This is an unconscious defense mechanism that involves us seeing things in extreme and exaggerated ways, either as ALL GOOD or ALL BAD; this unconscious strategy is often seen in people suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD).
For example, those suffering from this disorder frequently vacillate between, at times, perceiving a friend or partner in an idealized way and then, at other times, often as a result of perceived rejection (which may frequently be a false perception), ‘demonizing’ this same individual.
‘DENIAL’: A PREREQUISITE OF ‘SPLITTING’ :
However, in order for ‘splitting’ to take place, ‘denial’ must take place first. This is because, in reality, in order to see things (and, especially people) as ‘all good’ or ‘all bad, or, to put it another way, in ‘black or white, the grey areas must be kept out of conscious awareness – this process, which also occurs on an unconscious level, is known as ‘denial’ and causes our view of things to be skewed and distorted. In essence, denial prevents salient information about whatever (or whoever) it is that we are making a judgment about from permeating our consciousness; this, in turn, prevents us from considering or taking into account factors that contradict our (unknown to us) biased view, often leading to dysfunctional decisions and reactions.
How ‘Splitting’ And ‘Denial’ Can Lead To ‘Flooding’ :
Paradoxically, although ‘splitting’ and ‘denial’ are, technically speaking, defense mechanisms, their combined effect can be to cause FLOODING, I explain what is meant by ‘flooding’, and how this happens, below :
When ‘splitting’ and ‘denial’ operate together our emotional experience is intensified and this reaction, in turn, can trigger related intense memories. This can lead to a sense of our consciousness being ‘flooded’ with copious intense emotions and recollections.
Research conducted by the psychologist Siegel suggests that this overwhelming process of splitting/denial/flooding can be triggered in less than half a minute; in effect then, it can be like a lightning-fast ‘hijack’ of our mental faculties.
If our views are skewed negatively, this can lead to irrational verbal outbursts and behaviors which we are likely to later regret. On the other hand, if they are skewed positively (e.g. idealizing an abusive partner) we are prone to making poor decisions (e.g. remaining in a relationship with an abusive partner).
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).