What Is BPD Splitting?

A Characteristic of Borderline Personality Disorder

BPD splitting is a symptom of borderline personality disorder (BPD). Splitting means a person is unable to hold opposing thoughts and concludes that someone or something is either entirely good or entirely bad.

This article takes a closer look at the signs and symptoms of BPD splitting, offering examples and describing the various triggers that can lead to splitting. It also explains the effects of BPD splitting on relationships and the treatments that can help a person with BPD.

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What Is BPD Splitting?

Splitting is a symptom of borderline personality disorder (BPD). BPD is a distinct and disruptive disorder that severely affects a person’s ability to regulate their emotions.

With BPD splitting, there is no middle ground. A person will view the nature of people and situations as either black-or-white or all-or-nothing.

An example is declaring a romantic interest "my future partner" but after the romantic interest is rebuffed, declaring "I wasn't interested anyway."

With BPD splitting, the turnaround is about more than just saving face—it’s an unconscious or unintentional reframing of how a person views a situation that turns uncomfortable or uncertain. 

Splitting is an extreme behavior, interfering not only with relationships but with a person's sense of well-being.

Although people will sometimes casually claim that a person has a "borderline personality," BPD is more than just a personality trait. BPD is a mental health condition that is diagnosed based on specific criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).


Splitting is a defense mechanism in which a person goes between extremes of: 

  • Idealization (in which a person attributes exaggeratedly positive qualities to someone or something)
  • Devaluation (in which a person attributes exaggeratedly negative qualities to someone or something)

Splitting is a normal behavior in younger children who are not yet able to grasp how complex relationships or situations are, and instead simply categorize them as being either “bad” or “good.” Splitting is a defense mechanism that helps children cope better.

However, if childhood development is disrupted by something like emotional trauma, a person may hold onto this defense mechanism as they grow up. As an adult, they will be unable to find a middle ground between idealization and devaluation.

Splitting can also occur in people living with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Splitting in BPD: How Can You Tell?

BPD splitting is characterized by a rapid, extreme change in how a person or situation is perceived. The perception may go back and forth between "good" and "bad" or remain static once the altered perception is declared.

In the first situation, the switch is often referenced by the action of the other person. 

For example, a person with BPD might say that a person “finally came to their senses" or "I finally found out the truth about” a person, rather than considering whether the change in their perception of this person might have been unreasonable.

In the second situation, a person with BPD may idealize a person only to devalue them and never go back. This inflexibility may serve as proof that the decision was "right" or even righteous.

Other signs of BPD splitting include:

  • Habitually making snap judgments about people or situations
  • Having absolute certainty that the perception is not correct
  • Rapidly switching to the polar opposite view with the same level of certainty
  • Craving attention and needing frequent reassurance from idealized people
  • Punishing idealized people who do not give them the attention or reassurances they seek (e.g., with angry outbursts or the silent treatment)
  • Describing things in absolutes (e.g., “they never do anything right”, “they always do things to perfection")
  • Using extreme words to describe people or situations (e.g., "angelic" or "evil," "genius" or "moron," or "ravishing" or "hideous")
  • Expecting others to choose sides when a person or situation is devalued
  • Shutting down or feeling attacked when others don't share those perceptions

Triggers for BPD Splitting

Splitting is triggered by anything that causes a person with BPD to take an extreme emotional viewpoint. 

The trigger could be something that seems harmless or “innocent” but is enough to spur emotions that a person with BPD is not able to handle. 

The triggers for splitting with BPD are more or less the same as those for children or people with NPD. Splitting is a defense mechanism used to counter emotions a person with BPD cannot control.

Splitting is a way of avoiding, deflecting, or sidestepping the feelings that are a big part of living with BPD, including:

  • A low or unstable self-image
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness
  • A lack of self-direction, ambitions, or goals
  • A general lack of empathy for others
  • Hypersensitivity and constantly feeling insulted
  • Impulsivity and acting without thought to positive or negative things
  • Risk-taking when distressed without regard for the consequences
  • Intense but unstable relationships marked by mistrust
  • A preoccupation with unpleasant experiences in the past or the possibility of negative ones in the future

Any event or action that triggers these emotions— whether it’s perceived or real—can trigger splitting in someone living with BPD.

BPD Splitting and Relationships

Splitting can cause distress in relationships for people with BPD and their loved ones in a few ways:

  • It can cause stress related to the constant need for reassurance.
  • It can lead to codependency between the person with BPD and the person they think is “perfect.”
  • It can leave the idealized partner on edge if they feel mistrust or worry that the person with BPD could suddenly change their opinion of them. 
  • It can make a person with BPD vulnerable to harm if they are unable to see warning signs of danger in a person that they believe is infallible.

How Long Do BPD Relationships Last?

How long relationships last is different for every person living with BPD. 

Some people have relationships that just last a few weeks or months, while other people living with BPD have relationships that last years or even decades, though, the relationship may have cycled through periods of breaking up and getting back together. 

A small 2014 study on groups of women living with BPD looked at how long their relationships were, on average.

In the first group, the women were all married or living with a partner. The average length of their relationship was about 7 years.

In the second group, the average length of a relationship for women living with BPD who were married was about 4 years and about 2 years for people who were not married. 

While the study did look at how long BPD relationships lasted on average, it was limited because it used different groups of patients and most of the patients included were White women. So, it’s not clear how well these averages reflect the experiences of other people living with BPD.


There is no specific treatment for BPD splitting. Splitting is addressed as part of a treatment plan for BPD that involves psychotherapy and sometimes medication. In severe cases, inpatient treatment for care under a psychiatrist is needed.

Types of psychotherapy that can help people with BPD splitting include:

Some people with BPD take medications to help them manage the condition, such as antidepressantsantipsychoticsanxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs), and mood stabilizers.


BPD splitting is a symptom of borderline personality disorder (BPD). It’s when a person sees everything as black or white, good or bad, or best or worst. Splitting is a defense mechanism people living with BPD use to deal with emotions (such as the fear of abandonment) that they cannot handle. 

Instead of working with the complexities of relationships and situations, a person with BPD splitting either sees them as all good (idealizes) or all bad (devalues). 

Helping people with splitting is part of a BPD treatment plan that usually involves psychotherapy and sometimes medications.

Splitting can feel overwhelming both for the person with BPD and those who love them. With time and the appropriate treatment, people with BPD can reduce the severity of their symptoms and lessen the negative impact splitting has on their relationships and lives.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do you stop BPD splitting?

    Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is a type of therapy that encourages self-improvement and helps people with BPD adopt healthier ways of coping.

    DBT is implemented in stages with a therapist to explore more effective ways of controlling emotions, mitigating triggers for distress, and improving interpersonal skills.

  • How can I help someone with BPD splitting?

    Encourage them to seek help from a therapist. Borderline personality disorder (BPD) generally isn't something you can treat at home since it is defined by a lack of control over your feelings and emotions.

    If a person with BPD has thoughts of suicide, dial 988 and put them in touch with a counselor at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If they pose a genuine risk of harm to you or others, call 911.

5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Borderline personality disorder.

  2. The Wellness Society. How to deal with splitting behavior.

  3. Priory Group. Understanding splitting in borderline personality disorder.

  4. Hill J, Stepp SD, Wan MW, et al. Attachment, borderline personality, and romantic relationship dysfunctionJ Pers Disord. 2011;25(6):789-805. doi:10.1521/pedi.2011.25.6.789

  5. Clearview Women's Center. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT).

By Heather Jones
Heather M. Jones is a freelance writer with a strong focus on health, parenting, disability, and feminism.