Splitting – The Divided Heart and Mind

“She was owner and captive, both, of a bitterly divided heart.” – Guy Gavriel Kay

Splitting is a term used in psychology to describe the human tendency to divide things and people usually into opposites. Good versus bad, negative versus positive, hero versus villain, friend versus enemy, like versus dislike, love versus hate, pain versus pleasure, perfect versus imperfect, fantasy versus reality, and so on into infinity and beyond.

This tendency to split begins in infancy and keeps refining itself as we move through all the other phases of development.

I was exploring this theory as a tangent of my quest to understand Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I am a magnet for those with NPD, due to having been trained by my Narcissistic parents to be a source of Narcissistic supply. In my effort to un-train myself, I do what I always do when faced with a problem, gather information, research, data, then analyse, dissect, review, until seeds of understanding are planted and the unraveling of a mystery begins.

In spite of the fact that everyone is obsessed with Narcissism at the moment, perhaps because of that fact, it is very difficult to find precise information. NPD seems to get confused with other disorders and conditions. Some of the people who write about NPD are prone to splitting. Thus all Narcissism is bad. Yet there is such a thing as healthy Narcissism, as we all pass through the Narcissistic phase of development and we do so to become the possessors of a healthy ego. Some people see the concept of ego as all bad too.

Growing up with Narcissists, you are constantly subjected to their splitting, it is imposed upon you, and you are expected to adopt their view of how the world is divided. It is the only view. However Narcissists are inconsistent in their splitting. Black is black until they need it to be white, then black is white and they never ever said it was anything else. White on the other hand may be white too, not necessarily black just because black is white. And on it goes, ever changing, until your brain is either so confused it becomes a blender which turns all your thoughts into mush, or you realise that they are crazy and unreliable and you can only rely on yourself to discern what is what.

“We must be what we are, or we become our enemies. ” – Guy Gavriel Kay

Narcissistic splitting depends on the results the Narcissist is trying to manipulate into being. One minute you’re an enemy, then you’re an ally, then an enemy, then an ally. Whichever one they need you to be, is the one you are. Whichever one gets you to do what they want you to do, is the one they use. It is changeable because Narcissists use confusion as a means to an end. To control you and the world. They are puppet masters.

I recently had a falling out with someone I considered a friend until they convinced me thoroughly otherwise. The troubles in the relationship had been building for a while. Each time I interacted with them, I grew more and more tense, and was relieved when they didn’t contact me, something which they only seemed to do when they needed something, usually an ego boost or help with an identity crisis. I felt with them like I did with my mother, and so I concluded that they were a Narcissist, and that I was a source of Narcissistic supply for them. However something about this diagnosis bothered me. Certain traits fit them and their behaviour like a bespoke glove, but there were other parts which did not.

They had the superiority complex, which they hid under faux humility, saying things like – I love old people, I never judge people on their age, I never notice age, and old people are very wise and I love it when they share their wisdom with me – thinking this statement made them appear magnanimous, unusual, a radical thinker – because everyone else is ageist and they are not – and enlightened, when in actual fact it came across as ageist. If you’re not aware of age, you’re not aware of it, and therefore would never think to say such a thing. It’s a classic case of proving the opposite of what you intended to prove with your I Am identity statement. Narcissists make them all the time, they say things about themselves which they think make them sound wonderful to others. They say them repeatedly to hypnotise you into believing them without questioning whether it is true or not. It reinforces their mask.

This person also had the magical thinking, the belief that they were special, possessor of supernatural powers and perhaps even immortal. They had the captivating charm which could indeed be considered a supernatural power. The intensity of focus on those they had only just met, overwhelming a new friend with their attention, then suddenly turning cold and moving on to someone else, yet keeping people on a long leash in case they need them. They abandon you, you do not abandon them, if you try, they charm you back into the fold or use emotional blackmail.

