April 5, 2010
I didn’t have a chance to watch or write about last week’s episode of Showtime’s United States of Tara, so before the series got too much further, I thought I’d bring up the topic.
First of all – it’s now really clear to me what people were referring to as triggering about episode two. The sudden sexual explicitness would be triggering to a lot of trauma survivors. If you haven’t yet seen this episode, beware of the last five minutes of the show.
Tara’s male alter, Buck, sneaks out in the middle of the night, goes to a bar, and develops a sexual relationship with a woman that works at the bar. Tara is completely amnesiac for the hours Buck spends with the other woman, but she gradually notices some clues that she is missing time. Tara runs into the bartender while grocery shopping, initially does not recognize her at all, and is embarrassed by the bartender’s flirty familiarity. Tara eventually has vague recall of who the woman is, but reassures her that they will not be continuing that relationship, whatever it was. Tara and Buck argue about this situation, and Tara says “Absolutely not!” but Buck seems to be winning. He is able to continue his relationship with his new girlfriend despite Tara’s best efforts to squash it from happening.
There are layers of internal system conflicts demonstrated in the situation with Tara, Buck, and the bartender. Specifically from this week’s show, I want to bring up the topics of sexual preferences and sexual acting-out.
Here are some questions I have been asked dozens of times:
If a male alter in a female body is attracted to women, is that a homosexual interest? Or is that a heterosexual interest?
If you had an insider sneaking out of the house to have a sexual relationship with another person, how would you handle that? If this relationship was happening behind amnesiac walls, how long would it take for you to figure it out?
You might think that this story line is dramatic twist, but I have to admit, I have seen something very similar happen several different times during my years of working as a trauma therapist with dissociative survivors.
Sexual relationship issues do surface during the therapy treatment years. Not only does this issue provide conflicting feelings for external relationships, it also can create significant tension, anxiety and conflict between system parts. For example, it is not unusual for male insiders express a very different sexual preference than female insiders. It is not unusual for male insiders to feel like they should have their own options instead of being “stuck” with whomever the girls have chosen. The child parts may have a strong vote as well, meaning that they often want complete abstinence in order to feel safe. This may or may not be acceptable to the adult parts, (or to the adult partners / spouses). The subsequent arguments that can develop between system parts can be intense. Learning to work out conflicts and find suitable compromises can be very difficult in these situations.
Re-enactments of sexual trauma have an impact on sexual interests and preferences. As sexual trauma issues surface, survivors can respond in all kinds of ways. Some of the ways include finding an external relationship that either imitates the traumatic relationship, or finding an external relationship to use as avoidance of sexual trauma issues. Sometimes sexual addictions flare up rapidly, and the sexually interested insiders may feel intensely pulled towards sexual activities, including self-focused activities. Or most commonly, survivors completely lose interest in participating in a sexual relationship, and if a spouse or partner requests ongoing participation, there is a high-risk of the original traumatized child parts being pulled out.
It’s a difficult dilemma.
Most survivors with dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD) will have insiders that express all of the above views.
Finding the best balance varies from person to person, relationship to relationship.
How do you address all of this?
How do you sort out all the different layers of conflict?
How do you meet all the varying needs?
It’s certainly not easy.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
April 3, 2010
This is Easter weekend.
For DID trauma survivors with a ritual abuse (RA) background, this is a very difficult weekend, full of difficult memories, painful emotions, and system conflicts.
*** I’m going to speak of some of the horrors of ritual abuse – here is your trigger warning – for those of you that need one of those. ***
With ritual abuse, anything that represented something positive in the Christian faith would have been turned into something dangerous and harmful in the dark worlds. The good would have been twisted into evil. The light would have been made dark. Distortions, perversions, confusion, pain, violence, and chaos would have been celebrated.
Opposites are taught – white becomes black. The day-world church is very distinctly different and opposite from the night-world church.
Children should never ever be exposed to the level of sadistic violence that occurs in ritualistic ceremonies. It is wrong for this to happen.
Children should never ever be forced to participate in the outrageous activities and horrendous practices of the dark night ritualistic world. It is wrong for this to happen.
If you were forced to participate in sadistic ritualistic activities, my heart goes out to you. You’ve seen some of the worst of the worst that happens in this world. It is not ok that anyone hurt you like that.
