Reply To: Hi – I'm a sociopath.



Alaska, I am not an expert, so this is just another idle musing. One thing I read years ago was about defense mechanisms. I think this originated with Freud, or at least it was based on his theory of psychoanalysis.

There are about 2 dozen defense mechanisms. Some of these are well known (eg denial). The purpose of defense mechanisms is to protect the ego. So if you are told you are dying, you might not believe what the doctor is saying… this denial of a “fact” protects the person from the devastating truth that they are going to die. Others include intellectualization (seeing things as an intellectual puzzle rather than an emotionally catastrophic event), sublimation (swapping one activity for another one that is more socially acceptable) and regression (becoming more childlike in stressful situations).

All human beings have their favorite go-to defense mechanisms (I’m guessing maybe a favorite 3 or 4). One of the less well known defense mechanisms is “splitting”. It is thought that this defense mechanism is developed very early in a child’s life (the first 6 months or so) before the child can speak. It is also thought that people with a diagnosis of BPD commonly use splitting as a defense mechanism.

Splitting occurs because the infant can’t understand shades of gray. Either they are fed, and comforted and happy, or they are hungry, in pain and scared. The hungry, scared infant is not able to say to themselves, “Mom always feeds me sooner or later. I’m sure she will again. I will wait patiently until she comes to feed me or burp me to take this pain away”. An infant isn’t able to think these thoughts, so they only know two situations: one where mom is loving and good and the other where mom is denying and causing (or at least not fixing) pain. The infant experiences extreme rage at this mom.

If parenting is “good enough” the infant learns through experience that Mom can be both nurturing and denying. It learns that its hunger or pain will not go on forever (and neither will being full and comfortable). This is the nature of life.

The theory is that if Mom is not “good enough” the infant doesn’t learn that the hunger or fear will be fixed in a reasonable amount of time. The infant learns through its experiences that there are two moms: one is the loving, nurturing mom, the other is a mean, nasty person with no goodness at all. This “splitting” of one person into two types of Mom is a means by which the infant can protect itself from having to be totally dependent on someone who is not really dependable “enough”.

So this is how splitting becomes a defense mechanism. In adults, splitting is seen when a person has a propensity to see other people as all good or all bad. Someone can be a best friend and they can do no wrong. This belief is not realistic because no human is perfect. All is well until the friend disappoints the person. Immediately the person “splits” so that now their friend is hateful, totally despicable with no good qualities. Again this is probably not accurate either, so the friend is rejected and the friendship is probably lost because of splitting.

We all have defense mechanisms. I also think we probably all have a propensity to “split” to some extent as a generic human characteristic. People who have a large component of splitting have a hard time dealing with people because they go from thinking someone is fantastic to hating them in heartbeat. I’m not sure, but I’ve got a feeling that splitting might be one of the diagnostic criteria for BPD.

Splitting makes it difficult to maintain relationships. A friend either says something the person doesn’t want to hear, or doesn’t say something that the person wanted to hear. Then, to the person, the friend becomes the meanest, most spiteful person in the world.

This is another reason, I am speculating, why people with BPD are ‘easy pickings’ for sociopaths. First, it is easy to play the role of “good” person who provides love, support an validation. Then when it all goes bad, the sociopath KNOWS that the person will “over-react” and end up in a spluttering rage (like a 2 month old infant). It’s also likely that they know that mutual friends/family know that the person usually “over-reacts”, so they are likely to believe the “she is crazy” lies told by the sociopath.

So if someone has a defense mechanism of splitting, it takes lots of work and patience to learn to swap this into a more functional defense-mechanism, like intellectualization. Thus, slowly, the person recognizes that they are seeing a friend as idealized (better than they really are) and adjusts their expectations. When the friend lets them down (as they inevitably will even if they didn’t intend to let them down), the person makes a point of not automatically concluding this person is ALL bad and hateful.

Recognizing splitting as a defense mechanism helps to prevent relationship problems in general and those with sociopaths in particular.

This whole long spiel is related to your suggestion for “Me” to have his/her own website. I would not want “Me” to have a website. There are inbuilt constraints on what can be said on this website and anyone who violates the accepted norms can be blocked. I think the current situation where “Me” is open about who he/she is and is very generously answering our questions provides the right mix of freedom and boundaries.

  • This reply was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by  Madelaine.