Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Adventures in splitting

Little Beauties Art Cards: Coupe de Foudre available on Etsy

Splitting in psychological terms is a defense that involves "splitting" a person or object in one's mind into two opposing parts.

The classic example is when a kid thinks his mom is a "bad mom" because she doesn't meet his needs immediately or completely; conversely, the same mother is a "good mom" when she does meet his needs immediately or completely. (If you smell control issues, you're right.)

However, don't let the classic example mislead you (especially since mothers get the brunt of blame in psychological theories). Parents can also "split" their children into "bad daughter" and "good daughter" depending on obedience or other compliance and self-discipline issues. (If the scent of control issues is wafting your way, again, your senses don't fool you.)

We can also split ourselves, and a key to knowing when this happens is if somewhere in our heads we hear or get the feeling that we "should" do or not do something. If I get angry at someone, I may feel ashamed of my anger and think of myself as a "bad person," someone who loses control of his temper and isn't as nice as I think I (should) be.

On the other hand, if I do what I think I'm supposed to do, I'm a "good person." (If you're tasting perfectionism in this self-splitting behavior, your buds are serving you well!)

In the end, as we mature and encounter reality--which not all of us do--we realize that these extreme opposites don't adequately encompass our experience of someone or something. Our parents can be both good and bad at the same time, as can our children, and ourselves.

We can be good enough (an actual psychological term), meaning we do our best at any given time, that we may not always--if ever--be super-parent or teen of the year, and that it's alright. It's okay. Nobody's evil, terrible, awful and no catastrophes, disasters, death, or lost limbs occur because the baby cried for a minute longer or your kid got a B.

I'm writing about splitting because after all these years of thinking I was a pretty self-aware kinda guy, in talking with my therapist she pointed out that I was splitting myself. Good student/bad student, disciplined exerciser/lazy couch potato, professional/inappropriate, passionate artist/flaky wanderer, etc.

I had no idea I was doing it. Complete blind spot.

She suggested that I may split myself because I had no safe quarter to be "good enough" in my life. I had to be the good son, the responsible brother, the A student...high and noble standards to strive for, but when unreasonably subscribed to, create a lot of heartache, and shame.

My therapist ended that particular session by saying, "You don't get to be perfect, but you still get to be great." I like that.

Now, when I'm about to split, I stop and calm myself down. It helps to recognize the irrationality of thinking in extremes, but it takes a whole lotta practice, patience, and compassion.

My thanks to my family, friends, collectors, and art appreciators for supporting me as I go through these growth spurts and slow changes!

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