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
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
June 20, 2010
This weekend is often a difficult weekend for trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder. First, there is Father’s Day (for those of us living in the USA), and secondly, it’s the Summer Solstice. Anytime the difficult days get stacked on top of each other, it’s going to make for a complicated time.
On days when the issues seem to surface in layers, what do you do to cope?
(**This blog article is about difficult topics so it could be triggering – please pace yourself carefully and keep yourself safe.)
Father’s Day has many of the same emotional complications as was written about on Mother’s Day. The days proceeding are often full of painful memories, heartbreaking loss, fear, conflict, and upset. The vast majority of DID survivors have had abusive fathers, so the idea of celebrating fathers typically stirs up great turmoil.
The first day of summer, like all season changes, has relevance to those who have experienced difference forms of Ritual Abuse (RA). Many of the dark church organizations celebrate the seasonal changes and these so-called “celebrations” are full of trauma, abuse, gross activities, icky messes, scary events, etc. Survivors of these ordeals are often flooded with flashbacks, emotional distress and internal conflict during the times of season changes.
When you put the two of these highly emotional events together, dissociative survivors experience a lot of overwhelm. Some of the difficulties can include PTSD symptoms (nightmares, flashbacks, depersonalization, body memories, difficulties sleeping, irritability, feeling distant from others, etc.) and anxiety symptoms (panic attacks, excessive fears, heightened startle reflex, nausea, trembling, heart palpitations, headaches, obsessions, chest pain, etc), self-destructive thoughts, self-injury behaviors, suicidal ideation (pervasive thoughts about wanting to die), depression, tearfulness, or detached numbing. It’s probably been a miserable weekend for a lot of DID survivors.
Fathers that participate in dark church rituals are often not the kind of fathers that you find written about in Hallmark Cards. These are the kinds of fathers that prefer abusive activities, or that like sadistic pain, or have freaky and perverse sexual interests. They are difficult men who have caused a lot of hurt and pain for a lot of people, especially for their children.
And yet, even so, there are nearly always those parts within the DID system that feel loyalty and a deep bonding with the father figure. These parts are typically parts that have adopted some level of acceptance of the traumatic activities, and have long ago learned to tolerate the abuse or to even define it as anything but abuse.
DID survivors often manage abuse by their fathers by creating a father introject within the internal dissociative system. Father introjects are internal system parts that remember the father so well that they look-feel-sound-act-appear to the others inside as the same as the actual father. An internal introject may do the same kinds of abusive behaviors to the other parts of the system, recreating the same abusive patterns and feelings that the external father did. Since the internal world is so real to DID survivors, it can feel like the father is still there, still controlling things, still making all the decisions, still threatening harm, still causing harm.
And in many ways this can be true.
It can be difficult to separate who the external father is from the internal father introject. They can very much feel like mirror-images of each other, shadow replicas, and the child parts of the system will not be able to tell the difference between them.
But father introjects are NOT the actual father, no matter how much they may claim to be so. Father introjects actually belong to you. They split from you, they came from your mind, and they originated with you. They are actually part of you, and not part of the father. They may have been taught by the father, but they are actually yours.
However, they will be powerful parts of the internal system though so their power and influence is not to be ignored or minimized. It is more important to work with these parts, and reconnect their loyalty to the survivor person instead of to the father figure. This is an absolutely crucial part of the DID therapy process, and if you haven’t yet gained a safe working relationship with your father introject, you will need to do so.
Father Transference Issues
In the therapy process, male therapists will have many of the same kinds of transference issues regarding father issuesj as female therapists have with mother issues. In fact, it is often difficult for some female dissociative survivors to work with male therapists because of the kinds of trauma, abuse, and controls associated with their father. Male therapists often have to address transference issues of being seen as the abuser, controlling male, dominant owner, sexual pervert, etc. So many trauma survivors have issues with men — and even more have issues with their fathers — that it makes being a male therapist for female trauma survivors particularly difficult.
