May 9, 2010
It’s Mother’s Day 2010.
Mother’s Day – it’s a hard day for a lot of dissociative trauma survivors. It’s a day full of mixed emotions, painful longings, unhealed heartbreak. This day hurts the people who were hurt so much by their mothers.
Mothers are a complicated subject, to say the least, and the impact a mother can have on her children can and does change their lives. Abusive or neglectful mothers can teach some very damaging life lessons. Their children will carry those scars for decades of time.
I’ve seen this over and over with the DID survivors I work with. Years later, the ways their mother treated them affects so much of their life – maybe even more than they realize. People who were deeply wounded by their mothers often cannot view other maternal figures (Including other female authority figures) without getting confused in that relationship because of who their mother was. The crimes of the original mother spill over onto the relationship any children they might have, making it harder to be a good mother in their own life.
That original mother relationship affects how DID survivors see the world, how they experience people, what they believe about themselves, what they believe about the world around them, and how they interpret others. It is very central to the very core of their being.
Working with mother-transference issues is one of the hardest parts of being a DID therapist. It is the area where the therapeutic relationship is at its most tender. It is the most vulnerable place. It is the spot where issues and feelings can get messed with by people who wish harm upon that therapeutic relationship.
To explain this, let me start from further back.
For example, I was blessed to have a very good mother and she taught me a lot of valuable life lessons. She wasn’t perfect, but she was and is about as close to perfect as one could ever hope for in a mother. She is kind, loving, compassionate, caring, generous with her time, good with children, full of wisdom, patient, gentle, and self-less in so many incredible ways. She has been an example to me for how to interact with people, especially with children. My mother is non-judgmental, and she is willing to dig in and help anyone that she meets. She is a beautiful soul, and she leaves a positive impact wherever she goes.
Yes, my mother has taught me a lot. And almost all of what she has taught me has been good. I do much of what I do because I had an incredible mother who taught me to be kind to others.
Those that spend time with me will see this in my work with them. They will see that kindness, acceptance, gentleness, and generosity in what I do. They will reap the benefits of what my mother gave to me as I pass that on to those that I work with.
So what makes that so hard?
If I am pulling from a good place, what makes mother issues so complicated and difficult to work with?
It’s because not everyone can interpret today’s kindness as genuine kindness. The past wrinkles in and rolls up into the present, and the present becomes twisted into the past in an emotional kind of way.
Sometimes the damage done to trauma survivors confuses kindness with abuse. Sometimes the damage done by an abusive or neglectful mother is so pervasive that it colors all acts done by other females, and the perspective becomes so tainted that nothing is seen clearly. Female therapists are seen through the perspectives of “mother figures will abuse me”, “mother figures will hate me”, “mother figures will think I’m bad”, “mother figures will abandon me”, “mother figures are to be hated”, etc.
When trauma survivors truly believe, in their deepest selves, that women are there to abuse them, it is not an easy job to overcome that belief. The fear is too huge. The expectation of horrible doesn’t end. The fearful expectation of abuse can often overtake everything else.
Frequently the pain-anger-guilt-shame at not having a good mother can get thrown at the female therapist, and displaced and projected onto her as a safe place to express such deep heart-wrenching emotions. Therapeutically, this is expected to happen, and the goal is to work through that in a healing way. Most therapists and clients understand that, and will work through it as a team. It can be done, and when it is, very deep healing can occur.
However, sometimes trauma survivors get a little messed up along their journey. They truly get confused in this area, and understandably so. It’s an emotionally complex point, and trauma survivors are extremely vulnerable in this place. And because of those vulnerabilities, they can be easily misguided. They can get easily confused over who is the “good mother transference figure” and who is not. They listen to poor advice, or bad rumors, or are too unwilling to let go of their fears in order to heal. They stay convinced that women are out to get them, and they quickly join in with thinking that female therapists are abusive.
This breaks my heart.
I found it horrifically sad that some trauma survivors are willing to hold onto such beliefs that they would bring harm to themselves and to others. This only continues the cycle of abuse. It is not about healing. It is destructive.
(Yes, there are a few female therapists who are harmful to their clients, but those are few are far between, and those are not the people I am writing about in this particular article. That’s a completely different topic, to be discussed another day.)
This article is about genuinely good therapists who are mistaken as the “bad mother”. This article is about finding ways to heal from your abuse. It is about finding a woman of kindness, and not confusing her with your not-so-kind mother. It is about recognizing the differences, and not being pulled into old fears, old beliefs, and old ways, just because they are more familiar to you.
