Do you feel your partner causes you to feel bad about yourself? Are they really responsible for how you feel or could they be triggering feelings deep within yourself? How do you know if they are mistreating you or you’re being triggered?
Often, we blame others for how we feel, so we project that they treat us badly, in order avoid feeling bad about ourselves. Splitting causes the individual to have a distorted perception of themselves and others. Often, a person does not understand if they are reacting because they’ve been treated badly, or splitting.
When splitting, individuals can feel in love, and then moments later want to leave their relationship. Splitting is when we see ourselves or others as either ‘all good’ or ‘all bad”, not seeing both the good and bad traits at the same time. A healthy sense of self is when an individual can see the good and bad qualities at the same time.
Splitting protects against bad feelings, by projecting them onto our partner. When we are triggered, we may accuse our lover of abandoning us (he is bad), instead of the parent. We blame our relationship for how we feel, disowning where the feelings came from.
Someone who forgets to return their call might be projected as rude and uncaring when he was too busy to call. The more we project our past wounds or feelings onto partners, we repeat the pattern of feeling this way. Splitting allows us to feel good momentarily, to protect us from feeling worthless or unwanted (bad).
Examples of Splitting
In splitting, when people feel bad, they ignore the good qualities about themselves. When an individual see’s the good traits, they deny the bad traits in a partner. They can avoid feelings of abandonment, by only seeing the good aspects in a partner, not the abuse. A person can split from seeing all the good aspects of a person, and then see all the bad. Usually, a situation will trigger feelings that end up being projected. One minute you love them and then something reminds you of the bad things.
A woman may feel good dating a man (seeing him as all good}. She may be denying the red flags that he was controlling and possessive. The more you idealize someone, the more you deny the bad qualities about them, often getting into trouble, or making the wrong partner choice.
A woman meets a man who makes her feel wanted (good) but then denies that he is womanizing and not wanting to commit (bad). She feels loved and then gets hurt when he discards her. Splitting can cause one to deny reality or mistreatment because they want to uphold the positive image of that person, ignoring the bad aspects. It can cause them to stay in unhealthy relationships and not protect themselves. Often splitting occurs because individuals want to feel good or loved, so they protect the person by denying aspects that they do not want to see.
As children, they preserved the notion of the good parent by disavowing the bad treatment, so they could feel loved or good; and they continue this pattern of splitting in adult relationships. Many individuals with borderline personality disorder use splitting to protect against feelings of self-hatred or self-loathing.
Difference Between Splitting and Being Treated Badly
Splitting can feel impulsive, rather than reasonable. Ask yourself; Is there enough evidence to warrant your feelings?
Are the emotional experiences so overwhelming that you react to get rid of the feeling? For instance, sending angry messages or breaking up on the spot, without thinking it through. Do you change your mind about ending a relationship, depending on how you feel that day? Does it feel like your behavior was testing their love when triggered to feeling unloved? Being treated badly is when someone violates your boundaries, lies, betrays you, gaslights you, attempts to control or intimate you (emotionally or physically).
Do you have strong evidence to support how you’re feeling in your relationship? Is your partner doing things that hurt you? Is their behavior unacceptable (addictions, affairs, abuse, lies, etc}. If so, you have a right to address these behaviors or end the relationship. Perhaps you were splitting to have denied the bad treatment, but doing something about it means you are facing reality and addressing the real issues.
Are the feelings disproportionate to the situation? If your feelings do not fit the situation, you are likely to be splitting. Often you can feel silly when you realize that you over reacted about something.
Does it feel every partner treats you the same way? Are you expecting this to happen? Ask yourself if what you’re feeling towards your partner is a similar feeling that occurs across different partners, which may be a pattern within yourself, of splitting off from negative feelings so that you can feel better. Perhaps you might need to determine if these feelings belong to you or your past.
Do you feel in love and then want to break up all of a sudden, forgetting all the good parts of the relationship? If the feeling alternates and passes, it is most likely to be caused by splitting. If you feel this way for a long duration, then perhaps you are justified to feel this way towards your partner.
Does it feel like you are warding off intolerable feelings by breaking up impulsively, rather than making an informed decision?
Do you alternate from feeling good, then feeling bad about your relationship? Is it just a feeling or can you pinpoint the actual events that upset you? How bad are they? How much of these feelings is caused by your partner and how much belongs to your past? Once we can separate what belongs to us and what belongs to them, we can become clearer about how to deal with the relationship.
Strategies to Deal with Impulsive Emotions
Avoid reacting in the heat of the moment; slow yourself down, collect your thoughts and wait until you understand your experience before saying anything. Pause. Tell your partner that you want to talk when you’re calmer. If you’re not sure if you’re projecting, ask them clarifying questions to check out your feelings, rather than make assumptions about their behavior based on your feelings.
Never act when triggered, let some time pass to cool off. Splitting causes you to push away love ones, who often feel attacked or accused of things they haven’t done. When we are splitting we do not see the harm it can cause in our relationships.
We shouldn’t accuse our partner of feelings that belong to our past. Instead, we can let them know when we are triggered so that they can be attuned to our feelings. It is best to wait for the feeling to pass before discussing them. By digesting the feelings and processing them, in order to understand them, allows you to be more in touch with your feelings, so that you can express them in a way that builds understanding and connection.
Nancy Carbone is a Counselor and Couples Therapist. She specializes in the treatment of personality disorders from the Psychoanalytic International Masterson Institute in New York. Nancy has been a clinical trainer and supervisor.
Featured Photo by Jordan Whitt.