Splitting – am I using black and white thinking

When you seek therapy, you do so believing that something isn’t quite right. It might be a work issue, a relationship conflict, or a problem you have with yourself. It might also be because other people notice something about you, repeatedly, that you feel finally needs addressing.

Do you find yourself getting the same feedback from friends and romantic partners over and over again? Perhaps some of that feedback is:

  • You are difficult to communicate with
  • You have anger problems
  • You cannot see things from another person’s perspective
  • You cause dramas
  • You struggle to keep meaningful friendships
  • You’re mean or spiteful
  • You’re difficult to reason with

Any of these sound familiar?

If so, perhaps you could be splitting.

What is splitting?

Splitting is a term that refers to an ego defence mechanism. It is where a person views the world in extreme opposites (good vs bad, positive vs negative / black and white thinking). When you do this, you might find you have high conflict relationships, extreme mood swings, lots of drama and short term friendships. Splitting behaviours often begin in childhood as a coping mechanism. If a child is unable to understand the confusing combination of nurturement and unresponsiveness in a caregiver, splitting behaviours emerge. It can also be a response to trauma. Splitting is undoubtedly a destructive habit and one that can be healed with therapy.

Are you using black and white thinking?

The most common sign of splitting is the use of black and white thinking. The nuances of life are often missed, with people or situations being wholly good or wholly bad, with no grey area. It can lead to ‘catastrophising’ – reacting to a complex situation as though it is the end of the world, as well as various other behaviours.

Let’s look at an example of this.

Dan is friends with Mark and he owes Mark some money. Dan is struggling financially and is finding it hard to pay Mark back. Mark is getting increasingly frustrated about this, especially as he noticed Dan recently went on holiday and was bragging about his new shoes on Facebook – indicating that he does have some funds. Mark has bills to pay and Dan’s unwillingness to pay debt is troubling him. Eventually, he confronts Dan about his spending and lack of accountability over repaying the money. Dan begins splitting. Dan thinks Mark is appalling for challenging his behaviours, because that’s not what friends do. He flies into a fit of rage, calls Mark names and blocks his number. He says mean things about Mark to other people and calls Mark controlling and spiteful. Eventually, he has such a low view of Mark, that he no longer believes he should need to pay Mark back his money because he doesn’t deserve it. He believes their friendship was worth more than money but Mark has failed to see this and subsequently ruined it.

In this scenario, what would Mark say about Dan’s behaviour? He would say:

  • Dan has acted in an entitled way
  • Dan has failed to view the situation from Mark’s perspective
  • Dan has become angry over what is a fair and just piece of feedback
  • Dan has villainised Mark and made himself the victim
  • Dan has gone from friend to enemy in a short space of time

Essentially, Dan is splitting. By using the ‘all or nothing’ mentality, he has failed to see that Mark has been patient, that Mark has his own financial needs, and that Mark is only trying to resolve the situation so that everybody is happy.

In therapy, Dan and I would talk about this scenario in greater depth. We would examine the Dan / Mark relationship in the context of the drama triangle (where we play certain roles within a conflict) or transactional analysis (where we examine the parent / child / adult roles in relationships).

The good news is, even if you are the person who is splitting, there is help available and a way out of this trapping mentality.

Getting the support you need

I offer you acute couples counselling, couples therapy and individual psychotherapy based on your preferences, either online, at your place, or at my clinics in Østerbro or Svendborg.

We can also go for a walk.

My pledge

Whichever help and support you need, my pledge to you is consistent.

Next step

Book a free 15 minute conversation, which is all you need to begin your journey. We will talk about where you are now, where you want to be, and how I can help you get there.