Black then white are all I see in my infancy
Red and yellow then came to be, reaching out to me
Lets me see
There is so much more
And beckons me to look through to these infinite possibilities
– Tool, Lateralus
There has never been much of a middle ground for me. It’s either 0 or 100. I’m either wonderful or absolutely worthless. My efforts are either perfect or a complete waste of time. I either think you’re amazing, or you’re terrible. Sometimes I exaggerate and use words like ‘always’ and ‘never’.
Until I had therapy, I wasn’t aware that I viewed the world in only black and white. I realized that splitting or black-and-white thinking permeates every aspect of my life – from my relationships to my self-image, professional life, and even my attitude towards exercise and nutrition.
A symptom of depression, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), splitting is insidious, something I’m hardly aware of until I purposely analyze my thoughts and feelings. There is no exact point at which I realize my thoughts, feelings, and opinions are shifting to the opposite extreme. My efforts just suddenly seem worthless, or it now seems like you hate me, or everything about myself feels wrong.
There is a lot of stigma surrounding splitting in relationships and BPD and NPD. Many friends or partners are perplexed by the idealization and subsequent devaluation, and because of this, people with BPD or NPD are sometimes demonized and seen as cruel and unfeeling. As someone with BPD, I am empathetic but also sensitive, and tend to use splitting as a defense mechanism. It’s not true of all my relationships, usually only those I feel insecure about. It can be confusing, and sometimes I’m not sure if I’m right or wrong about a person’s intentions.
Not only does splitting affect my relationships with others, but also my relationship with myself. I either am perfect in every way, or lacking in every aspect. Rejection might make me feel worthless and like there is nothing positive about myself.
When it comes to my professional life or efforts at home, splitting’s roots lie in perfectionism. If I can’t do something perfectly, my attempt must be a failure. If I don’t stick to my exercise program 100 percent, there’s no need to even try anymore because I already failed. If I don’t do everything on my to-do list, I might as well have done nothing. In the past, this thought pattern has undermined a lot of my efforts to get better and work on my mental health. Because my expectations were so high, and my goals unachievable, I set myself up for failure and further depression.
Through dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) I am slowly learning to discern shades of gray. It’s been helping me find ‘wise mind’, that part that considers both the logic and emotion of the situation and can find the gray area. I now try to question the facts. What do I now for sure about a situation? Is a person truly rejecting me or could there a legitimate reason for their behavior? Are all my efforts truly null and void because I missed one workout? Do I really only have negative traits?
I’ve been working on becoming aware of splitting, recognizing my triggers, and purposely choosing the middle path, and I’ve been more compassionate towards others and myself. Because I don’t expect myself, others, or my efforts to be perfect, I can tolerate their shortcomings far better.
One day I might notice the gray areas without having to constantly analyze my thoughts and feelings. It might be easier to see myself, my friends, and my efforts as flawed but still 100 percent okay. Maybe I’ll be able to see beyond the monochrome, and appreciate the full spectrum of color.