April 10, 2010
I’ve been wondering for awhile about what aspect to focus on with this week’s episode of United States of Tara. Then I remembered the last minute of the show.
And I thought more of how very painful and how very real that heartbreak is for Buck.
Throughout this season two, Tara has struggled with the fact that she is in fact multiple – that she does have dissociative identity disorder – that she is switching, or “transitioning” as she calls it – that she has other parts to herself that also want time and attention and a little bit of life space. Tara is upset about having to share her life with her insiders and she has convinced herself that she is the only one in the body who should have a life. She has decided that she “is” the life, and that no one else matters, just her.
Apparently she thinks that she, Tara, is the one and only important self. No one else matters –she is the only one that matters. Tara, Tara, Tara – it’s all about Tara.
Well. I’ve heard far too many hosts present with that kind of attitude, but to the dismay of far too many host personalities, I completely disagree with that concept.
I vote for the system.
Meaning, if I had a vote regarding Tara, I would support Buck.
Buck is as real as Tara.
Buck is every bit as much of a person as Tara is.
Buck has his own thoughts, feelings, experiences, memories, wants, desires, etc. He is as important as Tara is.
Can Tara stake claim as the ONLY part of the system that gets to have time?
Is she really the only one that is important?
I don’t think so.
See – the way I see it – Tara is only a portion of the person. She is not THE person. She is part of the whole person, the same as Buck is part of the whole person. Tara may have the upfront, outwardly social wife and mother role of the person, but she is not the whole person.
Tara is important, there is no denying that. I would never ever say she isn’t important. And she can be considered the leader of the system – I’m all for that idea as well.
But to say she is the only one that matters???
That is taking it too far.
Buck and the others inside are also important. They are as important as Tara. They may have different roles, different abilities, different preferences, different histories, different memories, etc, but they are still part of the person as a whole, and they should get to have part of the life as well.
I’m not saying that I am supporting the idea that Buck has been having an affair outside of the marriage vows. An affair is an affair, and Buck is completely and fully aware of what he has been doing that would be so very hurtful to the husband. He is responsible for the pain he has caused in his family, and like it or not, he is actually already married. Buck has cheated on his husband, and he will have to face the music on that one.
Yes, Buck and Tara have a whopping lot of work to do in order to resolve this conflict but the fact of the matter is, Buck is his own person too.
And part of the current heartbreak for Buck is that Tara has staked a little more claim on how the outward life is managed, and that genuinely leaves Buck not knowing how to be or do what he wants to be or do in his own life right now. No, it really isn’t ok for Buck to go out and have his own affair. Yes, he really is his own person, but his actions still affect those around him. He will need to figure out a way to live happily and fulfilled as himself without hurting others. I don’t know how that will look for Buck, but that is the challenge he is facing right now.
The point I want to emphasize here is that the DID system insiders do count.
They are real, they do exist, they have their own wants and dreams, and they are as important as anyone else. So squashing them out of existence, or refusing to give them time or acknowledgement is not ok.
Cooperation, compromising and sharing are absolutely important – but refusing to let the insiders have their own life-space is bordering on creating a self-centered dictatorship, in my definition.
Buck’s heartbreak about not getting to have the life he wants on his very own is very real. Insiders can and do feel extreme sadness and emotional pain over not being able to have their own bodies, their own separate lives, their own complete freedom of choice. Buck really and truly wanted to have his own girlfriend, and to have his own relationship, and to have his own time in the body. He wants the freedom to be his real self, and to make the choices he would make if he had his very own body.
If it were only that easy….
Sharing a body with 5-10-20-30 or more different insiders is extremely difficult. There seems to never be enough time to do everything everyone wants to do.
It means that sharing the 24-hour day is essential. It means that giving each other time in the body needs to be a coordinated, cooperative, ongoing process.
Finding ways to meet the needs, wants, and preferences of each of the different insiders is really complicated, and it does take a whole lot of work to find acceptable compromises. The key word here, being compromise. Tara can no more take over the life as completely her own any more than Buck can. They have to find a way to work that out together.
Because they are both real.
And they both exist.
And they both can have a say in how life looks for them.
Because they are both important, and valuable, and necessary.
Buck really is as real as Tara. And if he has to prove that, he can.
