March 28, 2010
Picturing a Group of Insiders – a Dissociative System
Isn’t this an interesting picture?!
Assuming the artist of this picture is a trauma survivor with dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD), this drawing shows many of the system insiders.
How many insiders do you find represented in this picture?
When I look at this picture, the different parts that I see could include the following.
The front girl, on the light side, is probably the one that presents the most to the world. She is neat, trim, clean, dressed nicely. Maybe she is the leader of the parts on that one side of the system. She probably is the one that goes to work or school, etc. She doesn’t seem to be too happy, but she has an air of strength to her. I see sadness in her eyes.
The dark, shadowy side of the face, with a wilder hairdo represents a different side of this person. It’s hard to know, without asking, if the left side represents one part, or a combination of different parts. I would assume that more than one part is represented. This side of the drawing appears to be male. My guess is that the male parts are quite dominant for this survivor.
The shoulder of armor and chest guard, along with the hand holding the sword shows a strong, determined, protector part. Notice that this part of the person comes out towards the front of their physical presentation. It could mean that these protector parts are very close to the surface, and they may be the first ones you meet when encountering this dissociative survivor. Even if you don’t meet them directly, they are right there, watching everything, and paying very close attention to what’s happening.
The strong protective hand and sword are out in bright light. I’d have to ask to be sure, but my guess is that this survivor fights strongly for the things that are good. Their heart doesn’t belong to the darkness. They fight for positive, for goodness, for safety, for healing.
The outer leg, dressed in jeans with running shoes implies a male part. I know that girls wear jeans and tennis shoes, but when trying to show the male parts, this clothing is different from the other more female items, so I would ask about the boys. In fact, that whole left side could be more about boy parts while the other side could be more female. (Or is that shoe a steel-toed boot? I can’t quite tell, so I would be asking about that.)
The mix of male-female clothing (male-female parts) is also emphasized through the waist area, with the draping of the skirt versus the leg of the jeans. It is extremely common for most dissociative survivors to have a mix of both genders in their systems.
The cat part is obviously a strong part of this system, holding a place of balance in the center of the system. This cat’s role in the system is important and significant. The cat is young, probably a child part. This part is one of the most obvious parts of the system, and yet still hides its identity from the outside world – we can see it’s there, but we can’t see who it is. Does this part hear more than it sees? Why is this the only part that is looking the other direction? What does that mean?
It appears that the cat-child is directing intense self-hatred to at the female host via self-injury and cutting. The self-injury is probably related to a number of different issues, but notice that it seems to be aimed towards one female part. Explore that further.
Does the woman feel pain? Is she capable of dissociating pain easily? Does she dissociate the pain involved in cutting and self-injury? The staring, flat expression in the woman’s face could indicate that she is dissociating and not feeling the cuts that are being made on her shoulder and leg. Is she aware that it’s happening? Is she amnesiac for times of self-injury? Why is she the one being hurt? What message is the cat-child trying to give her?
Since it appears that the woman does not feel the pain, maybe the cat-child is the one that feels the pain. The strong, dramatic striping on the cat could indicate intense feelings and waves of pain. It has the look of heated flames (and tiger-stripes), but the feel seems more painful than peaceful. How wild and out of control does this cat-child act? How many times this cat-child has been hurt? My guess is that this little part has endured a lot of the trauma.
Even though this young cat-child part appears to be angry, hurting, hurtful, and self-destructive, notice that the female leader has an open palm, a friendly, gentle acceptance of this troubled young cat-child. This is the only paw of the cat-child that does not have the claws sticking out. This is a good sign, and it shows some gentleness and compassion between system members.
The small hand of the cat-child could also indicate that there is a definite connection with feeling like a small child, and not just as a small animal. Maybe the child can come more forward during times of feeling safe and comforted, while the cat-side stays out at other times.
It is not uncommon for dissociative survivors to have animal parts within the system. There will be reasons for way these parts are presenting, and it will be important to understand the life-stories of these parts the same as with any other part.
While it’s a little hard to see, it looks like there is a small, crying child part (or two?) hiding under the blanket. These child parts appear to be scared, and deep in hiding. Even the teddy bear helps to hide them. These little parts can still see a lot, but they may not come out and interact with the world very often. They are probably kept inside and away from people for the most part.
There is a tiny small area of dark-purple with the child part and the teddy bear. This is the only area of color in the whole picture, and is an important topic for discussion. What does it mean? What does it represent? Why did the purple need to be colored while the rest of the drawing could stay in blacks and whites? What do these child parts know that is still a secret? What does the darkness around them represent in their life?
I would ask if the cat-child part is also a protector of the young children hiding under the blanket. Both the cat and the woman show gentleness on the side with the child parts, so maybe the woman and the cat both feel protective of the little ones.
The protective covering of the hidden child parts is full of mystery and warrants further questioning. There are layers of something, intertwined together, with a few straggling strings at the bottom of the blanket. What does all this mean? Does the DID survivor work extra hard to protect these parts? Do the adult parts of this system know the secrets that are held within the shadows of this blanket?
Overall, the insiders in this DID system seem to be close to each other. They sit near to each other, and have an obvious comfort with each other. The do not seem to be afraid of each other, and they appear to be close enough to be able to talk easily together.
My guess is that the switching between the woman host and the others that are represented on her personhood is not as obvious as it would be between the woman and the cat-child. Some switches are much less visibly different, and I would guess that the woman and her male parts are in close communication, and switch fluidly and easy between each other. They seem to have a good balance of sharing and cooperation, and while their roles are very different, there seems to be a strong level of comfort and familiarity with each other.
I would ask, in this case, if the necklace and female shirt area represent the sexual parts. While there is the obvious female statement, my guess is that the emphasis on the bright chest area indicates that some parts inside have a strong sense of sexuality. Or, the white color could mean the opposite – a numbing or lack of feeling. Either which way, this is an issue that should be explored with this dissociative system.
It is important to note that the kneeling knee and the bare foot are on the same side as the female / sexual parts of this system. Putting these indicators of submission together with the chain necklace could symbolize some history in sex slavery. This is a difficult topic, so ask questions gently.
As always, please remember that my guesses and interpretations of this DID artwork could be completely wrong. However, please take the ideas as presented, as use them in the ways that fit for you. Let these ideas create questions for you as you explore your own art, or the art of your clients.
Kathy Broady LCSW
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