They had the subtle identity thievery, the absorbing of other people’s traits, words, thoughts, feelings, which they admire, which is often the reason why a Narcissist is interested in others and why they focus so much attention on a new friend. They want to be who you are. They are usually better at being you than you are because they lack the caution which you have about being yourself, they do not absorb that part. They do not understand how you are who you are, or how personality is formed, they think all traits are due to mimicry, and they are great mimics. Shape shifters, shifting into who they want to appear to be, empty inside so they fill themselves with fragments of others, but are never quite able to hold any identity for very long because they are always seeing someone better who they could be shimmering like a mirage in the distance.

They are the desert and we are the mirages, and we always end up disappointing them. If you think it is the other way around, think again. Narcissists mimic. They are the reflection of what they see when they look at us, they need us to sustain their existence, without someone looking in the mirror, there is no reflection. If we look long enough in the mirror, they can confuse us, switch places with us, trap us in the mirror and we become a reflection of them.

“She had come to accept, deeply, and with certitude, that she had been born into a world, a life, that would not let her be whole.” – Guy Gavriel Kay

One of my cures for healing the damage caused by being the victim of a Narcissist involves the use of an actual mirror, because we spend so much of our lives looking into the eyes of others and seeing ourselves through them, it is important to see ourselves in and through our own eyes. But it has to be done with compassion. People tend to criticise themselves when they look in a mirror.

However, as much as this person seemed to display NPD, their thinking was far too rigid for a Narcissist. It was very extreme. All or nothing. A perfect example of splitting. And there did not seem to be any logic to it.

Narcissists are very logical, there is always a goal for everything they do and everything they do not do. It is very deliberate. If one tactic does not get them what they want, they switch tactics, adapt and evolve, thus their thinking is flexible, too flexible at times, which is partly how they confuse. Just when you think you know where you stand, they change the shape of the world around you, they change you, and they change themselves.

This person was too fixed. Their changes were superficial and forced, underneath they stayed the same. Moving in a tight circle of repetitive behaviour. Inflexible in their views. Black was black and white was white and never the twain shall meet, no spectrum of shades in between.

And they did not deliberately create confusion in others, they were the one who was confused and their confusion accidentally confused others like a virus.

So, if it looks like Narcissism, but isn’t Narcissism, what is it?

The answer which I have so far is Borderline Personality Disorder, which I do not know enough about to write about it myself, so I’ll point you in the direction of my source of information:

Psychology TodayBlack and White Thinking (Splitting) Is Both a Borderline and Narcissistic Trait

This is Part 8 of a series on the similarities and differences between NPD and BPD – links to all the other articles in the series are at the top of the article.

My reason for diagnosing those with whom I have difficulty in relationships is not for them, it is for me. If I can understand them, why they behave the way they do with me, and figure out if I am the cause of it due to the way I behave, or if they are the cause, or at least which part is the part I play and which is theirs, then I can see what is me and what is not me, what wounds are mine and which ones are not mine. A different version of splitting, one which allows me to change what I can and accept what I can’t change.

“She had been a solitary child, and then solitary as a woman, drawn into an orbit of her own that took her away from others, even those who would be her friends.” – Guy Gavriel Kay


  1. Hi… enjoyed your post, which I discovered while researching “split personalities” in narcissists, which I’ve repeatedly encountered in personal experience, but which seems to be a trait I seldom see included in their clinical symptoms. Although like yourself, was also raised by extraordinarily narcissistic parents and similarly “trained” to provide ‘narcissistic supply’. So would like to add that I also often attract “N’s” , partly due to difficulty with recognizing and maintaining appropriate “boundaries”, which I believe also makes us inviting “prey” for NPD’s.

    But would particularly like to comment on our mutual tendency to try to come to terms with “N’s” by being “analytical” and gathering sufficient information about the issue at hand. And while this is often a very valuable tool, I’m coming to think it may sometimes be a method that actually “gets in the way” and removes us from our own authenticity and “true self”. Of course saying and doing are very different things, but in my own experience, these days I find it very helpful to also examine and recognize my own feelings in the matter, along with exercising my “analytical” strengths!

    Cheers, -Mat


    • Thank you.

