Borderline Personality Disorder - Splitting

Splitting or borderline personality disorder is a defense mechanism that operates unconsciously. Typically, it forms during childhood when parents were too inconsistent or had sudden and unexplained mood swings when dealing with their child.
Borderline Personality Disorder - Splitting

Last update: 26 April, 2020

Splitting is another fancy name for borderline personality disorder (BPD). It refers to a certain attitude in which people perceive everything as either black or white or those who think they have nothing unless they can’t have it all. Others affirm that whatever isn’t good is entirely bad. In a word, they’re masters of extremes.

Those who think and feel this way seldom consider they might be wrong. They’re people quite set on their views and don’t care for halftones. However, this way of seeing the world usually leads them to difficulties and suffering. In general, they regret a lot of what they perceive as a lack of clarity in other people and situations.

“Balance, that’s the secret. Moderate extremism. The best of both worlds.”

-Edward Abbey-

Victims of splitting are frequently angry. They often feel disappointed because they move rather quickly from idealization to devaluation of people and situations. They’re repeatedly disappointed because their conservatism only dwells in their mind and desires. Unfortunately, all of this happens unconsciously and this is why they don’t realize that it’s their own perspective that hurts them.

The origin of borderline personality disorder

No one falls for splitting just because. Nor do they develop an extremist perspective because they find it wonderful. What lies behind this attitude is a deep longing for certainty and an enormous desire to have solid foundations to look at the world and position themselves in it.

A seemingly upset man.

A difficult childhood and dysfunctional parents are very common behind a splitting personality. The origin of this way of seeing life comes, most likely, from those authority figures they had in childhood, most likely unpredictable and erratic. They could be in an excellent mood and loving one day only to be intolerant of the most absurd and menial things.

This type of context is usually an obstacle to full moral development, which in turn implies cognitive stagnation. In other words, it’s very difficult to learn what’s good and what’s bad in such an environment. It’s even more difficult to qualify the wide range between one and the other extremes.

Borderline personality disorder is a defense mechanism

Seeing the world in black and white is a way of defending yourself from the instability and imprecision that confused you so much when you were a child. You respond to the incomprehensibility of your parents’ erratic behavior and overcompensate. Also, your mind responds to the lack of clarity of our mind by trying to generate absolute clarity. It either is or it isn’t; it’s either black or white.

When someone is a victim of splitting, they can’t synchronize their positive and negative feelings. They love someone and then hate them or vice versa. Also, they either believe in everything a person says or don’t believe at all. However, they don’t do so deliberately. It’s a mechanism that appears automatically when there’s ambiguity or contradiction. Any uncertainty causes emotional pain and they respond by radicalizing.

Those with this type of behavior find it hard to empathize with others. In fact, they also have a hard time understanding themselves. However, they often project their lack of understanding onto others. Thus, they tend to say that everyone is wrong.

Overcoming difficulty

As is often the case in the psychological world, not all people experience splitting in the same way, neither in content nor in intensity. In principle, if you think this phenomenon is present in your life, it might be good to try something else that might work. Thus, avoid speaking too categorically and using words such as “always”, “never”, “bad”, or “good”. Look for more precise terms to rate the world.

The previous technique may not be of much use when the splitting is much more apparent. In these cases, professional attention is required to remove the patient from the path of obstacles that impede full ethical, emotional, and cognitive maturation. These patients need to restructure their perspective to make it more realistic.

A woman thinking.


Everyone wants reality to be simpler, but it isn’t. There’s a whole lot of gray between black and white. There are many facets to each person and aspect of reality. You can be good and bad, smart and clumsy, and happy and unhappy at the same time. Humans are precisely that: wide color ranges that go beyond black and white.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Beck, J. (2008). Terapia cognitiva: Conceptos básicos y profundización. Editorial Gedisa.
  • Beck, A. T., Rush, A. J., Shaw, B. F., & Emery, G. (1983). Terapia cognitiva de la depresión. Desclée de Brouwer.
  • Riso, W. (2009). Terapia cognitiva. Barcelona, España, Editorial Paidós Ibérica.
  • Safran, J. D., & Segal, Z. V. (1994). El proceso interpersonal en la terapia cognitiva. Barcelona: Paidós.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.