BPD Trait: Idealization and Devaluation (Splitting)

I can’t call you a stranger
but I can’t call you

I know you think that I erased you
you may hate me but
I can’t hate you
and I won’t replace you

Relationships are a really murky territory for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. I don’t think I’ve really talked about “splitting” too much yet. This is a pretty commonly used term to basically describe the wild thrashing between idealization and devaluation that’s super characteristic of BPD. People, things, places tend to fall into one of two categories: all good or all bad. There is no in between, no gray area.

The most interesting part of this is that a person (we’re a bit obsessed with our personal relationships so that’s usually where this comes out), can go through cycles of being good or bad depending on what they’ve done recently. Husband surprised me with a shoulder rub? All Good. He is the most perfect being on earth, incapable of harm or wrong doing. He ceases to be human and is now the most incredible lover on the face of this planet, rivaled by none. Oh, now he’s made a snide comment jokingly? All Bad. He is wretched and unfeeling, cold and hurtful. No man lives inside of such a callous shell.

These examples aren’t recent ones because splitting was one of the first BPD traits that I really tackled and confronted so that now it pretty much never happens. Just a nice, quick oversimplification of what it looks like. My internal dialogue, thanks to Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), is something like this, “Wow, I can’t believe he just said that. Well, no one’s perfect. I’m sure he didn’t mean it. I’ll bring it up so he can clarify.” Bing bang boom, super easy, right? Eh, it is now. It wasn’t always. It’s like any other muscle in your brain or body, you have to work it out to learn how to really use it and eventually it becomes a reflex. In the beginning though, a deadlift is far from intuitive.

Romantic relationships are where this becomes more of a challenge. It used to be each friend, every family member would flip flop between All Good or All Bad depending on what they had done recently. Kick me out of the choir performance? Fuck you, you are dead to me. Invite me to your family’s vacation home? You are the greatest friend I’ve ever had in my entire life, no doubt about it. When getting involved in a romantic relationship – especially a new one – all the old habits come out and it’s a fucking fight to stay level.

My marriage has not always been full-on monogamy. I’d like to write a little more detailed post about our dabbles in having an open marriage at some point but really all you need to know right now is that within the past year or so, I was lucky enough to be in two different relationships in addition to my husband. I know, I’m surprised that many people find me attractive, too.

I’m not sure who’s really to blame for how long it’s taken me to really face my feelings regarding my same sex relationship – culture or my own ignorance. Society always illustrates women sleeping together as experimental, just fun and games, and we did genuinely try to keep it light. It didn’t really last long enough or develop in such a manner that allowed for a great deal of depth but it wasn’t until pretty recently that I realized I had casually cast her in my mind as All Bad following the decay of our relationship.

Now, it’s not entirely as simple as “she broke up with us so I hated her” (though that is certainly how it had gone down when I was younger), because it was more gradual and complicated than that. I didn’t really examine it at the time but I was definitely hurt by her breaking things off. Mostly because what she said and what came to be didn’t really line up. She became involved with someone else and suddenly she ignored me, put him above me and when I expressed my discomfort at spending time with the two of them, she used these words as ammunition against me later.

We attempted to talk it out twice. The first time she brought him and it didn’t work at all. The second time I felt heard but not understood. Or maybe I was understood but she didn’t care. This was after a really brutal trip where I had gotten so sick I could barely make conversation yet she never expressed any concern. I ran out of money on the way back so I barely ate anything, plummeting my blood sugar and making me feel even worse. Too proud and honestly too feverish to ask for help, I later looked back on that weekend as the funeral service for our friendship that I hadn’t intended on having.

When talking out what all had happened with a mutual friend just a month or so ago, I began the realization that I had cast her as All Bad in my mind. I had buried all feelings of affection for her and ceased to even speak her name. Another friend brought her up recently, saying, “Didn’t you have sex with so-and-so?” And I genuinely balked. I had forgotten we were ever sexually involved because I had buried any good memories so deeply. 

Writing this is the first time I’ve really ever accepted that I had entirely devalued her. Memories come up on my phone and I dismiss them immediately, not wanting to reminisce about any of the good times. I lamented that she treated me so poorly, how dare she do such a thing, without realizing that in response I decided to do the exact same thing.

