“…. if a person’s negative experiences in life largely outweigh the good ones, then integration cannot occur in a way that feels safe. Very often, abuse, neglect, and a lack of positive relationships in childhood and/or early adulthood underlie this “structural deficit” – the lack of good experiences on which to base a capacity for ambivalence. The lack of feeling secure in childhood, and the related need to maintain hope in an overwhelming situation, are reasons that splitting gets maintained into adulthood in many adults who get the “borderline” label.
Because their experience in reality – often with parents who neglect or abuse them – has been more negative than positive, they have to preserve hope of things getting better somehow. They do this using the splitting defense. With splitting, it is possible to pretend, on the basis of the few good experiences that one actually did have, that a perfect, good savior-parent or partner is still out there who can provide salvation. By contrast, it feels dangerous to the child (and later adult) to truly see that he is in great emotional danger as a result of his interpersonal world being more “bad” than “good”.
In colloquial language, one could say that it feels safer to ambivalently reflect on what is going on in one’s life when one’s experiences with others have been primarily positive. When one feels threatened most of the time, it’s not possible to be consistently aware of just how bad things are. Such an awareness would be emotionally overwhelming. In this way, at least at first, splitting is a brilliant defense mechanism that can be emotionally life-preserving
Here I would refer the reader to blogs, books, and essays that were discussed in earlier articles. Many sources describe how building a long-term good relationship with another person and/or group is crucial to recovering from what is called Borderline Personality Disorder. The borderline individual needs to build their internal positive images up – taking in many good, supportive, loving experiences with other people in the real world – until these memories become stronger than the negative images. Eventually, integration of good and bad perceptions will naturally start to occur, and splitting will begin to be overcome.
These people bring to mind tragic characters from Franz Kafka’s novels, individuals who experience life as meaningless and the outside world as full of capricious, heartless persecutors. They are symbolized in T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland as “men who have lost their bones”. The wasteland represents the internal psychic world of people who, because of overwhelmingly severe neglect and/or abuse, have lost all hope of forgiveness, love or redemption. Instead of hope, there is the view of the outside world as cold, empty, unforgiving, and punishing.
Out-of-contact Phase’s Object Relations – This phase features a strong dominance of all-negative mental images of self and other. These self-and-object units actively reject internalization of anything positive from the outside world. The patient continuously maintains a “closed system” in which he is “attached to the bad object” (Fairbairn). There is no symbiotic interaction with the therapist, no recognition that a positive relationship is even possible, and no projection of a hoped-for good object into the transference relationship.
2) Ambivalent Symbiosis – This second phase represents those borderlines who have had enough positive emotional experience to hope that recovery is possible. They believe in the possibility of reclaiming a good relationship with the outside world. They form an ambivalent relationship in which they want to trust the therapist, but at the same time fear being retraumatized and thus maintain distance.
Searles described this phase as “the therapist and patient driving each other crazy.” There is a constant struggle between accepting versus rejecting the therapist’s help. The feeling tone between patient and therapist is primarily one of aggression, wariness, and provocation. In this phase, the patient will find complex, often subtle ways to maintain distance from the therapist and prevent the development of a therapeutic symbiosis.
Compared to out-of-contact patients, ambivalent borderlines tend to commit themselves much more consistently to regular jobs, living places, and relationships. They have more real, positive emotional investment in the outside world, and thus more basis for hope that things can improve further. However, because they are afraid of intimacy and of really trusting others, their overall personality structure remains fragile, and they are vulnerable to separation stress.
Ambivalent Symbiotic Phase’s Object Relations – The all-negative images of self and other are still stronger, but there is a larger (minority) proportion of positive images compared to the out-of-contact phase. This relatively greater quantity of positive images result in the patient becoming aware that a positive, nurturing relationship with the therapist is possible. In other words, the patient possesses an internal “hoped-for good object.”
However, the dominance of the all-negative images during ambivalent symbiosis result in the patient distrusting the therapist and using projective identification to reject them. The patient distorts the therapist, turning him “all bad” in their mind in order to block the development of a positive relationship. In other words, the patient sabotages himself by actively attacking his potential positive relationship to the therapist.
Therapeutic Symbiotic Phase’s Object Relations – This phase begins to predominate when the all-positive images of self and other become stronger than the all-negative images. Once this internal balance shifts, the patient comes to fully trust the therapist and to strongly internalize the therapist’s positive attitudes. Of course, the therapist must be a truly “good” person in reality for this to happen.
Resolution of Symbiosis / Individuation Phase’s Object Relations – In this phase, the patient begins to integrate the all-good and all-bad sets of images (resolving splitting). They will gradually realize that the therapist is not a perfect parent. Like in the ambivalently symbiotic phase, but in a less distorted way, the patient will again perceive the therapist’s imperfections. However, this time, with a stronger positive set of self-and-object images as a foundation, he will arrive at a “whole object” integrated view of the therapist as a mostly good, but slightly “bad” person.