Borderline Personality Disorder: What is Splitting?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a severe and often debilitating mental illness that affects how people think, feel, and act. As a result, it can disrupt all aspects of daily living.

Although there is no cure, professional help and support can assist those living with BPD stay in control of their symptoms, allowing them to live a fulfilling and healthy life.

At Addcounsel, we offer one-to-one bespoke care for mental health disorders and other issues at our luxury rehab centre in London. Our diverse team of medical specialists and psychiatrists are on hand to help people from all walks of life develop the coping skills necessary to navigate life with this disorder.

Understanding all aspects of BPD enables many people to remain in control. Find out more about the disorder and one of the key symptoms, otherwise known as splitting, here.

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Borderline personality disorder is one of the most common personality disorders worldwide. It is estimated that 1.6% of the general population live with the disorder, whilst more than one in 10 people worldwide suffer from mental health issues of some kind.

If a person lives with BPD, they may experience self-destructive behaviours, unstable relationships, mood swings, extreme feelings of emptiness, auditory hallucinations, and even suicidal thoughts. Unfortunately, these behaviours can leave many people vulnerable to harm.

BPD is often comorbid with other mental health illnesses such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • ADD
  • Eating disorders

BPD also often co-occurs with other issues such as:

  • Substance use disorders (SUDs)
  • Alcohol use disorders (AUDs)
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide

These co-occurring disorders can result in severe consequences such as overdose, alcohol poisoning, injury, or death.

As with all mental health disorders, no one is to blame for BPD development. Instead, genetic, social, and environmental risk factors all ascertain whether someone will develop the disorder.

How Can I Secure A Borderline Personality Disorder Diagnosis?

BPD must be formally diagnosed. Seeking a diagnosis of BPD offers many people a better understanding of their symptoms, enabling them to take steps to make life more manageable.

Due to the nature of BPD, it is crucial to seek professional psychiatric help. Many people benefit from medication, therapy, and ongoing support. At our luxury London rehab, we offer unique one-to-one care to provide our clients with the best support and skills necessary to stay in control.

If you are struggling with your mental health and would like to seek a diagnosis, please contact us directly.

What is Splitting in Borderline Personality Disorder?

Splitting is simply a defence mechanism typically used by people with BPD. It is also a common defence mechanism in other personality disorders as well as schizophrenia.

Essentially, to split means to “forcibly divide”. This is also true in regards to splitting.

People with BPD often have difficulty entertaining the idea that life, the world, and its people can have paradoxical qualities. The mindset of a person with BPD is usually all-or-nothing or black and white; it is this, or it is that, and there’s no in-between.

This binary mindset causes difficulties and challenges for the BPD sufferer when something is a grey area. As a result of seeing the world in ‘absolutes’ or extremes, those with BPD may constantly feel overwhelmed or mentally exhausted2.

As with many other mental illnesses, BPD does not only affect individuals; it also affects their relationships and those close to them.

Borderline Personality Disorder What is Splitting

What Causes Splitting in Borderline Personality Disorder?

Splitting is a subconscious defence mechanism that protects those suffering from intense feelings of loneliness and abandonment. When we are born, we generally see the world in absolute terms. For example, internal and external events are considered good or bad.

As we develop and mature, we begin to understand that good and bad exists and that we can adjust to a life that includes these paradoxes. Paradoxes are integrated into our psychological functioning and world outlook, and we are able to tolerate grey areas.

However, people with BPD struggle to integrate the idea that good and bad coexist in people, even themselves. In turn, they are subject to overwhelming emotions, and as a means of dealing with these emotions, the mind assesses other people as wholly good or bad.

This is why splitting is a coping strategy for some people with BPD. When a person is labelled or categorised as good or bad, the contradicting, overwhelming emotions become easier to cope with.

What Does Splitting Look Like?

When a person with BPD uses splitting as a coping mechanism, they will work in extremes and on all-or-nothing terms. They will view a person as good or evil, loving or hateful, always right, or consistently wrong. There is no middle ground.

Splitting might look like3 this:

  • Seeing a partner, friend, or family member as perfect or as entirely flawed.
  • Viewing someone as bad over a perceived slight.
  • Believing that life events will always or never go well.
  • Thinking that a parent or partner will always or never be a source of love and support.
  • Viewing oneself as stupid or a complete failure if they make even one mistake.

For some, the absolute views persist, and for others, they fluctuate and change over time. People with BPD may go through splitting episodes that last days, weeks, or months.

