February 24, 2013
Here is Doris and Morris. Of course.
Doris and Morris are the very best neighbors I have ever had. A horse, of course!
Doris is the pretty chestnut mare, and Morris is the beautiful black gelding.
Doris is younger, and spunky, and she happily canters over every afternoon for her very favorite treat — pieces of bread. Bread, bread, bread! Doris could eat a whole loaf of bread every single day. She also likes oatmeal, fresh grass, handfuls of hay, and chasing cows. Doris talks a lot — she creates a constant stream of pretty pony sounds every time she visits, proudly announcing her presence. Oh, and Doris the horse likes to run, of course!
Morris is an older, gentler soul. His knees are sore, so he walks over gingerly, lagging behind Doris. Morris likes hugs and brushings, and he will stand snuggled up close with his kind heart for as long as you’ll stand beside him. Even though feisty Doris sticks her nose out in front a lot of the time, snatching up as many treats as she can grab, Morris is still the boss, and he happily gives her a quick nip when she gets too pushy. Morris likes bread and oatmeal too, of course, but Ritz crackers, strawberries, and Granny Smith apples are special treats for him since silly ol’ Doris turns her nose away at those tasty nibbles.
Doris! Don’t get so pushy, Pushy!
Doris and Morris are particularly good neighbors. They don’t make any annoying noises. They don’t intrude on my space. They make no complaints. They are happy to come and visit, but they are willing to go on their way as well. They don’t spread gossip, and they don’t talk bad about me behind my back. They don’t stare, they don’t impose, they don’t do any damage, they don’t make any messes. Doris and Morris are just good company.
It’s hard to find good neighbors. And I really appreciate good neighbors.
What are your neighbors like? Are you fortunate enough to have good neighbors?
Have you had some difficult neighbors in the past?
Having good neighbors is important for everyone, of course, but for survivors with Dissociative Identity Disorder, having good neighbors is particularly important. DID survivors need to feel safe where they live, and to not feel afraid, angry, or upset or confused by the people that live near them. Most trauma survivors have had far too many years of living near difficult people.
Healing from a childhood filled chaos requires stability. Calm. Quiet. No unnecessary dramas.
A big part of the healing process for trauma survivors is finding, creating, and maintaining a peaceful environment here-and-now in the current day. You need space to heal. Room to breathe. A place to rest. An area where you don’t have to look over your shoulder every few seconds.
So yes, where you live is fundamental to the kind of lifestyle you can have. Who your neighbors are matters. The absence of ongoing conflict is important. Having a place to unwind, relax, feel comfortable, and feel safe is essential.
Creating a safe inside world starts by experiencing a safe place in the outside world. For many DID survivors, living with a feeling of safety is a completely new concept. You might have to learn what safety is. The sooner, the better.
True enough, you can’t control the safety of most places in the external world, but your home is your own. It’s your space. You can’t change the craziness of the past, but as an adult, you can do something about now, the here-and-now. Safety for your whole internal system starts with making good decisions about your immediate worlds. It’s truly important to create your own personal safe places.
Do you live in a safe home?
Do you have good neighbors?
I certainly hope so. If not, what can you do about that?
I wish you all the very best in your healing journey.
and Doris and Morris too
Copywrite 2008 – 2013 Kathy Broady and Discussing Dissociation
May 1, 2012
I hope you are doing well today.
This will be a short post, but I made an important update to the Discussing Dissociation blog and wanted to be sure that you all knew about it.
I have been asked repeatedly about my views on integration. I’ve written posts and comments about this topic, but unfortunately, I didn’t create a “category” for these posts. So now, with the 170+ articles on this blog, these posts and comments are difficult to find. Of course! This means it’s time to simplify this topic search for everyone, and to make it simpler for the Discussing Dissociation readers to find these blog articles.
If you look on the right side of this page, scroll down until you see the Categories drop-down box. I’ve added the category “Integration – yes or no” to this feature.
This drop-box will link you to here.
