August 8, 2010
In situations where dissociative survivors feel like they don’t lose time, it can be helpful to ask a lot of questions about how they experience life, time, recall, etc. There are a wide variety of reasons why systems get so tightly shut down from switching, (or from the appearance of switching), so it really depends on what else is going on. There could be other ways that the insiders are coming out, and for reasons that would take a lot of exploration, the inside parts could be hiding themselves from the host personalities.
Sleeping can mask a lot of switching.
Switching during your sleep is one way of losing time when you don’t know that you are losing time.
This is not sleep-walking. Certain parts of the dissociative system are sleeping deep inside, but the body of the dissociative person is actually awake and at least one part of the system is completely aware of what is happening. It may be that one layer of the system is awake while other layers of the system believe they are sleeping. While some parts sleep, other parts are awake and actively involved with activities.
If you have dissociative identity disorder, how many hours of the day do you sleep? Even though you assume you are sleeping, are you really asleep?
Sometimes dissociative survivors will tell me they sleep long hours everyday or they take frequent naps. With careful examination of that sleeping time, it is not unusual for the hosts to adamantly believe they are sleeping, while other parts of the system wake up, get up, and go about their own activities. When the insiders are finished with their tasks, they lay back down, go back to sleep. A few minutes (or hours) later, the host wakes back up, with absolutely no awareness that other parts were out and active during what felt like “sleep time”.
- The host can feel like they were just dreaming.
- Or they may wonder why they aren’t feeling rested after such a long sleep.
- Or certain inside parts truly blocked the loss of time from the other parts of the system.
- Or the host parts “thought” they were resting, and would say, yes, they were doing that, but when they actually think about it, they don’t remember actually doing it.
This type of sleep-hidden switching can also happen for DID survivors sleep in shorter chunks of time as well. If someone is “always tired”, it is easy enough to hide the additional hours of waking by the normal feeling of “I’m always tired”.
Sometimes, dissociative survivors just don’t think about how much time they are losing – it is a normal way of life, and calling attention to the time loss is what’s new and different. As far as they are concerned, they have always been dissociative, and they have always switched, they have always had missing chunks, they have always had to scramble or cover for missing information, and they have always slept weird hours. To think of life as a continuous state is completely foreign.
For treatment purposes, it is important for dissociative survivors to ask their systems why switching to other parts would need to be hidden and disguised through sleep.
- Why are these parts hiding so much from you?
- What are they doing?
- Are they going anywhere?
- What keeps them from doing whatever they need to do without having to make you “sleepy”?
- Why do you need to be asleep for them to be out?
- Is this a re-enactment from history or do they have their own lives going out completely outside of your awareness?
- What do they know that you don’t know?
- Who do they know that you don’t know?
Getting to know the parts on the other side of the dissociative sleep wall is important. Trying to build a connection and establish some version of communication with these insiders is essential for your healing.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
July 10, 2010
*** trigger warning for dissociative trauma survivors ***
The collage and the material discussed in this blog is emotionally intense and could be triggering. Please be sure that you are in a safe place before reading further.
Trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder often have to live a double life. There is the public face, full of pretty smiles and general surface chatter that says “I’m fine”, “I’m doing great!”, “I had a good time”, “Nothing is wrong”, etc.
Recognize any of those kinds of cover-up phrases?
Unfortunately, all too often, looking the other side of these statements proves a very opposite reality. The person is feeling anything but “great”.
Every DID survivor I have ever met has a whole repertoire of phrases and quick answers that indicate they are doing well, that everything is ok, even when they actually are not ok. DID survivors know how to cover and hide their pain. Besides dissociating away the evidence, feelings, and awareness of the abuse from themselves, they have also developed a variety of social skills to cover and hide the depth of their confusion, upset, emotions from others.
On the other side of “I’m fine”, there are very different feelings – depression, fear, anxiety, sadness, overwhelm, emotional pain, grief, shame, anger, just to name a few. Sometimes there are flashbacks, body memories, nightmares, self-injuries, addiction issues, etc. There are often feelings related to self-injury, self-destruction, and self-hatred. Sometimes there are incidents of trauma in the current day, or domestic violence, or sexual assault, or date rape. Life can feel pretty dark.