Such behaviours can cause significant strain on relationships with partners and even friends. Those close to a person with BPD do not often know where they stand at any given time.

What Are The Effects of Splitting in Borderline Personality Disorder?

A person who experiences splitting behaviours will struggle to make a balanced judgement. As noted above, splitting also harms interpersonal relationships between those suffering and their loved ones.

People suffering from BPD often experience significant emotional dysregulation4 – a reduced ability or inability to cope with stress and manage one’s emotional reactions and responses in a given situation.

Due to this inability to effectively self-regulate, when a person with BPD splits, their emotional responses may seem inappropriate or disproportionate to the situation. This can lead to exhaustion and frustration for the individual, their partners, friends, or family members.

Seeing a person or thing as completely perfect can also have harmful consequences. When a person with BPD idealises a person, they become blind to associated risks, such as developing unhealthy habits or high-risk behaviours.

Should a person be viewed as perfect, the individual with BPD may become overly attached and develop codependency. This can drive their partner away and lead to significant distress as the individual already suffers from a deep fear of abandonment.5

If a flaw in the person appears, real or perceived, the individual suffering from BPD may experience a profound disappointment, a sense of betrayal, and feelings associated with abandonment. Feelings of anger and condemnation may also arise towards the other person and oneself.

How Can I Help A Loved One With Borderline Personality Disorder?

It may be tempting for partners, especially those in codependent relationships, to want to ‘save’ their loved one or ‘fix’ everything for them. Codependency itself is often a barrier to seeking help as those involved are consumed by the maladaptive attachment to the other person.

If you have a friend, partner, or family member with BPD, there are several things to keep in mind to make life a little easier for them. However, the best thing you can do is encourage them to acquire professional medical advice and support.

How to Cope When a Loved One Has Borderline Personality Disorder

  • Try not to take it personally. The person suffering from BPD is likely not intentionally trying to upset or hurt you. Splitting can happen subconsciously.
  • Try to remain calm if possible. The person with BPD may be experiencing intense emotions – sudden conflict is unlikely to go well.
  • Demonstrate your care when possible. Fear of abandonment and loneliness are common symptoms of BPD, so showing that you care may help them feel loved.
  • Set boundaries. Living with someone who has BPD can be exhausting for all involved, so make sure you take the time to take care of your own needs before attempting to satisfy those of the affected person.

How Is Borderline Personality Disorder Treated?

BPD is a serious mental health condition that should be treated by professionals. Although there is no complete cure for BPD, treatment approaches effectively manage the condition. A combination of talk-based therapies and medication for symptom management is usually recommended for those suffering.

Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT) is often used in BPD treatment to help clients understand the relationship between their deep fears and how they lead to splitting.6 Healthier ways of dealing with repressed fear can be developed, which allows the individual to form and maintain a more positive and integrated worldview so that their behaviours become less destructive.

A person with BPD may need ongoing professional support in their daily life. Family support is also essential for well-being.

Professional Help for Borderline Personality Disorder at Addcounsel

At Addcounsel, we offer a unique one-to-one level of care for BPD and other issues at our luxury rehab in London. Our dedicated team of professionals help clients work on building healthy relationships as well as coping strategies and other skills needed for the life they deserve.

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1 Zanarini, Mary C et al. “Defense mechanisms associated with borderline personality disorder.” Journal of personality disorders vol. 23,2 (2009): 113-21. doi:10.1521/pedi.2009.23.2.113

2 Katsakou, Christina et al. “Recovery in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD): a qualitative study of service users’ perspectives.” PloS one vol. 7,5 (2012): e36517. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0036517

3 Fertuck, Eric A et al. “Social Cognition and Borderline Personality Disorder: Splitting and Trust Impairment Findings.” The Psychiatric clinics of North America vol. 41,4 (2018): 613-632. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2018.07.003

4 Glenn, Catherine R, and E David Klonsky. “Emotion dysregulation as a core feature of borderline personality disorder.” Journal of personality disorders vol. 23,1 (2009): 20-8. doi:10.1521/pedi.2009.23.1.20

5 Palihawadana, Venura, et al. “Reviewing the Clinical Significance of ‘Fear of Abandonment’ in Borderline Personality Disorder.” Australasian Psychiatry, vol. 27, no. 1, Feb. 2019, pp. 60–63, doi:10.1177/1039856218810154.

6 May, Jennifer M et al. “Dialectical behavior therapy as treatment for borderline personality disorder.” The mental health clinician vol. 6,2 62-67. 8 Mar. 2016, doi:10.9740/mhc.2016.03.62

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