“Splitting” and idealization/devaluation.

splitting1

Splitting–more commonly known as black and white or all or nothing thinking–is a primitive defense mechanism used by both narcissists and borderlines when they observe a threat–that someone doesn’t agree with them or is challenging them in some way, or when they fear abandonment (borderlines) or exposure/loss of supply (narcissists). In narcissism, splitting is usually referred to as idealization/devaluation, but other than the unconscious motive (fear of abandonment for borderlines, fear of losing a source of supply for narcissists), the phenomenon is really the same thing.

Splitting is normal in a very young child. When Mommy is present and hugging the child, Mommy is perceived as “good.” When she denies the child another cookie or she goes to work, the child throws a tantrum, and Mommy is now “bad.” Because the child still doesn’t see himself as a completely separate person from Mommy, when Mommy does something that makes the child unhappy or fearful, the child rejects her and thinks of HER as all-bad. The child is not yet capable of the concept that Mommy is an individual who can be both good and bad at different times and to different degrees depending on the situation.

The fairy tales we read to young children engage them at a level they can understand: fairy tale characters are all-good or all-bad, heroes or villains, with no in between. Only an older child can fully understand that people come in varying shades of grey, and pure black or pure white in one person is exceedingly rare. Realizing that most people are both evil and good at the same time is a sign of maturity and indicates the child has come to see himself as a completely separate person with his or her own identity who can afford to see others as individuals too, rather than one-dimensional cardboard cartoon characters.

Narcissists and borderlines never make that transition. Due to early attachment issues arising from neglect, abuse, or sometimes maternal smothering, they continue to see others as extensions of themselves, not separate people with their own identities, interest and opinions. If someone is an extension of yourself, of course the other person must be seen as “all good.” If the other person fails to provide adequate supply (for the narcissist) or disagrees with them or has differing opinions, they are perceived as a threat and must be rejected, devalued, and demonized as “other.” The only way a narcissist or borderline can see another person as a separate entity is when they have become “other” and are demonized and seen as “all bad.”

splitting

Splitting is common in today’s political landscape. Candidate A believes in health care reform, the legalization of marijuana, the cessation of the outsourcing of jobs, raising taxes on the wealthy–and that a woman has the right to choose whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. Candidate B believes in health care reform, the legalization of marijuana, the cessation of outsourcing of jobs, raising taxes on the wealthy–and that abortion should be outlawed. Candidates A and B, rather than focusing on what they have in common and using that to help improve people’s lives, instead go on smear campaigns against each other focusing on the only thing they don’t agree on: abortion. Candidate A accuses Candidate B of being a throwback to the “unenlightened” 1950s, while Candidate B accuses Candidate A of wanting to legalize murder. Neither acknowledges the many things they agree on–all either can see is that the other is a “murderer” or a “throwback troglodyte.” (Notice too how the accusing labels have become exaggerated and more abusive). That many politicians are narcissistic by nature makes splitting come second nature to most of them. Unfortunately, splitting has become standard in political campaigning and is intended to garner more votes (narcissistic supply) for the accuser while taking them away from the opposing party.

Robin and Tim are madly in love with each other. Robin idealizes Tim–she thinks he is the most perfect man she ever met, and she can’t imagine a life without him. He is the most handsome, smart, funny, sexy, and interesting man in the world, and she can’t believe her luck in having met him. Recently they have started talking about getting engaged. Tim thinks Robin’s wild mood swings are rather charming–but he hasn’t been the target of them yet.

On Tim’s birthday, Robin cooks him a lavish dinner and has a bottle of champagne ready to pop open and enjoy. He is supposed to be home by seven. Eight o’clock comes, and he isn’t home yet. At eight-fifteen, Tim calls and says he got held up. He is in the door by nine, apologizing profusely about his lateness–he was called into an emergency meeting by his boss and couldn’t get out of it. Rather than accepting his apology at face value and proceed to have a nice dinner together, Robin goes on a rampage. She accuses Tim of having a lover and never having loved her. The champagne bottle gets smashed against the wall and the dinner thrown in the trash. After fighting for hours, Robin tells Tim to leave and that she never wants to see him again and that he’d make a terrible husband to any woman who would have him anyway.

In the course of two hours, Robin has turned Tim, a normal man who really did love her but couldn’t get out of a meeting, from “the most perfect man in the world” into an unfeeling monster who is cheating on her and would “make any woman miserable.” Because he disappointed her and she couldn’t handle it or see him as a separate person with his own life and his own needs, she must demonize him and make wild accusations against him, accusing him of doing things he never did and saying things he never said. She has turned the good into the evil, and rejected Tim because he is “all bad” now. Both the “angelic” Tim and the “evil” Tim are creations of Robin’s all-or-nothing, black or white, thinking. Both are fiction.