But still, all too often, the survivor will say, “I’m fine.”
The following collage says it well.
In case they are a little hard to read, the words on the collage are as follows:
This can’t be happening
It’s not real
It’s not real
It’s really happening.
What will I say? What do I say?
I can’t breath I can’t breath
I need air.
Gravel in my hair hurts.
What will I say tomorrow?
What if I get grass stains on my dress?
I can’t breathe.
Please God help me. Please.
Please save me.
Someone help me
There’s no on
And he’s on top
And I can’t breathe
And this is hopeless
And I think
I can’t escape
God please —
I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine
I can never tell anyone about this
What would everyone say? They’ll all be bragging
About what a good time they had tonight
I can’t say
This is the night
God abandoned me
That my soul was killed
That the world left me behind.
I had a great time, thanks. Thanks for asking.
In this collage, notice the initial dissociative statements. “This can’t be real” indicates the need to dissociate and separate from what is happening. Even when the artist recognizes that it is really happening to her, she separates herself with the tiny “to me”.
The middle section describes a sexual assault. Some of the pain and discomfort of the abuse is included – for the most part, the details of the rape are not mentioned. However, the fears and pleas for help are included, showing the desperation felt by the woman being assaulted.
Finally, at least for a short while, the abuse has stopped.
It appears, that after the assault happens, this survivor is expected to make a social appearance at a party or a dance. The social event is supposed to be great fun, but how can a social event be fun right after having experienced a sexual trauma?
But still, the survivor says she’s fine.
- What keeps her from talking about what she just experienced?
- Do you understand why she covers and hides the abuse instead of telling others about it?
- Does this survivor remember that she was just assaulted?
- Did she build an amnesiac wall around the abuse?
- Did one insider deal with the trauma, and another insider go to the party?
- Is this survivor denying the abuse?
Part of the healing process is connecting the reality of the situation with the truth of emotion. Chances are, this survivor does not actually feel fine at all.
What could she do now?
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
July 14, 2009
When you have dissociative identity disorder (DID/MPD), and you’re thinking as a multiple personality — thus having a multitude of different thoughts at once time — it can be very difficult to make decisions.
How do survivors with DID ever make up their minds?
How do survivors with DID decide whose opinion to follow?
How do survivors with DID ever decide what is best for them?
How do survivors with DID sort out having a dozen different opinions at once?
It is complicated to think like a multiple.
There are gaps of missing time, non-sequential pieces of information, jumbled feelings and emotions, snippets of conflicting facts, confusion, voices from the past, fears of more punishment, flashbacks, internal arguing, programmed thoughts, insistent introjects, personal insecurities, etc. The chaotic internal workings of a dissociative trauma survivor can make it very difficult to think clearly.
Non-dissociative “singletons” (people who do not have multiple personality disorder) can experience simultaneous mixed feelings, opposing thoughts and conflicting perspectives on specific situations as well. Singletons can write out extensive lists of “pros vs. cons” on any number of situations. Non-dissociative singletons do not experience just one thought or one feeling at a time either. They see the big conflicting picture all at once.
So what makes decision making even more difficult for survivors with DID?
All too often, dissociative trauma survivors functioned through the difficult times of their life by separating their thoughts and feelings into individual compartments and using dissociative, amnesiac walls to keep these compartments separated. Having mixed emotions and conflicting beliefs at the same time was often too much to manage in the middle of a traumatic event. Dissociative survivors learned to split the different feelings and the different perspectives into different parts of themselves, blocking one perspective away from the other. It is easier to separate and contain overwhelming conflicting emotions when the two opposing emotions did not have to directly collide with each other.
For example, all children love their parents. But if a young girl has a father who is sexually abusing her, and a mother that is either pretending not to see that or is helping the father to abuse her, then huge conflicting emotions are going to occur. The child will want to please her parents, even in this painful abusive situation. But in order to do that, the child will have to find ways to separate her experience of the parents she loves from the parents who are hurting her. Dissociating the conflicts into separate parts help this to happen.
