All relationships go through highs and lows. But if you’ve ever experienced being unexpectedly ghosted, cut off, or raged at by a partner after a minor disagreement, you may have experienced splitting.
Splitting occurs out of an inability to consider that a range of possibilities exists between good and bad. It’s a typical trait of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder.
So how do we define BPD splitting?
Splitting is the idea that something or someone is either all good or all bad. It’s also a common trait of those with BPD who pre-empt rejection by seeing others as suddenly ‘terrible’ where they once were ‘perfect.’ It often leads to a meltdown and cutting off of the person they perceive as ‘bad.’
But does splitting mean the end of a relationship? And how do you know when someone is splitting?
- What Is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
- What Is BPD Splitting?
- BPD Splitting Symptoms
- The Effects Of BPD Splitting on Relationships
- How To Manage BPD Splitting
- How To Help Someone Who Experiences Splitting?
- BPD Splitting FAQs
What Is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)?
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a personality disorder that affects a person’s ability to manage their emotions and maintain healthy relationships. It’s characterized by mood swings, problems with self-image and self-worth, a pattern of unstable relationships, and impulsive behavior.
People with BPD fear abandonment and rejection, yet they yearn for close relationships.
This makes most relationships they enter volatile because their intense moods translate to desperate behaviors, which they feel will prevent them from being abandoned.
However, people with BPD aren’t able to manage the general ups and downs in relationships.
They tend to experience even the most minor challenge as disastrous – and, most importantly, as a sign that their partner doesn’t value them and wants to be free of them, when this isn’t the case.
What Is BPD Splitting?
Because those with BPD struggle to manage their emotions, when they do experience conflicting emotions within relationships, their black-and-white thinking leads to splitting.
BPD splitting is where a person with BPD cannot see their partner as a complex person with good and bad traits. Instead, they see their partner as ideal or perfect one day and absolutely ‘the worst’ when things become difficult.
It’s usually the result of some conflict that may arise or their often-incorrect perception that their partner will reject them. The latter leads to a focus on the negatives in the relationship, which they interpret as their partner being ‘bad.’
Why do people with BPD split?
Splitting occurs as a defense mechanism – as though they are pre-empting the rejection they expect.
It’s easier for the BPD person to see their partner as the worst possible partner at that moment rather than deal with potential abandonment.
The sad part, however, is that the BPD person’s perceptions and fear of abandonment are often unfounded. They have intense feelings of negativity towards themselves, which they believe their partner can also see when things get a little rocky, and they assume the worst.
This kind of absolute or “all in” thinking is particularly damaging.
Healthy relationships include periods of tension, and ups and downs are expected. But for a BPD person, any hint of tension triggers them to pre-empt rejection, to internalize the negativity as their partner not valuing them, and dooming the relationship.
This is when splitting occurs. The person with BPD defaults to “all good” or “all bad” thinking because complex emotions overwhelm them, and they can’t manage it. This usually coincides with the part of a BPD relationship where devaluing occurs, and they push their partners away using the “they’re all bad” thinking as justification.
For more BPD splitting, check out this video from one of my favorite YouTube therapists, Kati Morton:
BPD Splitting Symptoms
Symptoms of splitting center on emotion dysregulation; people with BPD who are splitting will show extreme emotions towards their partner. The negative emotions associated with splitting will likely be out of proportion, and to those who don’t have BPD, it will seem extreme.
Examples of BPD Splitting
If you’re wondering what splitting looks like in a BPD relationship, here are some real-world examples:
What Triggers BPD Splitting?
For the most part, splitting is triggered in the relationship cycle when the person with BPD starts to feel like they aren’t the center of their partner’s world.
Feelings of euphoria and contentment characterize the initial phase of a BPD relationship because everything is “good.” Their partner is seen as perfect and ideal, and everything they say or do is wonderful.
This is followed by anxiety and paranoia supported by low self-esteem and a sense of self-worthlessness.
During this time, the person with BPD’s fear of rejection intensifies, and their behavior becomes obsessive and clingy.
These complex emotions usually trigger the next phase: devaluation and splitting.
As a defense mechanism against working through complicated emotions, the BPD person’s ability to split sees their partner as suddenly “bad.” So, they focus on why the partner isn’t good for them.
Intense anger, resentment, and hostility are hallmarks of this phase. It can present as outward bursts of aggression or be inward-focused, where they give the cold shoulder and withdraw.
BPD Splitting: Trigger Examples
Splitting can also be triggered by traumatic events or a situation that requires the person with BPD to take an emotional viewpoint.
Since they struggle to formulate a balanced worldview, they are forced to see something as either good or bad.
Anything from a question on politics to changing their work schedule can trigger this.
