“Splitting” as a workplace bullying tactic

Lawyer, therapist, and mediator Bill Eddy, in an insightful piece on the concept of “splitting” within organizations, frames the practice in a work context:

Splitting is the tendency of those with [borderline and narcissistic personality] disorders to view others as all-good or all-bad. It’s an intensely emotional and defensive dynamic – and it can become highly contagious in the workplace, whether the person is a customer, employee, supervisor or even business owner.

Eddy describes splitting in work settings as a personal and hostile process that promotes extreme, all-or-nothing positions and “often involves projection,” i.e., tagging “others as being divisive and inappropriate in the ways that they are actually being divisive and inappropriate themselves.

All-good vs. all-bad thinking is hardly the province of those with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, and I’m guessing that most of us have fallen prey to it on occasion.

But when this mode of thinking morphs into targeted and virulent action, the results can be destructive. They can range from defining entire occupational cultures — witness the malignant political discourse of Washington D.C. — to individual campaigns of workplace bullying designed to ostracize someone and drive her out of an organization and/or profession. In the latter category, they often include what I’ve called “puppet master” bullying and mobbing behaviors that attempt to turn the many against the targets and sometimes succeed.


Related posts

When workplace bullies claim victim status: Avoiding the judo flip (2013)

“Puppet master” bullying vs. genuine mobbing at work (2012)

7 responses

  1. With BPD and NPD the splitting has an anger or envy component along with of course egocentrism. The person is all good when they give them what they want and focus attention on them, but all bad when they say no or tell them something they are doing is wrong. This “targeted and virulent action” with those two PDs is very frightening, they can be vicious. They often cultivate a tight relationship with the supervisor so they can use it to protect themselves and harm the target.

  2. So true! Exactly what happened to me. There was a “puppet master” director who finally hired the perfect “bully supervisor”. The mobbing component was so evident. An e-mail went out to all saying that I had quit my job, when in fact, I was terminated for not going along with their ridiculous plan to accommodate me (it would have made things much worse for me). The bullying went on for 2 years. The mobbing also started up. When I run into ex co-workers, they ignore me. No one asked me what happened or called me. I was close to many co-workers and friendly to everyone. Basically, the “bully supervisor” got 6 people to quit in the first 6 months of her hire. The “puppet master” stayed in the background. It is a very sick way to run a company. It changed my whole life (being at the company for 24 years) and excellent at my job. There is lying, whereas upper management backs up one another. It is very sad to the target and just makes you sick and depressed. You lose confidence. I am currently looking for other work, but very difficult due to my age of 55 and making close to what I was making; no insurance now either. This also affects your finances tremendously. Luckily, I did get unemployment.

  3. Hang in there GEM and I shall pray that you find a more peaceful job setting. It amazes me that in modern times like these that bullying behaviors are even permitted. It ‘s as though we’ve gone back into the slave era again…only employees are now the slaves to abusive, bullying bosses and employers are equally guilty by backing up their behaviors. Lord Help us all.

  4. Hi Chris,

    Here’s another brief and interesting post about mobbing methodology, which explains one of the causes of puppet bullying that has taken place repeatedly in the AE department in which I’ve been the target of a very aggressive sniper who hides behind her puppet as a human shield.

    I cannot imagine how this could be integrated into our work, but imagine that this is useful, so it should be saved for future reference.

    Meanwhile, I’ve spoken to the law deparment boss about the Social Conduct Law to find any commentary about it, and it appears possible that I could yet find some further personal connections to pry responses out of individuals for the survey.

    When you get a chance, let me know about the situation regarding the forthcoming paper that I look forward to seeing, and also the results thus far about the survey. There is also a possibility that I could find a contact within the high walls of the MoE, and will let you know just how realistic this could prove to be.

    Keep well,


  5. I was fired about six weeks ago, now, after enduring chronic and prolonged bullying by my immediate supervisor for eight plus years.

    Favoritism, black and white thinking, in-groups and out-groups-designed to artificially esteem some employees while denigrating others, as well as ensuring that the members of the in-group do not become targets as a pool of targets have been chosen-all comprise what is often a highly toxic and closed employment setting whereby interaction with a larger system that could have the potential to positively influence a group dynamic is virtually non-existent. In essence, management is at risk of playing the role of God in people’s lives

    At the setting I worked at when this employee became program manager (my supervisor), she hand picked who her favorites would be as well as who the members of the out-group would be. At most I may have seen her two or three times when the change occurred, so she didn’t know me from Eve, so there wasn’t any reasonable rationale for her treatment of me. She didn’t know me, not at all, as I worked in a different program from the one that she worked at, on a part-time basis when the change occurred.

    In my case, the executive director protects my supervisor, as well as having the board of directors in his pocket, so to speak. There are virtually no options for a targeted employee to consider, as I certainly did exhaust my efforts in attempting to garner support.

    • Justicepending, I’m sorry you had to go through this horrible workplace mobbing. “…there wasn’t any reasonable rationale for her treatment of me”, what they do is not logical or fact based. The puppet-master controls the information and tells them information about the target to change their thinking to negative. They even sabotage, show evidence they manipulate and move the attack to the community. In my case it even went to the government agencies. This means they were threatened by you due to being an ethical person, competent, knowledgeable, well liked and experienced. They run off all the good employees and since they are not about the work at hand while being unethical they cause harm to the company they work for. The targets are the good guys, that is why we need laws for protection.

  6. These wounds will take time to heal…and I have a feeling there are more wounded out there than we can even imagine. Reaching out to one-another through forums such as this web-site is a great first step in our healing process. Take it one day at a time and focus on the positive in your life right now.
    I have no doubt we can turn this around. With strong support like the efforts of David Yamada…there is hope. Blessings to you.

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