If you were ritually abused, you would have been painfully traumatized, emotionally tortured, sexually assaulted, and physically beaten. These are horrible crimes. It was wrong for anyone to do this to you. It was wrong if your parents did this to you. It was wrong if strangers did this to you. It was wrong if friends or neighbors did this to you. It is wrong, criminally wrong, for any and all children to be forced to participate in these kinds of activities in any way, shape, or form.
You did not deserve that kind of treatment. (Don’t believe lies that say otherwise.)
You were not born to live in the darkness. (Don’t believe lies that say otherwise.)
You were not destined to belong to evil. (Don’t believe lies that say otherwise.)
You are not the child of Satan. (Don’t believe lies that say otherwise.)
You do not have to live your life chained to this darkness. (Don’t believe lies that say otherwise.)
It is ok and important to get healing from any kind of ritualistic abuse that has happened in your life. RA is gory and violent, it’s controlling and demanding, it’s hateful and sadistic, but it does not have to define who you are. You do not have to stay connected to anyone or anything that pushes you into that direction.
You can separate from those people, places, organizations, and become your own true, genuine self.
You can make your own decisions for what you believe in, and for what kind of life you want to have. You don’t have to be involved in a RA lifestyle if you don’t want to. You don’t have to go to any more RA gatherings, and you don’t have to be one of them.
Your abusers would have told you otherwise, but now that you are an adult, you can decide for yourself. You can think on your own, and you don’t have to be bullied any more.
You can be your own self, with your own life. You can develop your own values, beliefs, and preferences. You don’t have to like the things you were told to like – you can decide for yourself what it is that you like. You don’t have to want the things you were told to want – you can decide that for yourself as well.
You don’t have to be one of them. You can have a life full of kindness, gentleness, compassion, empathy instead. You don’t have to prefer violence and hatred. You can be different from that.
If you have dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD), be sure to let the parts who were ritually abused to experience some of the more positive things in your life. They might initially say they aren’t interested (I’m guessing they were taught to say that), but if you encourage them to experience some of the positive things in your life, you can help to bring healing to them too. Don’t leave them stuck in their traumatic history – help them to heal and to have a chance to live in a safe, positive, warm place.
All the parts of you can heal from the atrocities of ritual abuse.
But for that to happen, you will need to be willing to introduce the light of the day-world to those parts that were split off into the world of darkness. Invite them to actively participate in your day-world. Let them have a cup of coffee or your favorite soda. Let them sit outside in the sun. Let them listen to some of your favorite music, or watch television, or walk the dogs in the park. Let the have a turn at your favorite computer game, and to nibble on your favorite treats and munchies. The dark-side parts will need to experience some of what your world is like in order to understand how it can be better for them. Be gentle with them. Slowly show them the things that you like.
It might feel scary to interact with these parts, but keeping them separated from you only keeps them stuck in the darkness they have known. With the help of your therapist, let those parts become more connected to your personal worlds where they can learn about kindness, gentleness, peace of mind, etc. Build up your courage and ability to listen to them. Comfort them from the hurts they have experienced. Help them to get out of those places that have been so violent.
Separate yourself from anyone in the outside world that wants you to stay in the darkness. Firmly reclaim all your insiders as parts of you that belong with you, and not to anyone else. Work very hard to not leave any of your parts left stuck in such violence. Have the courage to pull them all out into a life of safety.
Your whole system can have the life that you want. Don’t let any of them stay stuck in the yuck of the past.
Let them experience the goodness and joy that can be part of Easter.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
March 28, 2010
Isn’t this an interesting picture?!
Assuming the artist of this picture is a trauma survivor with dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD), this drawing shows many of the system insiders.
How many insiders do you find represented in this picture?
When I look at this picture, the different parts that I see could include the following.
The front girl, on the light side, is probably the one that presents the most to the world. She is neat, trim, clean, dressed nicely. Maybe she is the leader of the parts on that one side of the system. She probably is the one that goes to work or school, etc. She doesn’t seem to be too happy, but she has an air of strength to her. I see sadness in her eyes.
The dark, shadowy side of the face, with a wilder hairdo represents a different side of this person. It’s hard to know, without asking, if the left side represents one part, or a combination of different parts. I would assume that more than one part is represented. This side of the drawing appears to be male. My guess is that the male parts are quite dominant for this survivor.
