When I connect with someone I like and begin to spend time with them, it’s not unusual for me to become totally enamored by or even preoccupied with them and how absolutely wonderful they are.
It’s also not unusual at some point (due to, perhaps, boredom, feeling slighted, abandoned, or rejected) by that very same person, that I then see them as absolutely reprehensible and no longer want anything to do with them. I push them right off of the pedestal upon which I placed them with my own hands.
As a manifestation of Borderline Personality Disorder, this phenomenon is known as “splitting.” It is also a form of “black or white” or “all or nothing” thinking, i.e. “She’s perfect,” or “she’s bad.”
My own personal theory about why I experience splitting is that it likely has to do with the unsafe and invalidating environment I grew up in as a child. My father was not a happy man. He was also quite frightening in that he could go from behaving “normally” to suddenly flying off the handle and into a fit of violent anger.
As a child, I saw my dad, from day to day, as “good” or “bad.” Perhaps that’s where it started. In terms of personality development, as an instinctual survival mechanism, I’m sure I closely watched my father’s mannerisms, tone of voice, and body language to assess what parts of me were okay to show and share, as I was terrified of setting him off. Unfortunately, this was not always within my control.
As an adult now, deep down I know that people are not just “all good” or “all bad.” This is yet another dialectic. In reality, there is a scale, or a continuum, not just a black or white judgment of good or bad.
My significant other pointed out during lunch today that I keep mentioning my coworker. Let’s call her Ellen. “Ellen does this with her books…..Ellen likes this TV show….Ellen doesn’t drive down this road, she goes up Broadway….Ellen..Ellen…Ellen.”
He remarked that every time I make a connection with someone, I am very keen on all of the things that they do and that I suddenly treat them like a God or a celebrity, only to demote them should they do the slightest thing to upset me. He said, “It’s Ellen now. I wonder who it will be next.”
As the years have gone on, I admit, I have a pattern of putting people on pedestals, and more often than not, pushing them down from them at some point. I have noticed, though, that since I’ve been in DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), I am able to engage my Wise Mind more and to consider shades of grey.
Just because I like a person, I realize, doesn’t mean that she or he is perfect, won’t make mistakes, and won’t ever let me down. Also, when they do, I don’t have to totally write them off as worthless and cruel and kick them out of my life — which is what I have done in the past many times.
Perhaps these were preemptive strikes. We’ve all heard of the person who broke up with their partner because they felt a breakup coming on and didn’t want to be the one who was rejected. It was like that. Maybe I was afraid that I was no longer worthy…that the person would see me for who I am, with my flaws and shortcomings, and they would reject me. So, to save some emotional face, I would come up with something or pick on something otherwise insignificant and then convince myself that this person should no longer be in my life. And I would reject them.
If this patterns sounds familiar to you, please extend compassion to yourself. Dr. Marsha Linehan, founder of DBT, says that “everything has cause.” This means that whether you can speculate what causes your splitting behavior or not, there is a reason for it.
If this is something you wish to change, bring it up with your therapist. It’s a great step toward creating a life worth living and building on the Interpersonal Effectiveness skills of DBT.
It’s something I continue to work on. I want to know and like Ellen, and I don’t want to put her in the unfair position of being my rescuer or my version of the perfect human being. Shades of grey. Shades of grey.
Thank you for reading.
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