#20 – Splitting Explained and Thoughts on DBT

Splitting is often mentioned in blogs and books about BPD. Here I’ll give an overview of this defense mechanism, offer ways of understanding it, and suggest ideas for overcoming it.

What does splitting mean? It describes how someone views themselves and others as all-good or all-bad at a given time, not as a mix of good and bad qualities. It can be illustrated with examples. Here are three scenarios that show splitting in action:

Example 1: The Mean Professor

In our first example, a “borderline” woman gets back a paper in her college English class with a grade of C. The professor notes that the grammar, syntax, and thesis need to be improved, and suggests a revision. He adds that the overall organization was on the right track, making encouraging remarks about several ideas. Nevertheless, the student feels rage in response to the grade of C. She views the professor as mean, as a harsh grader, and as “out to find and punish any mistake.” The student does not take in the positive remarks, which could have balanced her thinking by preventing the professor from appearing totally negative. By only focusing on the bad aspects of the situation and cancelling out the positive, the student remains internally attached to an “all bad” view of the outside world. This is an example of negative or all-bad splitting.

An important thing to notice about splitting is that the individual becomes actively involved in maintaining their view of the world in a “split” way, via the way they fantasize about and color external reality. In other words, the person’s mind only recognizes or takes in a certain kind of emotional stimulus – e.g. critical remarks in this case – and the person either does not recognize, or actively rejects, the opposite kind of stimulus – balancing, positive remarks. In this way the person does not experience any ambivalence, thoughtfulness, or reflective-capacity in relation to what is going on. Rather, the (only partially negative in this case) experience is responded to as if it really were 100% bad emotionally. This severely limits the ways in which the individual can respond to the outside world.

The origin of all-bad splitting was further discussed in the article on Fairbairn’s developmental model, here:

https://bpdtransformation.wordpress.com/2014/02/02/the-fairbairnian-object-relations-approach-to-bpd/

With regard to a person not recognizing positive experiences, or rejecting positive stimuli, these are examples of the out-of-contact and ambivalent symbiotic phases respectively. More on these phases can be found here:

https://bpdtransformation.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/four-phases-of-bpd-treatment-and-recovery/

Example 2 – A Date Turned Bad

In this second example, a “borderline” young man goes on a date with a young woman, meeting her for lunch. The pair have a relatively good conversation, finding some shared experiences in music, sports, and the schools they attended. At the end, the woman hesitantly says she would be interested in meeting again, and she gives an awkward, tentative hug to the young man.

This man had a difficult relationship with his own mother, who was distant and cold emotionally. Although he enjoyed parts of the date, he forgets the main conversation and becomes preoccupied with the awkwardness that ended their meeting. After going over it in his mind, he decides that the young woman did not like him, was just being nice out of pity, and has no interest in seeing him again. He can only understand her awkwardness at the end of the date as an unconscious communication of rejection.

This is partly an example of projection. However, it is also an example of severe splitting, in that the young man sees the woman’s attitude as all-negative while rejecting any balancing possibilities. For example, rather than viewing the woman as not liking him, he could consider that she might be nervous about expressing affection on a first date, or that she is relatively inexperienced with dating overall. These thought patterns would move away from the feeling of rejection. However, these ideas never occur to him, which is partly because he makes buries the memory of the good conversation, and fixates consciously on the negative (from his perspective) ending. Again, we can see that internally this young man is creating or “making” reality more negative than it really is, via the splitting of the woman into all-bad in his mind.

Example 3 – The Savior Parent

For a last example, a lonely, middle-aged “borderline” woman becomes involved with an older, successful professional man who wines and dines her, gives her gifts, and in general treats her with kindness. During these early good times, the woman views the man as a “savior”, the perfect gentleman, and the solution to all her problems. Even when he makes small mistakes, like his habit of being late to dates, she isn’t bothered.

