Idealisation and Devaluation in BPD

Idealising and devaluing the same person under different circumstances is a typical feature of Borderline Personality Disorder – and one I am all too familiar with.

Idealisation is the tendency to experience someone more highly than they actually are and to put them on a pedestal as ‘all good’. Conversely, devaluation is the tendency to attribute a disproportionately negative opinion to someone, so that they are portrayed as ‘all bad’. 

The number one person in my life who gets the brunt of these extreme variations in opinion, emotionality and behaviour from me is my therapist. As the main person I am attached to, interactions with her are often a huge trigger for my unresolved abandonment issues and developmental trauma to rear their heads. As a result I switch from loving her to hating her incredibly fast.

This flipping between devaluing and idealising in BPD is commonly referred to as splitting. A person who struggles with splitting can drastically change in their perceptions of someone very quickly and very frequently, which understandably can lead to great instability within many interpersonal relationships. 

The other day I found out that one of my friends who has the same therapist as me recently had a therapy session at our therapist’s house. This is not something my therapist has offered me, nor something I knew she offered, full stop. Being very attached to her and protective of our relationship, I find it especially hard to hear when others receive different (and more special) treatment to me. It brings up a ton of cognitive distortions and sparks all of my childhood abandonment fears (“She doesn’t love me”, “I’m not her favourite”, etc). 

Even though things had been going remarkably well between us (that week), as soon as I found out that my friend had been to her house, I split on both my friend and my therapist in a second. My anger, jealousy, envy and fear sky-rocketed from 0-100 and my love for them both switched to total aversion and hostility. 

I’m seeing my therapist tomorrow and all I want to do is lay a bunch of accusations, judgments and ineffective ways of communicating onto her. I’m not going to, but I want to – I need her to know how I feel. The whole palaver is really getting to me and I am struggling to cope with the huge effect our relationship continually has on me. Add to that the immense shame because of how *ridiculous* I am being – it does not make for a fun experience. 

Oh and the worst part: I know I am being irrational and pathetic (hence the additional shame) but BPD really does not give a shit… 

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27 thoughts on “Idealisation and Devaluation in BPD

  1. Thinking of you and your brave, honest, perceptive heart and hoping you can find a way to be kind and gentle with yourself in your suffering X you’re worth kindness, you’ll get through this xx Em

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  2. Ps I don’t think you’re “ridiculous” at all – far from it, you’re a smart, sensitive, insightful person who is committed to managing her life with integrity and joy and is dealing with a mental health issue – not only that but you’re sharing your personal struggles in order to help others understand and cope and have a better quality of life xx

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  3. I always like when you cover these topics as they are sooooooooooo real in BPD and its refreshing to read someone being so candid. I bet there are peeps with BPD all over going, ‘I hear ya!’. The hardest thing to get ones head round with splitting is, that another friend could do exactly the same things as your ‘idealised’ friend, (for instance not returning a text promptly)and it doesn’t matter one iota…but when your ‘idealised’ friend does it, one can go into total orbit…the extremity of emotion is huge – as you said 1 to 100 – often in a split second eh……does it ever lessen in BPD, or is it forever there but with therapy there are skills we know about to help lessen the intensity?

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    • Literally! Especially with my T – it’s stronger with her than anyone else and really hard for people to grasp..

      I guess right now it’s about dealing with it differently even if the intensity is the same…. maybe in time the intensity can decrease but for now it’s mostly my reactions I’m working on controlling as the emotional response feels so out of control. (And bear in mind I’m still feeling this way towards my therapist, and somewhat towards my friend, almost a week on…)

