Lies, Manipulations, and Distortions

The unconscious defense mechanism, splitting, and how it distorts reality.

Posted Oct 15, 2018

Experiencing a conflict with another person and awakening to the idea that they have a different perspective is mildly confusing. Yet, it often leads to greater understanding. Conversely, when the individual has an entirely different reality of a shared situation, it may cause a person to feel like they are living in the twilight zone. Can two memories of the same incident be entirely divergent?  

Everyone has their own perception of an experience based on multiple factors, including past experiences and their emotional state. Yet, when two differing perspectives are completely incongruent, it is difficult to believe the people involved shared the same situation, and it may be a red flag. 

As a therapist, I frequently work with couples who independently tell the story of their relationship in a way that makes me think, “They have completely different realities. Are they in the same relationship? Who is lying?” Nevertheless, both parties swear by their own story. 

In addition, one of the goals of therapy is for each party to understand the other person’s feelings and needs, thus increasing their empathy for one another and re-establishing the closeness in the relationship. Yet, after several sessions of sorting through past experiences, if one person is unable to attempt to sincerely understand and honor the other person’s perspective, it may be a sign of a deeper issue. 

As stated previously, everyone has their own unique way of interpreting an experience. However, when an individual distorts an experience to the extent that they unconsciously split elements of the experience out of their conscious awareness in order to escape threats to their sense of self, they are utilizing a rather pathological defense mechanism called splitting. In essence, they are unconsciously altering reality to protect their ego, thus excusing themselves from accountability. 

Usually, this defense mechanism is utilized by people who are impacted by a personality disorder. In essence, an individual who constantly avoids accountability in the relationship, lacks empathy and conscientiousness for their partner, and plays the victim to excuse their transgressions, may be utilizing this defense.

In addition, the type of personality who may utilize splitting as a defense rarely feels genuine and intense remorse for their mistakes. They may give lip service to being sorry, but they do not feel remorse deeply, so they continually repeat the problematic behavior. 

It is important to note that although it is painful, intense remorse is what allows a person to gain insight and avoid replicating a wrongdoing. When a person looks at himself or herself and truly feels shame for a selfish mistake, they usually evolve and are able to avoid repeating it. On the other hand, a person who musters up a glib apology, but continues to engage in significant self-serving behaviors, may not experience sincere responsibility for their mistakes. 

Also, an individual who uses splitting as an unconscious defense mechanism usually engages in gaslighting. When a person gaslights, they attempt to cause an emotional reaction in their partner, setting them up to appear irrational so they can challenge their partner’s version of reality. 

Sadly, an individual who utilizes splitting as an extreme and unconscious defense mechanism is not aware of what they are doing. Therefore, they do not believe they are lying. They function in their own world, sincerely believing others are at fault and they are the victim. This individual benefits from an experienced therapist who is well versed in treating clients who suffer from a personality disorder. 

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