Splitting is really a kind of blindness–the failure to be able to see any shades of grey in an individual, situation, religion, ideology, belief system, or really, anything at all. It destroys relationships, creates hate and discord, kills community spirit, leads to war and killing, and ruins lives.

“Coming out” about my BPD

Hand of a child opening a cupboard door

On November 22, 2014, I wrote an article about my daughter Molly (not her real name), who I suspected of having NPD due to having been used as a flying monkey by her father for many years. I prayed it was “just” BPD.

Last month she was evaluated and her Axis II diagnosis was Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). While BPD is a Cluster B disorder and shares a number of traits with narcissism, it’s more amenable to treatment because a Borderline does have a conscience and the ability to feel empathy–but their tendency to fly off the handle, their insecurity/neediness, and propensity to engage in self destructive activities that sometimes hurt others masks the fact they really aren’t bad people. My daughter actually has a huge heart and cries when she sees someone suffering or in pain, so it fits that NPD wasn’t her diagnosis. Still, I’m relieved she’s been officially cleared of it.

I was diagnosed with BPD myself in 1996. I have been hesitant to call attention to it on this blog or talk about it much, because of its close association with NPD and other “character disorders” like ASPD. At the time I was diagnosed I was in an inpatient psychiatric setting, where I was also diagnosed with Bipolar I (major depression with fewer or no manic episodes), generalized anxiety, PTSD, Avoidant PD (I didn’t know you could have two PD’s at once back then), and substance/alcohol abuse. At the time I was not diagnosed with Aspergers (that was much later, and I was self diagnosed at first).

I definitely had all the traits of a borderline, but in the hospital and in outpatient therapy following my stay, I learned ways to control my BPD traits, such as my tendency to fly off the handle easily, act impulsively without thinking how it would harm others, idealize/devalue people (black or white thinking), abuse drugs and alcohol, and generally coming off as being very self centered and oblivious to the needs of others.

DSM_borderline
Click to enlarge.

For a time back in the early 1980s I even test drove narcissism, but as an essentially empathic person who suffers from a lot of guilt and shame, and has no desire to hurt others, narcissism didn’t work for me, and I am so grateful for that (even though I became a codependent doormat instead).

In therapy, I remember a method we were taught called “turtling”–which basically means to imagine yourself as a turtle when you feel yourself about to act/react in Borderline, impulsive, or self destructive ways. Turtling calls for enough insight to recognize your feelings prior to acting on them. You imagine going inside your shell to think about things before you act. I remember in the hospital we made “turtle” totems to keep as reminders to always think before we acted and ask ourselves why we felt the way we did. I still have the little clay turtle I made. I remember also being given a workbook for people with BPD with many helpful exercises and activities to help us recognize and control our behavior. It did help me a lot.

clay_turtle

Today I don’t think I display many BPD traits, but I don’t think I’m cured either. When I’m very depressed, frightened or angry, those BPD traits pop back up like unwanted pimples. I still remember the lessons from my therapy and still look at my little turtle or a picture of a turtle to remind myself to go inside myself and not react until I think things through and process my feelings.

Because this is a blog for survivors of narcissistic abuse and many (if not most) survivors think of narcissists as demons or monsters, I was hesitant to talk about my BPD much, because it’s a Cluster B disorder and is so close to NPD in many ways. The disorders are easily confused with each other. A person with full blown BPD can seem very much like one with NPD, but for the Borderline, the motive behind their unpredictable and sometimes destructive behavior is fear of abandonment and insecurity. For the narc, it’s for obtaining supply. Some people seem to think of people with BPD as almost as bad as narcissists. Some of them are.

So that’s why I’ve been reluctant to talk about this. But again, from Day One I committed to honesty and I hope I won’t be judged too harshly for “coming out” as a person with BPD.

borderline
Borderline personality disorder.

My daughter, I’m happy to say, knows almost as much about narcissism as I do now, and has been reading my blog. She came across the above article where I speculated she might have NPD and she was so worried about that it made her cry. We had a long discussion about that. Since then, she has been improving a lot and says my blog has helped HER! She says she’s proud of me for having the courage to start this blog. And I have to say, I’m just as proud of her. Here’s my article describing how healing and emotional that talk we had was. I think we will both be just fine.

My next article, which I will write later today, will be about how malignant narcissists can transform a good person into an evil one. They can infect you with their illness. That’s another reason why they’re so dangerous.