"Splitting" is a defense mechanism by which unwanted parts of our personality are rejected. The problem is that this usually works rather badly and turns into baseless attacks on others. This is where self-hatred turns into the hatred of others.
Because we accuse other people of having our unwanted traits, this is the source of hypocrisy, pot-kettle-black accusations, "mind reading," scapegoating, and "straw man" arguments. We see this in on-line squabbles, where "straw man" arguments are used to accuse others of things they did not actually say or do. And if someone is a general hot mess, they'll add a stream of ad hominem attacks painting the other person as evil and the accuser as the victim.
But everyone does this to some degree, and anyone that has spent much time on line knows what splitting is like. If you are having an argument with someone and you take a break but in your mind you are thinking about what you will say and what they will say, then that is an imaginary conflict with an imaginary person. Do you notice how mean people are in your imagination? They are real bastards! But it's easy to forget that those voices are you, and that those are the voices of self criticism. We take our thoughts (usually the negative ones) and attribute them to other people, and this is projection.
This also happens off-line, in real life, where we can be devoured by stress imagining family or workplace confrontations that never happen. But we imagine that they will attack our secret weakest points. A skillful manipulator might yell at someone once and then keep them in suspense by leading their victim to imagine that it will happen again.
And it's good to have some self awareness and humility, but this can easily slip over the line to the point where we lash out at a real person over their imagined insults. This happens when we blame others for our negative thoughts, and it is possible to be unaware of our own self sabotaging emotions and thoughts. The splitting is still there, but there is also denial of these emotional conflicts, so they remain unconscious.
Splitting can be a conscious operation, where a person hold two contradictory opinions. We can see this in right wing blogs that say Obama is a iron fisted dictator and a wimp. Or how often a military sniper says he sleeps like a baby because of his deep love of Jesus. Or how dangerous and oppressive the government is, unless it's a black teenager that gets shot. It's the familiar damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don't strategy.
In the case of the narcissist, feeling of superiority can coexist consciously with shyness and insecurity. Although this is hard to imagine, we have seen the video diary of the Santa Barbara campus shooter who simultaneously admitted to being terrified of girls, but considered himself a "true alpha male." Similarly, the borderline personality disorder is dominated by their sense of insecurity but can also have grandiose and omnipotent thoughts. And both the narcissist and the borderline accuse other people of thinking badly of them, that is, they project their self criticism onto others.
Consider this fictional scene from the book/movie "Fight Club," where Ed Norton's character (the nameless "Narrator") confronts Helena Bonham Carter ("Marla"). They are obvious soul mates, and seeing his mirror image in her ("Her lie reflected my lie") is probably why Ed Norton's character has a violent hatred for her ("If I had a tumor, I'd name it Marla") Ed Norton's character is splitting (oh boy does he split in this story) and projecting and Marla is savvy enough to see it from across the crowded room, so she's ready when he comes over for a big confrontation.
Marla: I saw you practicing this.Marla knows Ed Norton's character needs to psych himself up with an imaginary confrontation, and, when he approaches her, she throws him of balance by ruining his script. She has already "exposed" him to himself by showing him his own false emotions, phony outrage, and self righteousness. (Spoiler - if you haven't seen the movie, she likes him).
Narrator: Practicing what?
Marla: Telling me off. Is it going as well as you hoped...? [reads his nametag] "Rupert"?
Narrator: I'll expose you.
Marla: Go ahead. I'll expose you.
These fantasy conflicts seem real to varying degrees. Certainly they seem real enough to trigger real stress that can injure our physical health. For people that have a hard time separating fact from fantasy (most of us) this can lead effortless lying about other people , lies that can be quite breathless and convincing.
If someone has serious problems, they may actually attack the others based on these fantasy images and conflict. Splitting blurs the boundary between "self" and "other," and we see the walls between reality and hostile fantasy dissolve.
