Splitting – extremes in relationships

I was introduced to the concept of splitting during my time at Harvard. One of the courses I took as a part of my MBA was about team dynamics, and the professor briefly touched upon it. But this concept has really stuck with me, and recently I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Wikipedia defines splitting as “the failure in a person’s thinking to bring together both positive and negative qualities of the self and others into a cohesive, realistic whole”. Simply put, this means that we would rather see the world as black or white and also categorize each person’s actions as one or the other. While there is a lot more theory here, and I am by no means an expert, what I find truly intriguing is the application of this principle to human relationships. It is especially evident in your relationship with your partner – when one person takes an extreme stand on something, the other is automatically induced to support the other extreme. Think back to any disagreement you had with your partner – if he/she stated that they felt strongly about something, you would have started feeling uncomfortable and would most likely have started defending the opposite point of view. My interpretation of the theory is that extreme positions incite us to bucket the opinion, and the person, in the “black” category, and ourselves in the “white”. When in reality, we may actually be quite neutral about the topic.

I found this so interesting that I’ve been exploring it’s application in my relationships with different people. With colleagues, for example, if I get very passionately supportive about an idea, I will most often see a lukewarm reaction, at best. However, if I give a slight nudge and pretend to be less enthusiastic than I may actually be feeling at the time, I’ve seen that at most times people open up and exhibit what they really feel.

The most fascinating is the possible application of this theory to a parent-child relationship. Now this is a big hypothesis on my part, with no scientific backing whatsoever (actually, none of my analysis above has any!) But here it is – if one or both parents exhibit an extreme characteristic in their personality, the child would tend to display the opposite trait. For example, if one or both parents are big extroverts and highly talkative and social, the child would tend to be an introvert.

There is so much of human behavior that this simple theory can explain – it really is amazing. And so many ways to apply it to make our relationships smoother, stronger and less stressful.