September 10, 2012
Recently, I had a conversation asking the question whether the insiders in a dissociative system should be called parts or people. And now, after recently reading Insomniac’s cute comment to me about that very same topic, I’ve decided to make a quick, informal post about it. I’m interested in hearing what the rest of you think about this topic.
Of course, the official “politically correct” term is probably parts. Well, maybe it’s still “officially” supposed to be alters, but yuck. Personally, I really dislike the term alters, and I really don’t use it often – it’s not a comfortable term in my opinion. Nope. It has too many other implications for me, and I just don’t go there very often. But the word parts – that one I have used many times.
However…. It is true, that when I get to know people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID / MPD), and I get to know their insiders, those inside people become exactly that to me — people. DID people are people with a lot of people. I don’t see the insiders as “parts” anymore. I see them, experience them, interact with them, relate to them, remember them, refer to them just like they are people in their own right. Real people. Not a part of one someone. A group of individual someones.
For right, or for wrong – that is how it feels.
I realize this is probably not at all the expected “mental health professional” stance on describing dissociative systems. It’s not an intellectual approach. This is a statement about what the experience is like for me when I meet you all.
So yes, to me, insiders are like people. They are people that share a body, but they are people, many of whom are easily recognized as their own person within the group of people.
Inside people very much have their own voice. They have their own presentation, their own thoughts, beliefs, memories, feelings, body sensations, facial gestures, perceptions, clothing, jobs, etc etc. They can each make the same body look very different (that’s so fascinating to me!). They have their own eyes, their own way of sitting, their own way of walking. They have their own way of speaking and their own way of writing. They become their own selves. And in a way that they are not parts of any one someone, but more like they are important members of a group.
Groups are one, but the groups are filled full of lots of different individuals. Each of these individuals will have their own unique reason for being part of the group, and the whole of the group is completely flavored by the individuals that belong to it.
It is amazing to me that there are such differences between the people in a dissociative system. I realize that many of these differences are probably related to the differing demands being placed on the person as a whole at the time of creating each specific new insider, including some not-so-happy reasons to need to be somebody else. However, the basic ability to become somebody else (even to pretend to be somebody else) has got to be an incredible talent in itself – I know I can’t do that very well (and yes, I have tried, funny enough. I guess that’s why I’m not a Hollywood actress, lol.)
My hat is off to dissociative people who have created and developed highly sophisticated life skills at being different people.
It’s a rather awesome ability, if you ask me.
Copyright © 2008-2012 Kathy Broady 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
May 9, 2010
It’s Mother’s Day 2010.
Mother’s Day – it’s a hard day for a lot of dissociative trauma survivors. It’s a day full of mixed emotions, painful longings, unhealed heartbreak. This day hurts the people who were hurt so much by their mothers.
Mothers are a complicated subject, to say the least, and the impact a mother can have on her children can and does change their lives. Abusive or neglectful mothers can teach some very damaging life lessons. Their children will carry those scars for decades of time.
I’ve seen this over and over with the DID survivors I work with. Years later, the ways their mother treated them affects so much of their life – maybe even more than they realize. People who were deeply wounded by their mothers often cannot view other maternal figures (Including other female authority figures) without getting confused in that relationship because of who their mother was. The crimes of the original mother spill over onto the relationship any children they might have, making it harder to be a good mother in their own life.
That original mother relationship affects how DID survivors see the world, how they experience people, what they believe about themselves, what they believe about the world around them, and how they interpret others. It is very central to the very core of their being.
Working with mother-transference issues is one of the hardest parts of being a DID therapist. It is the area where the therapeutic relationship is at its most tender. It is the most vulnerable place. It is the spot where issues and feelings can get messed with by people who wish harm upon that therapeutic relationship.
To explain this, let me start from further back.
For example, I was blessed to have a very good mother and she taught me a lot of valuable life lessons. She wasn’t perfect, but she was and is about as close to perfect as one could ever hope for in a mother. She is kind, loving, compassionate, caring, generous with her time, good with children, full of wisdom, patient, gentle, and self-less in so many incredible ways. She has been an example to me for how to interact with people, especially with children. My mother is non-judgmental, and she is willing to dig in and help anyone that she meets. She is a beautiful soul, and she leaves a positive impact wherever she goes.
Yes, my mother has taught me a lot. And almost all of what she has taught me has been good. I do much of what I do because I had an incredible mother who taught me to be kind to others.