But which of their own traits is being rejected in splitting? We absorb lots of things as children, some good and some bad. Then as adults we say things like "Oh my God, I sound just like my mother!" This is not necessarily a bad thing - it's normal. As children, character traits are absorbed from the adults around us and "introjected," becoming practically hardwired into our brains.
Remember the scene from Star Wars "The Empire Strikes Back" where Yoda sends Luke into the evil cave on Dagobah for a vision quest? Luke "sees" Darth Vader and cuts off his head, but inside the helmet is Luke's own face? Right, Luke has to confront his own evil father, but he also has to confront himself. Granted it's all a little hokey and heavy handed, but it gets right to the point.
Of course if mom (or dad, or stepdad etc) is a bit of a monster, their kids will have that criticism and verbal abuse stuck in their heads when they are adults. Like the voice of Ralph Fienne's sadistic grandmother in "Red Dragon." If (off-screen) child abuse and threats of castration make you cringe, you can skip it, but you get the point, because Fiennes becomes a serial killer.
Simply fighting as hard as you can is no promise of redemption
He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.And you can read more about the "He who fights monsters" cliche on the fabulous TVtropes database which describes about twenty variations on this theme:
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil
Something has happened to our Fallen Hero (link): his village was destroyed, his friends killed, his puppy roasted on an open spit, his bike stolen, whatever. All that matters is that It's Personal (link), and he feels that the law just isn't... any use to him in settling the matter. He may justify his actions by claiming that it's Justice he's after, not vengeance, but anyone with half a brain can easily see that he's out for revenge... unfortunately, we can also see that the more he hunts the cause of his woes, the more he takes on the villain's personality and mannerisms — something that our "hero" is too blinded by his single-minded goal to realize...... what he's doing twists him into a monster just as bad as, or even worse than, the one he's hunting .... The "fighting monsters" line represents what is a recognizable Moral Event Horizon (link) for heroes, and both antiheroes and Well Intentioned Extremists (link) live just near the boundary....As expected, this twisted situation is very popular in the Revenge Tragedy (link) genre,especially because of its inherent Dramatic Irony (link) note . This trope can also be used to demonstrate how "eye-for-an-eye" justice, while sounding like sweet Karmic Equivalent Exchange Justice (link) at first, can easily spiral out into utter chaos if the hero lets his passions, wrath, and Pride (link) forego rationality.In fiction there is usually an actual injury that motivates revenge, but even justifiable revenge is still morally ambiguous. In real life, the "injury" (ironic quotes there) is generally only damaged pride. Because pride is usually a mask that hides a self-critical personality, the self-critical person is also prone to revenge.
Early criticism and unfair treatment becomes self criticism and self sabotage in the adult. And these traits may be reinforced by their parents and family even when the child is all grown up. But nobody wants to think of themselves as defined by their "mommy issues" or "daddy issues" especially since it makes them seem like less than competent adult. They use all sorts of denial to avoid that knowledge, and they may end up in therapy to work through these issues. In therapy, they can do the splitting and projection and other processes until they are defused and can be handled safely.
A person who grows up absorbing these aggressive, angry, critical traits is likely to show some version of these traits as an adult. If they gain any power at all, they are likely turn their criticism and sabotage outwards towards others. However, it may be intolerable to see themselves as the aggressor, sadist, rageaholic, or stalker. So they have to reject these internal traits by splitting and attributing these traits to other people, creating a "persecutory object," a straw man in the image of a sadistic person. Specifically, they are putting other people in the role of the persecuting parent. By splitting, a person is able to justify their rage and the urge to punish others. And if they were raised to feel guilty, they can project that guilt onto other people, which is further "proof" against that person.
This might be why so many people end up married to someone that is a near clone of their abusive parent. When they try to have a relationship with someone from a healthier family, they are literally speaking different languages. In the case of a mixture of partners from healthy and unhealthy backgrounds, the person doing the splitting is using their partner as a proxy in a fight with some parent figure such as their alcoholic verbally abusive (possibly deceased) step-dad. Someone with a different background may find this behavior and the associated accusations utterly baffling, and their partner's response may include rage and shame.