I’m assuming, in all my many blatherings on this blog that I’ve made more comments about integration than just what is written in these two blog articles. However, this link is a good start. If anyone finds comments about integration in other articles, please let me know, so I can be sure to add that article to the category list as well.
In case you don’t have time to read the other articles at the moment, I’ll give you a quick summary of what I think about integration right here in this post.
Quick Thoughts about Integration – Kathy Broady’s Opinions:
Is integration necessary?
Is integration beneficial?
I doubt it.
Is integration the ultimate peak / proof of healing for dissociative trauma survivors?
Not at all.
Does integration need to be your treatment goal?
Not unless you say so. I wouldn’t ever ever make it a treatment goal for any of my clients.
If integration is not the treatment goal, what is?
Team work. Lowering the dissociative walls between internal people. Internal communication. Talking together. Not hiding information from each other. Building trust and genuine relationships within your system. Learning to genuinely love and care for each other.
Do you, Kathy, think that integration is possible?
Honestly? Not really. Not complete and “total” integration. I have not yet met anyone who integrated in such a way that they stayed integrated permanently for the rest of their life. I have not even met anyone that I would say has been integrated successfully for years of time. I have heard the stories of many such claims, and met some of these people, but in my opinion, none of the “integrated” people that I have ever talked with were able to literally demonstrate true integration. They were still very multiple in oh so many ways.
I’m not convinced that a person who has lived most of their entire life as a multiple can literally change their brain in such ways to become a singleton. Besides, what would be the point anyway?
Do you think that blending is possible?
Yes, absolutely. To me, blending and coming closely connected together in a co-conscious ways are very different from integration. Blending does not imply a complete union of absolutely everyone. It is perfectly natural, normal, and healthy for some of the splits to become more blended together, especially those parts that are already very close to each other. If their blending happens naturally, that is great. You cannot force blending to happen, and it doesn’t happen instantly. It is a very gradual process that happens over years of excellent therapy, healing work, and genuine external safety. If there is any kind of “forcing” or demanded blending under duress or coercion or deception, you can bet that those insiders will step back and separate again in the not so distant future.
Do you think that integration keeps you safe?
Ummmm…. No. In fact, I think that claims of integration can lead to the very opposite of safety. Why? Because I think that real and genuine integration so very rarely happens (if ever), that when someone begins to believe that they are integrated, this is the beginning of some really dangerous times. This typically means, in my experience, that some of the top layers of the system may have blended together, and/or learned how to work well together, but the darker under-layers of the system have hidden behind very thick dissociative walls. This is extremely dangerous because the dark parts are able to function without being noticed, and the top layers of the system are too busy being proud or protective of their integration and/or completely absorbed in their outside lives that they don’t notice the dark rumblings behind the wall.
Do you think that integrated multiples are safe leaders for other dissociative survivors?
No. Not that I have seen. In my opinion, it is much more likely that the alleged “integrated multiple” has very neatly hidden or shoved away their dark sides, even if they do not realize this. All the claims in the world of being integrated do not actually make someone integrated.
In fact, following the leadership of someone who alleges to be an “integrated multiple” can be extremely dangerous for others, especially for those who are newer in their healing process. You would be safer to run 100 miles in the other direction than to assume that an integrated multiple is “automatically” a safe person.
I know many of you will not like these statements, and it is ok if you disagree. I am not meaning to offend you. We each have our own opinion and our own experiences in life. Let me repeat this, because it is so very important. In my years of experience, “integrated multiples” have more often than not been used as lures, and in reality, they are people who have not completed HUGE areas of work, and they are not automatically “safe” people. Going further into this topic is an entirely different blog post, but in my opinion, there is a whole whopping lot of danger in this area. PLEASE be careful when you meet an “integrated multiple”.
I am very aware that there are many multiples who have had spiritually-based integrations. That is yet another complicated topic, to be discussed at another time.
Ok – this was going to be short (and of course, it’s not short!!), so I’ll stop at this point. I can feel the waters already getting stirred out there. Ah well. What is life without controversy, yes?
IF I thought integration was a great thing, I would certainly say so. I just haven’t seen it as such.
What about you?