Those that spend time with me will see this in my work with them. They will see that kindness, acceptance, gentleness, and generosity in what I do. They will reap the benefits of what my mother gave to me as I pass that on to those that I work with.
So what makes that so hard?
If I am pulling from a good place, what makes mother issues so complicated and difficult to work with?
It’s because not everyone can interpret today’s kindness as genuine kindness. The past wrinkles in and rolls up into the present, and the present becomes twisted into the past in an emotional kind of way.
Sometimes the damage done to trauma survivors confuses kindness with abuse. Sometimes the damage done by an abusive or neglectful mother is so pervasive that it colors all acts done by other females, and the perspective becomes so tainted that nothing is seen clearly. Female therapists are seen through the perspectives of “mother figures will abuse me”, “mother figures will hate me”, “mother figures will think I’m bad”, “mother figures will abandon me”, “mother figures are to be hated”, etc.
When trauma survivors truly believe, in their deepest selves, that women are there to abuse them, it is not an easy job to overcome that belief. The fear is too huge. The expectation of horrible doesn’t end. The fearful expectation of abuse can often overtake everything else.
Frequently the pain-anger-guilt-shame at not having a good mother can get thrown at the female therapist, and displaced and projected onto her as a safe place to express such deep heart-wrenching emotions. Therapeutically, this is expected to happen, and the goal is to work through that in a healing way. Most therapists and clients understand that, and will work through it as a team. It can be done, and when it is, very deep healing can occur.
However, sometimes trauma survivors get a little messed up along their journey. They truly get confused in this area, and understandably so. It’s an emotionally complex point, and trauma survivors are extremely vulnerable in this place. And because of those vulnerabilities, they can be easily misguided. They can get easily confused over who is the “good mother transference figure” and who is not. They listen to poor advice, or bad rumors, or are too unwilling to let go of their fears in order to heal. They stay convinced that women are out to get them, and they quickly join in with thinking that female therapists are abusive.
This breaks my heart.
I found it horrifically sad that some trauma survivors are willing to hold onto such beliefs that they would bring harm to themselves and to others. This only continues the cycle of abuse. It is not about healing. It is destructive.
(Yes, there are a few female therapists who are harmful to their clients, but those are few are far between, and those are not the people I am writing about in this particular article. That’s a completely different topic, to be discussed another day.)
This article is about genuinely good therapists who are mistaken as the “bad mother”. This article is about finding ways to heal from your abuse. It is about finding a woman of kindness, and not confusing her with your not-so-kind mother. It is about recognizing the differences, and not being pulled into old fears, old beliefs, and old ways, just because they are more familiar to you.
It is about learning to recognize someone that can be positive, helpful, and kind to you, and to your inner children. It is allowing that healing to occur. It is keeping clear on what happens in the present, and not distorting it or twisting it into something negative from your past.
It does not help your healing to project your “bad mother issues” onto a good therapist and then stay stuck in that spot. It only confuses you, and it prevents your healing. It brings harm to you and your system to stay stuck there.
Your female therapist can and will teach you something very different from what your mother taught you. Don’t assume the two women will be the same, because they will not be. Don’t project so much of your abusive past onto your current day therapist that you cannot see who she really is. Work hard at recognizing true kindness and gentleness for what it is.
Let yourself and your inner child parts have those corrective emotional experiences with a kind therapist and don’t let anyone mess with that. If you let someone distort those experiences – if you let someone convince you that something was abusive when it wasn’t — then you have brought emotional pain to your inner world that didn’t need to happen. If you weren’t abused, don’t let yourself believe that you were just because that is more familiar. Separate the past from the present.
Haven’t you been hurt enough? Why add to that?
It is important to try to believe that women are not out to get you. Female therapists are not here to harm you. What your mother taught you can apply to her, but it really and truly does not have to apply to everyone else. Your mother may have been cruel, cold, uncaring and abusive towards you. But not everyone will be. Not everyone wants to be.
Don’t assume the worst, and please don’t treat other women as if they did what your mother did.
It is very hard for trauma survivors to come to terms with these truths. But the sooner you do, the sooner you will find that place of genuine healing.
Don’t let the harmful lessons that your abusive or neglectful mother taught you ruin or destroy any more of your life. You truly can heal from the hurt and the trauma that you went through – I promise!