However, after a few months, the man stops spending so much time with her, gives more energy to his other friends and hobbies, and has to travel more for business. He tells her he wants to take his time with the relationship. Once this happens, the “savior” image disappears, and the woman feels rejected. The “good child – perfect parent” internal images are replaced by her feeling like an unwanted, lonely child, with the man seen as an uninterested, rejecting parental-figure. Now, when they do meet and the man is a little bit late, she notices it immediately – it feels like a concrete example of how he is not concerned about her. Her feeling rejected by the lateness (all-bad splitting) is the polar opposite of when she would not even notice his lateness before, during the idealizing phase (all-good splitting).

In these examples, I use the quotations around “borderline” because these examples represent not “borderlines” (do we ever see a borderline walking down the street?), but unique human beings facing challenging past and present circumstances. As noted in other articles, I don’t believe that BPD is a valid diagnosis; nevertheless, “Borderline Personality Disorder” is a diagnostic word commonly used in association with splitting. Thus I will sometimes use the term, albeit reluctantly.

Understanding Splitting as a Normal Developmental Process

Splitting in itself is not something “bad”. Rather, it is a normal developmental phase that children pass through; the young child first takes in satisfying experiences and unsatisfying experiences separately, classifying them in different compartments in its mind. The problem of splitting continuing into adulthood only develops when the negative experiences outnumber or outweigh the positive experiences.

Integration (seeing the world ambivalently, as mixtures of good and bad qualities) begins to naturally occur in a child’s mind if more good than bad experiences accumulate over time. Let us look back at the three examples to see how someone with a higher capacity for ambivalence might have processed the same events:

Example 1 – The Constructively Critical Professor

Rather than “mean” and “out to punish any mistake”, a healthier student would have seen her professor’s remarks as constructive criticisms meant to improve her writing. She would have noted that the positive remarks indicated a concerned side of the professor, and then – holding them in her mind along with the critical remarks – she would not have twisted his image into that of a rejecting authority figure. These differing perceptions would probably affect her future behavior; making her more likely to rewrite the essay well and receive praise from the professor.

In contrast, the more troubled woman in the original example might do a lackluster revision in response to the criticism, lacking motivation due to her belief in the professor’s all-negative attitude toward her. This might lead to more trouble with the professor on future assignments, resulting in more all-bad perceptions by the student, and so on. In this way, all-bad splitting tends to form a vicious cycle where the same people are repeatedly seen as “all-bad”, related to unrealistically as “bad”, and then in reality they often do become more “bad”, treating the person less well than they otherwise would have. In other words, the person is modifying how they experience own reality via the splitting. The internal and external worlds of the person interpenetrate so that the internal negative perceptions come to shape and be shaped by how the person interacts with the outside world.

Example 2 – Ambivalence Over A Young Woman on a Date

As mentioned in the original example, a healthier man might have considered that the young woman’s awkwardness at the end of the date might not indicate lack of interest. Rather, a whole range of reasons could account for her behavior, including nervousness, lack of experience with dating, not being comfortable with expressing physical affection, a conservative upbringing, and so on. Keeping any of these ideas in mind, along with the memory of the positive aspects of their conversation, would have supported the idea that the woman could still like him despite her awkwardness.

Example 3 – A More Independent Woman

This woman’s idealizing reaction to the generous man in the initial phases of dating is not unusual. However, her reaction would be stronger than most, in that a lot of neediness underlies it. Her need for emotional support results in her wanting a perfect, all-giving parental figure, rather than just a lover. The need is not a bad thing in itself – it reflects a child’s developmental level emotionally – but it makes continuing an adult-adult relationship difficult. Because the woman wants a perfect parent, she is inevitably disappointed when the man starts to devote his energy elsewhere. At this point, the splitting shifts from all-good to all-bad, and things that did not bother the woman previously (like the man’s lateness) become upsetting.

A healthier person would not have such a strong need for the man in the initial phase of dating. Therefore, she would not be so vulnerable to disappointment when the man started to reveal imperfections later on. The man would neither be seen as so perfect initially, nor viewed as so bad and disappointing later on. Both of these differences in perception would result from increased ambivalence – the absence of all-good or all-bad splitting.

Why Does Splitting Continue Into Adulthood?