So to all the hosts out there – be willing to share the life-space with your insiders. Because far too often, if you refuse to do that, your insiders could make a mutiny type decision like Buck did. And that really never works out very well for anyone.
Value everyone in your system.
Use interpersonal skills layered in cooperation, compromise and teamwork.
Be willing to share.
Treat each other with kindness and generosity.
Accept that there are differences between you and the others and find ways to make it work so that everyone can get some of what they need.
Everyone in your system has the right to be happy.
Their lives matter too.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
March 23, 2010
So here we go again.
The second season of the Showtime series “United States of Tara” starring the Emmy Award winner Toni Collette has begun.
The first season was full of controversial episodes, and most of the survivor population with dissociative identity disorder was disappointed and angered by the series. Even though some of the best-known trauma psychiatrists were allegedly acting as advisors for the show, there were still far too many inaccuracies and misrepresentations for the comfort level of real DID survivors. (Maybe next time, Showtime, executive producer Steven Speilberg, or writer Diablo Cody should speak more with clinical therapists that treat dissociative clients on a long-term basis. If you ask me, therapists know more about the clinical realities of DID than psychiatrists anyway, but that’s a whole different rant.)
The first episode starts with Tara tossing out the clothing and personal items that belonged to her formerly recognized four or five insiders. Tara had ended the first season in the hospital, and had apparently done so well in her brief hospital stay, that it had been three whole months since her insiders had surfaced. She was sure they were all gone. She was already saying goodbye to them – more like good riddance to them – and her family gathered around the charitable donations dumpster to make crass comments toward the inside parts.
Oh dear. What a way to start the season. Fifty-one seconds into the show and my eyes are popping out with enough material for a blog post. (Dare I even watch the rest of the episode?!) Yeeesh!
So this very first minute of the show brought up some of my very biggest complaints about the way some mental health professionals and hospital programs treat DID / MPD.
One of the most devastating techniques that treatment providers can use with dissociative survivors is to push the whole integration idea. To push the idea that insiders need to not be allowed out, or need to be silenced, or need to be pushed to the back, is damaging to the person as a whole. Integration is not anywhere near the cure-all or ideal goal it is professed to be, and frankly, expecting dissociative clients to having these “alleged integrations” too fast is absolutely harmful.
I have seen too this happen far too many times. This is not good treatment for dissociative identity disorder!!
You cannot go into a hospital program and walk back out, a few weeks later, as an integrated multiple. This is NOT possible. I don’t care how much this is advertised as possible, it is not. It is complete farce, and it will not work.
Sure, you can temporarily push your insiders back into hiding. Or, your insiders can push you out to the front and rebuild the dissociative wall behind you so that you are completely separated from your system. You might think you are alone. You might think you are “integrated”. But you are just separated from your insiders. In fact, you are more dissociated than ever because now you have a complete dissociative block between you and the rest of your selves.
This is not helpful.
Unfortunately, there are hospital programs or therapists that encourage this kind of treatment.
It doesn’t work. It won’t stick. Those inside parts are not gone. They might be hidden, but they absolutely are not gone. And this new or encouraged separation will just cause problems down the road. I’d bet money on that.
I realize that many of you may want to push your insiders back in, or make them shut up, or make them go away, because you believe that your life would be easier and more manageable if they were gone. I can understand the concept that having one personality is easier than having a dozen or two (or three) personalities. I get that.
But it’s still not a good idea.
The various parts of you were created for a reason, and they hold valuable pieces of your life, your history, your emotions, your skills, your abilities, your memories, your talents, your energy, etc. They represent years of your life, and it takes all of you together to make the whole picture – and as appealing as it might be to think that three weeks in the hospital can solve everything with a quick integration, this is an illusion and a lie. Genuine integration, if it is actually desired and if it is actually going to be successful, requires years of work. The various selves to work through all the things that caused them to be separated in the first place – and that just takes time.
It is a cruel trick for hospitals to sell this approach as something they can achieve for the client – because the hospital won’t be there six months or a year down the road, when the apparent “integration” falls apart and the devastated client is left feeling at fault. And it is compounding the wrong for Showtime to present this approach as something that actually happens.