      Yes, you’re right, our solution to the difficulties that the Narcissists in our life has given us can get in the way. Gathering information and analysing can be a way to detach from ourselves, from what we are feeling, so in some ways it perpetuates the problem. It is good to understand as long as that understanding also includes ourselves. We were trained to put others first, and to put ourselves last, maybe not think of ourselves at all.

      I’ve written quite a few posts where all I do is rant, and rage, and express the feelings and emotions which I was not allowed to have by the Narcissists in my life. That is where I honour my feelings. Afterwards I can analyse, and see if I can make more sense out of everything, get more information. So I agree completely, it’s good to use the analytical strengths but the emotional world within ourselves, which may be completely irrational to our analytical minds, must be recognised and allowed to express itself. We need to feel what we truly feel. We can still be rational and analytical, but not always, sometimes it is necessary to just scream without thinking about it. There is a very strong emotional nature which needs to be acknowledged by letting it out. Sometimes the mind, as strong and useful as it may be, needs to shut up, it’s the emotions turn to speak.

      I do have moments when I think I’m an android. I am proud of my ability to reason and analyse and think. But sometimes I turn that off and just let myself be a wild emotional being.

      When your parents are Narcissists, you come to see yourself as an ‘It’ and you do have to be careful not to keep the objectification of self going. Narcissists tend to see themselves as superhuman and immortal. Narcissistic parents expect their children to maintain the illusion. The cure for what they did to us is to embrace being mortal, human and emotionally messy, sometimes completely irrational and illogical. Turn the mind off for a while. The mind is powerful, but it isn’t everything, it is only one part of who we are.

      Many of the professionals who study Narcissistic Personality Disorder have stated that since most of those who have NPD never go into therapy, at least not for NPD, the disorder is still fairly unstudied so information of a clinical kind is lacking. Also many of those who have NPD have overlapping traits with other disorders. Histrionic Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder both can also be seen in those who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Narcissistic Personality Disorder also has similarities to Sociopathy, and the two are sometimes confused. I think the confusion around NPD is actually very typical of NPD, as confusion is a Narcissist’s favourite weapon.

      The splitting in Narcissism can be very temperamental, and less easy to pin down than in other disorders which have splitting. A person with NPD can state that black is white and white is black one minute, then the next minute they say black is black and white is white. If you confront them they will claim they never said what you heard them say, they did not contradict themselves, and they will stick to whatever they believe is true in that moment. Their belief is so strong that they cause others to doubt what they know.

      Their splitting is also hypocritical. They will behave a certain way and claim it is good, but if you behave in exactly the same way they will claim that behaviour is bad. If you point out to them that the bad behaviour is exactly the same as the good behaviour, they will deny it. As far as they are concerned it is not the same. They do not see their own splitting.

      Narcissists create personalities to wear as skins. They believe those personalities are real as long as they are wearing them, but they discard them and move on when they are bored or done with them, when the skin begins to hurt. So they are less of a split personality, and more of a being who has no personality at all except the one they are wearing which they created for themselves. Their real personality was pushed out of their body into the world around them. So they are everyone and no one. They have no idea who they really are, and refuse to find out because doing that would be too painful. They would have to accept something which they can’t accept – their own humanity, mortality, and, worst of all, that they are ordinary.

      What do you think?


  2. Thanks, interesting conversation and I hadn’t really considered it specifically that way before, that relying on “analytical mode” is simply one ‘choice’ or alternative, with another of giving ourselves permission to occasionally ‘turn off the mind’ as well. And you’re right, it also doesn’t always have to be an “either/or” proposition, since we’re also free to try and ‘integrate’ that natural reasoning talent into our own feelings and our most authentic selves. Although admittedly, that can sometimes be a very, um, ‘interesting’ task (…lol)! And BTW, for what it’s worth, I’ve been most influenced by the outlook of psychologist Dr. Alexander Lowen (“Narcissism: Denial of the True Self”, among other works).