Do you have any comments about integration?
Copyright © 2008-2012 Kathy Broady and Discussing Dissociation
October 15, 2010
Self-injury is a problem all too common for trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD) or borderline personality disorder (BPD). For that matter, self-injury (SI) is an issue for other populations of people as well. This discussion will focus more on the effects of trauma and abuse and how self-injury can be addressed effectively. However, because self-injury is actually a very complicated topic, this particular blog article will reach only a few of those layers.
In my years of working as a trauma therapist, I have noticed that many DID survivors self-injure when they are in emotional pain. They are hurting, their heart feels broken, they feel betrayed or abandoned, or they feel incredibly sad (but can’t cry). Turning to various forms of self-injury and self-harm sometimes helps to temporarily relieve their emotional pain. (Trauma survivors also self-injure when they believe they need to be punished, or when they are extremely anxious, or when they are feeling strong compulsions or hearing internal instructions, etc.)
One of the reasons self-injury works is because the brain cannot distinguish between a self-caused physical injury and any other type of physical injury and upon recognizing a body injury, the brain releases all the necessarily chemicals and hormones. Dopamine, serotonin, and neural structures are significant in this process. I’ll refer all the complicated medical explanations to others more qualified, but the point being is that the act of self-harm creates a reaction in the brain that allows the hurting person to feel a little more calm and numb.
In other words, when self-injuring, survivors are trying to feel better. They know they are in emotional distress, they recognize the emotional pain, and they know they are hurting. And they want to feel better, or at least to feel differently.
Self-injury can be a quick fix for these intense feelings. In that sense, self-injury is not a lot different from having a few shots of whiskey, or a shot of heroine, or a plateful of doughnuts, or a pound of chocolate. Many addictive behaviors are centered around finding a way to feel better when hurting.
Typically speaking, this has been a life-long issue. From even their youngest days, most dissociative trauma survivors were neglected or ignored when they were hurting. They were not comforted, and their pain was not acknowledged. Even as very young children, they were left alone with their pain and injuries. All too often, they were not properly tended to, they were not cared for, they were not hugged, they were not given medical aid. They were hurt – physically and emotionally – and they were left on their own to manage.
In my opinion, this lack of comfort and the years of neglect are some of the biggest crimes committed against young children. Neglect is as significant in causing harmful life-long effects as any direct trauma.
So, when working with trauma survivors who experienced significant pain and next-to-no comfort, a critical and crucial part of their healing process is to teach how to accept and create healthy and positive comfort.
Children who are injured in healthier environments are very much comforted by their mothers or fathers or other caregivers. Their hurts are recognized and acknowledged appropriately. These children are given hugs and gentle affectionate kisses. They get band-aids — sometimes they get the fancy special band-aids with Snoopy or Spiderman or pretty flowers on them! They are checked on repeatedly, they are allowed to sit close to their caregiver, they are given other little treats (such as stickers, or the chance to watch their favorite cartoon), etc. These injured children learn that positive forms of comfort can help them feel better.
Since traumatized dissociative survivors were typically not taught these ways of receiving comfort, this becomes an important treatment goal in their healing process. They need to know their wounds can be tended, that their hurts matter, that someone hears them, and that they can be treated gently during times of pain.
Tending to the hurts and the wounds often has to be modeled to dissociative trauma survivors. In many situations, this will be completely new experience for them, and the process of having their hurts be important, can be a profound experience.
As trauma survivors start to experience genuine comfort and caring from others (this may start first in the therapeutic office setting), these survivors will eventually learn to copy these same kinds of behaviors and apply them towards themselves and their other insiders.
Emotional pain is no different, and in some ways, addressing and comforting emotional hurts is even more important.
Teaching trauma survivors to sit with their emotions and to increase their ability to endure intense emotions is an essential part of the healing process. In early stages of therapy, most DID survivors can barely touch their feelings. In the later stages of the healing process, DID survivors can sit with their feelings, no matter how intense they feel them, and not turn to anything destructive or harmful.
