BPD Splitting Episode: Duration and Effects

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a personality disorder that can cause emotional dysregulation, unstable relationships and impulsive behaviour. Splitting episodes are a common symptom of BPD. They are an unconscious defence mechanism that causes people to perceive situations and others in an extreme, black-and-white view. Understanding the duration and effects of BPD splitting is crucial for providing effective and humanised support.

Definition of BPD Splitting Episode

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a complex mental health challenge. It’s a specific type of personality disorder characterised by emotional dysregulation, impulsive behaviour, and difficulties with self-image. People living with borderline personality disorder commonly experience ‘splitting’, an extreme form of black-and-white thinking.

During a splitting episode, people with BPD perceive others, situations, or even themselves through an extreme, polarised lens. People may view things as either ‘entirely good’ or ‘entirely bad,’ with no middle ground or nuanced understanding. This binary perspective often leads to abrupt shifts from idealisation to devaluation, where someone or something is seen in an exaggeratedly positive light one moment and extremely negative the next.

It’s essential to recognise that splitting serves as a defense mechanism, helping people living with BPD manage overwhelming emotions and fears of abandonment. It’s a temporary and unconscious process that helps people reduce emotional overwhelm. However, splitting behaviour leads to significant emotional stress and can impact all aspects of a person’s life, including their relationships, education and work. By understanding borderline personality disorder and offering empathy and compassion, we can help people better manage their mental health and lead fulfilled lives.

Characteristics of Splitting

The most common characteristic of splitting involves viewing people, situations, or oneself in extreme, black-and-white terms. People living with BPD experience intense emotional responses and shifts in perception, causing alternations between idealisation and devaluation. These sudden behavioral and emotional changes have a significant impact on well-being.

Key characteristics of borderline personality disorder splitting include:

  • Extreme Idealisation or Devaluation: People may view someone or something as perfect one moment, and completely flawed or terrible the next, without recognising any middle ground.
  • Rapid Emotional Shifts: Emotions can change quickly and rapidly, ranging from hatred to love and sadness to glee.
  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: People may struggle with understanding nuances and lack the ability to integrate positive and negative attributes, leading to dichotomous views.
  • Volatile Relationships: Fluctuating perceptions of others can cause significant turmoil in personal and professional relationships, leading to frequent conflicts and misunderstandings.
  • Impulsive Reactions: Intense emotions often result in impulsive actions or self-destructive behaviors, which can exacerbate mental health issues and emotional instability.

Impact on Emotions and Perceptions

During a splitting episode, people with BPD experience intense emotions, leading to sudden shifts in mood and behaviour. The severity of these episodes can distort perceptions, making it challenging to maintain a balanced view of the world around them. People or circumstances are perceived as either entirely good or entirely bad, leaving no room for nuances. These rapid shifts can be overwhelming and disorienting, contributing to feelings of emotional instability and unpredictability.

woman holding her forehead experiencing bpd splitting episode

Duration of BPD Splitting Episodes

The duration of splitting episodes can vary widely. They can be brief, lasting for several hours or days, or they can extend and persist for months. There’s no set period of time that splitting behaviour lasts, and it looks different from person to person, necessitating effective support.

With that said, multiple internal and external factors influence the length of a splitting episode. Emotional triggers, such as interpersonal conflicts or perceived rejections, may spark fears of abandonment or separation anxiety. Underlying biological and psychological aspects, like unresolved trauma or chemical imbalances, also play an important role. If mental health needs remain unaddressed, people are more likely to experience unstable emotions and be reactive to triggers.

The complexity of these influences means that each person’s experience with splitting episodes is unique. This necessitates personalised approaches to treating borderline personality disorder and building coping mechanisms that foster emotional resilience.

Potential Causes of Splitting Episodes

Splitting episodes in borderline personality disorder are complex and are influenced by various psychological, biological and environmental factors. Understanding the potential causes behind these episodes requires a comprehensive understanding of both internal and external triggers.

Biological Factors

Biological factors are strongly linked with the development of borderline personality disorder and splitting episodes. It’s thought that people with BPD have differences in the functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly involving serotonin. Neurotransmitters are like ‘messenger chemicals’ used to transmit signals between brain cells, while altered levels of serotonin are associated with depression and difficulties with impulsive behaviour.

Research suggests that differences in brain structure and functioning also contribute to borderline personality disorder. In people with BPD, three parts of the brain, including the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and limbic system, are associated with smaller development and uncommon levels of activity. Moreover, genetic predispositions also play a role, with current research indicating that BPD can run in families.

Biological factors include:

  • Differences in the functioning of neurotransmitters
  • Differences in the development and functioning of the amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and limbic system
  • Decreased levels of serotonin
  • Genetic predispositions

Psychological Triggers

Triggers are events or situations that cause an intense emotional reaction. They are highly complex and dependent on personal experiences. In some cases, triggers may seem ‘harmless’ to others while having a significant effect on people with BPD. The causes vary from person to person but may include interpersonal conflict, stressful experiences, or temporary separations from loved ones. These events cause intense feelings and spark feelings of inadequacy, fears of abandonment, or memories of past trauma and neglect.