    Yeah, agreed that it seems to be a way under-recognized type of personality, even despite all the literature and current mention in pop culture. And I think it even expresses itself differently depending on the gender. Although in addition to the reasons you mentioned, maybe part of all this difficulty of “pinning it down” is also related to the problem with discussing anything that basically involves the ‘theory of mind’ and ’empathy’…. which BTW, folks need to have and be able to agree on in the first place just to understand the topic! And to further complicate things, I also suspect that many psychology professionals are just as likely to be of the “N” persuasion themselves, albeit wearing their professional “skins”. Further, my sense is that it is a kind of “spectrum” condition, with a wide array of “presentations”.

    So I do appreciate your analogy of N personalities as similar to “skins” or a suit of clothes, which are continually interchangeable. Although to some extent I also think that probably describes the human condition in general, as we all have ‘faces’ which we present to any given situation or to other individuals. But IMO the difference with the NPD’s, BPD’s, etc. is that reasonably healthy folks still have enough sense of their core “self” to be able to stand back from it all if need be. And more important, they don’t “require” those skins (or others) to feel they still exist. Whereas there is no sense of self in these kinda behavioral disorders, so that regardless whichever “skin” they’re wearing, somehow it all must be as confusing as trying to find the “real you” inside a room full of funhouse mirrors.

    Of course that poses an interesting question, that if we do share some sort of collective “spirituality” and we each have a “soul” which we can still recognize and respect in each other (for example as the hindus suggest in the greeting “namaste”), then I have to wonder, where is the Narcissist’s soul, so that underneath it all, who (or what), are we really dealing with, regardless which skin they’re wearing?

    BTW, speaking of “popular culture”, I personally prefer not to ‘demonize’ these kinda folks (who after all never asked to be whatever they are). But I also can’t help appreciating the mythology of ‘vampires’ as an ideal metaphor for clinical Narcissists: as essentially amoral predators who literally suck the life from others, can change shape, have no ‘reflection’, possess extraordinary charm, and according to popular vampire lore, can only come into our house (aka, psyche) if we “invite” them in!


    • Thank you. 😀 I almost mentioned Alexander Lowen’s book on Narcissism in my previous reply because he tackles the overlaps between disorders. I like his bioenergetics work too because his therapeutic approach is holistic, mind, body and emotions. Narcissists tend to live entirely in their minds and lack connection with other parts of themselves, that is why they seem to be soulless. They are essentially stuck in their own imagination. Which is why approaching the disorder by using mythology, archetypes, fairytales, and legends is very useful for understanding Narcissists. They are the eternal child who lives in the land of make believe and sucks other people into to it because they believe it so strongly. The vampire comparison does fit rather well, and the rise of the popularity of the vampire and other supernatural beings and superheroes coincides with the rise of Narcissism in society.

      I saw a film recently which to me completely captures and explains NPD – Hansel and Gretel(2007). It’s a South Korean horror film, but the horror is more psychological than anything else (although there is blood and gore). It’s the fantasy element which is absolutely stunning, both visually and viewed as an allegory of NPD.

      I agree that Narcissists should not be demonised, however I think it is a reaction towards them which comes with the disorder, as they tend to see themselves and seek desperately to become superhuman beings. They want to be worshiped and be viewed with awe by ordinary mortals (which is how they tend to view other people). When an ordinary mortal snaps out of the spell which a Narcissist has cast upon them, the god they once worshiped turns into a demon. They essentially create their own worst nightmare because they are seeking huge amounts of love to cure their wound, but the love which is given to them is never enough, so their behaviour turns the love into the hate and rejection which caused the wound in the first place.

      You said that both your parents are Narcissists, which means that you have a gift (the gift in the curse) of insight into the disorder. You have been behind the scenes of it, you have seen what lies behind all the masks and skins, you’ve seen what Narcissists look like when they are naked, you have seen where Narcissists go when their fantasies fall apart. You are intuitively tuned in to how it works. You also may have absorbed some of the traits and behaviours, because that’s what children do, they naturally mimic the adults in their early environment. However you did not inherit the disorder, instead you were inspired to understand it because by understanding it, you heal your own wounds, you heal the confusion and pain that being the child of Narcissists creates.

      What do you think?


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