In order to sit with those feelings, survivors need to learn what to do during those moments. They need to know and understand that they matter and that bringing more harm and pain to their selves and their bodies is not the answer. Learning how to comfort themselves – how to self-soothe, instead of self-injure – is a significant process in their healing.
Self-soothing means that the person is doing something that brings comfort in a helpful, positive way. Feeling better can become about comfort instead of numbing. Survivors can learn that they are worth being comforted, instead of being feeling unvalued and ignored.
Each time trauma survivors are comforted in their pain, instead of ignored or injured more because of their pain, they are experiencing a corrective emotional experience. Correcting the neglect by experiencing proper comfort, including self-soothing comforts, is incredibly significant in the healing process.
Comfort actually works much better than numbing, especially in the long run. Comfort allows for pain to heal. Numbing (or self-injury) means that the pain is just postponed until it comes back again.
Ways to Self-Soothe Include:
Self-soothing is unique to each person, just as any other preference is unique to each person. There are dozens and dozens of healthy options — explore a variety of different options to see what works best for you. Some ideas to try include:
- Listening to music that matches your mood – if you are feeling sad, listen to music that will help you express that sadness.
- Sing to yourself (even if this means making up your own songs, or singing sounds), or play musical instruments as a way of expressing your feelings.
- Wrap yourself up in your favorite comfy clothes or in a warm blanket and snuggle up somewhere safe, quiet, and protected.
- Hold or hug a pet, a stuffie, or a pillow.
- Sit close to someone safe. Lean against their shoulder, or find some way to have physical contact that is in no way sexualized or dangerous.
- Sip on your favorite tea, or any other gentle beverage, and treat yourself to a few simple snacks that are not heavy, but are tasty and nutritious.
- Rock in a rocking chair, or sit in a swing, and let the movement relax and calm you.
- Walk slowly or sit quietly in areas of nature that are beautiful and inspirational.
- Make your room, or your home feel particularly cozy – have nice smelling candles, or soft lighting, or bring out your favorite treasures to look at, sit by a calming fireplace (not for injury purposes! But yes, sitting by a warm fireplace can be very beautiful and calming). If you need to clean up an area first, that is ok, because it is important to be in an area that you can feel calm and quieted.
- Take a warm shower or a warm bath, using very nice smelling soaps and body washes. Dry off with your favorite most soft towels. The more you can make this a “spa-like” experience, the better.
- Bring in fresh flowers, or fresh greenery, or pretty leaves. Looking at something beautiful from nature, even while you are indoors, can be calming and soothing.
- Allow yourself to cry, uninterrupted, when the feelings come. Crying really is allowed, it really is ok, and it is a natural expression for pain. Use soft tissues, and don’t punish yourself for having real human emotions. Give yourself permission to feel, permission to heal, and permission to respond naturally to your pain. The more you can express your emotions in natural ways, the healthier you are.
Trauma survivors — you really can help yourself to feel better without bringing more pain and injury to yourself. The key is to surround yourself with lots of nice, positive moments that help you feel better through the course of the day. Practice self-soothing every single day, especially on painful days. It will get easier, even when if it doesn’t feel easy or natural to you at first. You can learn this, and when you do, it will make a huge difference in your life.
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
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
February 15, 2010
The healing process for survivors of abuse and neglect is very difficult. While it is a rewarding journey, it is a painfully difficult process.
Trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder typically have lots of child parts in their systems. Sometimes these child parts may seem to outnumber the adults!
Working with the kids is an important part of the healing process. Inside kids often know a lot about your internal system, family dynamics, and trauma memories.
But these inside kids, while very much connected to the rest of your adult self, also have real kid needs. They need to be cared for, kept safe (inside and out), allowed to have healthy daily provisions, given support, comfort, and compassion. These are the parts of you that were frozen in time when your needs were not properly meet during your actual childhood. They are the parts of you that just could not go on any further in life, and had to stay stuck where they were, back in that time. They are often the parts that lived through the horrors that you are remembering.