You can imagine how a forgotten anniversary or birthday will be interpreted: “You forgot our anniversary because I don’t really matter to you. I bet you don’t really want to be in this relationship.”
Even meeting someone new can trigger splitting since the person with BPD has to formulate an opinion on the stranger.
They will inevitably either be the best person or the worst. Additionally, compliments or criticisms will swing the mood and self-esteem of a BPD person in either direction and result in splitting.
What Does BPD Splitting Feel Like?
For people with BPD, splitting is an intense and scary time.
Because their inherent belief in their worthlessness triggers it, the sudden shift from the euphoria of the idealization phase is jarring. Their deepest, darkest fear is that they will be rejected or abandoned. In a tense or challenging time, this is what they expect.
They may experience disappointment and sadness as they start to realize their partner isn’t perfect, but this soon shifts to profound hostility, rage, and even hatred.
There is no middle ground of emotions for a person with BPD, so their emotions in this phase are strong, harsh, and to outsiders, excessive.
People with BPD describe this time as some of the lowest points in their life. And for those who have inwardly-directed BPD (or Quiet BPD), this can lead to depression, harming themselves, and even thoughts about suicide.
How Long Does BPD Splitting Last?
As splitting forms part of a cycle that characterizes BPD relationships, it can range from days and weeks to even months and years.
Splitting in intimate relationships can also be manipulative as the person with BPD may want to provoke their partner to pursue them again, hoping to rectify the relationship and ultimately validate them.
In this case, after a negative episode, the BPD person may split and then cut off their partner, all while hoping they come back begging them to make up.
They may even reach out to their partner after a few days or weeks to prompt such a display of affection. This is a common cycle in codependent and trauma-bonded relationships.
Sometimes, splitting can last a little longer, and the relationship may even end.
But in many cases, the person with BPD will seek out their partner, make amends, and start the cycle of idealization all over again. If the relationship ends, the typical BPD person will find someone else to attach to – and their new Favorite Person will be on the receiving end of any potential splitting in the future.
The Effects Of BPD Splitting on Relationships
Naturally, the effects of splitting on a relationship are overwhelmingly negative. No good comes from black-and-white thinking since humans – and relationships – are complex things. Splitting is destructive because the person with BPD views the person, their life, and their situation as entirely terrible during the splitting phase.
Whether a romantic partner, a friend, or a family member is on the receiving end of splitting from a BPD person, the relationship isn’t likely to be the same again.
Here are some ways in which relationships are affected by splitting:
Lack of trust:
The person with BPD inevitably mistrusts their partner and will continue to misinterpret their words and actions. At the same time, the partner will stop trusting the person with BPD due to their inconsistent and often over-the-top responses to anything that happens. Additionally, both parties can start doubting the genuineness of their feelings toward the other.
Both partners can suffer from emotional and psychological exhaustion due to the intense effort it takes to keep up with the wildly fluctuating moods. Usually, the BPD person’s extreme mood swings will tire the partner out, who may want a way out of the emotionally taxing relationship.
Risky or aggressive behavior:
Risky behavior can damage the relationship irreparably and threaten your safety. BPD people tend to react to feelings of rejection in a big way. Emotional meltdowns can include reactive infidelity, physical violence, or emotional abuse.
The cyclical nature of BPD relationships means it will inevitably end badly. Whether it triggers a permanent breakup or a series of breakups and makeups, unless intervention and treatment occur, a healthy relationship isn’t likely.
Control and manipulation occur, even if not overtly so. The BPD person often creates crises or dramatic situations they need to be rescued from, which forces the partner to react to prove they care.
How To Manage BPD Splitting
To manage splitting, those with diagnosed BPD should first and foremost seek help.
Not only to give you the best possible chance of a healthy relationship but also to give you the tools that can help you manage BPD symptoms for a happier you.
Those with BPD can benefit from therapeutic intervention. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has proven helpful as it teaches BPD sufferers to identify destructive thought patterns and redirect them with more positive thoughts and behaviors.
Supplementary to therapies, medications that help alleviate anxiety and depression and stabilize mood can be beneficial. It’s important to note that these treat symptoms and don’t ‘cure’ BPD.
If you are living with BPD and find yourself in a situation where splitting is occurring, there are things you can do to get through the moment easier:
1. Focus on your breathing.
Deep breathing is a simple yet powerful technique that can help you feel more grounded and in control when dealing with BPD.
When you’re feeling overwhelmed or anxious, taking slow, deliberate breaths can help calm your nervous system and reduce stress.
By focusing on your breath, you’re also practicing mindfulness (more on that in a minute), which helps you stay present in the moment and avoid getting lost in negative thoughts.
As you breathe deeply, you’ll notice your heart rate slowing down and your muscles relaxing, making it easier to think more clearly and rationally.