- The child can split off a part of herself that is willing to obey her father even to the point of acting like a passive or promiscuous young child that appears to want to be sexual with the father.
- She can split off a part of her that feels the physical pain and injury of the assault.
- She can split off a part of her that contains the intense betrayal by the mother.
- She can split off a part that holds the emotional pain, deep wounding, and heartbreak of the assault.
- She can split off a part that holds the anger and rage at having been assaulted by both of her parents.
- She can split off a part that holds the fear of being violently assaulted by her parents again and again.
- She can split off a part that is the happy little girl who goes to school the next day, blocking out all the pain, acting very connected to her parents, not showing any sign of having been through a horrendous assault the night before.
The person as a whole sees the situation as a whole. But if a dissociative trauma survivor has separated the different feelings and perspectives and kept that information separated locked and blocked behind various dissociative walls, then the survivor is aware of only some of the information at any given point in time. She is not aware of the whole picture, because she has it dissociated parts of it away from herself.
Dissociative people are accustomed to separating the intense conflicting emotions and managing only one or two at a time. This might help in the short-run, but it does not help in the long-run.
So how do dissociative trauma survivors make good decisions if they are used to looking at situations from the constraints of one limited perspective at a time? What happens when they cannot see the situation as a whole? How can they make a good decision if they cannot put the entire picture together at the same time?
This is a common problem for survivors with DID. The part of them that sees and recognizes the dangers cannot always communicate with the happy naïve part who is determined to believe she is safe and unharmed. The ones that believe they are out of harm’s way (and who wouldn’t want to hold tight to that belief?) refuse to connect with the fear, anger, pain of the trauma (because who would want to feel that?!)
The problem is that by not seeing the whole picture at one time, dissociative trauma survivors find themselves tangled into a variety of dangerous situations. For example, they can bond to dangerous people without recognizing the danger. They see only as much as the current perspective allows them to see, and they don’t even realize that there is trouble looming in the near future. By dissociating the perceptions and experiences that might better recognize the danger, dissociative survivors can put themselves in high-risk situations over and over and over again.
Building the strength, the courage, and the willingness to talk to all the other internal parts in your system is key to getting past the dissociative walls and being able to make decisions from a more complete perspective. Face your difficult emotions, confront the truth of your trauma, listen to all of your inner selves, and recognize that other internal parts have valid information. No one can make a good decision based on partial information. Be willing to look at the whole picture.
As you learn to trust your internal parts to give you the rest of the story, you will be less vulnerable to people who aggressively or suggestively tell you what to think. The more you can trust yourself, the less vulnerable you are to people who would manipulate your thinking by maneuvering behind your dissociative walls. Predators and perpetrators will have less ammunition to use against you when you can trust your own selves. They will not be able to abuse you as much if you are aware that it is happening. The less you dissociate time and information, the more you can appropriately handle life’s current day conflicts.
If you truly know the whole story of what happens in your life, both in the past and in the present, then you are less vulnerable to feeling or thinking or believing something just because someone else more aggressive tells you that you do. You can learn to connect to and trust in your own thoughts or feelings or beliefs, and to make your own assessment of a situation based on that.
Look at the whole picture and think for yourself.
Kathy Broady LCSW
May 23, 2009
Multiplicity has made it into the Soap Opera world.
On the soap opera, “One Life to Live”, the character named Jessica Buchanan has Dissociative Identity Disorder. In earlier episodes, Jessica spent a fair bit of time in an inpatient hospital unit addressing her trauma, her grief, etc. According to Jessica, she resolved her difficult emotional issues and dealt with her internal system conflicts so sufficiently that she was able to integrate. Her small internal system agreed that it was time for them to tuck back inside, and even though the viewing audience knew that Jessica had at least one more huge unresolved traumatic secret, Jess went about enjoying her life as if she was completely healed.
For what appeared to be months of time, Jessica looked and acted as if she was integrated. Bess and Tess were nowhere to be found – she was only Jess. She felt like she was completely integrated. She believed it. Her family believed it. Her best friends believed it.