If you ask me, child parts are little heroes. If you think that working on your trauma issues is hard as an adult — with a therapist and all the current-day resources available to you — imagine how hard it was to be a little child living that trauma, completely on your own, with no help at all. Your little kids have had a rough go of it. It really is important for you to do what you can to soothe their wounds and heal their hurts.
One thing that helps child parts to move forward and to not stay stuck is to meet some of their unmet needs. Between years of abuse and neglect, and many incidents of trauma, your child parts will have oodles of experiences of not having their needs met appropriately. The sooner you and your system can treat your child parts in healthy ways, the sooner they will heal. Having corrective emotional experiences will allow your child parts to experience the positive things that were missing in their development.
If your child parts are not in a place where they can emotionally flourish, it will be important for you to help them reach a place where they can experience creative happy living.
Reading good children’s stories with your child parts are as helpful for your inner kids as they are for outside children.
The book, “I Knew You Could” by Craig Dorfman is a wonderful children’s story about encouragement, support, positive self-belief, and healthy determination. The story is about a little train that goes through different areas of life, questioning his train-abilities and wondering if he can make it through the various stops in life.
I am not a professional storyteller by any means, but through the years of working with DID / MPD clients, I have been asked by many a child part to read a story. It seemed to me that maybe other child parts out there in the world would also enjoy having a positive, encouraging story read to them.
Please use this story as a way to encourage yourself and comfort your inner kids. Your healing journey is difficult — filled with lots of stops and bumps along the way — but you have already survived the worst of it. You can heal from here, and create a much better life for yourself and your insiders.
When you hear “I Knew You Could”, what are your favorite lines in the story?
Which phrases fit your life right now?
What does this story mean to you?
And whatever difficult things are happening in your life… keep working at it!
You can do it.
I know you can!
Kathy Broady LCSW
February 10, 2010
Lots of trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder are just starting their healing process. Other dissociative survivors are not new to their healing process, but they might realize that they haven’t yet covered all the basics.
DID therapy can feel huge, daunting, difficult, and overwhelming. There is so much to do and so many areas of work. For a broader overview of the many areas of DID healing, please refer to the article, “50 Treatment Issues for Dissociative Identity Disorder”.
For individuals building the foundation for their work with your dissociative system, here are some of the first things to do.
DID 101 involves:
1. Get to know your system. Build the courage to find and meet your insiders. Remember, they were formed and created to help you – even if it doesn’t feel like it, you are (or can be) on the same team. Who are your inside parts? What jobs do they have? What kinds of things are they able to do? It’s really ok for you to build positive relationships and actual friendships with your insiders. If this feels scary for you, explore those feelings. What makes it hard for you to get to know your insiders? What fears or resentments do you have? Understanding your resistance to these ideas is important.
2. Become more comfortable with your diagnosis. If you don’t understand what dissociative identity disorder (DID /MPD) is, be sure to speak more with your therapist or psychiatrist about what it means to be dissociative. There are lots of books, websites, blogs, articles, conferences, etc that can help to educate you about the basics about DID. Understanding DID will help take out some of the mystery and confusion for you.
3. Build a support system and capable treatment team. It is very helpful if you can surround yourself with a few other people that understand trauma dynamics, preferably at least one or two other people, besides your therapist and doctor that understand that you are working on healing from trauma. These support people don’t have to be experts in DID – if they are just willing to spend some time with you when you need a safe distraction from your healing work, that will be helpful. Please don’t lean on lay-support people for the heavy issues. Leave the complicated treatment issues for your therapist to work with – your support friends are not therapists, so be very careful about not pushing them too far or demanding too much of them.
4. Once you have recognized at least one or two other parts, work on building communication with these parts. Internal communication is one of the very most important factors in DID therapy, and the sooner you can interact cooperatively with your other parts, the better your healing progress will happen. Approximately twenty of the articles in the Discussing Dissociation blog reference tips for building internal communication. This link groups these articles together. Learning how to talk to your other parts is the most important factor in your healing.
