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
February 24, 2010
Here is yet another unique view of dissociative identity disorder.
“How I View My Head”
Isn’t this an interesting picture!
It almost looks three-dimensional. Very cool!
Once again, please remember, I’ll be writing out some of my thoughts without having conversations with the artist. I am presenting these thoughts for educational purposes only, and my guesses or impressions could be wrong. If I were speaking to the artist for real, I would certainly be asking questions instead of first voicing my comments. However, for the purposes of discussing elements of dissociation, I will be speaking openly even without knowing if my comments are accurate or not.
So if a trauma survivor with a dissociative disorder presented this artwork to me in a therapy session, my thoughts would include:
The first impression I see is the complicated twisting, turning, and complexity of issues. I can see that the journey has not been easy, and there have been many difficult points along the way. I see some smooth pathways, but the overlapping, tangled blocks and obstacles are prominent.
There’s a lot of movement and activity in this picture. What’s happening? Where’s everyone going? How chaotic does it feel inside your head? Everything except the one-inch strip on the right edge feels busy and intense. How did the area on the right become calmer? What can you say about these differences?
I am assuming that the bottom left, with the swirls of green and yellow is the front of the head, with the doors being like the beginning of the hairline. From this perspective, the doors and pathways back have the appearance of being like hair blowing in the wind. This is a cool layering of the picture as it gives of feel of the outer head as well as the inner head.
My first impression of the doors is that they represent different insiders with the big doors being adults and the little doors being younger child parts. The doors could also represent different struggles in life, or different events that created a set of parts in the overall system, with each group having their own life pathways and life experiences separate from the others. Maybe there are upstairs / downstairs layers to this system. The upper / lower doors could represent all kinds of things if that was the case. What do you think the sets of double doors represent?
When you open the doors, what do you see behind each of the doors? When can the doors be opened, and who can open them? Are the doors locked? Can anyone open them?
Is there significance to the number of doors? If so, how?
Do the pathways represent memories or the life events of particular system parts? When the pathways are separate and on their own, are those times when the life-events were not shared with others in the system? Does the information on these pathways get shared with others or not? Each pathway has splotches of darker color, or alternating light / dark colorings. What do these splotches of color represent? Does the light / dark coloring represent the conflict and struggles of your system? For example, do you have some system parts that are “light side” parts, vs. others that are “dark side” parts? How do these pathways demonstrate those internal conflicts?
Notice the various crossing points of the pathways. What is the significance of these points? These places where the pathways cross and overlap might represent times when life experiences, memories, and events were shared between the different parts of the system. The overlap could represent times of co-consciousness and shared communication or conflicts between internal parts. At each point of overlap, the colors turn black. What does this mean?
Of course, I am going to ask about the meaning of the colors. Colors are typically important, and different survivors will connect different feelings / beliefs with various colors. With this picture, I would ask about the colors of each door and pathway, but I would also ask about the combination of colors. For example, why does the mustard / yellow doors have a pink pathway? Why does the pink / salmon doors have a green pathway? These color combinations could be relevant in some way. What do they mean to you?
The blue pathway coming out of the purple doors is different from the other paths. It is thinner and straighter, and has few splotches. Is there any meaning to this? Who takes this path?
Do the doors represent more about the outer world, while the pathways represent more about the inner worlds? The doors are brighter than most of the rest of the picture. If the doors represent what is seen to the public world, are the brightly colored, cheerful doors trying to hide the amount of darkness and depression hidden behind the doors?
Do system parts come out from behind the doors? If so, who comes out of each of the different doorways? If I were to see you when a “yellow door person” was presenting, how would that be different from when a “green door person” was presenting, vs. when a “purple door person” was presenting, etc.?
What are the black splotches all over the inner areas? Are they unknown areas? Are they scary memories? Are they insiders that cause problems or self-sabotage? Notice the black inner lining around the area where the black splotches are located. What does this black line represent? Is it a barrier of some sort? Does it block out awareness? If the black splotches are something of a negative or stressful nature, it is good to see that they are contained within a particular area of the inner world. The ability to contain the scary things into one area could be considered a personal strength.
What is the significance of the light faint black background? Does this represent feelings of depression, or low self-esteem, or unworthiness, or shame? Do you feel surrounded by the dark? Does it feel like darkness permeates your life? If so, what does this mean?
What does the light green door at the top represent? All the pathways lead to this place. It is representative of internal connection, blending, cooperation, or integration? It is the place of healing, hope, and health? Is the light green door the goal or a destination?
The light green door is surrounded (protected?) by a similar layering of green and yellow squiggles as at the opposite corner of the picture. What do these repeated colors represent? How do these squiggles protect the green door?
This top corner looks safer, happier, and more peaceful than the rest of the picture. Does the light green door represent the way so many survivors describe a floating away, up to a corner of the room during times of abuse? Does it represent a state of dissociation? Does the light green door represent the part of your internal system who has been kept separate from the trauma? Often times, there are certain parts that are blocked off and separated from the trauma, amnesiac and unaware of the abuse. Who resides behind that door?
The light green door has a window. It is the only door with a window. What does the window represent? Does someone from the other side of the door look out the window? Is the window for people on this side to see past the door?
There are so many interesting complexities to this picture.
What else do you see?
How do you view YOUR head?
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation