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Devaluation in BPD

May 10, 2023

8 min.

We delve into the complex dynamics of devaluation in BPD, shedding light on how this intense shift in perception impacts individuals with BPD and those around them.

By: Charlie Health Editorial Team

Clinically Reviewed By: Dr. Don Gasparini

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Table of Contents

What is devaluation in BPD?

In the context of borderline personality disorder (BPD), “devaluation” refers to a psychological defense mechanism or coping strategy that individuals with BPD may employ in their interpersonal relationships. Devaluation involves a shift in the person’s perception of others, where they view someone they previously idealized or held in high regard as unworthy, flawed, or worthless.

People with BPD often experience intense and unstable emotions, have difficulties with self-image, and struggle with maintaining stable relationships. The pattern of devaluation typically follows a cycle known as “splitting,” where individuals with BPD may initially idolize or idealize someone, believing them to be perfect, amazing, or indispensable. However, when conflicts or perceived flaws arise, the person with BPD may rapidly shift to devaluing that individual and suddenly think they’re entirely “bad,” evil, or undeserving of their attention or affection.

Devaluation can lead to major relationship difficulties, as the person with BPD may engage in behaviors such as intense criticism, verbal attacks, withdrawal, or even cutting off contact with the person they have devalued. These actions are often driven by the individual’s fear of rejection, abandonment, or a desire to protect themselves from potential hurt or disappointment.

It’s important to note that devaluation in BPD is not considered to be a conscious choice but rather a defense mechanism driven by underlying emotional and psychological distress. Treatment approaches such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) can help individuals with BPD learn healthier coping strategies and develop more stable and fulfilling relationships.

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How long does the devaluation stage last?

The duration of the devaluation stage in Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) can vary from person to person and situation to situation. It is important to recognize that BPD symptoms, including devaluation, can fluctuate over time and may occur in cycles.

The devaluation stage itself may last for hours, days, or even weeks, depending on the individual and the dynamics of the relationship involved. The intensity and duration of devaluation can be influenced by various factors, such as a triggering event, the individual's emotional state, their level of distress, and their overall coping mechanisms.

It's worth noting that the devaluation stage is not a fixed or predictable period, as individuals with BPD may experience rapid shifts in their perception of others. They may oscillate between idealization and devaluation within a short span of time, which is known as "splitting."

What are examples of devaluation?

Examples of devaluation in the context of BPD may manifest in various ways. Here are some common examples:

Idealization to devaluation

An individual with BPD may initially idolize or idealize someone, seeing them as perfect, wonderful, or indispensable. However, when conflicts arise or perceived flaws are noticed, they may rapidly shift to devaluing that person, believing them to be entirely bad, worthless, or undeserving of their attention or affection.

Criticism and verbal attacks

During the devaluation phase, individuals with BPD may engage in intense criticism and express their negative opinions about the person they have devalued. This criticism can be harsh, hurtful, and often disproportionate to the situation. They may use derogatory language, insults, or personal attacks to express their negative views.

Withholding affection and attention

Individuals with BPD may withdraw affection, attention, or support from the person they have devalued. They may become emotionally distant, ignore their messages or calls, or even cut off contact entirely as a way to punish or distance themselves from the person they perceive as unworthy.

Splitting behaviors

Splitting refers to the black-and-white thinking often seen in individuals with BPD. They may oscillate between extreme idealization and devaluation rapidly. For example, one moment they may express deep love and admiration for someone, and the next moment, they may devalue them and express intense anger or resentment.

Disregard for boundaries

During the devaluation stage, individuals with BPD may disregard or disrespect the boundaries set by the person they have devalued. They may violate personal boundaries, invade privacy, or engage in behaviors that they know would cause distress or discomfort to the other person.

Avoidance and isolation

In some cases, the individual with BPD may isolate themselves or avoid the person they have devalued. They may withdraw from social interactions, cancel plans, or create distance to protect themselves from potential rejection or abandonment.

It's important to note that these examples are not exhaustive, and the manifestations of devaluation can vary from person to person. Additionally, not all individuals with BPD engage in devaluation, and the severity and duration of devaluation can differ in each case.

How can you stop idealization and devaluation in BPD?

Stopping or reducing the pattern of idealization and devaluation in BPD can be challenging, but there are therapeutic approaches and strategies that can be helpful. It's important to note that addressing these patterns typically requires professional guidance and support from a mental health professional experienced in treating BPD. Here are some strategies commonly used in therapy:

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills

DBT is one of the most widely used therapies for BPD. It focuses on developing skills in four key areas: mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. By learning and practicing these skills, individuals with BPD can gain better emotional regulation abilities, reduce impulsive behaviors, and improve interpersonal relationships.

Examples of DBT skills include: 

Each of these skills is designed to help people regulate their emotions, improve communication, and build healthier coping mechanisms. 

Challenging black-and-white thinking

Encouraging individuals with BPD to challenge their black-and-white thinking patterns can be beneficial. By recognizing and acknowledging the gray areas, complexities, and nuances in people and situations, they can start to see individuals in a more balanced light, rather than oscillating between extreme idealization and devaluation.