Other female trauma survivors are so used to be led by men or connected to men, especially their father, that they feel more at ease with men and less comfortable with “neglectful, abandoning mothers”. (Female therapists tend to get more of the abandonment transference issues, while male therapists tend to get more of the abuser-male dominance transference issues.) The relationship between survivors and their parents will very often dictate which gender of therapist is a better fit for them.
Typical Father Issues
Father issues are not easy to work through. They often take years of time to sort out, and they are very painful. Many survivors truly feel bonded to their fathers, even if some of their relationship involved sexual activities. Sometimes feeling sexually connected to the father felt better than being emotionally abandoned by the mother. When this is the case, there are numerous emotional complications to process during your healing.
Do you understand the role your father has played in your life?
Do you experience system switching, feelings of fear, or flashbacks when you are in the same room with your father?
What would your father do if you said no to him?
What would your father do if you chose a lifestyle very different from the one he chose for his life?
Are you allowed to live separately from him? Have you been allowed to move away from his neighborhood?
How much control or influence does your father have over you life in the current day?
Are you safe when you are in the same room as your father?
Does your father still abuse you or any of your younger parts? Does he still exert a level of sexual dominance over anyone in your system?
Would you be betraying your father if you refused to let him touch you in sexual ways?
If your father is an abuser, you can get distance and separation from him.
You don’t have to stay bonded to abusers.
You don’t have to stay connected to violent relationships.
You don’t have to be abused to be accepted.
You do not have to be sexual to be accepted.
All men are not abusers.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
January 3, 2010
Some days just feel too hard.
Those days feel like you just can’t make it through…
Those are the days when you wish you could curl up in a ball, and sleep or stare all day long…
Or hide away forever…
Ever had a day like that?
Ever felt like your problems were just toooooo big? Or tooooo never-ending? Or tooooo all-encompassing?
Ever felt overwhelmed with hopelessness?
When the pain is just too much, or the traps are too thick, or the future looks too bleak, or too many abusers snarl in your doorway…
What do you do then?
How do you not give yourself over to those deep dark days?
How do you hold onto hope when the fight seems to be bigger than you can fathom?
How do you find your strength when you feel exhausted to your very core?
Dissociative trauma survivors know these feelings all too well. Year after year of enduring the pain of trauma and abuse has demanded more from the inner self than can be put into words. DID survivors, overwhelmed by the attacks and betrayals by the people near them, create amnesiac walls and a wide variety of inside parts to get some relief from the overwhelming intensity of such painful experiences. These walls provide a much needed separation from the suffering, space from the heartbreak, a fresh start for a few simpler moments of time.
Separating into different people helps endure the abuse as it is happening.
Leaving the trauma by floating away or hiding within can allow for an escape for at least a few minutes.
The dissociative walls can ensure more separation from the details of what happened.
Box it up, contain it, push it away. That should work, right?
Sometimes it does. In lots of ways it works, but not completely.
Even with layers of separation, it still hurts in there.
Sometimes, trauma survivors use drugs, alcohol, self-injury, shopping, running, or any other form of addiction to help create even more distance from that black hole of pain that just never seems to leave or dissipate.
How does one ever move past such deep emotional pain? The body heals, bruises fade, the bleeding stops. But the heartbreak and sadness and emotional pain remain so long that hopelessness and despair can find a comfortable lodging place right up front on the front row of life.
What do you do, when you feel like you can’t go on anymore?
What do you do when it just seems to be more than you can bear?
Give yourself the permission to feel what you feel. It’s ok to acknowledge that pain, to feel that hopelessness, to sit in your despair. Stay there for awhile, if you need to. These are real feelings, and it really does hurt. You don’t have to pretend that it’s not there. Your heart is heavy, and it feels like there may just be no way out….
But there is a way out.
It will mean doing some new things, but there is a way out of that place of hopeless and despair.
In acknowledging the pain, you might finally give yourself permission to cry. Find a private, safe place, or sit with a trusted friend or therapist, just find a place far away from anyone that will hurt you because you have tears. Find a place where tears are allowed… and let the pain come out naturally… Don’t hold it in. Let your pain have an expression… Let your pain have its own voice.
Wrap yourself in things that are comforting. That might mean surrounding yourself in music that touches your soul, or in warm tight blankets that soothe the skin, or with pets and stuffies that are kind to you.
Self-soothing is important.
And as you can, one by one, tackle those things that have been too huge to touch. Look at the truth of what happened, find ways to separate yourself from those who have hurt you, let yourself have safety and distance from anyone that brings you harm, allow yourself to end the abuse. Your healing will be compromised if you stay involved with people that hurt you. You don’t need that anymore – enough hurt already! Your life will feel much more hopeful when you are safely away from abusers.
So be brave. And be honest. Look at the reality of who has hurt you in your life. Don’t blame people that just happen to be in the way. Look at the real source of your pain. If you blame the wrong target, just because it’s easier, you will still be missing the boat. And no matter how many false targets you take down, you will still hurt inside because you are still not being honest with yourself.
As you reconnect with the pain you once separated from, and as you allow yourself to find true safety and genuine comfort, your heartbreak will lessen. This is not easy, and while there are all kinds of complicated twists and turns in this journey, it is the way out. It’s hard to deal with it all, but little bit by little bit, you can move through it.
Look for something in the future that you might like. What would you like to be able to do that you haven’t been able to do because of all the muddy muck that entangled you? Maybe you’ll have to explore new things to know what else you could enjoy. Maybe you’ll have to be courageous enough to try something completely new. But you can. Have the courage to go there, because if you don’t break out and away from where you’ve been, you’ll only have more of that old stuff.
You don’t have to have the talents of Carrie Underwood or the smarts of Albert Einstein to be successful in your own life. You will have your own abilities. But be willing to try new things to get there. Who knows what talents that you have!
In all honesty, you’ll probably find that you have strengths, talents, and abilities that you never knew you had. You’ll be able to develop interests and skills that you could only dream of before. Your life can be filled with new activities, different priorities, and creative options that you never knew were possible.
You’ll be able to build relationships built on respect, caring, and warmth. Being alone won’t be stifled in pain, but connecting with others won’t be paralyzed with fear. Your insiders can be your very best friends in the world, and effective teamwork can replace isolation. This doesn’t happen overnight, but you can get there.
As you experience true freedom and genuine safety from the chains of abuse, your life will be free to have hope, excitement, fun, and adventure. You can explore the beauty that life offers instead of being tied to the abuse and torment of perpetrators.
You won’t have to stay drowned in hopelessness and despair when you can see something creative and exciting and positive in your very own life that belongs to you.
When you like what is happening in your life, you can feel hope again.
Kathy Broady LCSW
December 12, 2009
Do you know people that truly want to hurt you?
Do you know people that are willing to hurt you on purpose?
Do you know people that would hurt you over and over, again and again?
Did this happen to you when you were a child?
Is this experience still happening for you as an adult?
What a scary concept.
What a horrifying way to grow up.
It’s one thing to know that you have been hurt by mean people.
It’s a completely different thing to know that there are people that want to hurt you on purpose. And that they’ll do it – and that they have done it. And that they’ll do it again and again and again. As many times as they can, whenever they can.
That’s a completely different concept than to say, “I got hurt once.”
For something to be a “one of” experience, it can be terrible, but it’s a one-of. It doesn’t have to happen again. It happened. It’s over. That’s it.
But to know that there are vicious, sadistic people in the world who want to hurt you, and to know that these people are so incredibly cruel that they want to hurt you many times… and they will hurt you every chance they have…
THAT is a completely different situation.
There is no safety in that situation. There is no reason to believe it won’t happen again. There is not end in sight, and there is no place to rest. You can’t let your guard down. You can’t relax. You can’t stop preparing for the next time. You can’t get away from it.
There is danger, insatiable danger. Life becomes equal with danger.
How very different it feels when the perpetrators are insatiable. How very exhausting it feels when you know that you might have gotten through it today, but they’ll do it again tomorrow, or the next day, or the next.
Repeated, ongoing, incessant danger, trauma, abuse, and neglect changes a person.
It changes their view of the world.
It changes their view of themselves.
When your reality is knowing that abuse will be there, that the abusers are not going away, that the abuse will continue, that the abuse will always continue – that abused person has to learn a new way of survival.
In order to get away from the abuse for awhile – which of course, is important, because if you can’t mentally or emotionally escape the presence of the abuse or its effects, it would be far too much – many survivors create other selves.
If you can’t separate the abuse from you, separate yourself from the abuse.
Create a self that knows nothing of the abuse. Create a self that doesn’t worry or stress that the abuse will be around the next turn, or that it will happen again later tonight. Create a self that can enjoy the now, the day, the work, the school, etc. Create a self that can think about academic things, logical things, creative things, fun things, everyday normal things. Create a self that can enjoy petting a cat or enjoy sipping a cup of tea or reading a book or dancing to the radio.
In the situations of chronic, unending abuse scenarios, a survivor with the ability to dissociate and to split into other personalities is tapping into an absolutely incredible psychological defense. It makes a place to go in your head and in your life-experience where you can feel safe. It makes a place where you can be far from danger. It makes a place where you can get through the day without having to worry about being hurt five minutes from now.
I understand that creating this kind of separation from and denial of the abuse can, in the long run, become a troublesome issue when it becomes time to recognize the abuse in order to stop the abuse. But that point belongs in a different article.
At this point, I am just appreciating the value of being able to separate yourself from ongoing, repeated, unstoppable abuse (and the constant knowing of that abuse, and the constant fear of more abuse) by creating a place in your head that allows the abuse to be stopped.
This has been important. It has saved your sanity in many ways.
Living in constant fear, in constant worry, in constant dread, in constant hypervigilence of more pain and more abuse results in adding more and more problems to already existing problems. The body doesn’t do well under this kind of stress – medical illness increase, stomach issues increase, headaches increase, etc. When the body feels like it is constantly fighting for survival, it responds by secreting chemicals and hormones that it wouldn’t normally do if it felt safe. A body in constant fear is different from a body that feels safe.
Emotionally, the person who feels constant danger is going to have more depression, more anxiety, more self-injury, more extreme fear, more panic attacks, more mental health issues, etc.
Waiting in between blows has it own cost.
It doesn’t feel safe in these in between times. It feels on edge. It’s waiting. It’s wondering. It’s knowing it will happen again. It’s a long ways from feeling safe.
Having people in your life who want to and will hurt you over and over and over has affected you in more ways than you might realize.
It emphasizes, to me, the importance of learning what safety is, and what safety feels like.
It emphasizes how important it is to find someone in your life who doesn’t hurt you over and over.
It emphasizes how important it is to keep safe people safe – including both children and adults.
It emphasizes how important it is to not let anyone or anything interrupt your need to have someone genuinely be safe with you.
It also shows me how hard it is for DID survivors to believe that safety exists in the first place.
For Trauma Therapists:
As therapists, if we do nothing else, we need to provide a sense of safety for our clients.
We need to prove to our dissociative trauma clients that each time they show up in our presence, they will be safe.
We need to provide a consistent place of safety to counterbalance a life full of constant danger.
We need to be understanding, compassionate, patient, and gentle with their fears.
Sure, there is a place to confront and challenge, but do this in an atmosphere of safety. Make sure your clients know they will not be hurt, even if they are being confronted.
And if you meet a traumatized client who was able to feel safe with another therapist or another person, do NOT ruin or delete the sense of safety the survivor built with that other person. It is amazingly important that any sense of safety was built in the first place. That was not built easily, so respect the effort that went into that relationship. Don’t ever take that away from them.
Dissociative trauma survivors have not felt enough safety in their lives.
To destroy or damage or delete any sense of their safety causes them harm.
Build more safety for your clients – don’t take away what they had.
Safety is precious. The more, the better.
Kathy Broady LCSW
April 26, 2009
Every now and then, Dr. Paul Weston (Gabriel Byrne) from HBO’s series, “In Treatment” comes out with a good line, full of depth, and accurate to the therapy process.
In one of the episodes I saw this week, Dr. Weston says, “Is it easier to be angry with me than to look at your own pain?” His client was throwing all kinds of angry jabs at him when clearly she was angry, upset, and miserable about her own life.
Even though it was said on television, that line has a lot of truth in it.
Is it easier to be angry with me than to look at your own pain?
I realize that most of you reading this blog are not connected enough with me — Kathy — to make me a likely target for your anger. Frankly, I appreciate that. Believe me, I’m not “volunteering” to be the target.
But, have a think about the people that are closer to you — the people that are more visible in your life.
Is it easier to be angry with your therapist than to look at your own pain?
Is it easier to be angry with your spouse than to look at your own pain?
Is it easier to be angry with your friend than to look at your own pain?
Is it easier to be angry with your boss than to look at your own pain?
Is it easier to be angry with a stranger than to look at your own pain?
Is it easier to be angry with yourself than to look at your own pain?
So many people want to deflect their pain by pointing at other people, blaming other people, and being angry with other people. It’s often too hard to sit with your own pain without doing that.
What makes anger easier to express than pain?
How many times have you argued with or fussed at your therapist when you were in deep pain?
What makes your therapist a safe enough person to be the target of your anger?
For people with DID (dissociative identity disorder), it is even more complicated because there are often insiders with memories of pain that they want to talk about, and the host / front alter part may not want to hear about it. Host parts can get angry and upset with their therapists for listening to the inside ones. Why is this so often the case?
Are you getting angry at your therapist instead of looking at your own pain?
Listening to all that a person says is an important part of therapy. Would you rather your therapist not listen to your inner parts? Isn’t that the same as asking your therapist to not listen to you as a whole person? Why should your therapist talk to some of you, but not all of you, especially if those others want to talk about the pain that they are feeling? Why should they be ignored, neglected, shunned?
What if your therapist listened and talked to them, but not to you? It probably wouldn’t go over so well if the shoe were on the other foot.
See, even though you are switching, and you feel very much like different people, your therapist will still see you as the same basic person. While there may be some parts of your system that are more involved with the current day / outside world than others, everyone in your system is still important, and everyone can have their say.
Of course, part of the difficulty here is that some of the insiders speak about things that the host is very very uncomfortable with. Sometimes the insiders speak of trauma memories that the host doesn’t want to hear about. Sometimes the insiders speak of ongoing abuse, or abuse by a loved one. Sometimes the very speaking about abuse at all is more than the host wants to hear.
Another common reason that dissociative trauma survivors express anger at their therapist is because expressing anger at their perpetrators is too complicated. Displacing and projecting anger at your therapists instead of your perpetrators may help to find some version of release of anger, but it isn’t really going to get to the root of the problem, so it’s not going to get the kind of resolution that you might be looking for.
Expressing anger at the people that hurt you — while one might think that should be easy — is actually very difficult for survivors with dissociative disorders. There are a number of different reasons for this:
- The violent, sadistic abuser is still alive and still poses a threat. If you are overwhelmed by your fear of this person, it is harder to feel safe enough to be angry with them.
- You may have been threatened with great harm and more violence if you expressed anger or irritation with your perpetrators. This “rule” is hard to overcome.
- You may be too dissociated from your trauma memories to really know who your perpetrators are. When this is the case, you are at risk of expressing your anger at the wrong people.
- Due to the complications of your family dynamics and trauma memories, you might feel too trapped by your own guilt, or shame, or humiliation to feel able to be angry at anyone else.
Emotions can be very complex and finding a way to safely and honestly express your pain and your anger may take a lot of work and practice.
The next time you are angry at your therapist, think about what Dr. Weston words, “Is it easier to be angry with me than to look at your own pain?”
Kathy Broady LCSW