The other problem in this first minute of United States of Tara is the negative way that Tara and her family are speaking about her insiders. Where is their kindness and compassion? Why such blatant disrespect? Where is the appreciation for what those insiders did for her?
EVEN IF I believed in sudden or quick integration as a general theory (which I most definitely do not), I would still say to Tara and her family members that their “good riddance, you big pains in the butt” attitude was an obvious indication of why this particular attempt at integration was not going to work.
Clearly, there were still plenty of issues left unresolved. Clearly, Tara and her family harbored resentment, irritation, and bitterness toward her insiders. The insiders did not integrate because there was acceptance, understanding, and blending of their roles. These insiders were clearly not wanted, not liked, not understood, not appreciated. They were hated. And if Tara is still hating on her insiders, then she is still hating herself. This is not the kind of foundation from which any kind of healthy progress is made.
You cannot integrate your insiders if you hate them.
You cannot make them go away, just because you hate them.
I suppose you can pretend they do not exist because you don’t like what they did. But that will not help you to get better.
I suppose you can act like they are not real because you don’t want them. But that will not help you to get better.
Hating on your insiders, in any way, shape, or form, is not conducive to good treatment.
Hating your yourself, in any way, shape, or form, is not conducive to good treatment.
Your insiders are still parts of you, now and for always.
As far as I am concerned, neglecting your insiders is a form of self-abuse. Neglect is neglect, and if you are not working hard to appropriately meet the needs of your insiders, you are carrying out of form of neglect.
It is so very important to develop positive acceptance and understanding with your insiders. It is imperative to the success of your healing, and one of foundations of your treatment, to be kind, gentle, and compassionate to your inside parts. Build positive teamwork. Build good cooperation. Build good internal communication skills. Become friends with each other. You and your insiders really have to be able to get along and work things out together in order for your healing to progress.
Somehow Tara forgot to do this, and somehow her hospital program forgot it as well.
She can pretend that shoving her insiders away, or pretending they don’t exist, is a wonderful option for her.
But it really will not work.
Later in the previews, it becomes clear that Tara starts realizing she is switching again. (She calls in transitioning. What a bulky word, but ok – it’s a transition from one self to another.) So yes, she clearly switches from one part to another. That’s no surprise.
Someone on her treatment team should have told her months ago that that her “they are gone” approach wasn’t going to work.
Because it didn’t.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
February 28, 2009
This week, the readers here have posted a wide variety of reactions to the idea that being multiple could have benefits. If you haven’t yet read all the comments on that blog, please do so. They are very interesting.
When people have DID/MPD, they have experienced life as a multiple since their childhood. It is their norm – basically the only way of life they know. Multiples typically have not experienced life any other way other than being multiple, even if they didn’t realize they were as split as they are. Sure, one or two of the host personalities may not have a strong personal connection to what it’s like to be multiple, and many of them can deny the existence of the internal others to some degree, but the internal system as a whole would have been there for nearly your whole life.
And frankly, many DID’ers that are newly diagnosed just haven’t realized how much they have been switching their whole lives long. But just because they haven’t recognized their dissociative abilities doesn’t mean that they haven’t been living their life as a very active multiple, switching, possibly losing time, and putting amnesiac walls around anything that is too uncomfortable for them.
So what if you are dissociative and you really really detest being a multiple personality? What if you can’t stand being DID/MPD, and you hate it, and you despise it, and you make sure that everyone in your system knows it, and that everyone in your treatment support team knows it too?
- How does that affect how your internal system views you?
- Will they feel loved and accepted?
- Will you feel good about yourself?
For sake of argument here, let’s be sure to separate the fact of being dissociative as being very different from being traumatized and abused. I will clearly and adamantly acknowledge that no young child likes the trauma and abuse that happens as the first step in the process of creating various alter personalities. I am not proposing that the road to becoming DID is a pleasant one. It clearly is not. The very idea of being forced to become a multiple is horrifically tragic in itself. Any trauma, abuse, neglect, violence, horror, pain, that you’ve gone through is too high a price for anyone to pay.
Often the fact of being multiple becomes inextricably entangled with the fact of having been abused. The multiplicity comes to represent all the pain and fear and wrongness of the abuse, and rejection of the multiplicity is part and parcel of rejecting the reality of the painful past that caused it.