      Thanks so much for your comment, for relating and assuring me. Take care xx

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      • I don’t have attachment with my therapist (and I think that’s why we have such a great relationship) but I have had it with 2 ‘special’ friends and my god it is all mentally consuming – just constant! Luckily those relationships no longer exist (which was devastating at the time – like beyond grief for the longest time ever!), but now I look back and feel so grateful my life isn’t so consumed with them – especially their approval and needing to constantly know that they still care/love me/want me in their life/that I wasn’t ‘too much’….sometimes I find it hard to comprehend how huge it was in occupying my head space…if there is nothing else (and there are many more symptoms), that alone is the biggest manifestation of BPD symptoms for me. I wonder if your therapist doesn’t have sessions with you at her home, because she knows it will exacerbate your attachment>>> And I suspect it would, based on my life time of insecurities and attaching??? Just thoughts……have you had any other significant attachments with people and how did they pan out? Again, I’d just like to say, your honesty is so helpful… So thank you for that.

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      • Yes that is definitely one reason I know could stand true, but you know how it is – rationalising just isn’t helping me. Whatever the reason…. It hurts. I hate her for loving my friend more, when I want to be her favourite. I wish she didn’t have any other clients. I wish she was more reassuring. (It was also the way my friend say it – as though it was a privilege she had access to and almost rubbing in my face telling me about it.)

        My primary attachments are with therapists/ caregiver figures etc, and this stuff is a consistent pattern for me. Also romantic “relationships”, if you can call them that (see my post about L, in April or May 2015!). Some have ended messily, some have changed over time, some I grin and bear it so as to maintain the relationship, some put up with me, others don’t. It’s more about me trying to regulate how I approach others now, slow down and get into wise mind about how I tackle and deal with the feelings.

        Thank you too!!

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      • Does she really care for your friend more? Or is it just a different approach?

        Makes sense. Your attachments are to people who are “safe.”
        It hurts. But trust that she does care.

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  4. Good insight. This can be a good thing. It can be a chance to challenge the black/white thinking and do something different.

    Remember, you don’t know the reason behind the home visit. There is probably a solid clinical reason why it’s happening.

    Good on you to be so honest with yourself and facing this down.

    If you’re worried about how to talk about it, consider showing her this blog entry?

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    • Apparently it was because they couldn’t find a time that worked during her usual office hours, so she offered a session from home. But STILL!
      Thank you. I would show her but I think she would get angry, I’ll have to think of a more “effective” way to explain…. She prefers direct communication etc ๐Ÿ˜‰

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  5. I think I would have the same issue! Eek. I actually do have someone I once dated (he actually was my first if you know what I mean) seeing the same therapist. I recommended the program to him. My therapist didn’t even know but even though we had been seeing the same therapist, we’ve only now been in the same skills group. We proved why two people with BPD shouldn’t date well before we even knew we HAD BPD! Talk about a disaster! Oh and my therapist saw my parents years ago but there wasn’t a BPD program back then. They were seeing him for marriage counseling and he kicked them out after so many sessions because all they would do is fight.

    Anyway, I’m rambling here. Where I’m at, it is definitely possible to know people seeing the same therapist. However, there are some strict guidelines with therapists and they change all the time now with social media. A therapist I knew (she retired about a year ago) told us in group that a conference she was at went into guidelines regarding friending clients/former clients on Facebook. BIG no-no. I’m pretty sure therapy sessions at the therapist’s house would fall under that too unless the therapist was actually doing therapy at his/her house as opposed to a clinical setting. I personally have never known one to where I’m at though. I did have one therapist years ago take me out to dinner. This was because I was leaving the area and eventually the country so it was sort of a last session thing. I feel bad because I haven’t spoken to her since and that was almost 8 years ago.

    I have definitely had the issues with relationships too. I have this friend I’ve known since I was 12 (over 20 years now). She has, in the past, suddenly broken off our friendship. I would get very attached to her while we were friends and my reaction to her suddenly ending things would be oftentimes catastrophic (one time, I’m embarrassed to say, I nearly stood in the middle of a busy street by her house when she closed the door on me after telling me I had no business coming over to her place). The on again, off again has messed me up though now my reaction to it has lessened and I have not placed her on that pedestal nearly as much. She recently friended me again on Facebook after about three years of not having any contact. I accepted the friend request but have kept my distance this time around. I am trying to be dialectical about the relationship because I know how I can get and at the same time, trying also not to judge because that’s easy as well. UGH! Relationships can be so hard!