Projective identification will be a major part of the campaign to create this external bad guy. Typically this means the victim will behave in a way to provoke criticism. A classic example is to tell someone over and over "You're angry ... you're angry ... you're angry.." until finally the other person becomes angry. It's the accuser who has anger, but they need to manipulate the other person into being angry so the accuser can shift the blame to the other person and make them the bad guy.
As I said in a previous diary Psychology Of Hatred Part II: Projection & Projective Identification
Looking at the example of a Facebook troll, why does someone spend most of their life simply being stupid and annoying on line? They get criticism, and being called "stupid" by some frustrated stranger is clearly their goal. What other explanation is there except an effort to recreate their relationship with a bad parent? Maybe, the abusive parent used projective identification and called the child "stupid" until the child lived up to the criticism and did badly in school, just so the parent to put the child in the role of the "bad kid" or the family scapegoat. The child may be made to feel guilt of they resist:(wikipedia) The projector (the phony "victim")strives to find in the other, or to induce the other to become, the very embodiment of projection..... their behavior towards the object of projection invokes in that person precisely the thoughts, feelings or behaviors projected.Now it is clearer - instead of just making foolish ad hominem attacks, the aggressor tries to bait a victim into giving them the exact proof they need so desperately to validate their own anger. Then they can rally their friends or family for an attack. Bonus points are awarded for gaining sympathy and being the center of attention. The manipulator poses as a hapless victim, but orchestrates the whole performance for an audience. I guess it could be used for good, but it seems like it's always a form of aggression, specifically covert aggression.
.....However, such resistance can produce a peculiar form of guilt...guilt for not being or not becoming the embodiment of the complement demanded by the other;.....(wikipedia).Now grown up, the grown child also uses projective identification, provoking others to call them "stupid" on-line by spouting offensive crap like Sandy Hook Truther theories. (I'm just picking this as a specific example) By doing this, the grown child can reassure themselves that they are still innocent and that the threat to their happiness is from the outside, from other people, bad people. They tell themselves it's not part of the grown child, noooo, it has been spit off and projected onto this stranger on-line. Now they can deny that they are somehow like their abusive parent or that their parent's criticism is a foundation of their own personality.
You have to wonder how often that drives people's annual reviews at work."......while conversely for the projector, when an outer figure resists this powerful projective pressure, the individual bursts out in rage....." (wikipedia)Got that? If someone resists their demand to be the bad guy, the projector (phony victim) responds with rage.
In real life there are so many layers of deception and denial it may be nearly impossible to figure out who the real culprit is. But the internet and weirdos like Sandy Hook Truthers provide good examples because it's drama played out between people without a tangled backstory of he said/she said accusations. On-line we can see people treating each other like vending machines. Press this button ( a real button) to get yelled at, press this button to get liked on Facebook, press this button to make someone feel shame.
Probably the best way to get the ball rolling in this process of accuse-and-counterattack is adopt an "analyze and accuse" strategy towards others. As Cardinal Richelieu (Tim Curry in a red robe in "The Three Musketeers") said
If you give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find something in them which will hang him.Richelieu not only made absurd accusations, such as witchcraft, against his political rivals, he then had them tortured and killed in grotesquely sadistic ways. He was spitting the processes of sadistic destructiveness and pious righteousness. And he probably slept like a baby - a narcissistic, sociopathic baby.
Like Richelieu, a person using splitting and projection (let's call them "A.") can latch onto just about anything they hear and be belligerent, self righteous, and absurdly obtuse in response. Typically this includes A. using fake emotion and fake morality to gin up phony outrage regarding some topic where A. may not even give a shit. A. accuses another person (let's call them "B") to provoke them. When B. takes the bait and responds in a in a self righteous manner, "A" takes the accusations up to a new level of phony victimhood and ad hominem accusations about B.
The strategy is to provoke someone so that projective identification can be used to cast them as the bad guy. When it looks like the B. is "punching down" on poor pitiful A., A. will recruit their friends for assistance. This can go over the line into simple bullying where the mask is dropped and their "in group" simply torments B. before attacking B.
