“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:
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