It is about learning to recognize someone that can be positive, helpful, and kind to you, and to your inner children. It is allowing that healing to occur. It is keeping clear on what happens in the present, and not distorting it or twisting it into something negative from your past.
It does not help your healing to project your “bad mother issues” onto a good therapist and then stay stuck in that spot. It only confuses you, and it prevents your healing. It brings harm to you and your system to stay stuck there.
Your female therapist can and will teach you something very different from what your mother taught you. Don’t assume the two women will be the same, because they will not be. Don’t project so much of your abusive past onto your current day therapist that you cannot see who she really is. Work hard at recognizing true kindness and gentleness for what it is.
Let yourself and your inner child parts have those corrective emotional experiences with a kind therapist and don’t let anyone mess with that. If you let someone distort those experiences – if you let someone convince you that something was abusive when it wasn’t — then you have brought emotional pain to your inner world that didn’t need to happen. If you weren’t abused, don’t let yourself believe that you were just because that is more familiar. Separate the past from the present.
Haven’t you been hurt enough? Why add to that?
It is important to try to believe that women are not out to get you. Female therapists are not here to harm you. What your mother taught you can apply to her, but it really and truly does not have to apply to everyone else. Your mother may have been cruel, cold, uncaring and abusive towards you. But not everyone will be. Not everyone wants to be.
Don’t assume the worst, and please don’t treat other women as if they did what your mother did.
It is very hard for trauma survivors to come to terms with these truths. But the sooner you do, the sooner you will find that place of genuine healing.
Don’t let the harmful lessons that your abusive or neglectful mother taught you ruin or destroy any more of your life. You truly can heal from the hurt and the trauma that you went through – I promise!
There are lots of good, helpful, kind, compassionate, caring women out here in the world. I encourage you to be one of them.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
August 2, 2009
It always amazes me when dissociative trauma survivors tell me that after they’ve met three or four of their inside alters (or maybe even a few more than that, but not many), that they think they’ve met everyone in their system. They think they are “done” meeting their insiders.
That never makes sense to me. Oh, I understand why the survivors would want to believe they have so few others inside, but that hope rarely matches with the actual amount of dissociative symptoms that they experience in their lives.
For example, if someone is still losing time, but they believe that have a good solid relationship with the parts that they know – then why are they losing time? Yes, it is possible that someone you know in your system can still block you out of awareness at certain times. Then again, if everyone you know in your system said they did not know what happened during a period of lost time, then it only makes sense to realize there are other parts of the system out and in charge during that missing time. If all of you are losing time, then there are more insiders yet to meet.
In my definition, meeting new insiders is a sign of progress. The survivor will not be creating new parts by meeting new parts – they are simply finding the parts that have been hiding from them all along behind strong dissociative walls. Any time you can reclaim more of the information that had been previously blocked from you via dissociation, you are making progress. Learning about your system and your history are always steps of progress.
So who should you look for or when will you know if there are more parts to meet?
All dissociative trauma survivors have their own unique system, of course. No one’s system is exactly like anyone else’s. There is no right or wrong for how big or how elaborate your system is. You would have split as many times as you had to, and you will have as many parts as you needed.
However, there are some common types of alters that exist in most DID survivors. This is a non-exhaustive list:
(Please note: alters may start off in these categories, but their roles can change.)
1. Host parts – check to see who was the host at various times in your life. This role can change and be assigned from part to part to part through time.
2. Child parts – your dissociative splitting would have started prior to age 7, so you will definitely have at least one child part, however, most DID survivors have bunches of child parts.
3. Parts that are relatively happy and trauma-free. These parts do not remember any trauma whatsoever. They can be of any age, but they believe they had a completely safe and happy childhood / adult life. Some parts might believe there was childhood abuse, but they can be blocked from the awareness of abuse happening in the adult years.
4. Parts that are created to manage the outside world. These parts may be the ones that went to school, or go to work, or handle social situations. They are typically quite separate from the trauma-holders or those that hold intense emotions. These parts may not be aware of a lot of trauma, they may hold a lot of denial, and they have the job to look as normal as possible. They will help the person get through life by doing normal things.
5. Parts that don’t remember anything “good” happening. If there are parts that only remember good things, there will absolutely be parts that only remember painful, not-so-good things. They contain the information that the normal daytime “happy” parts were not allowed to know, experience, or remember.
