December 12, 2009
Do you know people that truly want to hurt you?
Do you know people that are willing to hurt you on purpose?
Do you know people that would hurt you over and over, again and again?
Did this happen to you when you were a child?
Is this experience still happening for you as an adult?
What a scary concept.
What a horrifying way to grow up.
It’s one thing to know that you have been hurt by mean people.
It’s a completely different thing to know that there are people that want to hurt you on purpose. And that they’ll do it – and that they have done it. And that they’ll do it again and again and again. As many times as they can, whenever they can.
That’s a completely different concept than to say, “I got hurt once.”
For something to be a “one of” experience, it can be terrible, but it’s a one-of. It doesn’t have to happen again. It happened. It’s over. That’s it.
But to know that there are vicious, sadistic people in the world who want to hurt you, and to know that these people are so incredibly cruel that they want to hurt you many times… and they will hurt you every chance they have…
THAT is a completely different situation.
There is no safety in that situation. There is no reason to believe it won’t happen again. There is not end in sight, and there is no place to rest. You can’t let your guard down. You can’t relax. You can’t stop preparing for the next time. You can’t get away from it.
There is danger, insatiable danger. Life becomes equal with danger.
How very different it feels when the perpetrators are insatiable. How very exhausting it feels when you know that you might have gotten through it today, but they’ll do it again tomorrow, or the next day, or the next.
Repeated, ongoing, incessant danger, trauma, abuse, and neglect changes a person.
It changes their view of the world.
It changes their view of themselves.
When your reality is knowing that abuse will be there, that the abusers are not going away, that the abuse will continue, that the abuse will always continue – that abused person has to learn a new way of survival.
In order to get away from the abuse for awhile – which of course, is important, because if you can’t mentally or emotionally escape the presence of the abuse or its effects, it would be far too much – many survivors create other selves.
If you can’t separate the abuse from you, separate yourself from the abuse.
Create a self that knows nothing of the abuse. Create a self that doesn’t worry or stress that the abuse will be around the next turn, or that it will happen again later tonight. Create a self that can enjoy the now, the day, the work, the school, etc. Create a self that can think about academic things, logical things, creative things, fun things, everyday normal things. Create a self that can enjoy petting a cat or enjoy sipping a cup of tea or reading a book or dancing to the radio.
In the situations of chronic, unending abuse scenarios, a survivor with the ability to dissociate and to split into other personalities is tapping into an absolutely incredible psychological defense. It makes a place to go in your head and in your life-experience where you can feel safe. It makes a place where you can be far from danger. It makes a place where you can get through the day without having to worry about being hurt five minutes from now.
I understand that creating this kind of separation from and denial of the abuse can, in the long run, become a troublesome issue when it becomes time to recognize the abuse in order to stop the abuse. But that point belongs in a different article.
At this point, I am just appreciating the value of being able to separate yourself from ongoing, repeated, unstoppable abuse (and the constant knowing of that abuse, and the constant fear of more abuse) by creating a place in your head that allows the abuse to be stopped.
This has been important. It has saved your sanity in many ways.
Living in constant fear, in constant worry, in constant dread, in constant hypervigilence of more pain and more abuse results in adding more and more problems to already existing problems. The body doesn’t do well under this kind of stress – medical illness increase, stomach issues increase, headaches increase, etc. When the body feels like it is constantly fighting for survival, it responds by secreting chemicals and hormones that it wouldn’t normally do if it felt safe. A body in constant fear is different from a body that feels safe.
Emotionally, the person who feels constant danger is going to have more depression, more anxiety, more self-injury, more extreme fear, more panic attacks, more mental health issues, etc.
Waiting in between blows has it own cost.
It doesn’t feel safe in these in between times. It feels on edge. It’s waiting. It’s wondering. It’s knowing it will happen again. It’s a long ways from feeling safe.
Having people in your life who want to and will hurt you over and over and over has affected you in more ways than you might realize.
It emphasizes, to me, the importance of learning what safety is, and what safety feels like.
It emphasizes how important it is to find someone in your life who doesn’t hurt you over and over.
It emphasizes how important it is to keep safe people safe – including both children and adults.
It emphasizes how important it is to not let anyone or anything interrupt your need to have someone genuinely be safe with you.
