Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition that shapes how people see themselves and others. When people with BPD face an uncomfortable or overwhelming situation, they may engage in BPD love bombing and splitting. BPD splitting is an unconscious thought pattern that causes people to see things from a black-and-white perspective.
Learn more about splitting in BPD here. We’re discussing what this defense mechanism truly means, symptoms and triggers to be aware of, its impact on life and relationships, and how you can cope. There is hope even if you or a loved one is living with BPD and using splitting. With the right tools and support, you can learn to manage and overcome the negative impacts of BPD splitting.
What Is BPD Splitting?
Splitting behavior is a defense mechanism that allows people with types of BPD to reframe something in black-and-white terms. It’s called splitting because it involves putting people, places, and things into one of two categories. Splitting can cause people to view something as entirely good or completely bad.
While most people with BPD understand that the world is complex, splitting behavior can cause them to shift rapidly between two extremes. For example, someone with BPD may think that another person is amazing one day, only to see them as the worst person in the world the next. This sudden shift generally occurs after a negative interaction — even if the exchange is brief. In one moment, they feel confident in the relationship, then they’ll suddenly view the person as worthless as soon as they make a mistake.
A splitting episode can also be a way for people with BPD to push blame on someone else. For example, if they forget to complete a task, they might insist it was stupid or that the instructions they received weren’t clear. At times, people with BPD may openly share these views with others, but splitting can also be an internal behavior.
Symptoms of BPD Splitting
Since splitting is an unconscious defense mechanism, people often find it hard to recognize when they engage in the behavior. Recognizing the signs of splitting can make addressing and changing behavior easier.
Common splitting borderline personality disorder symptoms include:
- Sudden mood swings: When someone is in a splitting episode, it can cause rapid and dramatic changes in mood, unstable emotions, and impulsive behavior. They might instantly become furious or thrilled, even if they felt the opposite way before.
- Drastic changes in behavior: Splitting can lead to sudden behavioral changes. For example, someone might completely change their habits or throw themselves into a hobby they weren’t interested in previously.
- Idealization and devaluation: Someone who’s splitting may idealize a target or find ways to devalue them. They might shower a person with praise or insist that they’re terrible or worthless.
- Expecting others to take sides: Splitting causes people to see things in absolutes. They assume others see things the same way. They often expect others to choose sides and may react negatively if their perspective isn’t shared.
- Using extreme language: It’s common to use harsh positive or negative words when splitting. Someone might be evil and disgusting, or they could be angelic and perfect.
What Triggers Splitting in BPD?
Any situation that causes an emotional reaction can be a trigger for splitting. People with borderline personality disorder frequently struggle with emotional regulation, and splitting can be a way for them to counter feelings that they’re unable to control.
Some splitting borderline personality disorder triggers include:
- Criticism: BPD can make people extremely sensitive to criticism. Even a mild critique can make someone feel terrible or worthless. People with BPD may devalue critics to protect themselves from these negative emotions.
- Compliments: People with BPD need validation from others, which can cause them to react strongly to praise. They may feel a surge in confidence after a compliment or have intense positive feelings toward the person who complimented them.
- Failure: It’s not unusual for someone with BPD to see themselves as pathetic or worthless after a mistake. They may drop a class, quit a job, or abandon a hobby after any (perceived) failure.
- Success: Strong reactions to success are common when splitting. After succeeding, someone with BPD may see themselves as a genius or a prodigy.
- Feeling abandoned: Splitting can be a way for people with BPD to cope with their extreme fear of abandonment. They can develop intense negative feelings toward someone they believe abandoned or ignored them.
- New relationships: When a person with BPD meets someone new, they may become attached to them immediately. They might react negatively if the person is uncomfortable with their behavior, leading to short-lived relationships.
“Borderline personality disorder (BPD) splitting is a coping strategy often used by individuals with BPD to help them deal with stressful situations. They do this by identifying a person, place, or thing as either all good or all bad. This can be triggered when the individual is in an uncomfortable situation or meeting a new person. Reframing their thoughts allows them to cope more effectively in the moment. This is ultimately not a healthy way to deal with issues, and in therapy, they can find more effective ways to cope with their stress.”Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC
The Impact of BPD Splitting
Splitting in borderline personality disorder can lead to instability. The changes that splitting brings on can be intense. BPD leads to impulsive or reckless behavior, and when coupled with splitting as a defense mechanism, it makes it incredibly difficult — or even impossible — to build secure relationships.
“The impact of splitting includes having less meaningful romantic relationships or friendships. The individual might struggle with having inconsistent or negative relationships. Therapy can be a way for individuals with BPD to work on their relationships in a healthy way, so they avoid splitting.”Talkspace therapist Bisma Anwar, MA, MSc, LMHC
Not only can splitting make it hard to form relationships, but it also makes them difficult to maintain. Splitting can cause significant distress to both parties. It’s common to shift from idealization to devaluation quickly, which can lead to a long string of brief relationships. When relationships do last, it often leads to codependency.
Managing Splitting in BPD
Even though splitting is a defense mechanism, it can cause significant damage to relationships and a splitter’s well-being. Learning to cope with this BPD symptom can help people avoid instability and find balance in their life.
Learn to recognize splitting
When you’re aware of splitting, you can take steps to break the cycle of behavior. Tracking your behavior can help you see unhealthy patterns. If you can identify your triggers, you can spot splitting when it occurs.
Find ways to deal with stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety can lead to splitting episodes. If you’re able to calm yourself when you’re feeling overwhelmed, you may be able to avoid splitting. Breathing exercises and meditation could help you to relax before your emotions take over.
Reach out for help
If splitting is something you or a loved one has been struggling with, you may need professional help. BPD therapy and BPD medication can help you to cope with symptoms and unhealthy defense mechanisms like splitting. Talkspace makes it easy to find a therapist to give you the support you need.
Get Professional Help for BPD with Talkspace
BPD splitting can lead to devastating outcomes, including low self-esteem and unstable relationships. At Talkspace, you can connect with a mental health professional who can help you manage your emotions and tolerate distress. Working with an experienced, qualified therapist can help you unlearn defense mechanisms like splitting in BPD so you can make positive changes in your life.
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