But how do those feelings of adamant rejection affect your healing?
One of the ways to treat and understand multiplicity is to join in, to some degree, with the idea that the alter personalities are their own individual people. Of course they are all connected to the same one person, but you can balance that out with also seeing each of the insiders as their own unique person. How would an outside person feel if they were treated the same way your insiders are being treated?
If your internal parts know that you hate the fact that you are multiple, might they begin to internalize that feeling as if you hate them? I would think so.
How would you feel if you were repeatedly told that you were disliked and unwanted and despised? Remember, your insiders don’t have to be told these things in actual words. They are connected to you, and they will know how you genuinely feel about them, whether or not you make a point of telling them. They will be able to feel how much you don’t like them. You will not be able to hide this fact from them.
How would you feel, if day after day after day, the people that you lived with refused to speak to you? Or to acknowledge you? Or to care about you? Would you feel cooperative? Would you want to be friendly and helpful? At what point would you lose your patience and tolerance? How might you act when that happened?
In this context, if you have Dissociative Identity Disorder, and you also firmly believe that multiplicity in itself is a horrible way of life, that strong pervasive belief will negatively affect your treatment progress and your healing. How could it not? Your insiders are aching for acceptance and kindness and comfort no less than you are – and constant rejection can and will make them continue to act out in resentment and anger and desperation. Nobody else’s acceptance will ever mean as much to them as the acceptance of their own group – their own self – and if that is perpetually withheld from them, then both they and you will be at a self-created stalemate in your healing.
Because the flip side of treating your insiders like individual people is remembering that they are the same person as you.
If you are repeatedly telling yourself that you hate the way you are, what does that do for your self-image and self worth?
If you believe that the way you are is not ok, not good enough, not right, not acceptable, not normal, then you are reinforcing a lot of negative beliefs of yourself – and it is a short road from having a low self-esteem to have a ton of self-hatred.
- What if hating your multiplicity is a version of hating yourself?
- What if accepting your multiplicity is a version of accepting yourself?
Multiplicity is simply what it is – the fact of having more than one personality / “person” in your head. In my opinion, it does not have to be a bad thing. The trauma and the abuse were devastatingly bad – absolutely. The dissociative walls can really cause problems in the current day, even if they were initially helpful. The PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other emotional fallout can be debilitating at times.
But the multiplicity – just the multiplicity… does it have to be bad to share your life with others?
Again I ask….
Is accepting your multiplicity “as is” a version of accepting yourself?
Kathy Broady LCSW
February 22, 2009
Many trauma survivors with DID, especially those relatively new in the treatment process, often have difficulty accepting that there are “other people inside your head.”
The ideas of losing time (including big chunks of time), losing control of yourself and your mind or your body, having a limited awareness of what has happened in your life, sharing your life with a bunch of others of all different ages, and understanding that all this was caused by severe trauma, can all be difficult realities to grasp.
Inside parts. Dissociative alter personalities. Splits of you, from you, but very different from you.
The willingness to share your life with others can be difficult, especially if you haven’t realized that those others inside have been taking turns already. If this has been happening for years without your awareness, why do you need to know now?
So… if you don’t want them to be there, why are they there? And why is it so hard to accept that they are there?
When someone is experiencing severe trauma that is either physically painful and/or emotionally difficult to tolerate, the need to dissociate increases. If the person cannot escape with their feet, they can escape with their mind. If they cannot physically leave the situation, they can mentally leave the situation by floating away, floating up, or totally blacking out their awareness of such traumatic events.
The more frequently a person has to use their dissociative abilities to leave traumatic situations, the more rigid and firm those dissociative walls can become.
Pretty soon, those dissociative walls become impermeable – sturdy and solid — preventing any information or emotion from crossing through. Young children that need to be ok in the morning for school, and to look happy and cheerful in front of their parents, friends, and teachers, will not be able to do that if they are stressing about how badly they were hurt and injured during the night. The dissociative walls allow them to escape the pain of the trauma while it’s happening, but also to escape the memory and stress of it in the hours and days afterward.
When all too much trauma happens over and over again, young children learn to create other selves to be there instead of them. As these other selves are needed for more and more life events, their life experiences and subsequent personalities develop more and more.