The shoulder of armor and chest guard, along with the hand holding the sword shows a strong, determined, protector part. Notice that this part of the person comes out towards the front of their physical presentation. It could mean that these protector parts are very close to the surface, and they may be the first ones you meet when encountering this dissociative survivor. Even if you don’t meet them directly, they are right there, watching everything, and paying very close attention to what’s happening.
The strong protective hand and sword are out in bright light. I’d have to ask to be sure, but my guess is that this survivor fights strongly for the things that are good. Their heart doesn’t belong to the darkness. They fight for positive, for goodness, for safety, for healing.
The outer leg, dressed in jeans with running shoes implies a male part. I know that girls wear jeans and tennis shoes, but when trying to show the male parts, this clothing is different from the other more female items, so I would ask about the boys. In fact, that whole left side could be more about boy parts while the other side could be more female. (Or is that shoe a steel-toed boot? I can’t quite tell, so I would be asking about that.)
The mix of male-female clothing (male-female parts) is also emphasized through the waist area, with the draping of the skirt versus the leg of the jeans. It is extremely common for most dissociative survivors to have a mix of both genders in their systems.
The cat part is obviously a strong part of this system, holding a place of balance in the center of the system. This cat’s role in the system is important and significant. The cat is young, probably a child part. This part is one of the most obvious parts of the system, and yet still hides its identity from the outside world – we can see it’s there, but we can’t see who it is. Does this part hear more than it sees? Why is this the only part that is looking the other direction? What does that mean?
It appears that the cat-child is directing intense self-hatred to at the female host via self-injury and cutting. The self-injury is probably related to a number of different issues, but notice that it seems to be aimed towards one female part. Explore that further.
Does the woman feel pain? Is she capable of dissociating pain easily? Does she dissociate the pain involved in cutting and self-injury? The staring, flat expression in the woman’s face could indicate that she is dissociating and not feeling the cuts that are being made on her shoulder and leg. Is she aware that it’s happening? Is she amnesiac for times of self-injury? Why is she the one being hurt? What message is the cat-child trying to give her?
Since it appears that the woman does not feel the pain, maybe the cat-child is the one that feels the pain. The strong, dramatic striping on the cat could indicate intense feelings and waves of pain. It has the look of heated flames (and tiger-stripes), but the feel seems more painful than peaceful. How wild and out of control does this cat-child act? How many times this cat-child has been hurt? My guess is that this little part has endured a lot of the trauma.
Even though this young cat-child part appears to be angry, hurting, hurtful, and self-destructive, notice that the female leader has an open palm, a friendly, gentle acceptance of this troubled young cat-child. This is the only paw of the cat-child that does not have the claws sticking out. This is a good sign, and it shows some gentleness and compassion between system members.
The small hand of the cat-child could also indicate that there is a definite connection with feeling like a small child, and not just as a small animal. Maybe the child can come more forward during times of feeling safe and comforted, while the cat-side stays out at other times.
It is not uncommon for dissociative survivors to have animal parts within the system. There will be reasons for way these parts are presenting, and it will be important to understand the life-stories of these parts the same as with any other part.
While it’s a little hard to see, it looks like there is a small, crying child part (or two?) hiding under the blanket. These child parts appear to be scared, and deep in hiding. Even the teddy bear helps to hide them. These little parts can still see a lot, but they may not come out and interact with the world very often. They are probably kept inside and away from people for the most part.
There is a tiny small area of dark-purple with the child part and the teddy bear. This is the only area of color in the whole picture, and is an important topic for discussion. What does it mean? What does it represent? Why did the purple need to be colored while the rest of the drawing could stay in blacks and whites? What do these child parts know that is still a secret? What does the darkness around them represent in their life?
I would ask if the cat-child part is also a protector of the young children hiding under the blanket. Both the cat and the woman show gentleness on the side with the child parts, so maybe the woman and the cat both feel protective of the little ones.
The protective covering of the hidden child parts is full of mystery and warrants further questioning. There are layers of something, intertwined together, with a few straggling strings at the bottom of the blanket. What does all this mean? Does the DID survivor work extra hard to protect these parts? Do the adult parts of this system know the secrets that are held within the shadows of this blanket?