Did you believe it?
Anyone that knows anything about real multiplicity and dissociation should not have believed it.
Why was it inevitable that Jessica’s alleged integration would fail?
Because she had unresolved trauma, and she was still holding a secret from herself. This wasn’t a small secret – it was a huge secret involving the death of a child and criminal behavior.
Jess was still unaware of what Bess did. Tess knew a portion of the story, but not the whole thing. Both Tess and Bess knew they hadn’t told Jess. Jess didn’t know that she didn’t know.
Frankly, Jess-Tess-Bess are still a big mess. But it’s a soap opera, so I wouldn’t expect anything less.
The point is this. When the parts of the system hold important, traumatic, and/or emotionally distressful information from each other, and from the host personality, there is no way that a genuine integration can occur. Holding this kind of secret from yourself means that you are keeping dissociative barriers and amnesiac walls.
Maintaining dissociative walls is not possible in real integration. The very definition of integration means there are no more dissociative walls holding back secret information.
So of course, for Jessica, Bess and Tess would return. They couldn’t not return. If they could have kept anything and everything totally controlled and not let any kind of trigger or reminder occur, they might have been able to stay hidden inside, but that is unrealistic. Unresolved, unprocessed trauma is much more likely to get triggered repeatedly until those memories are resolved.
In your healing journey, there will be trauma issues to sort out and address, but remember, until the whole of your system is aware of what happened to everyone else, you will still have dissociative walls. As long as you have dissociative walls, you cannot be considered integrated.
Questions to think about:
- If you could talk to Jessica, what would you say to her? What would you recommend to her?
- Do you relate to Jessica’s desire to be integrated, and yet still not want to know what has happened in your past?
- Have you heard the stories and life experiences of every one of your internal parts?
- Have your insiders listened to the stories and life experiences of each other?
- Are you refusing to listen to certain parts? Why or why not?
- While there are obviously important reasons to pace your healing work, are you intending to listen to every memory that your insiders remember and need to talk about?
- Would you prefer to continue to “not know”? If so, how do you define what is necessary for your healing?
Kathy Broady LCSW
March 7, 2009
Many dissociative trauma survivors have issues with time.
Sometimes the past sneaks up into the present. Sometimes the present disappears. Sometimes there are two time zones (or more) occurring at the same time. Sometimes there are huge gaps in time. Sometimes time stands still.
It can be confusing to say the least.
- Have you ever had a flashback from some year gone by overwhelm your current day?
- Have you ever been overwhelmed by such huge feelings that for them to make any sense, they must have roots in something much deeper than your current-day conflict?
- Have you ever woken up in the current day and wondered where you were?
- Have you ever lost hours of time, with no awareness of what happened, and no explanation of what you have been doing?
Losing time can be very difficult. Many folks with DID get understandably upset when this happens — struggling with the after effects of their behavior, left confused, bewildered, possibly angry, waking to their plans being destroyed, their relationships damaged, their money spent, their body feeling weird, their day interrupted. Most singletons cannot even begin to fathom what life would be like with so many missing gaps in time.
There is a huge sense of loss of control when there is lost time. Is the amnesia that is covering that lost time still important? Is it covering up some huge secret that the host of the system cannot know about? Or is it just an old habit – an old familiar way of life, and nothing to worry about? Either way, the not-knowing, and the apparent “not being allowed to know” what happened in one’s own life can understandably be very upsetting for many people.
Sometimes the effects of lost time are minimal, barely noticeable — maybe a small bruise, or scratch that came from nowhere, or a change of clothes, or maybe you’re simply sitting in a different place than you last were. Lots of people with dissociative disorders are so used to losing time that they don’t even notice it anymore. Switching and the coming and going are so normal for them, and the covering for a “bad memory” are just natural parts of the day. In fact, it can be so natural, that many people with DID/MPD are firmly convinced that they don’t lose any time at all. However, a close examination of that belief can usually prove otherwise, but that is not an uncommon initial assumption.