We have seen in these examples how a healthier person tends to use an integrated view of other people, containing good and bad elements together, to relate to others in a more complex, realistic way. This capacity is based on a predominance of positive experiences in these individuals’ life experience. As noted, integration naturally tends to occur when good life experiences outweigh bad ones, because a person feels safe to look at the small “bad” packet of experiences alongside the “good” group of experiences.

However, if a person’s negative experiences in life largely outweigh the good ones, then integration cannot occur in a way that feels safe. Very often, abuse, neglect, and a lack of positive relationships in childhood and/or early adulthood underlie this “structural deficit” – the lack of good experiences on which to base a capacity for ambivalence. The lack of feeling secure in childhood, and the related need to maintain hope in an overwhelming situation, are reasons that splitting gets maintained into adulthood in many adults who get the “borderline” label. Because their experience in reality – often with parents who neglect or abuse them – has been more negative than positive, they have to preserve hope of things getting better somehow. They do this using the splitting defense. With splitting, it is possible to pretend, on the basis of the few good experiences that one actually did have, that a perfect, good savior-parent or partner is still out there who can provide salvation. By contrast, it feels dangerous to the child (and later adult) to truly see that he is in great emotional danger as a result of his interpersonal world being more “bad” than “good”.

In colloquial language, one could say that it feels safer to ambivalently reflect on what is going on in one’s life when one’s experiences with others have been primarily positive. When one feels threatened most of the time, it’s not possible to be consistently aware of just how bad things are. Such an awareness would be emotionally overwhelming. In this way, at least at first, splitting is a brilliant defense mechanism that can be emotionally life-preserving

How To Move Beyond Splitting

Here I would refer the reader to blogs, books, and essays that were discussed in earlier articles. Many sources describe how building a long-term good relationship with another person and/or group is crucial to recovering from what is called Borderline Personality Disorder. The borderline individual needs to build their internal positive images up – taking in many good, supportive, loving experiences with other people in the real world – until these memories become stronger than the negative images. Eventually, integration of good and bad perceptions will naturally start to occur, and splitting will begin to be overcome.

I like to use the framework of four phases, artificial as they are, to conceptualize progress from all-bad splitting to all-good splitting to integration. The essay below describes the phases of Therapeutic Symbiosis, meaning dominance of positive images over negative ones, followed by Resolution of the Symbiosis, meaning the integration of good and bad images. These are the phases that a borderline individual usually wants to aim towards, starting from either the out-of-contact or ambivalent symbiotic phase. These earlier phases represent periods in which all-bad splitting dominates, i.e. the person’s negative views of themselves and others predominate over their positive ones, preventing ambivalence:

https://bpdtransformation.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/four-phases-of-bpd-treatment-and-recovery/

Types of Therapy for Overcoming Splitting

From my experience, I have a bias toward psychodynamic-psychoanalytic therapy; I think it’s a great way to build the positive relationship needed to overcome splitting. In long-term psychodynamic work, one can painstakingly build a trusting attachment that serves to replace the negative relationships of the past. The therapist first helps the patient to understand (via the transference relationship) how their negative, splitting-based ways of viewing the world are unrealistic and serve to block the need for more positive relationships. They also help the patient to manage difficult feelings in a way the original parents could not.

Later on, as trust and attachment develops, the therapist functions as a good parental figure, helping the patient develop their internal positive self-and-other images to the point that the good images dominate over the negative images. The positive relationship inside therapy gradually transfers to relationships in the outside world. The therapist is eventually experienced as an independent, separate person that the (formerly borderline) individual can have a mature adult-adult relationship with. During this period, the patient becomes more able to experience relationships ambivalently, as good and bad at once.

A Critique of CBT and DBT

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy or Dialectical-Behavior Therapy can certainly be helpful, and are great for helping people stabilize their lives on a short-term basis. While I do not that think that CBT and DBT are “bad”; it’s my opinion that they are sometimes formulaic and superficial. They can have a narrow, present-day focus that limits a deeper understanding of someone’s problems based on their life history. Also, some of these shorter-term therapy approaches have the following problems:

1) They focus on coping with symptoms of one’s “illness”, thus conveying the impression that BPD is a life-long condition that must be managed, not overcome.  This may be partly my perception; not all forms of short-term therapy are like this and some focus on strengths. From my direct experience with it, I remember that there are positive aspects to the DBT conceptualizations, like the “wise mind” concept.