5. Connecting with your internal landscape. What can you see inside? Can you see the other insiders? Do you have an internal safe place? Internal visualization work is an important skill as it builds a way to connect with your insiders. Even if you can’t see the others inside, there will likely be someone else who can. Maybe ask if that insider will draw a map of your system for you? The sooner you can see inside, the better. And of course, if you see insiders that are not in positive, healthy, clean living conditions, you and other helpers in your system will need to do something to help them.
6. Working on limiting or preventing self-destructive impulses and self-injurious behaviors. Learning how to address self-harm urges is particularly important for your stabilization and progression in therapy. You have already been hurt enough – adding more hurt may feel like it helps you to cope in the short-term, but using behaviors such as cutting or burning is not any more helpful than using a shot of whiskey or a hit of cocaine. Explore better ways to cope with your intense feelings, develop more grounding skills, build positive containment strategies, and methods to reconnect with the here-and-now. A grouping of articles about preventing self-injury can be found here.
7. Live in a safe place both inside and out. If you live in a violent environment, address this issue as quickly as you are able. If you are continuing to be abused or sexually assaulted in any way, your dissociative walls will stay strong, and your system will have greater trouble trusting you and your treatment team. Of course, when anyone is fearful of abusive repercussions, it is much harder to disclose the real issues. Dangerous environments can include everything from domestic violence, abusive parents, organized perpetrators, to internal system perpetrators and angry introjects. Building more and more current-day safety is vitally important for your overall healing process. If you aren’t safe, make this a priority in your therapy process. Building an internal safe place is also critically important. However, please remember that in order to build an internal safe place, you have to have a genuine belief that safety can happen, at least part of the time. Making an internal safe place for your insiders is much more difficult when you are still concerned about external safety.
8. Start building options for positive self-comfort, self-soothing activities. The therapy process can be so very painful and emotionally difficult. Having a variety of options to do that are comfortable, safe, gentle, soothing, and stabilizing is important. What can you do when you want to have a break from the hard work of therapy? What can you do when you need some quiet space to think – or to not think? When you are hurting, what can you do that will help you to feel better? Soothing your pain in ways that help your healing (vs. using self-destructive options) is an important skill to develop.
9. Create healthy options for expression of feeling and emotion – use art, music, journaling, collage, blogging, forum posting, sculpting, painting, poetry, play therapy, sand tray therapy, scrapbooking, etc. DID therapy involves processing a lot of flashbacks, violent images, intense feelings, overwhelming thoughts, body memories, body pain, etc. Building a repertoire of artistic avenues to describe your feelings and experiences will be very helpful. You might not always have words that you can use so it is important to find non-verbal ways to safely express what you feel.
10. Create your own personal space. In this space, let it be ok for your insiders to come out, to be themselves, to be out in the body, and to exist. Out in the world, and when you are around other people, most of your daily life will be about keeping your insiders tucked in and acting socially inappropriate. But somewhere in your private time, your insiders will need time to surface, to know that it is ok for them to come out. Having the freedom to switch without reprimand is important as each of your insiders will need to do some personalized healing work of their own.
Not 11. Please note: I am specifically not including memory work or skills to do memory work in my top then list of DID 101 skills. The reason for this is that if you are just beginning DID therapy, it can be very destabilizing to focus on heavy-duty memory work. Yes, of course, doing trauma work is an important part of your overall healing process, but in the beginning of this journey, you need to build these basic skills before you begin to put a lot of energy into memory work. It is much safer and more stabilizing to have these foundational therapy skills in place before focusing on the trauma content of DID therapy.
DID therapy is intense, long-term, exhausting, and difficult. But your healing is worth it. As you truly address the painful conflicts, unmet needs, and internal confusion caused by your years of trauma, abuse, and neglect, you will feel better within your own self.
I wish you the very best in your healing journey –
Kathy Broady LCSW
November 21, 2009
There have been some interesting discussions and comments from various trauma survivors about how much their therapists have meant to them. These readers have shared some very tender moments with their therapists and have talked openly about the depths of their heart-warming connections and healing moments.
Clearly, these survivors have found their therapists to be important and significant people in their lives. The work and the effort of developing these therapeutic relationships have clearly been worth it to them.