While I don’t regret putting distance between us after she basically replaced me with her boyfriend, I do have remorse about entirely cutting her out of my life and more dramatically blacking her out of my memories. Even when people do things that hurt you, even if you tell them and they don’t seem to care, that doesn’t mean you just take a giant eraser to your brain and remove all the good times as well. No one is all This or That, we’re all floating in between and doing both wonderful and terrible things all the time.

Will I ever trust this person again? No. But to be honest with you, I don’t really trust anyone anymore. That’s a whole other issue that I really need to untangle at some point but I’m not quite there yet. Do I miss them? Now that I’m allowing myself to examine the full spectrum of our relationship, yeah, of course I do. Does it really matter? Well, I’m two time zones away with no plans to return to Michigan any time soon so, no, not really.

Within the same span of time, pretty much right after she told me she didn’t want to pursue the romantic/sexual aspects of our relationship anymore, I began another relationship. And oh boy was it a doozy. Literally just thinking of how to write about it is flooding my body with electricity. You want a tip that you’re idealizing the shit out of something? That’s one.

While we were together, I examined everything I said and felt with persistent intensity. I even told him that my initial “I love you” was untrue, all because I was desperately trying not to build what we had into more than it really was. My fear of repeating the same old “fall in love, become obsessed, now I’ll write love songs about you until I find another person to obsess over” pattern made me hold my emotions closer to my chest than I ever have in my life.

The aftermath, however, was still pretty similar to my old patterns. I couldn’t deny that I was in love with him forever – I expressed it eventually – but there was no real longevity to what we had. He broke my trust, I lost the house, and Nick and I left Ludington. My commitment to Nicholas is really the only thing that kept me from going full-blown Crazy Carly on the whole situation – so many times I daydreamed about running away, showing up at his door and telling him I gave it all up for him. My incomparable love for Nicholas and commitment to our six years of marriage aside however, the truth is that my ex-lover and I are both too emotional, too reckless, too wild to ever have had a chance at something lasting. But that doesn’t keep my BPD ass from idealizing what we had, what we could have had, what I wish we still were during the hours I spend alone in my hotel room.

We don’t talk anymore. That’s perfect for idealization (and devaluation, see above), because it allows me to manufacture conversations that have no basis in reality. I get to think only about what I want, cherry picking the sweet memories and forgetting the arguments, the hang ups, the crying. Oh, the crying. I can’t forget that when Cry Baby comes on and suddenly I remember being shit faced, laying in a ball on my kitchen floor, crying, crying, screaming and crying. Thank God for memories tied to music. Though I only wish I could remember what the song we danced to was called. Maybe it’s for the best that I don’t. I already have Untouchable.

Were it not for my constant checking, you would only be sweet and perfect in my memory. The way you made me throw my head back and laugh like no one else could while we went for smoke cruises and the unbridled happiness of cuddling close to you under covers. I’d store your “aww,” in my mind with none of the bullshit lines like, “I wasn’t even trippin'” anywhere near it. I’d bury your deception as deep as I buried the memories of her soft body writhing in my sheets. Together they’d lay side by side, locked away by my tendency to pick only one extreme per person. But neither of you are perfect. And neither of you are evil, either. You’re just human and I loved you both even though now the two of you exist only in the fog of my memory.

We left Ludington about five months ago. Our relationship wasn’t even as long as that. Yet be it because of my BPD tendencies or maybe the profound intensity of our relationship, I still think about him. I’m comforted by knowing that what I felt was real even if in the aftermath I feel myself trying to idealize the man and what we had. The fact that I haven’t filled notebooks upon notebooks with sad lyrics is a pretty good testament to how I’ve learned to more realistically deal with breakups. It probably helps that I don’t drink anymore. Or smoke weed. Every time I get high I just think about you. And while we’re quoting songs, are you high enough without the mary jane like me?

The real test will come when we visit our family for Christmas or whatever other occasion. Each time I was in town this summer became a test of willpower and probably thanks to all the goddamn meditation I would win against my reckless impulses each time. Don’t think I didn’t close my eyes and imagine myself propping up on a bar stool, waiting to be noticed. Because I did every fucking time.

But the trick to getting past idealization and devaluation? Calling those thoughts the fuck out for what they are and not giving in to the impulses that follow. So forgive me if I never set foot into Barley & Rye ever again. Y’all just had to work together, huh?

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