SPLITTING: Understanding What Divides Us

Aug 19, 2021

Photo Credit: via Pixabay

We seem hard-wired to split the world into polarities: right/wrong, either/or, victory/defeat, Democrat/Republican. Infants and toddlers have not yet achieved the developmental capacity for complexity; they are believed to split their feelings toward caretakers into “good” and “bad,” depending on whether their needs are being met in the moment.

Although it distorts reality, splitting reduces anxiety by locating the problem “out there,” allowing us to reject what we find aversive and affirm our own virtue, self-worth, and blamelessness. The capacity for ambivalence—the ability to hold opposite feelings—requires more differentiated cognitive skills and emotional range. Can we bear anxiety in the face of what seems intolerable without retreating to the fortress of one-sided (usually righteous) certainty? Doing so can increase capacity for objectivity, self-reflection, and ability to bridge the split. 


“I was in a room full of people, not sure where or with who, but I suppose they were all friends of mine. I was walking past the couches of people, and I stumbled upon this table. Underneath the table was a head of a person who looked a lot like Sigmund Freud. I approached the sort of “floating head” and said, “you look a lot like Sigmund Freud.” He was smiling at me greatly, and he said, “that’s because I am.” Then his head disappeared like a ghost disappearing into a wall. I jumped back, gasped, and looked around the room to see if anyone saw what I just witnessed. No one had, they all were busy talking, and so I just stared at the spot where his head was trying to make sense of what I saw.” 


Kaplan and Sadock’s Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry Eleventh Edition by Benjamin J. Sadock https://www.amazon.com/dp/1609139712/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_FXHRS2XVKGW5Q17ZR2K7

Love, Guilt and Reparation. By Melanie Klein https://www.amazon.com/dp/074323765X/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_ZK5F7D7B07XRKH5XJBJ4


Learn to Analyze your own Dreams:  https://thisjungianlife.com/enroll/

1 Comment

  1. Chris Miller

    Dear Lisa, Deb, and Joseph,

    Thank you so much for this important and timely episode on “Splitting.” From start to finish, I found so much of it resonating with my own experience as an individual, a family and community member, and a citizen of the U.S and world. I hope more people listen to this episode.

    One thought that occurred to me while listening to you all discuss Klein, Winnicott, and the “good enough Mother” is that I wish you all had said something about “the good enough Father.” Perhaps you already have in other episodes. In looking at current events I see no shortage of examples of unhealthy manifestations of the Father or Senex archetype, some of which include the rigidity, defensiveness, fundamentalism, and righteousness mentioned or alluded to in this episode on splitting. Come to think of it, can’t we say that it is the Father energy, healthy or unhealthy, that is behind the splitting act itself?

    As I was reflecting on this episode, I also found myself thinking of James Hollis, arguably a wonderful example of the “good enough Father.” Your discussion of ambivalence made me think of his writing in Creating a Life on the hallmark of psychological maturity being our ability to handle or tolerate what he calls the “Triple A’s”, i.e., anxiety, ambivalence, and ambiguity. (See the chapter on “The Problem of Spiritual Authority” in particular). I believe you have mentioned the Triple A’s in one or more other episodes and yet feel that this is such an important theme at present.

    Very much related to this theme is that of our ability to relate to the Other. Here is what Hollis writes in the same book: ““But the chief service of a mature relationship is to provide us with the dialectic of otherness which is the requisite of personal growth. That is, rather than be a clone of our values, making us feel good about our narrow vision of the world, the otherness of the other forces us to confront otherness. Such a confrontation engenders a psychological dialectic which enlarges us through the experience of the opposites” (p. 135). If you haven’t yet had an episode dedicated to the importance of learning how to handle the Triple A’s vis-a-vis our confrontations with the Other in its manifold manifestations today, I would love to hear what you three have to say on the subject. Ditto for the subject of “The Good Enough Father.”

    With Much Gratitude,



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