Splitting is a primitive defense mechanism that borderlines routinely enact when they are triggered by events/emotions in the here and now that threaten their feeling anything to do with their original core wound of abandonment and the intrapsychic trauma associated with that abandonment.
Borderlines who do not choose to get into therapy and stick with it and make a serious commitment to it will inevitably continue to revert to the primal defense mechanism of splitting each and every time they are stressed and/or triggered. This is especially true when someone with BPD tries to relate to someone in even a remotely intimate, let alone intimate way.
Borderlines, in the active throes of BPD, are not often conscious of just what it is they do to others when they split them. Those with BPD are often unaware of the cause and effect consequences that result relationally from their splitting defense.
Borderline splitting is at the heart of "get-away-closer" and "I-hate-you-don’t-leave-me" polarized all-or-nothing relating. It is not an over-statement to say that unless and until a person with BPD deals with this polarization and need to protect what is essentially a combination of the lack of self and the false self he or she is not capable of healthy adult relating in any consistent way.
It is the very reality of this unhealthy, incongruent, and inconsistent self-defeating borderline polarized style of relating that forms the foundation for everything that is toxic and punishing in the way that nons end up being treated by the borderline in their lives.
This defense originates directly from the original core wound of abandonment as I explain in my ebook, The Legacy of Abandonment In BPD. When the borderline is stressed, regressed, and/or triggered by attempts to relate as an adult or attempts to remain close or attempts to tolerane the moving in and out between intimacy/closeness and distance he or she will then be re-experiencing his or her past in the non borderline here and now. That’s why so much of what the borderline does is for the non borderline so situationally-inappropriate, age-inappropriate and seems to come at you from left field in a way that you can’t really make sense of. It doesn’t make sense in the here and now, that’s why.
Being triggered by "here and now" dysregulated emotion back to the edge of the abyss that is the borderline’s unresolved abandonment trauma more often than not also puts the borderline in touch with so many unresolved and feared feelings that what is aroused most is the borderline’s Rage Addiction.
Borderlines in this dissociative re-play of their unresolved abandonment trauma treat you as if you are the person with whom they experienced the abandonment, the trauma, the ruptured relationship, failed bonding or attachment with that led to their original loss of self.
This means that for the non borderline relating to a regressed borderline in the here and now, you don’t even really exist. You are but a mere extension of the borderline’s toxic fusion with someone from wherein there was a very painful and real rupture of attachment. This rupture of attachment is played out with you, the non borderline, in the here and now, over and over and it form the "all-bad" of half of the split.
When the borderline isn’t stressed or has just played out the all-bad cycle and so for a time is relieved of stress and somewhat calmer (no matter how brief that time may be) he or she then flips back to the feelings associated with the person with whom they experienced the abandonment trauma, the person that they needed and looked up to as a young child. So, you then become the person they need, cling to, want, can’t get enough of and the person who is fabulous just as suddenly as you were and will again be the exact opposite.
This is something I know like I do because i lived it. I had BPD and I recovered. It is important, I believe for non borderlines who, luckily, don’t have my experience (or the experience of the borderline in your life) of feeling and living this – it is very painful – to realize that you will never make sense out of splitting. It doesn’t make rational or logical healthy sense. It makes sense only in its toxic dysfuntional protection of the borderline from his or her original core wound of abandonment trauma.
Non borderlines need to detach from this borderline cycle experienced on the other side of BPD. It isn’t easy. It is often what ends relationships. Whether you detach from the chaos and drama of it or not please know that trying to hang in there to rescue the borderline in your life can’t and won’t work. I know this because, when I was borderline, no one, absolutely no one could rescue me. People tried and they were punished for their efforts way back when, sadly I have to admit. I also know this because long after I recovered from BPD, I ended up in a relationship with a borderline-narcissist who I, of course, tried to rescue. The futility was in some ways even more painful than what it was like for me when I had BPD.
In my opinion, nons need to hold borderlines responsible for their behaviour, even when the borderline may well not "get it". Borderlines need to continue to work at learning how to take personal responsibilty for their thoughts, feelings, and actions.
What nons will benefit most from doing is refusing to allow the borderline to treat them abusively as the pendulum of their "borderline reality" swings back and forth from one side of the split to the other. Sometimes, the "all-good" side of the split can be as abusive, by the way, as the "all-bad" rage etc is. It is often on the "all-good" side of borderline spitting that you will experience the covert manipulation of the borderline’s learned helplessness and neediness. You can be their hero don’t you know if you are just there to do and do for them. Then in that process of doing for them because you are everything to them in the "all-good" split inevitably something will stress or trigger the borderline back to the "all-bad" split often with lightening speed – and around and around it goes.
By the way, what usually triggers the "all-bad" split from the stance of the "all-good" split often is the very thing that you as a non borderline long so much for with this borderline in your life – closeness or intimacy. Sadly, the second it is achieved (after all you go through to get back there) the borderline cannot tolerate it and the cycle of splitting begins all over again.
I see evidenced in the continuous cycle of the borderline maladaptive defense mechanism of splitting, the utter no-win futility and toxic nature of the "borderline relational style" which as its roots such terror and trauma that it can’t help but perpetuate from the borderline abuse – namely punishing vindictiveness and a very primal rage. Rage that has itself become an addiction – a rage addiction that is deeply tied into The Shame of Abandonment in BPD and that will present itself in patterned and cyclical ways in and through relationships and efforts to relate generally.
© A.J. Mahari June 26, 2008 – All rights reserved.
A.J. Mahari is a Life Coach who, among other things, specializes in working with those with BPD and non borderlines respectively. A.J. has 5 years experience as a life coach and has worked with hundreds of clients from all over the world.