Trigger Warning: Self destructive thoughts, splitting black, invalidation, relationship argument
Hey there! I’m Audrey Harper and I have borderline personality disorder. BPD Beautiful is my recovery blog where I document my treatment & learned DBT skills, hold myself accountable and help spread awareness of borderline personality disorder.
In this post, I go over what splitting is and show real life examples of splitting including distorted thoughts a person with BPD might have during an episode. As always, please note that my experience with BPD does not reflect all people with BPD. We’re all different and unique. However, I hope this post sheds some light on the condition if you have a loved one with borderline personality disorder.
BPD Splitting: Introduction
“What’s, for the most part, made you consistently happy and hasn’t disappointed you?” Ellen, my therapist, had asked during our session.
I looked to the side, up and forward in thought, “hmming” as my eyes gazed where the wall hit the ceiling.
I blinked. “Bobby,” I said affirmatively with a smile. (My son)
“Ok! What else?”
My eyes wandered around the room as I thought back to the little things that made me feel fulfilled throughout the day. “Working from home. Blogging. Music. That’s always stayed apart of me. I love writing songs. Yoga…My dogs. I love my dogs.”
“Alright, great! And what about Brian?” Ellen asked, smiling. “I mean, I know you guys fight sometimes, but does he make you happy overall?”
“Yes.” I nodded without hesitation, feeling guilty for not thinking to mention him. “He’s really supportive. He knows me better than anyone else.”
My voice felt monotone and disingenuous. Which made me feel worse. The words didn’t reflect how I truly felt. They didn’t scream, I absolutely adore that man.
(story continued below)
What is BPD Splitting?
I remember I’d been feeling numb over our relationship in the days leading up to that session. I guessed that was why my voice felt flat. It’s hard to convey emotions your brain has shut off. This numbness happens sometimes.
I think I do this because BPD makes it extremely hard to balance between idealizing someone (or thing) and devaluing them. Switching between those two extremes is called splitting. Splitting is a symptom of borderline personality disorder.
(Read ‘What Happens During a BPD Episode’)
Early that year in the beginning of treatment, I made it a goal to stop placing Brian on an untouchable pedestal. Because he was so quickly knocked off. I found that, for me at least, stopping the idealizing split when it starts is A LOT easier than stopping the devaluing split.
I suppose since I’m not naturally wired to be in the middle of those two extremes and I’ve been doing my best to stay in the middle regardless—it’s hard to not go numb when I’m not splitting.
I’m thinking this numbness is a defense mechanism of some kind but I’m not sure.
What Does a BPD Split Look Like?
BPD splitting looks different for everyone, but as an outsider – you’ll likely notice the person with BPD talking in extremes or absolutes when they’re splitting. Some examples could include: “Nothing ever works,” “You don’t love me, why don’t you just leave?” “I’m always doing things wrong,” “We never do anything special,” “I’ve always loved living here,” “You’ll never make me (un)happy.”
In other words, when a person with BPD is splitting they’re typically thinking in all or nothing terms.
You may also notice a rapid mood swing. When they’re idealizing, people with BPD may act euphoric or childlike. Their intense happiness will likely show on their face or in their eyes. When they’re devaluing – they may appear bitter, sullen or bleak. Their eyes may even turn dark or appear “soulless.”
Do Borderlines Fall Out of Love Easily?
It may appear a person with BPD can fall out of love easily (especially when they’re splitting), but typically emotions felt during splitting episodes are short lived. Oftentimes, after a splitting or BPD episode, a person with BPD will fall into a shame cycle and regret their actions. They may apologize profusely, beg or if they’re not treated / skilled in healthy communication – they may neglect to apologize but go out of their way to show their love and make amends through grand gestures.
While people with BPD may lash out during episodes – they are capable of feeling emotional empathy when not having an episode. In fact, while their cognitive empathy (the ability to understand another’s emotions) is often stunted – their emotional empathy (the ability to feel another’s emotions) is typically very intense. This is in stark contrast to a person with NPD – who is capable of cognitive empathy but lacks emotional empathy.