    And I won’t even go into my marriage that I keep trying to fix when I CANNOT change my husband! I keep trying though and hanging on to this hope that if he would just change on things, our relationship would be better but really, it’s me who is afraid to change and radically accept that this marriage is NOT going to be what I want it to be but I keep getting those willful thoughts and not radically accepting things and then getting angry or depressed when he acts like he usually does even though a few days before he acted differently. When he does act differently, I grab onto it like some kind of life raft then get distraught and upset when he goes back to the way he was before! When will I learn?!

    Good luck talking to your therapist!

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  6. Just wanted to say BB in response to your response to Coops that the level of intensity you experience in triggering situations can diminish over time, at least it has for me. The first 3-4 months of DBT I spent trying to respond to the same levels of intensity I had always experienced with less destructive reactions, just as you described. After that the level of intensity I felt in the same situations started to lessen, not in every instance but on average at least. Now more than a year later after beginning dbt therapy the fight-or-flight brain response to triggering abandonment/invalidation stimuli certainly still gets the better of me more than I’d like but it happens much less frequently, usually with less intensity, and now I know how to pull back from it when I do start to lose control instead of spiralling. Seems like you’re very dedicated to change, that’s more than most people can say and it’s a critical difference that can help improve your life. I wish you the very best.

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    • You are right. I think on the day I couldn’t see the wood for the trees, but indeed I have had the same experience as you have described when I think about it in wise mind. Also reactions related to different things become more manageable to different extents, so whilst in some situations I feel no difference, in others, the difference is probably profound. (Like you said, on average.) I really appreciate your message and am happy to hear how you are doing in your own process – thank you.

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    • Thanks so much for your reply WRSKIPPY…it’s so validating and reassuring when others talk of their own experiences and/or give their thoughts…its probably the biggest help of all in the crazy funny ways we think. And thank you to BB for bringing up and issue that is so prevalent to us and probably one that causes so much heartache and so much shame. Through my therapy (about 16 months on now), the biggest thing I have learnt is NOT to act in the moment. No verbal/email/texting responses in regard to the feeling no matter how justified I think it is….if I can just wait it out for hours/next day etc I can control the impulse to lash out. I’ve saved myself so much self shame because 99.9% of the time when I lash out in the moment I regret it DEEPLY. And it has cost me two treasured friendships. Somehow, I’m most easily triggered at night which is when I used to do my email/text rants. Now I don’t, and by morning everything seems much ‘softer’ and clearer EVEN if I’m still hurt or upset. I used to journal daily when I was at my worst (this was my outlet and a good one at that), and when I re-read back on it, I am horrified at the amount of head space one person used to take up in my mind…it was obsessive…and it was either having that person on the highest pedestal ever, or me hating them intensely….all I can see now, was that I was wrapped up in fear of them abandoning me…or having had reassurance they wouldn’t, I was ‘high’ again………but I realise its not healthy to pin everything on any one person ‘saving’ me…people are just human and they will let us down and dash our ideals…that’s life…the harder I work on accepting that, the less I get crushed…and the more I spread my love to the many people that really do care, the less obsessed and fixated I get on one person; or as you said WRSKIPPY, I am learning to ‘pull back’…….The other thing that is interesting is I am also learning to spot the triggers……the minute I start to feel angry at what has become a ‘special someone’, I almost immediately know, I’m losing emotional and mental balance, so I just go into as quiet a mind as I can and use mindfulness. I know this is all easy in theory but trust me when I say, I am walking the walk…….thank you every for sharing…..its a great topic to talk over…love and light to you all..

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  7. You are not alone, as a fellow suffered I understand and empathise with your pain!
    It’s hard to know what your triggers are when they happen so quickly.
    There shouldn’t be the stigmatism there is surrounding this awful disorder, big hugs

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