2) In some cases, CBT and DBT keep the borderline person stuck, allowing them to “cope ” a little bit better, but using the same defensive structure and split views of reality that they have had throughout life. Readers can probably relate to feeling that a short-term therapy has only been palliative, rather than helping them break through their suffering to experience the world in a new way. I think deep improvement requires much longer than short-term therapies allow for, and that it involves understanding one’s history and defenses in depth.

In my opinion, CBT and DBT (both of which I’ve also experienced myself, years ago) do not often continue long enough to build the positive self and object-images to the point needed to overcome splitting; CBT and DBT are often given for periods of only weeks or months. Again, in my opinion, overcoming splitting and associated defenses usually requires at least a few years. That is not meant to be pessimistic – while years may sound like a long time, things can gradually get better and better. Also, CBT and DBT can definitely help a person toward stabilizing a difficult situation, coping better with difficult feelings, and starting to be experience the world more ambivalently. It is not that shorter-term or manualized treatments are bad; but they may be limited in what they can achieve.

3) Going deeper, CBT and DBT create the illusion that BPD is a valid diagnosis that means the same thing for different individuals, but let’s not go there this time. If I get started on that train, it will take a long time to stop! 🙂

Having made these criticisms, I should admit that they might be wrong. That is why I noted that these thoughts are only opinions. Generalizing about therapy is a dangerous thing to do – a lot of success depends on the quality of the individual therapist, regardless of orientation, and the resources and motivation of the patient. Also, people have many options that can help outside of therapy. Therefore, my critiques should be taken as generalizations that have little meaning for an individual. No doubt, many people have benefitted from CBT and DBT, and if it works for them, that is all that matters. As one of my old therapists said, we should “take what is useful, and leave the rest.” If you have positive experiences with any of these forms of therapy, please share it in the comments.

Other Approaches to Overcoming Splitting

The discussion above assumes that people want to use psychotherapy as the main vehicle to overcome their problems. Of course, this is not always true. My first recommendation for those looking for another approach is to check out Clare’s writing on overcoming BPD, at:

http://www.my-borderline-personality-disorder.com/2013/03/recovery-bpd-mbt.html

http://www.my-borderline-personality-disorder.com/2013/07/the-process-of-overcoming-bpd-follow-up.html

Clare has many great articles about how she recovered from her problems without using intensive psychotherapy. I find her way of thinking about “borderline” problems to be humble, helpful, and wise. At the very least, her approach is more mature and encouraging than a lot of the pessimistic ideas discussed by “non-borderlines” on other forums! I hope I don’t offend anyone with this 🙂

Second, self-help groups like 12-step and other similar organizations can be very helpful, and I recommend at least trying them to everyone. These groups can help to establish a foundation of positive, trusting relationships, and can therefore be crucial to eventually overcoming splitting.

Third, for many people it can be helpful to educate oneself skeptically about BPD! What skeptical education means is to read widely, taking in many differing viewpoints on borderline issues without accepting one viewpoint as right. In my opinion, a lot of information about BPD on the internet is either so superficial as to be useless, or just plain wrong (this especially applies to viewpoints that involve strong pessimism toward borderlines, as well as viewpoints that consider BPD to be an “illness” with a genetic or biological basis).

Unfortunately, negative viewpoints on BPD may have a strong influence on people who become identified with the term, causing them to think negatively about their future. In this way, the very concept of BPD can sometimes become yet another obstacle to taking in positive experiences, making an already challenging task of recovery harder. So, my thinking is that changing one’s view of BPD to something more hopeful and flexible, or even rejecting the diagnosis model entirely, can be useful.