Having projected guilt and aggression onto another person, it is now possible to punish this supposedly "guilty" person who represents the unloving parent (the "persecutory object"). Notice that the roles can now reversed - A. uses splitting and projection to deny their aggression and sadism while feeling they are seeking revenge, they are the side of righteousness. It seems like all cultures love revenge stories, because revenge gives victims moral purity and license to devise the most sadistic punishment possible. This is conscious splitting of the concepts of revenge and virtue, so they can coexist in the conscious mind. However, one of the Seven Deadly Sins is "Wrath" and that seems to capture the moral hypocrisy of revenge.
Kill your whole high school? Hey, why not. Notice Cary hears the voice of her mother saying "They're all going to laugh at you!" and kills her, too.
Now the "victim" can embrace the abusive sadistic traits of their parent while blaming it all on the other guy.
Splitting is common for sociopaths and various personality disorders. And we see this all the time in criminals who believe they are the real victims. Is it any wonder that they usually that had horrendous childhoods? They were real victims before they became predators. And their accusations against others are often pure projection - the thief accuses others of stealing, the liar accuses others of lying, the arsonist accuses someone else of setting fires. Even intelligent people aren't usually crafty enough to avoid this obvious gambler's "tell."
This is primitive and sometimes violent stuff. Splitting is incoherent - there is no effort to keep track of the lies and accusations. This is like The Gish Gallop. It can seem very convincing to bystanders, and for the victim it can feel like their brain is melting.
These sorts of accusations seem to have a universal appeal and are effective pretexts for violence. Witch trials, the Inquisition, the Holocaust - all used absurd accusations. Consider cases where a teenage girl is raped and then attacked by her peers using "slut shaming." Although this pack behavior seems feral, isn't it also Machiavellian to take down a weakened peer and potential competitor? Throughout history, some of the cruelest atrocities have been neighbor against neighbor, where ridiculous accusations are used to seize land, property, or power. Often the strongest hatred is directed at people who are similar to the projector.
In the case of the Nazis, their accusations against the Jews were projections. Supposedly the Jews were the real racists that were going to enslave the world! And according to the Nazis they were merely acting in self-defense, just doing it to the Jews before the Jews could do it to the Nazis. At the level of political propaganda, projection can be used to indoctrinate the population with the game plan for future atrocities. Over and over the population is warned about an elaborate conspiracy in great detail. For years they are told in horrifying and explicit detail until one day they are told "Do it to them before they do it to you," and they spring into action because they all know what "it" is. I do not think there is anything accidental about this, but I believe that it taps into the individuals knowledge of projection and self deception so that a certain percentage of the population knows "This conspiracy theory is projection, it is not a warning, it is the plan I will follow." And people who instinctively understand this was are exactly the kind of people Hitler planned to use (he estimated them to be 15% of the population).
My personal opinion is that a person interested in assessing their own mental health or protecting their mental health should try to estimate how much of their time is spent in a state of self righteous anger. If they are spending very much time being self righteous it means they are in some sort of bad relationship where they are playing the role of the sadist or the masochist (or both.) Anyone that finds themselves in a position of self righteous anger is either being baited into a trap, or they are simply a sadistic bully. Is there a group that enjoys a good round of self-righteous anger? Well that's going off in a very, very dark direction indeed.
In future diaries, we will look at the effects of narcissism, masochism, and trolling. Because if someone lacks a suitable persecutory object in their lives, they can find one on-line by trolling. And if you want to experience splitting, go get into a fight on Facebook.
++++++++++ Update ++++++++++++
I just wanted to say that of course there is a whole other topic when it comes to these processes in the workplace, especially for managers.
But when a manager sees employees acting like this, don't just dismiss it as a "personality conflict" or "Oh Dan's being difficult" (especially since Dan is probably the victim of a smear campaign).
The question that needs to be asked is "Who is stealing?" Because this sort of interpersonal chaos is often a smokescreen for fraud and theft.