Breakups are never easy. Even leaving the worst relationships is complicated by a fear of the unknown as we walk away from the comfort of the relationship that we acknowledge as being ‘normal’ in our current lives into unchartered territory. We are often left second guessing our decisions, reconsidering the relationship that we are living and the version of its potential that we had held onto in our hearts.
While the end of a relationship isn’t easy, as with anything else there are habits that can make this process even more difficult. One of these habits that psychologist see impacting our relationships is a subconscious defense mechanism known as splitting.
When we view another person, we are exposed to both the good and the bad sides of their character. There are times in our lives, such as when we are working to engage in a relationship, that we struggle to accept these extremes. For example, if you want badly to see someone only in the best light you may, inadvertently, only see the positives of that person. This is called splitting. It occurs when you subconsciously divide a person’s traits and behaviors into two separate compartments in our mind – the good and the bad – and then move forward focusing solely on the good.
This often happens when you are still together, before the breakup. When you make the effort to commit to a relationship with someone, you devote a part of your heart to making your relationship work. The idea that the person that you love may not be the person you first believed that they were is hard to accept. Rather than opening yourself up to the idea that this less than desirable side exists, your mind decides to cope by holding onto what you originally had in the relationship, ignoring the reality of what you have today.
Signs of splitting in your life include:
- You act impulsively in your relationships, jumping in without considering the consequences
- Putting your loved one up on a pedestal despite opinions being voiced by others in your life
- Your opinion of an individual can shift from positive to negative, and then back again, however never remains in the gray area in the middle
- The tendency to view the world in absolutes, believing that people are either all good or all bad
- You reinforce your feelings of self-worth by judging and condemning those with different values or belief systems from your own
This works against us when facing a potential breakup as we are unable to see the reasons why the relationship isn’t going to work. For example, if you are separating from your partner because they stopped paying attention to you, taking advantage of the fact that you would always be present, that is hurtful behavior that can justify the relationship ending. However, if you are only focusing on the positive side of their personality you may fail to see this behavior when you are considering your relationship, seeing instead the positives that they bring to your life.
Often, we find ourselves justifying the negative or less than desirable actions of others due to this very mechanism. Focusing solely on the positive attributes of our partner, we convince ourselves they couldn’t possibly act in a hurtful or destructive manner. Believing that they are inherently ‘good,’ there must, then, be an explanation for acting in a particular way.
In order to remedy the situation, and free yourself from this defense mechanism, you must take a step back to view the situation before you. Take a good look at what is happening, leaving your emotions to the side. If this was a friend, what would you tell them? Force yourself to acknowledge the ways that this person has hurt you, bringing their negative behaviors to the forefront. You will need to do so regularly, retraining your brain to view this relationship in an objective way.
It is also important to note that once you have left the relationship, this doesn’t end! Many people who engage in splitting end up in on again/off again relationships. Each time the relationship ends, and they find themselves empowered to walk away, they then find themselves slipping back into the same behavior. Looking back at the relationship, all that they see is the positives, allowing them to be pulled back in for another round. Remind yourself that your ex is an ex for a reason!
Retraining your brain isn’t easy – it’s challenging, takes a lot of work and requires you to accept hurts that you otherwise would have been able to avoid. However, it will ultimately allow you to heal and move forward towards a healthy and happy future!