Sometimes lost time cause a lot of anxiety and panic, and sometimes the effects are quite devastating. The host of the system may have no awareness that one of the insiders participated in a sexual activity the night before, but the host might be able to feel body pain and stiffness, and just not have an explanation for that. The daytime alters may not have realized that “the body” is now pregnant, and they may not absolutely no idea who the father is. Or the host of the system may have no idea how the car got wrecked. The dayside people can see the damage done to the car, but might not have any awareness of what happened. Or maybe they have absolutely no idea why their spouse and children are so angry with them. Maybe they don’t remember being involved in a knockdown drag-out argument last night where the spouse and the children were repeatedly insulted, ridiculed, and denigrated.
Sometimes something good has happened – ie: where another part has had the courage to do something that you hadn’t been able to manage. The house may suddenly look cleaner and more organized, or the kids have been helped with their homework. “Good news” isn’t as frequently blocked from awareness, but it can certainly happen. And sometimes, inside system parts can purposefully block the awareness of someone else inside so they can give them a nice surprise. Insider parts can buy nice prezzies for each other, keeping the others unaware of what they are getting for Christmas or Hanukkah, for example.
However, for dissociative trauma survivors, the original foundational reasons for losing time were long ago based on avoiding or escaping the direct involvement in something terrible. While blocking out the awareness of events during their original occurrence was incredibly helpful at that initial traumatic point in time, as a person’s safety increases, and as their dissociative walls decrease, those hidden chunks of lost time often re-surface later in the form of PTSD, flashbacks, body memories, etc.
As repeated patterns of managing traumatic incidents become set and solidified within the dissociative splits, the amnesia between those alters and others inside just simply stay in place. In those original traumatic moments, those insiders were created with dissociative walls firmly intact, purposefully preventing the other system parts from knowing what happened. That same “missing time” protection stays in place until the dissociative person begins to address why it was necessary for them to have that chunk of time hidden from their life in the first place.
Think about the most recent incident or two where you lost time. Part of the healing process is getting more connected with those periods of lost time. Don’t just comfortably sail past the fact that you don’t know what happened in the middle of the afternoon, or that you have no earthly idea where you were last night. Work at that.
These missing gaps of time are pieces of your life that hold valuable information. I can promise you, your body didn’t just cease to exist while you were dissociatively “away” on a mental vacation. Something was happening with some of your parts, and someone was doing something. You might not been out and involved in life during that period of time, but I can guarantee that someone in your system knows exactly what was happening. They were there instead of you.
The terms “missing time” or “lost time” are actually misnomers. The time didn’t get lost. The time is not gone. The person dissociated away from time — someone else in your system was out instead of you. If you don’t know what happened, then you dissociated away and you have not yet talked to your internal system about who was out instead of you. By talking to the others in your dissociative system, you can find out exactly what happened in that “lost time”.
The question is whether or not you would like to know what happened while you were away. Do you want to remember what happened in those missing gaps of time in your childhood? Do you want to know what happened in those missing gaps of time last week? Are you willing to ask your insiders to tell you about their time in the body and their time out in the world?
Becoming less dissociative, less DID/MPD, more integrated, more whole means knowing about ALL the missing gaps of time – the good news, and the not so good news. If you cannot integrate what happened in your own life, you certainly cannot integrate with your other alters inside. If you cannot sit with the emotions and feelings that you had during the difficult times in your life, you certainly cannot integrate with the inside parts that contain those feelings.
Overcoming the amnesia and time loss means that you must communicate actively with the others in your system. Yep, we’re back to system communication once again. Talk to your internal people – they can tell you exactly what happened while you were away.
Work hard to figure out what has happened in your life. Be willing to remember what happened in those missing chunks of time. Don’t comfortably skip over the details that you conveniently dissociated away – go back and really work at learning what happened in your own life.
Here are some questions to ask yourself and your internal system after you notice some missing time:
- What happened? Do you have any guess or sense whatsoever of what happened? What was happening right before you lost time and what is the first thing you noticed when you got back, grounded and connected to the current day?
- How did you feel? How did you feel emotionally before you left? How do you emotionally feel now?
- How does the body feel now? What is different from before?