With practice, deep breathing can become a go-to strategy for managing intense emotions, giving you a sense of empowerment and control over your emotional responses.
2. Ground yourself in the moment.
It may be challenging to think of reality without the influence of negative thoughts, so consider where you are right then, what you hear, what smells you can identify, and the ground beneath your feet.
This is called mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness can make a real difference in managing your emotions and being kinder to yourself.
Mindfulness is all about paying attention to your thoughts and feelings without judging them or getting swept away by them. By being more aware of your emotions, you can start to understand what triggers them and develop healthier ways to cope with those feelings.
And guess what?
Mindfulness also helps you develop self-compassion, too. Again, though not a silver-bullet solution, with time and consistent practice, mindfulness teaches you to be more accepting of your emotions. Eventually, you learn to treat yourself with more kindness and understanding.
3. Ask for help.
Reach out to a counselor, therapist, or other mental healthcare professional. Identifying a splitting episode is the first step to beating it.
Look for a therapist who has experience treating BPD. Not all therapists are familiar with BPD and its associated symptoms, so it’s important to find someone who has experience working with this population.
Also, be honest with your therapist about your symptoms.
It can be difficult to talk about splitting and other BPD symptoms, but it’s important to be honest with your therapist about what you’re experiencing. This can help your therapist create a treatment plan that’s tailored to your specific needs.
What you don’t want to do is try to self-medicate your symptoms. BPD and alcoholism are common co-occurring disorders, so it’s important for people who struggle with BPD to be careful about their alcohol consumption.
4. Find healthy emotional outlets.
Journaling, exercise, or music can make a great bridge to getting you through an immediate negative spot. It’s not a cure-all, but it can help pass through the initial feelings of depression, sadness, or anger.
Journaling allows you to process your thoughts and feelings in a safe, non-judgmental space. By writing down your emotions, you can gain insight into your triggers and patterns of thinking. This self-reflection can help you recognize and reframe negative thoughts, leading to a more balanced perspective.
In addition to journaling, you might try working through some workbook. I reccomend these two:
- The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance
- The Anxiety and Worry Workbook: The Cognitive Behavioral Solution
Exercise is also a powerful tool for managing splitting.
Physical activity releases endorphins, which can improve your mood and reduce stress. Regular exercise can also improve your overall sense of well-being, boosting your self-esteem and confidence.
Listening to music can have a calming effect on the mind and body, reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation. Music can also be a helpful tool for expressing and processing emotions in a healthy way.
5. Find a support group.
At the very least, find a group where you can get support and guidance during such times. You will feel less alone and have people who can help you to identify destructive thoughts and help to redirect these.
Here’s a list of resources you might find helpful:
- Emotions Matter: Emotions Matter is a nonprofit network of people and families impacted by BPD. They offer a wealth of resources including peer-to-peer support groups.
- The National Education Alliance for Borderline Personality Disorder: This organization’s objective is to promote public awareness and destigmatize BPD while providing programs, resources, and tools for BPD sufferers.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): This is another great resource for information on BPD and other mental health issues. They provide education and links to support networks for anyone who needs it.
For a deeper dive into managing BPD splitting, I recommend this video:
How To Help Someone Who Experiences Splitting?
You are likely quite confused if you find yourself on the receiving end of splitting. Being in a relationship with a BPD person isn’t easy, but if you’re committed to making it work, the following can be helpful for you to manage splitting episodes.
BPD Splitting FAQs
Do people with BPD split on everyone?
Research shows that in some less severe cases of BPD, splitting doesn’t always occur or occur as frequently.
However, splitting occurs due to fear of rejection, so theoretically, if a person with BPD doesn’t perceive rejection as imminent, splitting won’t occur.
This is highly unlikely, though, as all relationships have highs and lows. Splitting will generally occur just in varying degrees of intensity.
Do people with Quiet BPD split?
Quiet BPD is only different in that emotions are directed inward, bottled up, or hidden from the public eye.
People with Quiet BPD still experience the same emotional fluctuations and unstable relationships, and splitting still occurs. However, it will more likely be expressed through silent treatment, cold shoulder actions, self-harm, or suicide ideation.
Do people with BPD split on their favorite person?
Since the BPD person’s favorite person is the one their whole life revolves around, this is the relationship where splitting is most likely to occur.
Once the idealization-phase euphoria wears off, their intense fear of rejection will naturally lead to the next phase, where devaluation and, ultimately, splitting occur.
What does a BPD meltdown look like?
A meltdown is characterized by the expression of extreme negative emotions like sadness, rage, and depression.
Physical violence and aggression are commonly reported in meltdowns.
Where emotions tend to be focused inward, like in Quiet BPD, this may look more like self-harm behaviors, suicidal thoughts, and even attempts at ending their own lives.