Fourth, and this is a truism, but friends and family can be so crucial to getting better. I understand that for many people who identify with BPD, family are a problem. But this is not always the case. Whenever family and friends can be turned into supporters, and relationships with them used for growth, it helps. In my experience, the more isolated that people are, the more prone they are to all-bad splitting. This is because isolation maintains the deficit of positive internal experiences, leading a person to feeling less secure and supported. While in this state people are less able to reflect on their experiences ambivalently.

Fifth, Helen Albanese gave a good overview of how splitting can be resolved in BPD in her book, The Difficult Borderline Patient: Not So Difficult To Treat. It is a brief, non-technical introduction to psychodynamic thinking about splitting and BPD, and Albanese conveys a lot of optimism that the condition can be overcome. It is accessible to the layperson in a way that most psychoanalytic books are not. I recommend checking it out in the used books on Amazon! (I have no affiliation with the author).

Understanding Splitting When One Is “Borderline”

To conclude, I think people working through borderline issues can benefit from understanding in greater depth how splitting operates – how viewing themselves and others as “all-bad” traps them in a negative cycle of seeing the outside world as all-bad, expecting bad things to happen, inducing others to respond negatively, feeling negative in response to treatment which they are partly responsible for, and so on.

This is an encouraging perspective, because if one gains insight into how one is misperceiving reality as “all-bad”, one can then start to understand how to move past the distortions. In other words, a person can become aware that they are seeing reality in a “delusional”, one-sided way, and that there are more good parts to outside reality than they often perceive. This can be an eye-opening, sometimes amazing experience to a person who starts to see things as good and bad together for the first time.

Getting past splitting sometimes makes me think of the movie Inception, where there are different levels of reality symbolized in different levels of dreams. In the early phases of mostly all-bad splitting (like in one level of a dream), reality is viewed all one way or the other. But on the higher level, where integration or ambivalence reigns, the world appears totally different, more complex and complete. It’s like the difference between seeing things as three-dimensional and in color, versus black or white.

Ok, I will finish this here! I hope this had some useful ideas, and feel free to share any thoughts with me via email or in the comments.

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19 thoughts on “#20 – Splitting Explained and Thoughts on DBT

  1. Allen Lewis

    Hi Edward, I am so happy to read your thoughts about BPD.  I am just reading your latest (#20) on splitting and I stopped dead in my tracks when I read “The Saviour”.  I decided to email you immediately. Can you please let me know if this email actually gets to you? Thanks and have a great day!Allen

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  2. Ian

    Hey Edward:

    This is outstanding – I can really relate with this – especially the young man goes on date with young woman thing!

    Based on my experience doing emotional body enlightenment (an emotional growth facilitation model very similar to the psychodynamic approach) I was able to break through the splitting where when I walked out of that particular session it was as if someone ripped off a pair of glasses I’d been viewing women through (bulk of my wounding lies with my past emotionally abusive mother) my entire life and my sexulaity came online for women in a way I never felt before. It was like someone untwisted my 1st 3 chakras – guts in laymans terms – from the inside out and I was also completely grounded on earth – walking around my town in love with every woman I saw, but also needed nothing from them (the neediness, brain fog, anxiety, terror, depression, shame loop was gone) and did not feel split in any way. My head was crystal clear and I had all my love, strength, and energy back!

    This article also helps confirm my truth of finding a psychodynamic based woman to work with that I’m in the process of now. I want to get help and support to work things through because most recently (as I shared with you via email) I lost my grip and didn’t get the date with the girl I want to take out because I got triggered and started splitting that I leaked on this beautiful young woman when I finally worked up the courage to ask for a date. That was a wake up call for me – because of course deep down I would LOVE to take her out and get to know her based on what I felt before I started splitting – and I’m now actively looking for help and getting myself back on track.

    Thank you for the great article!
    Ian

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    1. bpdtransformation Post author

      Thanks Ian – I really like the glasses metaphor you used, the idea that seeing people as all-bad/distorted is like viewing the world through a distorted lens. That is sort of what I meant with the three dimensional/technicolor ambivalence vs. two-dimensional/black and white metaphor.
      I hope you will be able to ask the next beautiful woman out and have a good time with her!