- What did you do to recover the information in the time that went “missing”? What clues did you find to help fill in the gaps for you? Look around the house or your car. Does anything look different?
- Did you know who in your system was “out” while you were not out? Who can you ask internally? Who saw what? Even if your insiders did not see what happened in the outside world, did they notice any internal movement? What changes and interactions were happening within the inside world while you were away? Did anyone see anyone else “walk by”?
- If you get a sense of who was out, can you talk to that part of yourself without losing time? Have you been able to work more with the others in your system to lesson the likelihood of this happening again??
- If someone else in your system was caught in a memory or a flashback, do you want to know about it? Are you willing to hear their story about their trauma? Are you willing to sit with them and deal with their pain?
Are you brave enough to know what happened while you were away?
Are you genuinely serious enough about your healing to want to know what happened while you were away?
Are you ready to claim all the different aspects of what has happened in your life?
You can get back all the information that was allegedly lost during that missing time.
You can truly know what happened.
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 12, 2009
Do you believe everything you read?
Do you believe everything you hear?
I realize “inquiring minds want to know” and gossip can seem initially enticing, but seriously, how much credence do you give to what other people have to say about anything?
How do you decide the difference between a credible source and a shoddy source?
How can you tell when you are being manipulated or tricked?
What critical thinking processes do you use to figure out who to believe and who to ignore?
One of the signs of personal strength, personal stability, and a solid awareness of yourself and your internal system is if you can hold your own ground and use your own judgment and not be blown around by any ol’ gusty windstorm that shows up.
Independent thinking is a necessary skill for personal growth and emotional maturity. It is critical for safety, and in terms of therapy, it is critical for your healing process as well.
It is important not to assume that everyone is telling you the truth. It is also important not to assume that everyone is telling you a lie. You will get the truth from some of the people some of the time. You will never get all of the truth from all of the people all of the time. Can you tell when someone is lying to you? What about when they are misrepresenting the truth? Sometimes people will present partial information, purposely omitting certain bits, emphasizing other bits, hoping to lead you into a specific erroneous perspective. Do you look for information over and beyond what someone is presenting to you?
What I’m discussing here is how hard it is to think for yourself. It’s not as easy as you might think. Can you really and truly think for yourself?
Can you think for yourself when you are under pressure from someone else to take on their beliefs and opinions?
For someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder, it gets even more complicated. Have you ever experienced the conflict when another part of your system appears to believe something very different from you? How do you sort that out? How do you decide what to believe overall?
This can be a particularly difficult issue for dissociative people because of the way it plays into historical issues. For most DID folks, there was at least one perpetrator in their life that forcefully made them accept / internalize / absorb perspectives and opinions and beliefs very different from their own. Being forced to internalize and remember beliefs that conflict and differ from what one truly believes creates a pressing need for splitting off new dissociative alters separate from the core person. The core person can keep their own safe personal distance from the nasty opinions of the predator while having a separate place within themselves to contain and retain those forced opinions. The dissociation helps to lessen the constant state of conflict.
The dissociative, amnesiac walls provide the necessary cushion and buffer for those opposing beliefs and for the parts that hold them. However, those dissociative walls do not prevent those insiders from acting in various ways, in support of those non-preferred opinions. In fact, having the dissociative separation makes it easier for those parts to act independently of your preferences.
Some dissociative survivors have been purposefully taught to not believe their own reality. I’ve heard more than one survivor talk about situations where they were specifically taught that up was down, and down was sideways, and red was green, and blue was pink. There are several complex reasons why the survivors are taught to believe confused information, but my point in this blog is more to say that this kind of purposeful self doubt and external domination of thought has happened to a number of survivors.
Another area of concern is making sure that your child parts are not being convinced of information that your adults parts would know and recognize to not be true. Predators will specifically take this approach with child parts, convincing them that it is important to never tell the older ones inside, and then convincing the child parts to believe horrendously inaccurate information. Please read an excellent article about protecting child parts.
If you’ve been forced in the past to take on views of others, how easy is it for you now to think for yourself?
How easily can you stand on your own?