Overall, the insiders in this DID system seem to be close to each other. They sit near to each other, and have an obvious comfort with each other. The do not seem to be afraid of each other, and they appear to be close enough to be able to talk easily together.
My guess is that the switching between the woman host and the others that are represented on her personhood is not as obvious as it would be between the woman and the cat-child. Some switches are much less visibly different, and I would guess that the woman and her male parts are in close communication, and switch fluidly and easy between each other. They seem to have a good balance of sharing and cooperation, and while their roles are very different, there seems to be a strong level of comfort and familiarity with each other.
I would ask, in this case, if the necklace and female shirt area represent the sexual parts. While there is the obvious female statement, my guess is that the emphasis on the bright chest area indicates that some parts inside have a strong sense of sexuality. Or, the white color could mean the opposite – a numbing or lack of feeling. Either which way, this is an issue that should be explored with this dissociative system.
It is important to note that the kneeling knee and the bare foot are on the same side as the female / sexual parts of this system. Putting these indicators of submission together with the chain necklace could symbolize some history in sex slavery. This is a difficult topic, so ask questions gently.
As always, please remember that my guesses and interpretations of this DID artwork could be completely wrong. However, please take the ideas as presented, as use them in the ways that fit for you. Let these ideas create questions for you as you explore your own art, or the art of your clients.
Kathy Broady LCSW
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
March 8, 2010
This set of picture-postcards demonstrates a passage through time for a trauma survivor with dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD).
These pictures show different phases of the dissociative healing process, and illustrate how healing occurs. Notice that they move from a more shattered, painful, chaotic place to a calmer, structured, organized place. Where there is originally nothing but a fragmented sense of self, there later becomes a clear sense of personal identity.
The first picture-postcard has a mixture of colored pieces of all different shapes and sizes. Some pieces are more jagged, some are rounded. The mosaic nature of this design would automatically lead to many of the same questions as asked about the DID “Self Portrait” picture. For example, I would ask what the different colors represented, what the different shapes represented, if there was communication (or not) between the different pieces, if the black stitching between the colored blocks had a specific meaning, etc.
For this top picture, there are two specific shapes that I would ask more questions about. There is a definite triangle that points upward and spreads out down towards the bottom of the picture. Triangles can have a variety of meanings, and I would like to hear what this DID artist had in mind. The triangle also has layers to it. Does this have anything to do with the internal system layering?
For example, in the triangle shape that I see, the top two layers are yellow, followed by a green / blue layer, followed by a black layer, followed by a red layer. The placement of these colors could be purely metaphorical or accidental, but I could see this layering as representing important system functions and emotions.
A purely hypothetical system description could include the following ideas. The yellow layers are the happy front parts – the façade layers, the denial parts, the “I’m fine, nothing is wrong here” type of system parts. The blues and the greens could be parts of the system that know a lot of information, do a lot of the everyday work / functioning jobs of the system, etc. These parts know plenty of the historical trauma information but have to keep helping everyone manage life. They can feel some emotions, but work hard to not get overwhelmed or overloaded with emotions. The black layer could be a layer of depression, sadness, grief, anger, or amnesia, dissociated information, deeper internal controls, etc. The red layer could be more intense amounts of pain, anger, fury, trauma information, details about the abuse, etc.
The second shape that could have particular relevance is the large black shape with the blue tip. These pieces have an obvious phallic appearance to them. I would ask the artist if they intended this to be the case (chances are, they hadn’t even noticed that!), and then I would ask them questions pertaining to sexual abuse issues. If this symbol does specifically represent sexual abuse, it is clear how the abuse has been such a huge part of their lives. Just like this black piece is, in some ways, the foundational piece of the whole picture, it might feel like the sexual abuse has been the defining issue in this person’s life.
I see a lot of pain in this picture. The artist does not give the sense of happiness, of calmness peace of mind. The jagged pointy edges remind me of cutting, and I would be asking a lot of questions about self-injury.
There has been clear movement from the first picture to the second. Notice how the like colors are starting to get grouped closer together, creating a more cohesive look. There is much more green in this picture, and while the real meaning of that depends on how the artist interprets the colors, to me, it represents a lot of growth. I see a lot of progress being made in this picture. The trauma survivor has clearly been working on their healing issues, and they have been doing a lot of dissociative system work. Things are starting to come together for them.
In phase two, to me, the person is still feeling broken and dissociated, but she is not nearly as overwhelmed with the pain as before. The blue can seen as representing the teamwork efforts being accomplished by the internal system. There are still some missing chunks of time (as seen in the gaps of the blue), but the dissociative person is truly building good internal communication and has built solid connections between the internal parts. This dissociative person is starting to find herself, and she is building a sense of self-esteem, self-worth, and self-identity. As a system, they are definitely doing good work!
There are still several big jagged sharp points, possibly indicating a lot of pain, upset, questions, intense feelings, etc. The phallic shaped pieces in this picture are more obvious, which could be interpreted to mean that the DID artist is clearly addressing their sexual abuse issues. This survivor is aware of the sexual abuse issues, and the healing their sexual abuse trauma is the center of their healing work. While the trauma is still prominent, it is not overwhelming them as much as it used to. They aren’t finished with their healing, but they are making excellent progress. There is less black, and more brown, which feels to me like this person is becoming aware of more and more of the information related to their trauma. They “aren’t in the dark” as much as they used to be and life is feeling much more hopeful.
Even with all the progress, I would still ask this survivor about their suicidal feelings. The sharp points are very painful, and while the survivor may not be using self-injury behaviors as much, they may still have intense moments of suicidal ideation. It appears they are building good coping skills, and not in as high risk of following through with these suicidal thoughts, but the feelings are still there from time to time.
This third picture represents the final stages of healing from dissociative identity disorder and sexual abuse. It is hopeful, and shows how everything is coming together for this person. Notice the strength of the center of the picture. All of the colors connect with the other colors and the ability to share information is accomplished easily. Time loss, time distortion, memory gaps are not likely to be a problematic issue anymore.
The C appears to represents the host of the system, or the main “front” person, the leader of the system, or who the person wants to be as a whole. Notice how the front is a whole self, and is clearly and firmly planted in front of any of the others. This C person is now confident as the leader of her system, and presents well out in the external world.
The internal system behind the C is cooperative, quiet, calm, organized, peaceful, etc. The ability to work together, and provide information to the front C self, seems abundantly clear.
I would ask this survivor if the colors still represent the same things as they did in the earlier pictures. The meanings may or may not have changed at this point.
What I see is that the survivor is more aware of all the things she feels. C doesn’t dissociate like she used to anymore. For example, if the red still represents her pain or anger, C is aware of having those feelings, and she can acknowledge their existence, sitting with them, without letting them overtake her, or without having to dissociate them away. C has built the ability to connect with her intense feelings, and this is an incredible accomplishment. C might have times of dark depression or sadness, for example, but again, these moments do not overtake her ability to live her life as she wants it to be.
Notice that there is no obvious phallic shaped symbol in this picture-postcard. The trauma issues are resolved in a much more quiet way, and while C knows about her past, the idea of being a sexual abuse survivor doesn’t have to be the center of her life anymore. She has been able to resolve many of her trauma issues, and lay these to rest, moving on with her life.
The front of the C is facing the yellow and greens, indicating growth, progress, healing, movement, happiness, and enjoying life. C is moving forward into better times! The darkness and pain are more behind her (the black, red and brown are towards the back of the C). While life is probably never going to be perfect for this person, she is hopeful, and she is doing well.
The Moral of the Story
Will C create a fourth picture-postcard?
We’ll have to ask her!
The point of these wonderful hand-made picture postcards is obvious. The healing process for dissociative identity disorders works. It helps. Trauma survivors lives can become better. Healing does happen. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of time, but you really can feel better, and have an improved quality of life.
Take the point from C – if she can do it, you can too!
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
March 6, 2010
Here is the next picture in the series about DID artwork.
Even the title of this painting indicates dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD).
Masks are a common metaphor used by the dissociative survivor. In this picture, where are the masks? What are the masks covering? What does the “real” person, or the rest of the person look like? Where are the others in the system? Are they hiding behind the mask too? If there was no mask, what would we see?
The dual nature of the picture is strong and complex.
I’ve purposefully picked this picture to follow the blog previous picture, as a further example of the left vs. right split within many dissociative trauma survivors.
The most obvious element in this picture about dissociative disorders is how the person is divided into at least two distinctly different people. The left side of the face is different from the right side of the face. It might be that this person feels divided down the center into two different parts, or two different systems with different internal worlds. This visible division is an important issue to discuss with the artist.
The hairstyle, while similar, is not the same on each side. Besides the color difference, notice how the red side is curlier, wilder, appears to be longer, and comes closer to the front. The red hair covers more of the face, specifically blocking the right cheek, part of the right eye and the right edge of the mouth. System-wise, who wears the red hair, versus who owns the yellow? In the places where the colors are little mixed, what does that indicate?
The red hair seems a little more unruly or wild than the blond. Are the ones on the red side more angry? Do they feel more intensely? Do they feel more out of control? Are they in more pain? Yet, the red hair side is the one that covers more of the face, so does that side have more to hide? Do they have more secrets? Or does this side control what is or isn’t said?
When you look at this person, which side do you notice first? To me, the red-hair side seems to be more prominent. The colors are brighter, and the hair is bigger, and it is more forward than the yellow side. What is that about? Are these red system parts more visible than the other parts? Which side is more active than the other?
The yellow is still strong. What does it mean? How does it feel differently than the red?
Does the light red / pinkish-colored hair on the top of the head have any significance? It is a blending / mix of the blond and red? Does that color represent a unique system group? Are these parts that bridge the red and blond in some ways? Can they communicate with both sides? Who can do that?
Notice the two different eye colors, along with the two differently angled eyebrows. The blue eye is noticeably darker and heavier in appearance than the green eye. What do the two different colors represent? Who looks out the green eye, and who looks out the blue eye?
These eyes have the appearance of black eyes. Are these eyes indicators of having been beaten up? Has this person experienced a lot of physical violence? Have there been other kinds of violence? What violence has she seen?
There are big white spots in the center of both eyes. They may look like normal reflection spots, but examine that further. What do they indicate? In some ways, these spots make the person look dissociated, or staring, or in a trance-state. How does this relate to the artist-survivor? How often do they switch? How often do they feel ungrounded?
If you look closely, the eyes have color on the right edge, and the white is more on the left side of the pupil area. What does this indicate? Does the person see half of what happens, and dissociate the other half of what happens? Do some parts remember what they see, while others white it out? Who knows, versus who doesn’t know? Explore these ideas.
There is a blank emptiness to the eyes, and in some ways, the eyes show sadness. What is this about? What emotion do you see connected to the eyes? What feelings does the survivor have?
The nose, while drawn like a normal nose, has the shadow on the same side as the darker eye and the darker hair. Is this shadow simply artistic? Possibly so, but it is worth including in as an element of the discussion of the left side vs. right side differences.
Look at the mouth. A significant portion of the mouth is covered and hidden, indicating there may be secrets being kept. The lips appear to be pretty tightly closed – maybe even tense – indicating silence, or just not talking, and little appearance of feeling comfortable with speaking. What is this mouth not allowed to say? Why is the hair covering that side of the mouth? What does that side of the DID system know about that they aren’t talking about?
Notice the subtle line drawn horizontally across the base of the neck. What is the purpose of that line? Is it the neckline of a shirt? Is it an indication of being choked or other neck-related trauma? Is it another indicator of how the head get dissociated away from the body? So many DID trauma survivors separate their heads from their bodies, or feel disconnected from their bodies, to this line could be an indicator of that. Explore that more, in case it is.
The background behind the face is also divided into two different designs. What do the two different backgrounds represent? One side is purple with small black lines, and the other is black with purple curvy lines. What do these colors and designs represent? Are they indicative of trauma or intense feelings? Ask a variety of questions about these designs. They are telling a story. I don’t know this survivor, but the background indicates that there is good reason to ask this survivor about having experienced shock trauma.
What is the overall emotion and feeling you see when you look at this picture? I see sadness, pain, some anger, a heaviness, and a lot of trauma. This dissociative survivor very likely has a lot of abuse stories yet to talk about.
I wish her the best in her healing journey.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
February 20, 2010
This picture is an example of an internal landscape for a trauma survivor with dissociative identity disorder. Internal worlds are very real, and they sometimes feel more real than the external world for certain parts. Internal worlds are more than having an imagination. They are interactive, busy, alive places.