(Read ‘35 Signs You’re in a BPD and NPD Relationship‘)
(Read ‘The BPD and Narcissist Couple: What It Looks Like‘)
People living with BPD are also capable of feeling love for others (although it may be a more selfish love because of their ingrained fear of abandonment, rather than a healthy love that encourages individualism…this is especially true if they’re untreated). If you’re in a BPD relationship, it’s very likely your pwBPD loves you a great deal even if they don’t show it while splitting or in the midst of a BPD episode. However, BPD is never an excuse to abuse others so if you’re dealing with abuse of any kind and your pwBPD is refusing treatment – you should consider whether staying in the relationship is worth the cost to your mental health.
Why Do Borderlines Start Fights?
People with BPD may start fights because of their fear of abandonment. When their fear is triggered, they may “test” your love for them by pushing you away, pushing your boundaries or becoming passive aggressive in order to get a reaction. This usually has the opposite effect of what they’re trying to accomplish. It’s part of self-sabotage, which is a common occurrence when you have borderline personality disorder – especially if they’re untreated.
(story continues here)
3 1/2 hours after therapy…
BPD Splitting: Devaluing Split
Thoughts Recorded Approx. 30 Minutes After Triggering Event:
I didn’t name him first. Or even second. I didn’t even name him. What does that mean? Does he not make me happy? Would I be better off without him?
Cons of Being With Brian:
- More triggers
- He hates talking about feelings
- He doesn’t understand BPD
- He doesn’t even care to learn
- He’s got no empathy
- He doesn’t know how to validate someone’s feelings
- Because he himself has no feelings
- He has no drive & will only hold me back
I’m better off alone. If I was alone, I’d never be triggered. I would just work all the time and get so much shit done. I’d go wherever I wanted and wouldn’t need to compromise with someone else all the time. And I wouldn’t be mocked for having irrational thoughts.
Mental Replay of Triggering Event, 30 minutes before:
My eyes shot open as my heart thudded hard against my chest. I lifted myself up from Brian’s arm and saw the time on the Echo on the dresser. 7:11.
I’d dozed off while we were watching a show. I was so tired. Brian had already turned off what we were watching and opened one of his games on his Playstation.
(Read ’71 Jobs for People with BPD’)
No. I wasn’t ready to stop hanging out. He told me 8:30. Was it so bad that I’d fallen asleep? Why did he need to play the game earlier just because of that? Why couldn’t he just hang out with me as planned?
“Heyyy. You said 8:30. I wanna hang out more, love.” Please spend a little more time with me. I’m sad I fell asleep and I feel like I’m about to be abandoned even though I know that’s irrational. I feel pathetic for feeling this way.
(During this, I remembered a time I woke up in a panic changing my mind about going with my dad and brother to a movie. I was 9. I woke up and hurriedly said I wanted to go. But they had already went and come back. I slept through it all. That’s my first memory of having this fear of sleeping through something important.)
Brian seemed irritated, with a dead stare and subtle frown as he adjusted himself farther away from me on the bed. He widened his eyes quickly in exhaustion as he sighed heavily. “You fell asleep.”
“I was tired. It was an accident. That didn’t mean I wanted to stop hanging out!” Please be kind. I know you’re tired. He gets irritable easily when he’s tired.
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As he exited the game, he said, “I told you to wake up before. You didn’t listen, you kept laying down.”
“I just wanna hang out with you.” Please, I can feel an episode coming on but I’m too intimidated to say this out loud.
Another tired sigh. “We have three more days to hang out!”
I hate when he says things like that. It feels so demeaning. Like he only hangs out with me because I force him to. “Yeah, but why can’t we hang out more tonight like we planned to? You’re ending early to play your game. You always rather play your game.”
(The use of ‘always’ or ‘never’ is a subtle sign that a person with BPD is splitting or beginning to split.)
His eyes narrow. “You ended it early when you fell asleep.”
I noticed the console’s home screen was up on the TV, ready for us to put the show back on. I should have just dropped it. Instead I said, “Why is it so wrong that I dozed off for 5 minutes? I didn’t mean to!”