There are lots of good, helpful, kind, compassionate, caring women out here in the world. I encourage you to be one of them.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
August 18, 2009
Welcome to the second half of “Depression and Dissociative Identity Disorder”. The first seven tips have been previously posted. At this point in time, I will continue with the list of tips for how to specifically address chronic depression for trauma survivors with DID:
8. As the memories surface, feelings will also surface. Expressing genuine emotion is key to working through depression. Crying tears of grief, screaming out in anger, quivering in fear may not feel comfortable, but holding these very real and intense emotions deep within will create long-term depression. Allowing these emotions to come out safely and appropriately – even if years after the original point of acquiring these emotions – will help.
9. In the appropriate time, let other parts of your dissociative system know about the information that was held by the depressed parts. Overcoming the dissociative barriers by sharing that information between the system parts is critical in your long-term healing. The more that your internal system shares with each other, the more you all can work together towards healing. The full story line does not have to be shared immediately with everyone. However, keeping pockets of dissociated information will continue to create an underlying cause for chronic depression.
10. Your feelings will need lots and lots of processing time. Talk, cry, draw, write, vocalize what you are feeling as many hours and hours over time as you feel these feelings. If you have been holding your emotions in for years of time, it will take oodles of time for these feelings to be worked through. Talking about it once or twice won’t be enough. Pushing feelings back down into non-expression will create more depression. While it will be very new territory to learn how to express your feelings, it is a necessary step.
11. Learn new rules about the expression of feelings. For example, in the past, when you were at risk of being hurt by your perpetrators, you most likely learned that it was not safe to express anger towards those that violently abused you. And yes, in that time frame, when you were likely to express direct injury from your perpetrators, it was safest for you to push those angry feelings deep within. At that time, that was a good decision. However, once you are away from your perpetrators, and the risk of ongoing abuse is no longer prominent, it is both essential and ok to express anger at your perpetrators’ atrocious, criminal behavior. Your healing will require that you remember to adjust with your changing circumstances, including creating new rules for expression
12. Learn to direct your anger at an appropriate target, even if that means starting with a “generic” unnamed target. Talk with your therapist about the variety of anger-expression techniques that allow your anger to be vocalized without creating harm to anyone else. Learning to express your feelings does not give you permission to take it out on whoever is there. The more you can express your anger directly towards the perpetrators that harmed you, the more effective it will be. Likewise, misdirecting your anger towards the wrong target (ie: someone who was not responsible for your abuse or injuries), will only create more problems for you, and will harm a lot of innocent people in the process. For example, getting angry with your children or your therapist will not resolve the anger you feel towards your parents.
13. As a continuation of tip #12, be willing to learn specifically about transference, projection, displacement of emotion, etc. Survivors who have had years of repressed emotion due to duress and abuse will truly need to practice expressing their emotions properly, and will need to learn when they are misdirecting their emotions. All survivors that were not allowed to express anger directly naturally learned to displace any display of anger in sideward ways. Realize that you will continue to get this mixed up for awhile. Be very aware that you might first take your anger out on safer targets. These mistakes are to be expected, and not a “fault” of yours, but it is still your responsibility to learn more accurate skills. Making the mistake of blaming the wrong person will only add to your depression. It will leave the deeper feelings unprocessed, unaddressed, and unhealed, thereby creating the foundation for ongoing depression and pain.
14. Replace the years of trauma and abuse with your own preferred people and activities that you enjoy. Once your life is full of happier, more meaningful things, you won’t feel as depressed. This probably will not happen quickly or easily, and you might have to learn how to live again. It might feel like you are learning to live for the very first time. You might have to learn how to love, or how to experience joy, or how to play, or how to forgive, or how to explore, etc. The more you can fill your life with activities of your own choosing, the less depressed you will feel.
15. Be sure to encourage all of your insiders to have their own individual healing process. Let each of them work through their own traumas, their own feelings, and let each of them find new and more positive interests in life. As each individual part of you experiences less depression, the whole of you will experience less depression. If you let only some parts heal, the whole of you will still be affected by the parts that were not given the chance to work through their healing. Remember, as split and divided as you might feel, you are still all connected within the same one body and the same one brain. To truly overcome depression, all of your insiders need the chance to overcome their pain.
Depression can be very debilitating.
Healing your trauma issues will be fundamental to overcoming the effects of the chronic depression.
