October 11, 2010
The following drawing is a DID survivor’s response to my question: Can you picture dissociative identity disorder?
*** If you are a dissociative trauma survivor, please read the following article with caution. Some of the topics presented in this blog article could create an emotional reaction from your internal system as several difficult but important topics are mentioned. Please be sure to tend carefully to your own safety and stability. ***
This drawing is helpful to understand dissociation – the very picture itself portrays how it feels to have dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD). Assuming this drawing represents one actual person, the plural, divided-self experiences are visually obvious.
In addition to the whole of the picture, I’ve picked out a variety of elements that could be significant to the dissociative system being pictured. I will include some of the thoughts and questions that come to mind as I look at the different areas of this drawing. A lot of helpful therapeutic information can surface by asking the following questions to the survivor artist. Many of these questions could be asked to any other dissociative survivor in terms of exploring their own internal systems.
1. The blank face in the mirror
- Why is this a blank slate?
- Is there ever a time when “no one” is there? What is that like?
- Does the face place not belong to anyone in specific?
- How often does this person switch?
- Does anyone claim the face?
- Who does the actual face belong to?
- When you switch, are there visible differences in the face?
- Is there a specific leader to this dissociative system? If so, where is this person pictured?
- How often does this dissociative survivor feel like she is living outside of her body or separated from her body?
2. Notice that there are other inside system parts visible in the overall picture –
- Some parts are in the front
- Some parts are in the back – what is the significance of these different locations?
- Some parts are unknown (blank spots)
- Some parts are pictured standing alone
- Some parts are closely connected to someone else
- Some parts are older, likely adult in age
- Some parts pictured are very young
- Some parts pictured are middle-aged children
- Some parts pictures appear to be teenagers
- Can you identify any of these insiders as specific individuals?
- Who talks to who?
- Do the insiders on the back communicate with or know about the insiders located on the artist’s paint palette?
- Since we are seeing only a small portion of the actual body, are there other parts located elsewhere that are not pictured in this drawing?
- If there are other system insiders that are not pictured in this drawing, would you consider drawing another picture that does include them?
- Do the two main figures in this picture represent two distinctly different systems?
- Are you aware of what happens when the insiders “from the back” are out?
- Do you experience more time loss with the parts that are connected to the body but not visible because they are on the back or with the parts that you can see, but are more separate and pictured on the paint palette?
3. The hair and the clothes are different in the mirror — ever so slightly — but still different. Notice the different hairstyles / clothing for the different insiders – a clue for who is out might be related to the actual hairstyle / clothing they are wearing that day.
4. What is the thumb covering? I would need to ask the artist to know what this represents for sure, but several possibilities do come to mind.
- Is this a dark area of the internal system that is trying to hide?
- Is this an area that represents difficult feelings like shame, pain, anger, or any areas of life that may not be comfortable to look at?
- Using the metaphor of the paint palette, the dark spot might indicate a hole in the palette. Does it have any other significance than that? Are there “holes” in your system? To where does that hole lead?
As much as one figure appears to be the reflection in the mirror, is the mirror actually the doorway for an entirely different system than the parts outside of the mirror? It is not uncommon for mirrors to be part of the internal world / internal landscape of a dissociative survivor. These mirrors are very significant and will require specific therapeutic attention.
Some dissociative survivors speak about circles in their life, and circles can represent specific relationships, and / or being “in the circle” can have layers of meaning.
- Is there any significance or meaning to the circle designs included in this drawing?
- Do the insiders stay separated in their circle “bubbles” or are they allowed to mingle with each other?
Since the artist of this drawing used the paint palette metaphor to show their system, do colors have an important meaning to their system? Are certain parts associated with certain colors? For example, are there parts from the “green layer” or are there parts associated together as part of the “blue group”, etc. If so, what do the different colors mean, and what are the common characteristics or job roles of the insiders associated with each color?
8. Box Frame
What is the relevance of the square / rectangle mirror frame? Does seeing a main figure inside the box frame have any significance? Are any of your insiders tucked away in boxes? If your system insiders are not in boxes, do you have other issues boxed up?
9. Connection to the Body
One of the strongest themes in this picture relates to the way the different parts of the system appear to be very separate from the body.
- How often is this person in a numb, dissociated, depersonalized, or out-of-body state?
- When the parts from the paint palette are “in the body”, can the artist feel that they are present? Or do these parts continue to have a separated distance?
- Does the body feel the same or different when the mirror-reflection group of insiders is present in the body?
I have found this drawing to be rich in information that would be useful when discussing the dissociative issues experienced by this trauma survivor. There is much to learn about this survivor-system and asking these questions is just the beginning.
What do you see in this picture?
What else would you wonder about?
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
June 20, 2010
This weekend is often a difficult weekend for trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder. First, there is Father’s Day (for those of us living in the USA), and secondly, it’s the Summer Solstice. Anytime the difficult days get stacked on top of each other, it’s going to make for a complicated time.
On days when the issues seem to surface in layers, what do you do to cope?
(**This blog article is about difficult topics so it could be triggering – please pace yourself carefully and keep yourself safe.)