Building self-awareness

Helping individuals with BPD develop self-awareness can be crucial in addressing idealization and devaluation. This involves helping them identify their emotional triggers, automatic negative thoughts, and the underlying emotions that contribute to their shifting perceptions of others. With increased self-awareness, they can catch themselves in the process of idealizing or devaluing and take steps to regulate their emotions.

Addressing underlying core beliefs

Individuals with BPD often hold core beliefs about themselves and others that contribute to their idealization and devaluation patterns. Therapy can involve exploring and challenging these core beliefs to develop more balanced and realistic views. This process can involve techniques such as cognitive restructuring or cognitive-behavioral interventions.

Developing empathy and perspective-taking

Encouraging individuals with BPD to develop empathy and practice perspective-taking can help them understand the experiences and emotions of others. This can foster more compassionate and understanding relationships, reducing the tendency to devalue based on momentary conflicts or perceived flaws.

Consistent therapy and support

Regular therapy sessions, ongoing support, and guidance from a mental health professional are crucial in addressing idealization and devaluation patterns in BPD. Therapy provides a safe space to explore emotions, develop coping skills, and work through interpersonal challenges.

It's important to remember that progress may take time, and each individual's journey is unique. Patience, consistency, and a comprehensive treatment approach are essential in addressing idealization and devaluation patterns in BPD.

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What is the best action to take with someone that has BPD and has devalued you?

When dealing with someone who has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and has devalued you, it can be challenging, but there are some steps you can take to navigate the situation:

Educate yourself

Learn more about BPD and its symptoms, including devaluation. Understanding the disorder can help you develop empathy and provide insight into the person's behaviors and emotions.

Set boundaries

Establish and maintain healthy boundaries to protect your well-being. Clearly communicate your limits and expectations regarding acceptable behavior in the relationship.

Remain calm and non-reactive

Responding with anger or defensiveness can escalate the situation. It's important to stay calm and composed, even if the person with BPD becomes confrontational or critical.

Validate their emotions

BPD is characterized by intense emotions, and individuals with the disorder often feel invalidated or misunderstood. Validate their feelings by acknowledging their emotions, even if you don't necessarily agree with their perspective.

Encourage professional help

Suggest therapy or counseling to the person with BPD. Professional treatment, such as dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), can be highly effective in helping individuals with BPD manage their symptoms and improve their relationships.

Practice self-care

Taking care of your own well-being is crucial. Engage in activities that promote your physical, emotional, and mental health. Seek support from trusted friends, family, or a therapist to help you navigate the challenges of dealing with someone with BPD.

Maintain empathy and compassion

Remember that individuals with BPD often struggle with intense emotional pain and have difficulties regulating their emotions and behaviors. Maintaining empathy and compassion can help foster understanding and potentially facilitate healthier interactions.

It's important to note that dealing with someone with BPD can be complex, and these suggestions may not always apply in every situation. Each individual and relationship dynamic is unique. Seeking guidance from mental health professionals experienced in BPD can provide personalized strategies and support tailored to your specific circumstances.

Are any other conditions associated with devaluation?

While idealization and devaluation are commonly associated with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), these patterns of thinking and behavior can also be present in other mental health conditions. Here are a few examples:

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD)

People with NPD may engage in idealization and devaluation as part of their interpersonal dynamics. They often have an inflated sense of self-importance and may initially idealize others whom they perceive as valuable or beneficial to their self-image. However, when they feel slighted or perceive a threat to their self-esteem, they can quickly shift to devaluing and demeaning those individuals.

Dissociative identity disorder (DID)

In DID, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, individuals can have different identities or "alters" that may idealize or devalue others. Different alters may have distinct perceptions and opinions about individuals in their lives, leading to shifts in idealization and devaluation.

Bipolar disorder

In the manic phase of bipolar disorder, individuals may experience grandiosity and inflated self-esteem, leading to idealization of others. However, during depressive episodes, they may have negative self-perceptions and feelings of worthlessness, which can contribute to devaluation of others.

Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD)

People with OCPD can have rigid and perfectionistic tendencies, leading to idealization of individuals who meet their high standards or ideals. Conversely, when others fail to meet their expectations, they may quickly devalue them and become critical or resentful.

It's important to note that while idealization and devaluation can be present in these conditions, the underlying causes and specific patterns may differ. Each condition has its unique diagnostic criteria and treatment approaches. It's crucial to consult with a qualified mental health professional for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment for any mental health concern.

Treating BPD with Charlie Health

Do you think you might have borderline personality disorder? If so, Charlie Health may be able to help you.

Our virtual intensive outpatient program provides personalized mental health treatment for teens, young adults, and families dealing with a variety of struggles, including BPD. 

With the help of experienced therapists and the social support of peers who face similar struggles, you can make strides toward feeling better by regulating your emotions, learning healthy ways to cope with your feelings, and gaining skills for healthy relationships.

Help is here now. We're available 24/7 to get you started on your healing journey.

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