He scoffed. “Why do you have to act like a child? You’re an adult! Act like one!”
My mouth dropped, my eyes watered, my voice was more shaky than I intended. “You…are mean.”
I got up from the bed, grabbed my keys and stormed out. As I hurriedly walked to my car from the front door, my head swarmed with thoughts and my body felt defeated. It’s just like mom always said. You’re worthless! Don’t come back. He doesn’t care about you. Yeah, he doesn’t care.
I could feel the anger in my fingertips as I gripped my keys just before putting them in the ignition. I could feel the hurt behind my eyes, at the top of my throat and in my stomach as I looked over my shoulder, backing out of the driveway.
Speed up the road. I angrily shifted to drive and jammed my foot into the gas pedal until a realization hit me: I was more angry with myself then I was at Brian and I hated feeling like this, so out of control. And I didn’t want to accidentally kill someone. I eased up on the gas as I came to a bend in the road.
Crash into that garbage can! No. Too messy. Crash into the telephone pole! What? Make a scene to make Brian pay! Maybe then he’ll care.
As the road straightened out, I sighed feeling immediately drained by my irrational thoughts and out of control emotions. I began getting frustrated with my brain.
How would that help, exactly, Audrey? That would make this worse! Accelerate! Faster.
“Shut the FUCK UP!” I yelled to myself, my words climbing up several decibels with each word. Sometimes my head was just too. damn. loud. I tightened my grip on the wheel and focused on the road noting the pedestrian walking along the side.
Let’s just drive.
(Thinking of my BPD as a separate, emotionally younger version of myself helps me notice the difference between my BPD thoughts and my own, more reasonable thoughts. Noticing the difference makes it easier to challenge the BPD and come back down from an episode. It also helps me remember that BPD does not define me.)
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BPD Splitting: The Aftermath
I drove for 15 minutes then parked my car in a parking lot. I stayed there for about an hour as I wrote down the above. At the time Brian originally planned to play online (8:30), he texted me that he moved everything to the living room so I could use the TV in our room (if I wanted). Most importantly, he apologized for his part of the fight.
That’s when I went home.
Four years ago, I would have raged on him the moment I stepped in the door despite his apology. I would have caused a big enough scene that he’d feel forced to get off the game early. Then, we’d fight for hours. It’d end at 2AM with me in tears—begging for his love and communication, and him—angry and quiet, for losing sleep.
(Read ’12 Key Differences Between Toxic & Healthy Relationships’)
But that night—I quietly went into our room and did what I wanted to do since that morning (work on BPD Beautiful, of course). By then the distorted thoughts had stopped (writing them down in the moment really helps) and I was no longer in an emotional mindset.
Towards the end of the night, Brian walked in as I typed away on my computer. He asked from the door if I was still upset with him.
“No,” I said softly, slowly spinning my desk chair half way around to face him. “I’m sorry for overreacting.”
Brian came closer and wrapped his arms around me.
“I’ve been so tired this week from work but I wanted to spend time with you tonight.” I leaned my chin on his arm. “I was upset with myself for falling asleep. Falling asleep and missing out on something…scares me. It’s scared me since I was a kid. I still shouldn’t have overreacted.”
“Well, I could have been kinder and more patient.” He said, stroking my hair. “I’m sorry again.”
I looked up at him. “You think we could do something this weekend while Bobby’s at Mike’s?”
He smiled, nodding.
In the past, I’d let myself start idealizing Brian immediately after making up. Everything would feel “perfect” again and how could I ever doubt him? Communicating or making up almost always had that affect on me.
Nowadays, when we communicate through an argument—I feel more secure, but not over the moon. I feel safe, but aware that there will be times Brian will let me down or won’t say what I want to hear him say. I feel loved, but not invincible.
I don’t know what “normal” feels like, or if such a thing even exists, but I do know that I can do this recovery thing. One day, one fight and one distorted thought at a time.
(Read ‘How I Overcome Regressions in BPD Recovery’)
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