Tag Archives: Black And White Thinking

‘Splitting’ – What BPD Sufferers And 18 – 36 Month Old Infants Have In Common

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Infants and toddlers (aged from approximately eighteen months to thirty-six months old) find it extremely hard to tolerate ambiguity and ambivalence. For this reason, their perception of features of the external world become polarized, or, as it is often, informally and metaphorically put, ‘black and white’.

For the infant / toddler (18 – 36 months, approx.) then, what we might call ‘grey areas’ are effectively eliminated as everything including, most significantly, the infant’s / toddler’s mother (or primary carer) is CATEGORIZED AS EITHER ‘GOOD’ OR ‘BAD’, depending upon how she is behaving in relation to him/her at any given point in time.

When the mother fails to satisfy adequately the infant’s needs, s/he perceives her as ‘all bad’. And, in stark contrast, when the mother DOES satisfy the infant’s needs (e.g. with a satisfying feed or by providing appropriate physical comfort) s/he perceives her as ‘all good’.It is only as the child gets older and develops and his/her understanding of the world and of those who inhabit it becomes increasingly sophisticated that s/he is able to integrate such contrasting perceptions and come to realize that both good and bad elements can exist in the same person simultaneously.

 

However, the adult sufferer of borderline personality disorder (BPD) becomes stuck in this toddler-like state of seeing others as either all good or all bad and, as a result, forms extremely unstable relationships with others, particularly significant others, perpetually vacillating and between idealizing them and demonising them ; this phenomenon is known as SPLITTING and, in essence, is a defense mechanism serving to protect  the individual with BPD from  feelings of potentially overwhelming anxiety.

 

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The concept of ‘SPLITTING’ was initially developed by Ronald Fairbairn and was a component of his psychoanalytic theory known as ‘object relations theory’.

 

Finally, it is worth pointing out that it is not just people with BPD who employ the defense mechanism of ‘splitting’ ; for example, adolescents tend to do so quite a lot. Adults who do have have BPD and who are not mentally ill use it too. However, in the case of those suffering from BPD, the defense mechanism of ‘splitting’ is used abnormally frequently in comparison to the average individual and the extremes in which they perceive others vacillate more dramatically. (NB Although I employ the term ‘used’, defense mechanisms are UNCONSCIOUS processes i.e. the BPD sufferer does not deliberately choose to exercise the psychological response of ‘splitting’).

 

A leading treatment for BPD is, currently, dialectical behavior therapy which you can learn more about by clicking here.

 

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSC; PGDE(FAHE).

Splitting: Effects of BPD Parent Seeing The Child Only In Terms Of ‘All Good’ Or ‘All Bad’.

effect of bpd parent on child

The BPD Parent And The Child

Parents with borderline personality disorder (BPD) – click here to read one of my articles on signs that a parent may have BPD- have a pronounced tendency to project – click here to read one of my articles ‘projection and other defense mechanisms – aspects of their own self-view onto their children.

For example, if the parent sees him/herself as possessing a very bad side to his/her nature, s/he may well project this view of him/herself onto the child and thus view him/her (ie the child) as being a very bad person.

If the parent also regards part of his/her own nature to be very good, s/he will also, at times, project this view of him/herself onto his/her child, idealizing the young person.

Indeed, often those with BPD will switch between these extremes of self-aggrandizement and mental self- laceration.

However, these two projections/views of the child will tend to vacillate so that the child, depending on the parent’s whim, is sometimes treated as if s/he is all-bad and sometimes as if s/he is all-good. As far as the parent is concerned, there is no middle ground; there are no shades of gray, just black and white, when it comes to the parent’s assessment of the child’s moral worth.

BPD_and_splitting

There is likely too, to be a significant degree of randomness and unpredictability attached to how the parent chooses to view the child at any given point in time; this creates an alarming and distressing state of confusion in the child’s mind.

SPLITTING

What the parent is doing in the scenarios described above is described by psychologists as ‘splitting’ : seeing things in terms of one extreme or the other.

But why does this happen? Essentially, the parent manifests this ‘splitting behaviour’ because s/he has failed to develop the capacity to see that people tend to be a mixture of good and bad but only as ‘all-good’ or ‘all-bad’ at any given point in time.

The child will only be seen as ‘all-good’ for as long as long as s/he acts strictly in accord with the parent’s wishes/demands. However, as hinted at above, the parent might keep shifting the goal posts so that how the parent wants the child to behave becomes nebulous and opaque.

Primarily, as far as the parent is concerned, it is essential that the child remain at all times utterly obedient, loyal, compliant and amenable to satisfying his/her (ie the parent’s) emotional needs. As long as the child can do this, s/he is approved of and accepted by the parent.

However, it is, of course, impossible for the child to keep up with the parent’s overly exacting expectations and perpetually fulfil their insatiable emotional needs.

It is also impossible for the child to keep the parent permanently appeased as to do so would involve entirely subjugating his/her own will, identity and authenticity to the impossible demands of the parent. To allow this to happen would be psychologically shattering to the child as his/her own psychological development would be severely impeded and, even, arrested. S/he would exist only as the parent’s ‘puppet.’

Indeed, the child who has these impossibly exacting demands upon him/her is very likely to develop:

– depression

– feelings of helplessness (click here to read my article on LEARNED HELPLESSNESS)

– anger/resentment

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When the child, utterly unavoidably, fails to satisfy the parent’s perpetual and unquenchable needs, the parent is liable to swap from idealizing him/her to demonizing him/her. Indeed, the parent may express intense verbal hostility towards the child or even resort to physical violence against him/her.

Indeed, when the parent view of the child swings to seeing him/her as ‘all-bad’, s/he may express intense hatred towards the young person. My own mother, before I was a teenager, would scream at me that she ‘felt murderous towards’ me or that she felt ‘evil towards’ me and that she ‘despaired’ that I had ‘ever been born’, so I know just how devastating being demonized by a parent can be.

In accordance with this confusing treatment the child may grow into an adult who is very uncertain about their own identity and about what kind of a person they really are. Reflecting how they were perceived by their parent as a child, they may constantly switch their self-image from an idealised one to a demonized one.

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Other Resources:

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

 

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