Tag Archives: Polarized Thinking

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.


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.


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


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


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy For Childhood Trauma.


Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)  was initially devised during the 1970s by Aaron Beck and has since been developed by other psychologists (for example, David Burns, MD) and is now used to treat many conditions that individuals who have experienced significant and protracted childhood trauma are at increased risk of suffering from (especially depression and anxiety).

Put simply, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) works on the basic observation that:

1) how we think about things and interpret events affects how we feel

2) how we behave affects how we feel


3) by changing how we think about things, interpret events and behave will CHANGE HOW WE FEEL.

I have over-simplified here but those are the essential three points and my aim in this blog is not to present information in an over-complex way.


CBT is widely used by therapists to treat survivors of childhood trauma and there is now a solid base of research which supports its effectiveness. I myself underwent a course of CBT some time ago and found it very helpful.


In this post I wish to concentrate on how our thinking styles affect our state of mind and emotions. Survivors of childhood trauma often develop depressive illness and, as a result, thinking styles often become extremely negative:


Depression often gives rise to what is sometimes called a COGNITIVE TRIAD of negative thoughts. These are:

– negative view of self
– negative view of the world
– negative view of the future

I have referred to this NEGATIVE COGNITIVE TRIAD in previous posts, but it is worth revisiting. The aim of CBT is to change these negative thinking patterns into more positive ones. It aims to correct FAULTY THINKING STYLES.


Individuals who suffer from this cognitive negative triad of depressive thoughts, as I did for more years than I care to remember, are generally found to have deeply ingrained faulty thinking styles; I provide the most common ones below and give a very brief explanation of each type (if the examples seem a little extreme, it is merely to illustrate the point):


e.g. someone is rude to us and we conclude: ‘nobody likes me or ever will‘.

So, here, the mistake is vastly over-generalizing from one specific incident.


e.g. ‘unless I am liked by everyone then I am unpopular’.

This is sometimes referred to as ‘black or white’ thinking ie. seeing things as all good or all bad and ignoring the grey areas.


e.g. ‘I know for sure this will be an unmitigated disaster and I’ll be utterly unable to cope.’

Here, the mistake is to overestimate how badly something will turn out or to greatly overestimate the odds of something bad happening. It often also involves underestimating our ability to cope in the unlikely event that the worst does actually happen. Also known as ‘WHAT IF…’ style thinking.


e/g. taking an innocent, casual, passing remark to be a deliberate and calculated personal attack. Here, the mistake is thinking everything people do or say is a kind of reaction to us and that people are predisposed to wanting to gratuitously hurt us.


e.g. someone says our team has not met its monthly target and we then look for ways to convince ourselves it is specifically and exclusively due to something we have done wrong. With this type of faulty thinking style, we blame ourselves for something for which there is no evidence it is our fault.


e.g. ‘I failed one exam out of ten, therefore I’m stupid and a complete failure’.

Here, the positive (passing nine out of ten exams) is pretty much ignored (minimized) and the negative (failing one exam) completely disproportionately affects our view of ourselves. Individuals who minimize the positive tend to also MAXIMIZE (ie. make far too much of) the negative.


What tends to underlie all these faulty thinking styles is that we UNNECESSARILY BELIEVE NEGATIVE THINGS IN SPITE OF THE FACT WE HAVE NO, OR EXTREMELY LIMITED, EVIDENCE FOR SUCH BELIEFS. Therefore, we unnecessarily and irrationally further lower our own sense of self-esteem and self-worth. Because of these faulty thinking styles, we increase our feelings of inadequacy and depression.


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