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Often amongst people who have little or no knowledge about the specifics of mental health issues, there is a common misconception about splitting; through no fault of their own as misconceptions are often media driven. Splitting tends to get thought of in terms of people who experience multiple personalities, which is not the case, so, I wanted to open a conversation about it by sharing own personal experience of splitting here with you.
In my article published on here 28th April, I discussed my diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (also known as Borderline Personality Disorder), and I have come to realize how much splitting is one of my specialties. When under stress I tend to divide things up into extreme polarised categories, as in, most marvelously good or most devastatingly evil, without much in between. It’s traditional black and white thinking in only one way or the other being a possibility to the split mind. Well, that’s one way that splitting is explained in psychology. However, splitting for me isn’t just about the outer view on situations, things, and other people, for me, and I know for others too, it means existing in different points of being and different modes of self, but not multiple selves, the same self, divided. Just as I can split situations and how I feel about people when I’m ultra-stressed, I tend to also internalize this and apply it to myself too. Under extreme stress, I dissociate and alienate and when my reality is challenged I also challenge myself and who I am and how I feel at that moment in time and sometimes this can lead to me re-associating with myself in a slightly different way, a bit changed. At times I can feel one aspect of myself explode into the limelight only to be swallowed whole by another aspect of myself which darn well makes sure that the previous version totally ceases to exist at that moment. I describe these as different points of being because they only exist at any one time by themselves, like road markers that punctuate a highway, it matters at that point, then it’s gone and you forget about it once you’ve driven past it until you get to the next one, different information on each yet each being a variant of the one that’s gone before. Others may be left bewildered at the change in my behavior, from huggy kissy friend to cool aloof “why the hell are you talking to me?” stranger as I struggle to make sense of the world around me, but, I am fully aware of all aspects of self. It’s funny how we all respond to stress differently, isn’t it? My fluctuations can often be quite subtle and quiet as I’m not one to ‘act out’ but they are still severely apparent inside of me and influence how I feel, respond and interpret the world around me. This is quite different to the idea of moving on from a situation, it’s much more of a significant reaction, a shift in self-perception that I can clearly see and evaluate once my emotional state has reached a new equilibrium.
I feel that this reaction is not due to choice at all, it is rather an inability to mentally cope with emotional flux and so the brain kicks in and does its protective thing; in which case, splitting is not just an intense psychological defense mechanism. I believe it has a deeply rooted origin in neurobiological processing. All mechanisms need a catalyst to start motion and a certain velocity to maintain momentum, and, even though we perceive many catalysts as emotional triggers, beneath that is a set of neural spark plugs igniting that emotion engine, and we keep it going until we reach a fork in the road and we split, one way or the other, no u-turn, gone. Maybe stress kickstarts the biological process and continues to provide the momentum or the biological process kickstarts the stress reflex. Either way, we can’t argue that complex brain patterns certainly illuminate our lives.
Rene J. Muller in his paper Is There a Neural Basis for Borderline Splitting considers that:
“…the possibility that borderline splitting and borderline pathology are due primarily to a congenital malformation of brain structure or function cannot be ignored”. “…some brains may be wired from birth in such a way that the right hemisphere inordinately encodes the negative engrams of an emotionally charged experience, and the left hemisphere the positive engrams. This would amount to a diathetic set up for prospective borderlines, making their brains unusually susceptible to encoding the split engrams that could result from facing even ordinary double bind situations”.
He goes on to suggest that :
…..“For such cases, the brain, rather than the mind…or environment, can be thought of as taking the lead in the genesis of what eventually would be manifested as borderline splitting”. (Muller, Is there a neural basis for borderline splitting? 1992, p.100)
Splitting into a borderline experience is like a fragmented self that cannot be pieced together. The borderline self is not a jigsaw puzzle, even if every piece makes up a whole picture, the individual pieces just don’t fit together at any one time to form a whole, rather each piece is autonomous from the other and contains it’s own individual picture as well as being part of something bigger. There is still a single consciousness underneath the differences though.
Now, how do I cope with splitting as a mature person who has experienced many years of doing this without therapy? Acceptance through knowledge of oneself is most helpful. Wisdom grows through that knowledge so we may learn to express ourselves in more useful ways. However, just because we are aware of the particular aspects of self-doesn’t mean we can suddenly stop experiencing it. Awareness though does give us some objective viewpoint from which to see ourselves and make a change if necessary – if we can feasibly do so for the better, and for the sake of sanity. Also, trying not to make judgments helps which is part of the acceptance I find; if we don’t judge it is easier to accept and keep moving forward. Observe – accept – respond – adapt accordingly and non–judgmentally (being judgment free is also a core concept in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy- see notes). Also, I am never alone. I have all aspects of my inner being, traits and accompanying interests to keep me company, and, being borderline, all these aspects can keep me company at any separate time or all at once. An unpredictable nature is not necessarily dangerous, or a threat, it is interesting, curious and fascinating and sometimes we can learn more from ourselves than we can from anyone else.
Splitting is not an evil concept. It is nothing to fear. It is just the brain dealing with situations in its own way and it’s good to talk about it, it’s healthy to do so and will help to reduce the misconception and stigma that is so pervasive in society. Splitting does not make us bad people; we all have our quirks, after all.