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      1. Ian

        U bet Edward and thanks – I hope so too, and look forward to that!

        And yeah, totally got it about 3D vs black/white metaphor. That’s EXACTLY the difference I’m talking’ bout with me experience – after I did the work with a facilitator everything was in 3D Technicolor and “rich beyond my wildest dreams” as the woman who was facilitating me said when I asked her previously if doing deep emotional growth work like this was really worth it. You can’t put a price on that!

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  3. safirefalcon

    Hi Edward- Do you already have or can you tell me (or write a post) about exactly what might happen in a session of psychodynamic therapy.

    I find it both hopeful and frustrating to read about those who have recovered and gone on with mostly healthy and productive lives while I struggle with continually failing in therapy.

    I think the therapist I have now may be talking about doing this with me without using the actual title of it, but I’d really like to be sure so that I can talk to her about it or be sure we are in fact on the same page.

    I’ve been reading your blog…started from the beginning and have looked up psychodynamic therapy but still am confused as to what it entails.

    Thanks.

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    1. bpdtransformation Post author

      Ok, I will plan to write about this. But it is going to take some time, and also, each therapy is different for each person, so it’s hard to generalize. There are so many possibilities for what might happen!

      If you want, email me at bpdtransformation (at) gmail (dot) com and we can always discuss more. I wish I could provide helpful suggestions but I really don’t know you or your situation well enough to say much useful.

      However I can suggest one thing. My bias is that the most important thing in therapy is to build a relationship where you feel loved and affirmed as a person, coming to trust the therapist and relate to them as a “good” parent – i.e. a therapeutic symbiosis (see article #10). In technical terms, one needs to repair the deficit of positive self-and-object images (see e.g. the articles on Gerald Adler #15, on Fairbairn #9, and on the Four Phases #10). If this type of relationship is not developing in a way that strengthens one’s positive feelings about oneself and others, you want to figure out what is getting in the way. Is it because part of you does not trust the therapist? If not, why not, and is it something you can talk about to the therapist directly and work out? Is it because the therapist is not in reality good enough to warrant your affection, i.e. do you need someone else? It is because the therapy is not frequent or intense enough, or has not gone on long enough yet? Are there other factors in your life (e.g. an abusive home situation) that make it hard to engage in a positive relationship in the therapy and divert you into talking about problems that don’t get resolved? Etc.

      Also, read other cases of people who have done well. For example, in Jeffrey Seinfeld’s book the Bad Object there are several good cases. In Bryce Boyer’s book The Regressed Patient there are a bunch of good long cases. Much can be learned from these lengthy cases in a way that can’t from the brief vignettes that fill most psychology books. Vamik Volkan’s story of Patty is another good one –

      http://freepsychotherapybooks.org/book-categories/psychoanalysis/product/39-six-steps-in-the-treatment-of-borderline-personality-organization/category_pathway-17

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      1. safirefalcon

        Thank you!
        I think my present therapist is a good one. And I am doing ok talking to her and opening up about the issues I’m having in present day. However I do feel apprehensive in talking about my past with her and I’m not sure exactly why.

        I think she is trustworthy though and I have not had problems with this in the past talking to other therapists. I think my thinking was always that if I talk enough about the past abuse and also my own screw ups the therapist will be able to fix me.

        I’m not that naive anymore and in fact know it’s not the case, so maybe I feel it’s a waste of time as well as maybe feeling more ashamed now than before given she is younger than me. (the first therapist I’ve ever had who is indeed younger than me. I’m 49 now so it isn’t unlikely)

        Her age doesn’t bother me as far as thinking she’s not experienced enough in her career. I think she is. I think she is more empathic than anyone I’ve been in therapy up to this point.

        I think that type of relationship is beginning to form and it is true that I haven’t been seeing her all that long. I’m not thinking of bailing at all.

        However, I’m one to fear that other shoe dropping so to speak and feel that now that I’ve found what I think will work for me, that I’ve found a good therapist, something will happen to screw it up. Either I will sabotage it or she will leave the facility and won’t be able to see me anymore… etc.