Father’s Day has many of the same emotional complications as was written about on Mother’s Day. The days proceeding are often full of painful memories, heartbreaking loss, fear, conflict, and upset. The vast majority of DID survivors have had abusive fathers, so the idea of celebrating fathers typically stirs up great turmoil.
The first day of summer, like all season changes, has relevance to those who have experienced difference forms of Ritual Abuse (RA). Many of the dark church organizations celebrate the seasonal changes and these so-called “celebrations” are full of trauma, abuse, gross activities, icky messes, scary events, etc. Survivors of these ordeals are often flooded with flashbacks, emotional distress and internal conflict during the times of season changes.
When you put the two of these highly emotional events together, dissociative survivors experience a lot of overwhelm. Some of the difficulties can include PTSD symptoms (nightmares, flashbacks, depersonalization, body memories, difficulties sleeping, irritability, feeling distant from others, etc.) and anxiety symptoms (panic attacks, excessive fears, heightened startle reflex, nausea, trembling, heart palpitations, headaches, obsessions, chest pain, etc), self-destructive thoughts, self-injury behaviors, suicidal ideation (pervasive thoughts about wanting to die), depression, tearfulness, or detached numbing. It’s probably been a miserable weekend for a lot of DID survivors.
Fathers that participate in dark church rituals are often not the kind of fathers that you find written about in Hallmark Cards. These are the kinds of fathers that prefer abusive activities, or that like sadistic pain, or have freaky and perverse sexual interests. They are difficult men who have caused a lot of hurt and pain for a lot of people, especially for their children.
And yet, even so, there are nearly always those parts within the DID system that feel loyalty and a deep bonding with the father figure. These parts are typically parts that have adopted some level of acceptance of the traumatic activities, and have long ago learned to tolerate the abuse or to even define it as anything but abuse.
DID survivors often manage abuse by their fathers by creating a father introject within the internal dissociative system. Father introjects are internal system parts that remember the father so well that they look-feel-sound-act-appear to the others inside as the same as the actual father. An internal introject may do the same kinds of abusive behaviors to the other parts of the system, recreating the same abusive patterns and feelings that the external father did. Since the internal world is so real to DID survivors, it can feel like the father is still there, still controlling things, still making all the decisions, still threatening harm, still causing harm.
And in many ways this can be true.
It can be difficult to separate who the external father is from the internal father introject. They can very much feel like mirror-images of each other, shadow replicas, and the child parts of the system will not be able to tell the difference between them.
But father introjects are NOT the actual father, no matter how much they may claim to be so. Father introjects actually belong to you. They split from you, they came from your mind, and they originated with you. They are actually part of you, and not part of the father. They may have been taught by the father, but they are actually yours.
However, they will be powerful parts of the internal system though so their power and influence is not to be ignored or minimized. It is more important to work with these parts, and reconnect their loyalty to the survivor person instead of to the father figure. This is an absolutely crucial part of the DID therapy process, and if you haven’t yet gained a safe working relationship with your father introject, you will need to do so.
Father Transference Issues
In the therapy process, male therapists will have many of the same kinds of transference issues regarding father issuesj as female therapists have with mother issues. In fact, it is often difficult for some female dissociative survivors to work with male therapists because of the kinds of trauma, abuse, and controls associated with their father. Male therapists often have to address transference issues of being seen as the abuser, controlling male, dominant owner, sexual pervert, etc. So many trauma survivors have issues with men — and even more have issues with their fathers — that it makes being a male therapist for female trauma survivors particularly difficult.
Other female trauma survivors are so used to be led by men or connected to men, especially their father, that they feel more at ease with men and less comfortable with “neglectful, abandoning mothers”. (Female therapists tend to get more of the abandonment transference issues, while male therapists tend to get more of the abuser-male dominance transference issues.) The relationship between survivors and their parents will very often dictate which gender of therapist is a better fit for them.
Typical Father Issues
Father issues are not easy to work through. They often take years of time to sort out, and they are very painful. Many survivors truly feel bonded to their fathers, even if some of their relationship involved sexual activities. Sometimes feeling sexually connected to the father felt better than being emotionally abandoned by the mother. When this is the case, there are numerous emotional complications to process during your healing.
Do you understand the role your father has played in your life?
Do you experience system switching, feelings of fear, or flashbacks when you are in the same room with your father?
What would your father do if you said no to him?
What would your father do if you chose a lifestyle very different from the one he chose for his life?
Are you allowed to live separately from him? Have you been allowed to move away from his neighborhood?
How much control or influence does your father have over you life in the current day?
Are you safe when you are in the same room as your father?
Does your father still abuse you or any of your younger parts? Does he still exert a level of sexual dominance over anyone in your system?
Would you be betraying your father if you refused to let him touch you in sexual ways?
If your father is an abuser, you can get distance and separation from him.
You don’t have to stay bonded to abusers.
You don’t have to stay connected to violent relationships.
You don’t have to be abused to be accepted.
You do not have to be sexual to be accepted.
All men are not abusers.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation