Devaluation and Idealization in Borderline Personality Disorder

Two Defense Mechanisms in BPD

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Devaluation and Idealization in BPD. PeopleImages / Getty Images

Devaluation and idealization are defense mechanisms that help a person manage their anxiety and any internal or external stresses. Let's learn more about these psychological terms, and how they apply to borderline personality disorder

What is Idealization?

Idealization is a psychological or mental process of attributing overly positive qualities to another person, or thing. It's a way of coping with anxiety in which an object or person of ambivalence is viewed as perfect, or as having exaggerated positive qualities.

For example, it's common with borderline personality disorder for a person to idealize a friend, family member, or loved one -- feeling intense closeness towards that person, who is placed on a pedestal. But this can quickly and unpredictably change to intense anger towards that person, a process called devaluation. 

What is Devaluation?

In psychiatry and psychology, devaluation is a defense mechanism by which a person attributes themselves, an object, or another person as completely flawed, worthless, or as having exaggerated negative qualities. 

Idealization and Devaluation as Defense Mechanisms in BPD

Both devaluation and idealization are considered a minor image-distorting level on the Defensive Functioning Scale — a tool used by doctors to group their patient's defense mechanisms into levels. 

Like most defense mechanisms or coping strategies, most people are not aware they are engaging in devaluation and idealization — it's done subconsciously as a way to protect themselves from perceived stress.


In borderline personality disorder, devaluation often alternates with idealization. For instance, a person with BPD may shift from great admiration for a loved one — idealization of that person — to an intense anger or dislike towards that person — devaluation of that person.

This wild shift between idealization and devaluation in people with borderline personality disorder is known as splitting, which signifies both a disturbance in thinking and emotion regulation in BPD.

Scientific data suggests that this splitting between idealization and devaluation in BPD is linked to activation in the prefrontal cortex — the front part of your brain that is associated with your personality — and the amygdala — the part of your brain that controls emotional perception and expression.

Devaluation and Idealization in Other Personality Disorders

Devaluation is not limited to people with borderline personality disorder and may be seen in other personality disorders, especially antisocial personality disorder or narcissistic personality disorder. Idealization is sometimes seen in narcissistic personality disorder, especially towards the self or the treating therapist. But splitting or the rapid fluctuation between idealization and devaluation is classically seen in borderline personality disorder.

What Does This Mean for Me?

Devaluation and idealization are defense mechanisms commonly used in borderline personality disorder. That being said, just because you engage in these defense mechanisms does not mean you have BPD — it's simply a feature of this disorder. Speak with your doctor or a therapist if you are concerned that you use coping strategies like devaluation or idealization to deal with emotional conflict or stress.


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DISCLAIMER: The information in this site is for educational purposes only. It should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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