The one child becomes two. Then three. Then four. And every time a particular traumatic situation occurs, the other child created in that kind of situation learns to show up for it. Once child one knows how to split like this, it becomes easier to do it again and again. The child parts themselves can learn how to create parts of their own if needed. For example, if the child doesn’t want to carry the anger about being abused (maybe they know they will get in very big trouble if they show anger), then they can give that emotion to a different part to carry and contain for them.
The dissociative walls between the different parts allow the “containers” to be totally separate from each other, and to not allow seepage, spillage, leakage of information from one person to another.
So as years go by, the child gets older, and becomes an adult… or, for some people, the original child self has stayed hidden and away from the world, and remains so tucked in that even the main adult parts are splits off from the “original child”. Through the years, numerous other splits have happened and there are many others inside.
How does the main adult part manage that? There are too many splits to know them all. There have been too many traumatic events to make sense of it all. There is too much pain, and horror, and distress, and shame, and guilt tucked away in all the different parts.
To accept each of those parts means to accept that they were specifically split off and created for a reason. It means, they have feelings or historical information that could be difficult to digest and hard to live with. It means that there is a whole lot more to the story. Any part that was given the job to “be the happy one” or “act like nothing is bothering you” or “function like you have no problems” will have a hard time connecting to all the parts that have been exposed to the trauma information and intense feelings.
Even as adults safe from ongoing trauma, those dissociative walls that were once created for protection and to maintain a great distance between the person and the “too much for me” piles will still be in place, even if they are not as necessary as they were in the middle of current trauma. However, it is also true, that as time passes and the amount of ongoing trauma decreases, those dissociative walls can begin to crumble and weaken and chip apart. It is not “natural” to have to be dissociative, so if there is no trauma forcing the dissociation to stay in place, those dissociative walls will begin to shrink. PTSD, emerging trauma memories and an increasing awareness of the others inside will begin to be more obvious.
However, that puts the dissociative person into an uncomfortable in-between place. They are not totally dissociating away the awareness of everything, but they do not yet have sufficient information to make a clear picture of what they are figuring out. It’s like having a 1000 piece puzzle, and while 250 of the pieces might be in place, it is very hard to figure out where to put the 251st piece. The picture is not clear. The individual pieces do not make sense. It is not obvious what anything is. It’s a very frustrating place, and at this point, it feels like too much of the news is bad news.
The dissociation that has been there for years already makes it hard to think differently. The dissociative walls kept tons of specific information away from the person’s awareness, and as long as the person remains partially dissociative, the new information will have that “not real” feeling to it. The traumatic information that is still too far on the other side of that dissociative wall will not yet feel “real”. The dissociative wall that helped you separate the trauma from yourself is still keeping the reality of that information separated from yourself.
The partial dissociation makes it not feel real.
The parts of you that are not dissociated from that information will not have any doubt about how “real” it is. They may not like it, but they have no doubts about knowing what happened.
But if there is a dissociative wall standing between you and the others inside, you could have trouble accepting their reality as yours.
The dissociation keeps it separated from you.
That just means you are in the middle of the process. If your dissociative wall is 100 bricks tall, and you have only knocked down 17 of them, the trauma and those other insiders are not going to feel totally real or connected to you. It will be considerably different once you have knocked down 53 bricks, and even more different when you have knocked down 79 bricks. When you have knocked down all 100 bricks, you’ll be totally connected with the experiences of the others inside. Their reality will be the same as yours, and vice versa. You will all know the whole story of what happened on the time line of your life.
Give yourself the time that it takes to address all that is on the other side of those dissociative walls. I can promise you, you won’t want to be flooded with ALL of that information at once. BUT, do know in your head, that it takes a lot of work to be emotionally and mentally connected with everything that you had to block off.
While you are partially dissociative, some things really won’t feel real. While you’ve done a portion of the work, you won’t know where everything fits in the whole picture.
The more you get to meet and to really know your inside people, the less you will be affected by the dissociative walls. The more real your relationships are with your insiders, the more real and connected you will be to all the pieces of your life.
As long as you put in effort to stay distant and separated from the others inside, you are working to maintain those dissociative walls.
Do you genuinely want to know what has happened in your life? That’s a much harder question to answer than you might think.
