are experiencing severe symptoms, such as suicidal ideation, self-harm, and psychosis (14).
Other levels of care for individuals with BPD include partial hospitalization programs (PHPs), intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), and residential treatment centers (RTCs). PHPs and IOPs are more intensive forms of outpatient therapy that provide a higher level of care than traditional outpatient therapy. These programs usually include multiple therapy sessions per week and may also provide medication management, group therapy, and other specialized services.
RTCs provide 24-hour care in a structured environment and can be helpful for individuals who require a higher level of care than outpatient therapy but do not require hospitalization (14).
What Type Of Help And Support Is Available For BPD Splitting?
There are many resources available for individuals with BPD and their loved ones. Support groups can be particularly helpful for individuals with BPD who are struggling with splitting. These groups can provide a safe and supportive environment for individuals to share their experiences, learn new coping skills, and receive emotional support from others who are going through similar challenges. There are also online support groups and forums that can be accessed from anywhere, making them particularly convenient for individuals who may not have access to in-person groups (13).In addition, to support groups, there are also many educational resources available for individuals with BPD and their loved ones. These resources can help individuals better understand the disorder and its symptoms, as well as guide how to manage BPD in daily life. Some examples of educational resources include books, websites, and online courses (15).
Splitting is a challenging symptom of BPD that can cause significant distress to individuals with BPD and those around them. However, there are many strategies and resources available to help individuals manage splitting and other symptoms of BPD.
Therapy, particularly DBT, can be an effective way to help individuals learn new coping skills and manage their emotions more effectively. There are also many levels of care available for individuals with BPD, depending on the severity of their symptoms.
Support groups and educational resources can provide additional help and support for individuals with BPD and their loved ones.
With the right treatment and support, individuals with BPD can learn to manage their symptoms and live fulfilling lives.
- Boag, S. (2017). Splitting (defense mechanism). https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007/978-3-319-28099-8_1427-1
- The Splitting Defense Mechanism – Can It Damage Relationships Without You Knowing? https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/defense-mechanisms/the-splitting-defense-mechanism-how-it-can-damage-your-relationships-without-you-knowing/
- Richards TM. Splitting as a defense mechanism in children of alcoholic parents. Curr Alcohol. 1979;7:239-44. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/552321/
- Dukalski B, Suslow T, Egloff B, Kersting A, Donges US. Implicit and explicit self-concept of neuroticism in borderline personality disorder. Nord J Psychiatry. 2019 Apr;73(3):159-168. https://doi.org/10.1080/08039488.2019.1582694
- Dell’Osso L, Cremone IM, Carpita B, Dell’Oste V, Muti D, Massimetti G, Barlati S, Vita A, Fagiolini A, Carmassi C, Gesi C. Rumination, posttraumatic stress disorder, and mood symptoms in borderline personality disorder. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2019 May 13;15:1231-1238. https://doi.org/10.2147/NDT.S198616
- Fuchs T. Fragmented selves: temporality and identity in borderline personality disorder. Psychopathology. 2007;40(6):379-87. https://doi.org/10.1159/000106468.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019). Borderline personality disorder. https://mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/borderline-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20370237
- Borderline personality disorder. (2017). https://nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2017, December). Borderline Personality Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Borderline-Personality-Disorder
- Splitting in Borderline Personality Disorder: Causes, Effects, and Support. https://www.priorygroup.com/blog/understanding-splitting-in-borderline-personality-disorder
- Splitting and Borderline Personality Disorder. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-splitting-425210
- What Is BPD Splitting? Signs, Effects & How to Cope. https://www.choosingtherapy.com/bpd-splitting/
- How to Deal with Splitting Behavior. https://thewellnesssociety.org/how-to-deal-with-splitting-behavior/
- What Is Splitting in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)? https://www.healthline.com/health/bpd-splitting#splitting-examples
How Does BPD Splitting Destroy Relationships? https://mentalhealthcenter.com/how-does-bpd-splitting-destroy-relationships/
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