Splitting, also known as black and white thinking, is common among people with borderline personality disorder. This distorted and irrational way of thinking can result in an unstable self image and unstable relationships, characterised by idealization and devaluation.
What is Splitting?
Splitting is an inability to view objects, people, situations and self realistically. Positive and negative qualities cannot be brought together as a whole. Everything is thought of as either positive or negative, good or bad, right or wrong, all or nothing; there is no in between.
If pain is the consequence of someones actions or beliefs, that person is altogether bad.
If pleasure is the consequence of someones actions or beliefs, that person is altogether good.
What causes Splitting?
To understand how the mind of a borderline works, you need to look at childhood emotional and social development.
Children soak up information like a sponge. Through their experiences, they learn how to think, feel and communicate. In a loving and nurturing environment, they develop a sense of security and learn how to trust. This is the foundation of emotional development. From there on, they learn how to manage and express their emotions, start to become independent and form secure relationships. After this, children start to socially develop. They learn how to respond to situations and people in a healthy manner. And develop a clear perception of their character, actions, thoughts and feelings (self awareness).
For most people with borderline personality disorder, the childhood environment was not as nurturing and loving as it should have been. As a child, they become insecure and mistrustful, and don’t learn how to manage and express their emotions. Instead of forming secure relationships, they are fearful and dependent. They don’t know how to respond to situations and people , and don’t have a clear perception of themself. All of this can induce a defense mechanism (an unconscious process of thoughts that protect an individual from harmful or painful thoughts, feelings and actions), known as splitting.
A borderline can overcome black and white thinking once they realise this thought process is a distortion of reality, based on the fears and insecurity they developed during childhood.
Self awareness and learning to think with an open mind are vital steps in the journey to BPD recovery.