It also shows me how hard it is for DID survivors to believe that safety exists in the first place.
For Trauma Therapists:
As therapists, if we do nothing else, we need to provide a sense of safety for our clients.
We need to prove to our dissociative trauma clients that each time they show up in our presence, they will be safe.
We need to provide a consistent place of safety to counterbalance a life full of constant danger.
We need to be understanding, compassionate, patient, and gentle with their fears.
Sure, there is a place to confront and challenge, but do this in an atmosphere of safety. Make sure your clients know they will not be hurt, even if they are being confronted.
And if you meet a traumatized client who was able to feel safe with another therapist or another person, do NOT ruin or delete the sense of safety the survivor built with that other person. It is amazingly important that any sense of safety was built in the first place. That was not built easily, so respect the effort that went into that relationship. Don’t ever take that away from them.
Dissociative trauma survivors have not felt enough safety in their lives.
To destroy or damage or delete any sense of their safety causes them harm.
Build more safety for your clients – don’t take away what they had.
Safety is precious. The more, the better.
Kathy Broady LCSW
December 5, 2009
Multiplicity, the 1996 movie with Michael Keaton, is not specifically about Dissociative Identity Disorder – it is technically about being cloned — but it is a funny, light-hearted comedy that absolutely pertains to DID / MPD.
Have you watched this show?
Keaton’s character has a lot in common with DID. As you watch the movie, you can see the following similarities happen in this sequence:
- Putting his fax machine (electronic equipment) on the blitz easily
- Creating split, after split, after split, with each different self assigned to work in different areas of his life
- Feeling that life is overwhelming and he can’t get it all done
- Participation in scientific experiment (ok, so this is supposed to be a fun post, so I won’t delve into that)
- Having an unusual, complicated sense of time, especially once he has more than one self
- Fighting between the parts over “who’s me” – “I’m the main one – No, I am!” The different selves squabble over who is the leader of the body-life, e
- As the different parts have different experiences, they contain different memories and different feelings. While they all started from the same place, they develop unique lives.
- The different parts argue with each other – take opposite opinions, have different goals, different priorities. They each make significant decisions that effect the whole of the body-life.
- At first, the idea of having split lives works really well. It helps to get more things accomplished effectively.
- Experiencing “memory loss” – the parts are not aware of what the other parts are doing, and they have to suddenly cover for the activities of the other parts
- Gradually realizing they need to coordinate and talk about whose doing what to keep things running smoothly
- People out in the world can notice the difference between the different parts, despite their best efforts to not let this be seen
- Sometimes its hard to tell the difference between the parts – sometimes the differences are more than obvious
- Once the original person starts splitting, the easier it is to split again, and again, and again. Eventually, the parts begin to split as well.
- “Not me” – it was one of the others – passing responsibility and blame to someone else in the system
- Bickering and fighting occurs between the parts — they even get jealous of each other
- As there is more and more unawareness of what the others are saying or doing, the reality of being multiple affects his life more significantly
- As the different ones experience new activities for the very first time, the newness of the event is an exciting unexpected experience for each of them.
- The “host” of the system realizes that he has handed his life out to so many others, and at some point, he misses his life, and wants to get back involved. While being away so much has its perks, he realizes he is missing out by not being involved.
- Consequences start happening when the parts do not know what the other parts know, when one part can’t cover for another, and the information gaps start becoming more and more obvious.
- There are hurt feelings between the parts when they think outside people like one of the other parts better than them
- When they finally work together on a project, they can accomplish a lot, really quickly
- When insecurities arise between the parts, they have to remember “You are me, I am you” – they have to remember they are really the same person, even though they experience life as different people
That’s pretty good for Hollywood!
How many of these events can you relate to?
Have these kinds of complications happened in your life as a multiple?
Have you experienced these feelings in your life as a multiple?
This movie is a nice change from the usual dark, unflattering versions of multiplicity portrayed in the media. It’s not a perfect display of life as a dissociative survivor, but it shows a lot of humor about the difficulties in developing system cooperation and internal system communication.
If only real life as a multiple was this fun…!
For some light-hearted entertainment that you might relate to as a multiple (or as someone who lives with a multiple), I recommend watching this show.
Kathy Broady LCSW