Psychological triggers include:

  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Stressful life events
  • Temporary separations from loved ones
  • Traumatic memories
  • Perceived criticism or rejection
  • Fears of abandonment
  • Feeling of inadequacy

Environmental Stressors

Environmental stressors play a significant role in triggering splitting episodes. These stressors are typically related to childhood experiences. Early experiences in unstable or invalidating family environments may contribute to unhealthy coping mechanisms and emotional dysregulation. Moreover, experiences of neglect, abuse or trauma can have a profound impact on emotional stability and future relationship dynamics.

Ongoing interpersonal conflicts, whether in personal or professional settings, can be a source of stress and trigger splitting behaviours. Changes in friendship or family dynamics, as well as significant life events like financial strain or transitions, may also increase stress and trigger splitting episodes. The impact of environmental stressors is profound. Seeking a professional who can help process and understand past feelings or experiences can significantly improve well-being.

Environmental stressors include:

  • Childhood experiences of trauma, neglect or abuse
  • Early experiences of unstable family dynamics
  • Interpersonal conflicts
  • Change in friendship or family dynamics
  • Significant life transitions
man holding his head being comforted by support worker

Effects of Splitting Episodes

BPD splitting can profoundly affect various aspects of a person’s life. These episodes can disrupt emotional stability, interpersonal relationships, and overall well-being. Understanding the impact of splitting episodes is crucial for providing comprehensive and humanised support.

Emotional Turmoil and Distress

People living with borderline personality disorder often experience significant emotional turmoil and distress. Intense emotions, such as anger, sadness, or even euphoria, can be extremely overwhelming and difficult to manage. Mood swings can exacerbate confusion, anxiety and helplessness, contributing to feelings of emotional instability. To subconsciously protect themselves, people with BPD engage in splitting behaviour. This behaviour acts as a defense mechanism, allowing the person to cope with complex feelings by categorising people or situations as all good or all bad. Splitting behaviours may provide temporary relief but ultimately contribute to a cycle of chronic stress and exhaustion, highlighting the need for professional support and person-centred approaches.

Interpersonal Conflicts and Relationship Difficulties

BPD splitting can have a significant impact on interpersonal relationships, often leading to misunderstandings and conflict. The rapid alternation between idealisation and devaluation can cause significant emotional distress, creating a cycle of highs and lows. During phases of idealisation, people with BPD may view their friends, family or partners as perfect, fostering closeness and possible codependence. However, during splitting episodes, the same person may be seen as flawed, leading to feelings of anger or hurt. The instability in relationships can lead to a breakdown in communication, frequent arguments and intense negative feelings.

It’s important for loved ones to remember that splitting behavior is a defense mechanism and part of a wider mental health condition. Seeking the support of a mental health professional can aid people with BPD and their loved ones in finding healthy coping strategies and maintaining connections.

Impact on Daily Functioning and Quality of Life

Without effective support and humanised care, borderline personality disorder can have a profound impact on daily functioning and quality of life. BPD splitting may cause significant emotional instability, impacting a person’s relationships, work-life and sense of self. It can be incredibly isolating, with people experiencing a range of emotions, from intense anger to intense fear. Moreover, during a splitting episode, people may engage in impulsive behaviour, not fully understanding how their actions impact themselves or their loved ones. Depending on individual circumstances, a person with BPD may also experience depressive episodes, increased anxiety, and social withdrawal.

Living with BPD can be exhausting, leading to misunderstanding and feelings of loneliness. However, with the right support system and emotion regulation techniques, people can learn effective ways to manage BPD symptoms, protecting their quality of life and well-being.

Managing Splitting Episodes

Managing BPD splitting episodes requires a compassionate and humanised approach that honours individual experiences and emotions. Building a robust network of friends, family, or support groups can provide invaluable emotional validation and understanding during difficult times. A strong support system helps reduce feelings of loneliness and fosters greater well-being, helping bring joy into people’s lives. Moreover, engaging in activities that provide relaxation, like hobbies or spending time in nature, can also help people regain emotional stability. Incorporating mindfulness and meditative practices, such as deep breathing, helps to relax the nervous system and reduce anxiety.

Professional Mental Health Support

Mental health experts understand the complexities of BPD splitting and recognise that personality disorders can affect all aspects of a person’s life. One of the most effective methods of support is called dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). It offers a safe space for people to explore their emotions and develop strategies for managing intense feelings. DBT teaches valuable skills such as emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness, which can reduce the frequency and severity of splitting episodes. With that said, there is a range of options for people with BPD, including mentalisation-based therapy (MBT), psychotherapy, and even medications. A mental health care professional will help people with BPD work out what is best for them, creating a care plan that meets their needs.

Mental Health Support with Unique Community Services

Unique Community Services provides proactive and compassionate mental health support in the comfort of people’s own homes. Through our person-centred approaches, we help people with borderline personality disorder improve their well-being and live a fulfilled life.

We believe the people we serve deserve an active role in their support and recovery process. That’s why we take a collaborative approach to personalised care plans, ensuring people’s voices are heard and their preferences are met. Moreover, our in-house therapy teams help people maintain independence and community engagement, consisting of Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) Practitioners, Occupational Therapists, and Speech and Language Therapists.

Our offices are located in Bristol, Manchester and Leeds.

To learn more about our humanised services, contact us today.

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