Some survivors with DID have trouble looking inside. Many people say they can hear things, but it looks black inside. Even if you cannot see inside, there will be others in your system who can see your internal worlds. Try communicating with them, and as you build positive rapport with these other parts of your system, they may be willing to let you see what they see.
Becoming more familiar with your internal worlds is an important part of internal communication and getting to know the other parts inside. Internal worlds are like internal homes. They provide a type of internal community for your system insiders.
Think about how much harder it would be to get to know various people in a work office setting if you couldn’t see the different areas, the different cubicles, the different desk locations. If there were a dozen people in that area but the lights were off, or in curtains were drawn, it would be much more difficult to connect with the people that were there. Seeing each other helps. Seeing where each other is also helps.
Getting to know the internal locations of your insiders is equally important. When you see where someone lives, you learn a lot about them.
Please note: It is extremely important to keep the details of your internal world private to only the most trusted people in your life. This kind of information is personal, and if you give away too much info about your internal worlds to someone who has less than noble intentions, you could be putting your system at risk.
With cautions in mind, here is a picture that represents a portion of an internal landscape.
When I look at this picture, if I was speaking to the dissociative person, I would ask:
- Can you tell me about this place? And this place? And this place? I would ask the person to describe the different structures to help me understand the importance of each location. Since the inside worlds can be whatever you want it to be, it can be important to hear why you have those specific things.
- What is this yellow triangle thing? Where did you get the idea to build this kind of place in your internal world? What does it represent? What are those circle things and why are they connected together?
- Who lives here? And who lives here? And who lives here? Each separate location / building / structure can be the ‘home’ of someone in the system.
- Do the neighbors all get to speak and interact with each other? Why or why not? Can the people in these areas always hear what is going on in these other areas? Why or why not?
- I see the little worlds. Each of these circles looks like it could be its own little world of people. What groups of your insiders are connected to these areas? Can you tell me more about these?
- Do these colors have any specific meaning to you?
- Part of your internal world looks bright and cheery. Part of it looks dark and heavy. How does that match with your experience of what your internal worlds are like?
- Who in your system is allowed to go through these doors? What are the rules for who can go through them vs. who cannot? What does it look like on the other side of these doors?
- What is the purpose of having a lake in your internal world? How does it help you to feel better? What have lakes meant to you in your outside life?
- I see the clear blue sky in a distance. Why is the blue sky so far away? What is over there at the horizon point? What is making the rainbow so much heavier and prominent than the sky? What does that mean to you?
- The trees on the island appear to be separated from the other structures. Do the insiders that live on the island have to stay separate from the others? Are the people able to cross to the other section? Do these people know those people?
- What are the brown leaf-type shapes on the left edge? What do they represent?
- If this is a picture of your internal world, where are the people? What are they doing? Do you see other insiders when you look at these places?
- How has your internal world changed over time? What has remained constant? What has changed? Do you know what was going on in your life when the changes occurred? Are there any changes that you would like to make to your internal worlds at this point in time of your life?
- When your internal worlds look like this, how do you feel?
- How much time do you spend looking inside at these worlds? How easy is it for you to see this? Does anything ever block your view of these areas?
- How real do these internal worlds feel to you?
Kathy Broady LCSW
February 19, 2010
In a previous blog post, I made a request for artwork about Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID / MPD). Sometimes it is easier to describe experiences through images than through words.
I send a special thank you to the different dissociative trauma survivors who have been willing to contribute to this project. I will add various pictures and related comments as I receive them.
For “Self Portrait”, notice the number of different parts. Clearly, this person is polyfragmented (they have lots of insiders!) and each part is completely unique and different from the others in the system. If I were speaking to this person about their picture, I would ask the following questions:
- I see over a dozen different colors. What do each of these colors represent to you? Which colors are you most comfortable with? Which colors are the most anxiety-provoking for you? Please explain why.
- What does the one white piece near the center mean to you? Why is it placed there?
- What does the grouping of red pieces in the center mean to you? Why are they placed there?
- Why are the three red parts able to sit closely together when most of the other colors do not sit next to each other? How does this relate to your inner system?
- What does the outer pinkish border represent? Does this color represent your external host? What keeps this part of you from mingling more with the others inside?
- I see black outlines separating most of the different pieces from each other. What kind of barriers do these represent in your system? Which barriers represent complete separation / time loss from the other parts?
- Can the parts next to each other communicate together? Who can talk to who?
- Can the parts on opposite sides of this portrait communicate together? Do they know each other exists when they are so far apart?
- When you look at this picture, who do you know? How many of the other insiders are you familiar with?
- Do the various parts of the same coloring, even if scattered throughout your system portrait, have the ability to communicate with each other?
- Some parts are larger in size than others. What does that represent to you? Does the size of the part represent age? Power? Presence?
- What do you feel when you look at this picture? What do you hear from inside when you are looking at this picture?
- What can you say about the bigger black spots? Do they represent a “black group”? Does the black represent a not-knowing who or what is there?
- Are these parts fluid? Do they move from place to place? Do they stay exactly where they are? Please explain more about that.
- Is that brown heart an on-purpose heart shape? What does that particular piece mean to you? Are there reasons for any of the other specific shapes of the different pieces?
- What kind of system cooperation / internal communication did you experience while you were making this picture?
- What are you hearing from inside as I ask you all these questions? (lol, one can safely assume that the inside will have plenty to say by this point!)
So much system work can be accomplished through just this one picture.
Kathy Broady LCSW
February 18, 2010
What is it like to live with dissociative identity disorder?
How does it feel to have dissociative identity disorder?
What do you wish others could understand about DID?
Have you found it hard to put the experience of dissociative identity disorder into words?
Sometimes pictures say a thousand words.
Dissociative Identity Disorder can be hard to explain in words, but a visual image can show what is hard to explain otherwise. Have you drawn or created some pictures that show how DID / MPD feels?
If you have a picture — a drawing, a painting, a collage — that represents DID as you relate to it, and if you are willing to share your picture, I would like to show some of those images here in this blog as a way to help describe DID.
What to do:
If you have some appropriate images that you would like to share, please send them to my email address: Info @ AbuseConsultants.com (remove the spaces). If there are words or a story that goes along with your image about dissociation, please include that as well. You can request that your submission be posted with or without an identifying name / title, etc.
Please do not submit any copyrighted material from other sources or any other material that is not your own.
Please do not send the only copy or the original copy of your pictures or artwork to my mailing address. Send scans or photos of the pictures only. Please note: anything that is submitted for consideration in this project will not be returned.
Personal details regarding internal system information or system maps will not be posted, in order to protect individuals and their system from the potential risk of making that information public.
When you are considering which pictures to submit, please remember that you are responsible for determining what you are comfortable sharing and what is too personal for you to share. Please listen to and respect your own feelings in this regard.
Keep in mind that the Discussing Dissociation blog is an online environment, and you are submitting your pictures or images for consideration as part of a public post. Please understand that once a picture is posted on a blog, it is publically visible to anyone in the world with internet and could potentially be copied by anyone that views it. If you choose to submit a picture, you are accepting all responsibility for what happens with your picture as a public item. Kathy Broady / AbuseConsultants.com are not responsible.
The Purpose of this Project
Please know that I will not personally know these artists nor will I be familiar with their systems or how things work for them. In the blog articles, I will ask questions and interpret some DID system issues by the way things were drawn, but not because I am familiar with the people in real life. My guesses might be wrong! I am simply looking at these pictures and presenting some of my thought about how DID can be seen and more deeply understood by paying attention to artwork and drawings.
In a therapeutic setting, I would of course, ask the survivors to explain their art before I began presenting some of my own interpretations. However, for the purposes of this blog, I will present some of my thoughts without having had the opportunity to speak with the artist directly.
The intention is to provide education information for those working with dissociative disorders – to point out possibilities of dissociative issues within artwork – to explore options about system interpretation, etc.
My interpretations may or may not be correct — only the artist will know that. The artists are not required to nor expected to provide the “correct” interpretation of their work to me or to the readers of this blog as their privacy is important.
However, for the purposes of discussing elements of dissociation, I will be speaking openly even without knowing if my comments are accurate or not.
Thank you for your willingness to participate in this project!
I look forward to seeing what DID looks like to you!
Kathy Broady LCSW