In other words, in my opinion, you will continue to struggle with depression if you have unresolved trauma issues. If your dissociative symptoms have a significant negative impact on your ability to function, the liklihood of your having a significant level of major depression (MDD) is also present.
It is true that there may be other reasons for your depression in addition to trauma. (Please note: those topics were not addressed in this blog).
However, it is safe to assume that if you have unresolved trauma issues, you will most likely have chronic depression. And, the less unresolved trauma in your life, the less depression you’ll experience.
So….. get to work on addressing your DID / trauma issues. You’ll feel better for it!!
Kathy Broady LCSW
February 11, 2009
As I’ve said over and over in this blog, internal communication – people within the DID system talking to each other – is absolutely central and crucial to the healing process. The inside parts need to hear each other, talk to each other, see each other, write to each other, etc. The more you all talk amongst yourselves, the better your healing journey will progress.
Addressing and finding problem issues as they surface via the internal landscape is another key element in the healing process. This involves an intense level of system interaction that can feel very real and be very powerful. Looking inside and finding the visual manifestations of the problem issues makes for a quick way to understand what is happening for you.
For example, if you have a strong urge to self-injure, and yet you don’t quite know where that is coming from or how to control the compulsions, look inside to your internal world and see who is demonstrating that pull towards self-harm.
Do you see someone inside that is holding a weapon? Do you see someone inside who is internally doing harm to her inside body or threatening to hurt someone else within the system?
When you can see who it is in your system that is containing the feelings, urges, and beliefs about doing self-harm and internally acting it out at that precise moment in time, you can address the problem more specifically. Problem-solve with those specific insiders about the their desires to self-injure, and find other ways to meet their specific needs.
Or, as a second example, if you are feeling an overwhelming sadness and you do not know why, look inside and see who it is in your inside world that is demonstrating and expressing that sadness and despair. If you feel like you need to cry (and yet those feelings really aren’t “yours” to claim), look around in your system and see who is crying. When you can visually see who is feeling so sad, you can then make some decisions about how to comfort the one that is crying.
Do you see a little girl crying in the corner? Is she hiding in a closet or under the bed? Do you know why she is crying? Do you know who she is? Look around till you find where she is, talk gently to her, give her a teddy bear or a blanket or a hug, and find out what the problem is. As you learn more about what is bothering her, reassure her that you will do something to help fix the problem, comfort her and address her needs the same as you would if you saw a real child crying.
Here’s another for instance. If you are having the kind of week where you find that you are really really having trouble eating, and you really don’t know what that is about but you know you feel like starving yourself, look inside for clues. Who do you see close to you that is in full agreement with actively starving themselves? Is your anorexic part pulled near the front? Is your anorexic part having a bigger struggle than usual during that week for some reason? What is going on with her? If you approach her, and speak to her, you might be able to understand what is bothering her so much at the current time. Once you start talking with her, you can probably find a solution to the issue that is more effective than self-starvation.
Any time you feel something prominent happening in your external everyday life and you can’t quite figure out what it’s about, look inside for clues. Literally, look. Go inside and look. What do you see? Chances are, someone within your inside world will be intensely feeling those very same things and will be visually showing that when you look in their general direction.
The intensity of internal feelings or desired behaviors will be rippling out to the front of the system from the insiders deeper within your system. They may or may not be literally presenting in the outside worlds, but the intensity of their issues can still strongly affect how you present-behave-feel in the outside world. In essence, their issues can overflow onto you, and you end up feeling what they are feeling, even when the issue actually belongs to them.
Become familiar enough with your internal worlds and friendly enough with your insiders to make checking in with them an easy process on a regular basis. Check with them frequently, repeatedly, in an ongoing kind of way. As you are familiar with the “norm”, you will more quickly recognize the changes that happen along the way.
Learn to identify problems by what you can see from your system, instead of staying stuck in the outside world being clueless as to why a certain emotion or behavior has suddenly become so prominent for you. If you can feel it, but you can’t claim it as “yours”, then it’s coming from someone within your system. Even if they can’t tell you what is happening, they can often show you. So — the more you look inside, and the more you can see of your internal people and see what they are doing, the better you can understand the source of any problems. An accurate assessment of the problem is necessary before you can accurately problem-solve.
Looking closely at your internal world will provide a wealth of information for you.
What is your internal world telling you today?
What are your insiders showing you?
By: Kathy Broady LCSW