I briefly mentioned splitting the other day and I decided to take a closer look at what this is and what can be done about it. It is also referred to as black & white thinking, all-or-nothing. I personally felt extremely validated by researching this. When we struggle so badly with certain behaviors and then we have the chance to educate ourselves and find out that the behavior is part of the package deal that is BPD, it feels as though we are given a great big hug and soothing words telling us, "It's O.K., you didn't do this." It makes it that much easier to pick up the pieces and start working on skills to reduce the behavior. I felt a rejuvenation of my energy to keep working at this.
So, I wanted first to use an illustration of what splitting can be described as, I found this in a book, I hate you, don't leave me by Jerry Kreisman, M.D.
The world of a [Borderline], like that of a child, is split into heroes and villains. Like an emotional child, the [Borderline] cannot tolerate human inconsistencies and ambiguities; he cannot reconcile good and bad qualities into a constant coherent understanding of another person. At any particular moment, one is either Good or Evil. There is no in-between; no gray area....people are idolized one day; totally devalued and dismissed the next.Normal people are ambivalent and can experience two contradictory states at one time; [Borderlines] shift back and forth, entirely unaware of one feeling state while in the other.When the idealized person finally disappoints (as we all do, sooner or later) the borderline must drastically restructure his one-dimensional conceptionalization. Either the idol is banished to the dungeon, or the borderline banishes himself in order to preserve the all-good image of the other person.Splitting is intended to shield the [Borderline] from a barrage of contradictory feelings and images and from the anxiety of trying to reconcile those images. But splitting often achieves the opposite effect. The frays in the [Borderline's] personality become rips, and the sense of his own identity and the identity of others shifts even more dramatically and frequently.
Looking at splitting from this perspective we can understand certain things about our experiences. First-of-all, notice the shift between these two contradictory states happens without cognitive awareness for the borderline. So when you are in the "everything is bad" state, you will be hard pressed to convince yourself otherwise. Knowing this about ourselves should motivate us to insert a skill into our daily routine, using this "all is bad" thoughts as our cue to use the skill. Even though we are not be able to convince ourselves that all is not in fact bad, we can teach ourselves to hang-on long enough and tolerate the distress while obeying the law of impermanence. That feeling or contradictory state will pass, and we will obtain baseline again. And when we do, we want to have been as safe as possible. Without having made our situation worse. Without having had reinforced ineffective behavior.
The other noticeable concept in that illustration is when these two contradictory states present themselves, the borderline finds relief one of two ways, either by "taking it out" on the person or event OR by "taking it out" on ourself. This is paramount in understanding our reality. None of this information buys a free ride on the "I do this because I have a mental illness" train and we do nothing about it. But what it does buy us is permission, or when necessary the lack-thereof. We do have permission to not be perfect. We do have permission to make mistakes. We do not have permission to hold all of the responsibility cards. We are not that powerful of people. We need to be responsible for what is ours and the rest needs to be left out of our efforts. I know this sounds a little unbalanced, but I do urge you to weigh the dialectic of "I am a strong person and I am not powerful enough to influence everyone and everything in my environment"
OK, so this black & white thinking is going to be categorized under "non-dialectical thinking" or "thinking errors" On a practical level, we can clearly see some of the problems that may arise if we are using non-dialectical thinking. I want to expand on the list of non-dialectical thinking; mind-reading, over-generalizations, disqualifying the positive, and ignoring the negative. Often times these thinking errors occur when we perhaps have a flawed interpretation of the events surrounding our distress. We can all think of times when we have placed our predictions on the event, maybe we have been catastrophizing our experience: "This is the most hideous thing I have ever had to endure!" Is it really the most hideous? Have you not endured something at least equal to it? The idea that it is the most you have ever had to endure is over-generalizing. It is like saying to your mate, "You always do this!" Does he/she really always do it? Probably not. Notice, with that sort of thinking error we are only ramping up the voltage in our distress and therefore are more likely to engage in target behavior, or we are more likely to reinforce ineffective behavior. Which is not on our to-do list. The sad reality is that when we do this non-dialectic thinking we don't stop there. It opens the flood gates to other ineffective thought processes. Like, standards, those "should's and should not's" or labeling, when you have behaved in a way that you cannot cope with and the guilt is building, the danger in labeling "Well, I am a borderline" can be relieving you of some due responsibility. Yet, if we take a step back and look at this from a big picture vantage point, we can see that if we address these thinking errors early on we will reduce the likelihood of predicting errors, or those pesky "should's" and eventually we won't even be faced with trying to justify or label our behavior in our diagnosis. Other labeling dangers occur when you address yourself or the other person as something. They are rude, or they are mean. You think of yourself as broken.
What can be done? Here are some great problem solving techniques to use when you notice these non-dialectical thinking habits. Again, as I have mentioned use the ruminating thought process in your head as your cue to look at this list. You cannot trust yourself that you will be cognitive enough of what your doing to notice for yourself that perhaps you should be asking yourself these questions. This is where that yea, you are a borderline, and splitting is a part of that, but you are not your illness and you can do something about it. You are a strong person and can use skills and you are not powerful enough to make splitting stop altogether, forever.
Things to meditate on for non-dialectical thinking:
- What am I leaving out and what else might be true?
- Check the facts of the event. Take a detective's approach... "Just the facts, Ma'am"
- Observe and describe (without judgment)
- Replace "but/or" with "and" in your dialogue with yourself or others regarding the event.
- What are the facts?
- What is the actual chance?
- What other outcomes are just as likely as my alarming prediction?
- Am I mistaking a possibility for a certainty?
- What have I survived before? Am I underestimating my ability to cope with the problem/emotion?
- Do I have any options for preventing the worst possible outcome?
- Am I making this worse than it is? What are more realistic alternatives to describe self, other or situation? (instead of worthless/struggle, nuisance/hassle, hopeless/difficult yet manageable)
- Practice radical acceptance (we'll cover this more later)
- Verbalize a preference or opinion, rather than a must or need.
- How could I be less hard on myself or others? Cultivate empathy.
- How could I describe the behavior without using a label? Example: "I notice that you continue to interrupt me when I am talking" instead of "your a jerk"
- What are other possible explanations for behavior other than that they are a jerk, incompetent, idiot, worthless, etc.
Have a good long look at this list. Identify areas that you can relate to. I suggest writing down the list in your own thoughts to use later on, when you are currently involved in some non-dialectical thinking. I would love to hear peoples comments or thoughts on this. I want to know how this is going for everyone!