And yes, too much of the information dissociated away will be difficult, painful, or bad news. Who wants to purposefully block off or escape from good news? It’s just not necessary. But escaping from bad news can be necessary for survival, for sanity, for safety.
But keeping the dissociative walls means keeping the pain contained within yourself.
Lowering the dissociative walls means you can release the pain for everyone inside you, and give healing experiences to all that are there. Everyone will have a chance to experience the good stuff in life, and to be free from the captivity of severe trauma.
It’s not natural to have to dissociate to get through life. When you don’t have to dissociate anymore, then you have truly accepted your own reality, no matter what it is.
Kathy Broady LCSW
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
December 11, 2008
What is therapy? What is a therapist? And how can you tell if they’re any good?
In my experience, therapy is about speaking the unspeakable. It’s the telling of things that you haven’t had the safety or the opportunity to tell before. It’s expressing your deepest feelings without have to edit or omit or pretend for the sake of someone else. It’s exploring within yourself to find who you are, and who the other parts of you are. It’s looking at the painful truths of your life, coming to grips with even the most shame-filled realities of the ways you were hurt and the ways you hurt others—and then being able to move ahead with a greater peace, more resolve, a quiet solidity, and an acceptance of what has happened in years gone by. It’s the process of facing the past while also allowing it to fade away, becoming free from it, instead of being consumed by it or chained to it or terrified of it. It requires seeing and knowing some very harsh realities, but helps you find a way to be solidly ok with yourself anyway and to live a full and happy life despite the horror and pain.
A therapist is a listening person who can hear what you have to say and help you to process your experiences and move beyond them, a companion in your pain and a witness to your truth.
A safe trauma therapist is one who can contain your feelings and experiences, however intense, and remain themselves, present in the room with you. It is one in whom you can have the confidence of knowing they are on your side, as well as the reassurance of knowing they are their own confident person who will not be easily steamrolled, bullied, or deceived. Your listening person can’t be fooled by denial, manipulated by fear, scared off by anger, or accepting of projections. They must be strong enough to handle your pain, your emotions, your truths, without falling into their own emotional traps, and yet they need to be gentle enough to provide genuine compassion and comfort. Your listening person must be kind, but firm. Flexible, but unwavering. Provoking, but protective. Accepting, but honest.
Trauma therapy is not just about the recovery and processing of memories. It is also about learning to think and act in different and better ways. Emotional fallacies, cognitive distortions, controlling manipulations, and psychological defenses all have to be addressed. In therapy, your greatest wounds and your worst behaviors both will be exposed, examined, and engaged. Ouch—that’s really hard to do. No wonder therapy hurts.
Therapy is an enormously difficult personal challenge. It requires courage and willpower by the bucketful. Beyond that, it also takes a great personal commitment on your part to hold on to the therapeutic alliance through the difficult times. Sometimes this persistence can mean going against what feels “right”—so many of you have learned through hard experience that trust is a myth and caring is a painful lie.
And although healing therapy is desperately sought out by trauma survivors, and although it can be a life-saving, heart-warming, and incredibly powerful process—within each and every trauma survivor, there will also be long lists of reasons, recognized or unrecognized, conscious or deeply hidden, why therapy is not ok, not necessary, or not helpful for them. So it can be all too easy, when the going gets particularly tough, to turn from the onslaught of truth and from the therapy that has unleashed it. It is too easy, sometimes, to deflect the truth onto someone or something else, discard that person or thing from your life as you no doubt wish you could do with the truth and just keep running.
Your commitment to therapy will be tested again and again. I commend each and every one of you who daily move forward on blind faith, against what feels like your better instincts, to find true healing.
Externally, there may other challenges to face. There may be others in your life that don’t want you to move forward. Maybe your family likes the status quo, and they don’t want you challenging their norm. Maybe your perpetrators don’t want you to realize the truth of what happened, or maybe they don’t care if you remember, as long as you blame yourself for their crimes. Or maybe someone is invested in controlling you now. They certainly wouldn’t want you to learn healthier ways of thinking and feeling.
It is crucial that you are willing to be honest with yourself in your healing—about yourself and about others in your life—even when painful truths are revealed. As hard as it is to do, facing the truth is the only way to achieve full healing.
Kathy Broady, LCSW