6. Parts that know a lot of memory information. These are the parts that either experienced or witnessed the trauma, abuse, neglect, etc. Getting to know these parts will involve listening to stories about the trauma, body memories about the trauma, flashbacks of the trauma, etc. It is common for there to be numerous parts to handle various types of abuses by various perpetrators. For example, one part may have managed a specific kind of abuse by perpetrator A. Another part may have handled a different kind of abuse by perpetrator A. Another part may have handled the abuse by perpetrator B. Yet another part handled the abuse by perpetrator C. And so forth.
7. Parts that contain a specific emotion. Many people split off various emotions into certain parts to contain those intense overwhelming emotions. If you believe, for example, that you never feel anger, you will likely have other parts in your system that do contain those emotions for you. These parts often have names such as “the sad little girl”, or “the angry one”, or “the scared one”. Getting to know these parts will mean starting to accept and experience these emotions.
8. Parts that split off at particularly traumatic years of life. These parts could also be memory-holders, but during years when there was more stress in the external life, there will likely be more parts. Years of more extreme abuse can lead to more parts being created of a similar age simply because more selves were needed to manage the overwhelming abuse.
9. Parts that are loyal to the mother. All children love their mother, even abusive, neglectful mothers. However, this emotion might need to be contained within certain parts, especially in the case of abusive mothers. Some parts are created to agree with the mother’s abuse (defining it as anything but abuse), and others are created to be obedient to the mother, even if they are terrified or in pain.
10. Parts that are loyal to the father. Just as with the mother, the father may have a variety of parts that are loyal to him, his beliefs, his ways, etc. They may learn that it is safer to align with the perpetrator and to separate themselves from the child-survivor.
11. Parts that contain loyalty to the perpetrators. These parts are often rewarded by the abuser-perpetrators and are encouraged to view themselves as separate from the rest of the system. It will take a lot of work to bring their loyalty back to the person they were created from.
12. Introjects created from external people. System introjects are internalized parts of the system that act – think- feel – believe themselves to be a mirror image of the external person that they are replicating, except they often believe they are the actual person (and not the replication). They may adamantly believe that they are a different person from the survivor-self, complete with a different body from the survivor. These parts contain a lot of memories, factual information, emotional realities for how it was like to be near the outside person.
13. Parts that contain the programming / mind controlled messages. These parts are often created by design and on purpose by organized abusers. These parts are given specific learnings that function as “rules” to control the survivor’s overall behavior. They are often separate from the host parts, and quite hidden within the depths of the system. The other system parts will experience their influence, but have trouble recognizing them as specific alters.
14. Parts that hate the mother or father. Hating the parents may be a difficult dilemma to address, especially since there will be parts of the person that naturally love their parents. However, years of repeated abuse and neglect can create the need for parts to contain the hatred felt towards parents who would allow such atrocities to happen to their child.
15. Parts that are created along the lines of family dynamics. Some survivors will internalize their family into their own DID system. You might find internal replicas of the sisters, brothers, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. The family dynamics will be played out in a variety of ways but will most obviously be noted in the way the survivor splits off their system.
16. Floaters and other parts that separated themselves from the body during times of trauma. These parts may have risen above the body, and from the out-of-body experience position, may have specific information to share with the survivor about the kinds of things that happened.
17. Internal self-helpers. These parts would have been created by the system themselves and not necessarily during a state of trauma. They are typically leaders of the system that are considered to be holders of wisdom, or gentle peace, or spiritual guidance. They are devoted to the survivor system as a whole and work towards maintaining safety, stabilization, balance, etc. They typically do very little with the outside world, and focus most all of their energies towards helping the system to survive.
18. Parts that are specifically parental figures to the outside children. It is not uncommon for a survivor to split off “parental parts” just to be focused on raising the outside children as well as possible. These parts very often work hard at being different from their own outside parents, and strive to be the best parent they can be.
19. Parts that were involved in abusing others. This is a very difficult area for survivors to reach, but it is more common than not. Especially for those people who have been abused by organized perpetrators (ie: cults, sex slavery groups, etc) there will be parts who were forced to have the perpetrator role and required to do things that harmed other people.
20. Parts that contain a specific skill or talent. Certain parts can be created to develop positive talents and abilities, often as a way to help manage or express or avoid the pain that is felt so deeply by the others in the system. Maybe one part is better at playing a musical instrument than anyone else. Maybe someone else learned how to write poetry. Or maybe someone was created to be an athlete and to run, jump, excel at sports, etc.
As you can see, there can be a large system just by having parts to fulfill the different roles that are often needed to get through the abuse. Some parts may have a variety of these jobs, overlapping from a variety of categories.
But don’t be surprised if you have a variety of parts in each of the categories listed above.
Many survivors do.
Kathy Broady LCSW