        So I think that’s a big one standing in my way, while at the same time we have been spending some of our time discussing what will help me. So that’s why I tend to think that if I find a therapy I think will work I can discuss it with her and she will either use it, learn how to or direct me to someone who can. Although I probably wouldn’t go somewhere else right not anyway.

        We are seeing each other once a week because that’s what insurance will cover. I have no other money to make it more but she is looking into trying to get twice a week for me at least temporarily. So we’ll see.

        But since my ‘bad’ experiences outweigh the good, just as I’ve come to expect dropping shoes, I’ve also come to not get my hopes up and pretty much expect the insurance company to say no.

        Thanks for the response. And either way I am also interested in doing things outside of therapy to help with recovery.

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    2. Ian

      Hi Safairefalcom:

      I just want to chime in here on this one with my experience. If your therapist can’t feel what you are feeling while you are feeling it then walk away. It is critical to have someone who has this porosity and capacity inside them-self, otherwise psycho-dynamic truly trans-mutational and re-parenting doesn’t happen. Truly good therapists with this capacity are rare. Edward has an awesome criteria for filtering this out – I suggest reaching out to him for this.

      There is also mounting evidence in the health field for neurological, endocrine, and auto-immune disorders that can be part of the causes of severe emotional problems.

      Best of luck on your path!
      Ian

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      1. safirefalcon

        Thanks Ian. I think that’s good advice. I’ve been through the ringer with therapists for a long time with some lengthy amounts of time with no therapy and also doing nothing for my own recovery.

        I’m older so the awareness of BPD wasn’t so prominent when I first started noticing my problems.

        And of course I didn’t know what I needed back then and still not always exactly sure although a bit more clear.

        I think the therapist I have now is capable of what you are saying is necessary. I’ve met with her now once a week for a few months and it’s the first time in forever I’m not walking out feeling frustrated or still open and vulnerable because the session wasn’t ‘closed’ in a healthy way.

        I expressed this to her last time I saw her and she told me, “That’s why I think it’s important for therapists not to schedule clients back to back so that if we need to go over the time allotted we can.”

        And she’s proven that to me time and time again that she actually does believe that with her actions. Most other therapists have watched the clock and even if I still had tears streaming down my face the session was over and that was it.

        That’s not happening with this woman. And despite the fact that she’s younger than me, that doesn’t bother me because she seems to really understand and have lots of empathy for me.

        However at the same time I don’t see her as perfect either. (Just so you know I’m not idealizing her lol) I’ve had my ‘complaints’ and moments of wanting to go elsewhere too. But I feel very comfortable talking to her about anything like that as well.

        Thanks Ian for the comment. I will keep that in mind if I find the need for whatever reason to move on yet again to another therapist.

        I would just really like to know what those who have recovered have actually talked about in therapy. Not detailed exact convos but an idea of what to be talking about and doing.

        Is there role playing? Is it beneficial to talk about my past with my family and other relationships and friendships? Or is it about emotions and feelings about what is happening in the immediate past, like say yesterday or last week with the person I live with?

        I’m looking for a road map, more or less. So that I can recover already. I’m 49 and am exhausted. I know that if I have an idea of what will help and I take it to my therapist she will help me if she can directly or direct me to someone who can.

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      2. bpdtransformation Post author

        Thanks Ian. And yeah Safire I think all of those are good conversation topics. Some of the big things I talked about was past abuse – e.g. what my father and mother did… as well as what was missing in our family (e.g. emotional closeness) and how that affected my current relationships… also current goals… also what negative things in my current relationships are holding me back, e.g. at one point I was living with my mother and it was better for me to move out and be on my own… also what I want to do with my job or school… hoped-for relationships, i.e. how to make friends by going to places like Meetup.com groups, 12 step groups, Match.com, etc… also, talking about my fear at the time of whether and how much borderlines could get better. I needed to build a strong sense of security that BPD could be “cured”, or at least do well enough to be happy a good part of the time. So sometimes I would have my therapist tell me general non-confidential stories about how difficult people had succeeded in similar circumstances. But above all of this keep in mind the overall goal of coming to form an increasingly loving/warm and satisfying relationship with the therapist, however that is possible for you. That is probably the thing that can help the most, in my opinion. Sometimes a lot of helpful communication can be nonverbal, also.

