February 15, 2009
As the show, “United States of Tara” is gradually starting to demonstrate, survivors with Dissociative Identity Disorder have friends and family members that offer varying levels of support:
- Those that find dissociative trauma survivors to be really good, kind, decent, and wonderful people, and will stand by them faithfully.
- Those that genuinely love and support and accept them even though the DID survivors can be all kinds of weird and “nutty” and difficult.
- Those that get angry and upset with them because DID survivors can be all kinds of weird and “nutty” and difficult.
- Those that believe and support the trauma and abuse history of the DID survivor.
- Those that do not believe that the DID survivor was abused at all.
- Those that believe the multiplicity, are comfortable with a variety of alter parts presenting, acknowledge the switching as a very real thing and a natural part of DIDer’s life.
- Those that don’t believe the multiplicity is real, accuse the DIDers of just play-acting, and don’t recognize the other parts even when they are there.
- Those that initially say they will be a friend, only to totally reject, leave, or abandon the dissociative person when things get complicated or difficult.
So far, the Showtime Series has not adequately addressed the issues involving trauma and abuse. It also has not shown any young child parts (teenage parts are very different than child parts). Have you met a multiple that didn’t have child parts? I most certainly have not. I don’t know if the series will get into those serious elements of dissociation or not, but it is a critical element in normal life with DID. How the friends and family members treat the DIDer’s child parts is often an extremely accurate barometer of how supportive and accepting that person will be for the DIDer over all.
It is, of course, the most helpful if the friends and family members of the dissociative survivors are gentle, accepting, kind, and understanding. And sometimes, that is the case. There are some wonderfully supportive spouses, parents, and children out there. They make the healing process so much easier by contributing with their comfort, faithful assistance, gentle patience, and reassurance.
Unfortunately, all too often dissociative survivors continue to be alone and isolated, even abused and neglected within their own families.
Spouses often feel angry, ripped off, frustrated with all the added relationship complications. They might feel like they are left picking up the pieces, and overloaded with more than their fair share of the household work and parenting. It’s often hard for spouses to have patience for all the complications caused by the dissociative disorder and the survivor’s trauma history because of the heavy load it creates for them.
Extended family members are all too often filled with the perpetrators and original abusers. Most perpetrators that engaged in violence so extreme as to split a child are not ever going to become a positive support for the DIDer.
Children of dissociative people can certainly be loving and accepting of the different sides of the DIDer, but the external children cannot be the main source of emotional support or the emotional care-taker for the trauma survivor. If dissociative parents put too much emphasis on their own needs, hurts, and wants, and keep their own struggles as the bigger focus in front of the external children, those external children will be left emotionally neglected and will most likely become angry, resentful, spiteful, and hateful towards their dissociative parent.
And as much as dissociative survivors may not want to admit that they can be more difficult than average to live with, it is generally true.
What can a DID person do to facilitate their getting more support from others?
- Be genuinely appreciative – recognize even the smallest of kindness from someone and thank them. Thank them each time they give something of value to you. Nobody likes to be taken for granted, and if you have the attitude that these favors are “owed” to you, you will soon find yourself alone.
- Communicate what is going on for you. Often, others will be more willing to give if they understand why it is necessary or important. Don’t assume that they will automatically understand why you need certain things. Tell them, and explain it in a way that they can understand.
- Be determined to do as much as possible for yourself on your own. Yes, your trauma history has left big gaping wounds, but the more you meet your own needs and find ways to resolve those issues without “taking from” or “pulling on” others, the more genuine your friendships can be.
- Reciprocate kindness. When someone takes the time and effort to be supportive of you, be sure to return the favor by doing supportive things for them as well. If you are taking, taking, taking more than you are giving, the relationship will either die or explode in your face.
- Get professional support when your emotional needs become too heavy for your friends and family members. For example, friends and family members may very well pull away from you if you lean on them too heavily during intense times – ie: during extended or repeated times of suicidal feelings, episodes involving self-injury, or flashbacks. These heavy, intense issues belong in the therapeutic context and not between you and your support people.
- Build your support options so you are not putting too much pressure on one or two people to support you through the hard times. The more support options you have, the less likely any one individual support person will feel burnt out or overloaded by how much you lean on them.
- Remember that is it more important for you to learn how to emotionally support yourself and your internal system than it is to teach (force) someone else to support you.
- Take time to enjoy everyday “normal” experiences with your support people. Put your trauma issues aside, and do something that is pleasant and enjoyable to everyone.
Remember the old adage: To have a friend, be a friend.
Kathy Broady LCSW