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 11, 2009
A fun and creative way to increase system communication and overall system familiarity is to make a scrapbook displaying pages that describe each of the people in your system. Getting to know your system is an absolute essential part to your healing and recovery, but doing system work doesn’t have to be drudgery. A system scrapbook can be a wonderful treasure and a priceless keepsake for many years to come. It can help create and solidify nice memories for you.
This exercise is similar to making any other personal scrapbook or souvenir album or photo album. You will need a scrapbook, or a notebook, or a binder full of paper. Have a wide variety of writing utensils available, ie: pens, pencils, crayons, markers. Allow for different colors to be used. If you want to get creative with your pages, you could also set out scissors, glue, glitter, strips of fabric or cloth, stencils, rubber stamps, yarn, buttons, dried flowers, photos, ribbons, pretty papers, etc.
Invite each and every one of your internal system parts to design their very own page or two or three about themselves.
The pages are to be created by each of your individual system people to introduce and describe themselves, their activities, their interests, their friends, their history, etc. They each can each decorate and design their pages however they so choose. Encourage your parts to creatively display as much information about themselves on their pages as they are comfortable. It’s also good to include drawings, or photos, or collage, or poems, or lists of information, or “Facts about Me”, etc. The sky is the limit with creative expression!
The purpose of this exercise is to assist your system in getting to know themselves and each other, to increase system communication, and to lower amnesiac barriers between the different parts. As everybody fills out their own personal pages, they are providing a good visual summary for the others in the system to get to know who they are, what they like, what they don’t like, who they know, etc.
There is a particular personal fulfillment in being able to creatively express who you are as an individual. The same principal applies to internal parts as well. Having this freedom of expression is a great way to encourage other levels of communication, and being recognized as an individual within a system is also an important emotional need. The self-worth of each of your internal parts can increase just by being recognized as a valuable part of your system.
Completing a personalized page will be a challenge for many insiders, as they often do not know what they like. It’s ok to let the pages be filled out gradually – there doesn’t have to be a time limit or a rush for completion. In fact, the longer you allow this exercise to continue, the better. Some of your insiders might have to look around in the outside world to find more things that they enjoy. Many of them won’t be used to the idea of “liking anything”. Having the freedom and encouragement to explore, and to pick and choose for themselves will be a very new – and possibly unsettling – but positive experience for many of your internal parts. The entire design side of this exercise could be a totally new experience for most of your parts.
Of course there will be those who are resistant to telling anything at all about themselves to anybody, even to other insiders. These parts do not need to be forced to participate. There will be plenty of other folks that find this exercise to be a fun and creative way to meet each other. Encourage as much of your system as possible to participate in making their own page, and remind everyone to keep looking through the other pages.
View the amount of participation and interest each insider shows as an emotional barometer. The amount and intensity of interest your parts show in completing their pages and looking through other pages will absolutely parallel how comfortable, interested, and willing they are to participate in overall system communication.
This project can be rather involved, and may take days, even weeks, to complete. That’s ok! Hopefully more and more insiders will get involved over time. And as you do ongoing work in your healing process, you will continue to meet new insiders. As those new parts surface, encourage them to add their pages to your scrapbook as soon as they are ready to do so.
Another value in this exercise comes in your working together as a team. Some of the older parts will probably have to help the younger ones. Who is comfortable being near the kids? Everyone will have to take turns. Who gets to go first? Some parts will have to share when they both want to include the same item on their page, and as a system, you’ll have opportunities to problem-solve the various dilemmas. If someone makes a mistake, who will comfort them or assist them? If someone breaks a crayon, will they get in trouble? If these parts see someone new in the scrapbook, will they try to communicate with that new person on the inside? The actual process of learning to work together as a group in creating such a valuable system book is invaluable.
Please do not show this book to anyone you do not completely trust as there is no need to set yourself up for uncomfortable situations with people who are not open to understanding dissociative disorders. This system treasure book is primarily intended for you to get to know you and all your other inside peoples. It is a good therapeutic exercise and I’m sure your therapist will be very interested in seeing it as well.
Get creative, and have fun!
Kathy Broady LCSW