        One more book recommendation I have in mind. This might be the best one. In Search of the Lost Mother of Infancy by Lawrence Hedges. In that book there are quite long transcripts of actual therapies of people with borderline and organizing (pre-borderline issues, which often involved not knowing what to talk about, which made me think of this book). In that way you can hear what these people talk about in their own psychodynamic therapy, which is the kind of therapist that Hedges is. It must be on Amazon, but probably only available used.

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  4. safirefalcon

    Thanks again Edward. You have given me some great info here in this response to Ian and myself. It looks like I’m on the right track and had the right idea. I also think that is the direction my therapist and I are going toward and what she was talking about last time I saw her, in what she thinks will help.

    I will look for that book as well. Thanks again.

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  5. juliemadblogger

    I don’t understand, Edward. You say BPD isn’t valid. I agree. Just about all the typical behaviors of BPD are picked up bad habits picked from hospitals and treatment centers. Are you saying that people act that way, but it’s just a phase? Probably, if I’m reading correctly. If we don’t label it as the horrific-sounding label of BPD, then it won’t be a big deal. Growing up. Period. If a person doesn’t, he’s “immature” till he does. That’s how I saw whining guys, years ago.

    I probably mentioned to you that I knew (and dated) a guy who was that way. He whined, he cried, he threw fits, he had what he called “episodes,” during which he curled up into a ball…and all these theatrics were to push me into the bedroom because the implication was that his “wanting me” was torturing him. When I pointed this out, told him I didn’t appreciate the controlling and manipulative bit, he whined more. I was maybe 28 years old and I decided I needed to move on. Fast! I have no clue what got him that way.

    Many years later they told me on a ward that “splitting” meant pitting one staff against the other. I had never heard the term before. They seemed to say the exact same thing all patients. I convened with another patient on this one. If one staff was being exceptionally rude, where else can we go (if we think we can change anything) but to another staff? The supervisors weren’t around. If we did go to anther staff, we were told we were “splitting.” Apparently in the workplace it’s very uncool for one worker to speak ill of another worker. Just like in the classroom, you stay away from comparisons between students. It makes for ill feeling. However, on the wards, you are an underling with no rights. A prisoner. It’s only natural in such oppression to end up doing anything you can to survive, including pitting one against the other if it means avoiding extreme discomfort or getting what you need.

    For instance, some allowed me to have my mechanical pencils, some didn’t, citing “policy.” I knew which ones has allowed it, so I went to the more lenient ones. I wasn’t going to ask the ones that thought the carbon pencil lead was real lead and my intent was to self-poison. Yes, some really claimed that until I told them that lead pencils were taken off the market well before I was born. They didn’t believe me. I told them to Google it. They said they had no computer.

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  6. dreedmusic

    I am so glad I came across this post. I have been romantically involved with someone who uses splitting quite often. it has been a painful experience because I internalized and took things personally. As you can imagine, I have combed the internet in search of something helpful AND hopeful and reading this has blessed me tremendously. I promised her I wold never abandon her and it seems as if she has intentionally tried to force me out. I a in therapy and am getting better emotionally. I pray that I am able to respond better and be positive.

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    1. bpdtransformation Post author

      Thanks for your comment – hope you can get a clearer picture of what is going on with her and not take it personally when this person responds to you in a black or white way based on their past experience being relived in the present. These states of splitting can change a lot over time for the better, too…

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      1. Anonymous

        I’m hopeful. She currently sees all I do as bad and says she needs space. However, when I give it to her she gets upset. It’s a tough situation. i just want to love her the right way.

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  7. Anonymous

    I’m hopeful. She currently sees all I do as bad and says she needs space. However, when I give it to her she gets upset. It’s a tough situation. i just want to love her the right way.

    Like

    Reply

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