Fundamentals of Splitting

Written by Kathi Stringer

Individuals who have not achieved object constancy /object permanence still relate to reality using the defensive of splitting. They are unable the identify the feelings of others and view them objectively.

An infant fears that once mother is out-of-sight, she is destroyed, not having the capacity to visualize a permanent image of her. This can be demonstrated by the developmental tool of a game called, peak-a-boo. When the hands of mother are pulled away, viewing her face, the infant is delighted and saddened when not in view.

Adults who are splitting relate much in the same way that the infant sees reality as all-good or all-bad with polarized view points. The mental representations of good and bad are not integrated and prevents them from seeing the one they destroy is the same one who soothes and comforts. They do not have a tolerance of loving and hating toward the same person, unable to see them as some good and some bad. They cannot tolerate ambivalence hence the term, splitting.

The individual who causes the frustration is seen as all bad, and if pleasurable, then all good. In the same way, these traits are often seen with those who are depressed one minute and elated the next. This behavior can be seen in toddlers who throw temper tantrums. The toddler is frustrated with both poles of thought, dependence / independence and hate / love. For this reason the parent / therapist would do well to provide a "holding environment" and contain the unintegrated feelings, metabolize them and give meaning. Once they have the cognitive equipment and skills, able to achieve object constancy, then the internal struggle is relieved. Ultimately, client / toddler needs to experience the good-enough-partner / good-enough-mother while holding feelings of "bad" primarily toward that object.

Since the therapist / mother is not always available, the client / toddler needs to find other ways to internally soothe and comfort, then entering into the transitional process. The effect must be experienced in doses in which the client / toddler can handle them.

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