Why is their therapist important?
On the flip-side, other commenters in this blog have written about horror stories they have had with former trauma therapists. It seems there is an endless supply of the “bad t” stories that get passed around and shared over and over. I can’t tell you how many of those stories I’ve heard. I’m sure each of you have already been told about at least a dozen bad therapists. In these stories, the clients are angry with their therapist, they accuse the therapist of causing all kinds of harm, and they speak of these therapeutic relationships as traumatic or disturbing or exploitive.
Who are these bad therapists?!
Is there any trauma therapist that has not been considered to be a “bad t” by someone or another? Honestly, most therapists get targeted sooner or later by someone. It happens frequently. (Please remember the blogs about love/hate relationships and protecting your therapeutic relationship.)
So if there are allegedly so many bad therapists, or perceived bad therapists, why do trauma survivors repeatedly risk having a therapist in the first place?
Why does a therapist matter to you?
Why bother with the hassle of developing and maintaining a therapeutic relationship?
Why does a therapist warrant your business, your time, your respect, or any caring connection from you?
What does a therapist do anyway?
There are a variety of reasons why dissociative trauma survivors might find therapists to be important. I’ve listed 50 benefits of having a therapist. This is not an exhaustive list. If you have an idea to add, please comment.
50 Benefits of Having a Therapist
1. To have someone encourage you to love and accept yourself to the point that you can truly live, without focusing on death and needing to die
2. To have someone in your life that will make it ok to not have to dissociate away from your real life
3. To have someone to bounce ideas on, to problem solve, to explore new behaviors
4. To have someone to talk to about deeply private and personal things
5. To have someone who can genuinely hear your pain, and sit with you when you are hurting
6. To have someone who can give you their undivided attention, their best listening ear, even if for a specified period of time
7. To have someone who gives you courage and hope to keep going, even in the darkest moments
8. To have someone who provides a gentle, safe environment for the healing of your deepest wounds and painful memories
9. To have someone who repeatedly offers positive emotional support and encouragement
10. To have someone who sincerely believes in you and your abilities, talents, and accomplishments
11. To have someone who truly sees you as a good person, a worthwhile person, a valuable person
12. To have someone who will address the variety of issues that underlies the mental health difficulties in your life.
13. To have someone who will build a relationship with you, willingly connecting with you, no matter how badly you feel about yourself
14. To have someone who will challenge your thinking and cognitive distortions
15. To have someone who will connect the dots of your dissociated life experiences
16. To have someone who will encourage you to be comfortable becoming your very own self
17. To have someone who will encourage you to build a life based on your strengths instead of the life your abusers may have designed for you
18. To have someone who will encourage you to try new things and to stretch your horizons
19. To have someone who will expect you to honestly work on your issues instead of blaming others
20. To have someone who will foster your leadership skills, job skill development, educational opportunities, etc.
21. To have someone who will genuinely accept you, warts and all
22. To have someone who will have the courage and ability to tell you “no”
23. To have someone who will hear your heart and the depths of your soul
24. To have someone who will help to remove the jagged edges from your life
25. To have someone who will help you build a tolerance and acceptance of others
26. To have someone who will help you create personal safety, both inside and out
27. To have someone who will help you find and connect with your very best self
28. To have someone who will help you to build the ability to tolerate and sit with intense emotions in yourself and in others
29. To have someone who will help you to contain the extremes of your behavior and feelings
30. To have someone who will help you to emotionally grow, develop, mature
31. To have someone who will help you to move past the blocks, walls, and black holes
32. To have someone who will help you transform self destruction into self acceptance
33. To have someone who will hold you accountable and responsible for troublesome areas
34. To have someone who will hold your secrets with you
35. To have someone who will listen to you, and understand your point of view
36. To have someone who will look for the positive in each and every one of your insiders
37. To have someone who will make it safe enough for you to express your true feelings
38. To have someone who will offer encouragement and support, even when its tough
39. To have someone who will offer guidance as needed
40. To have someone who will offer opportunities to explore trust, acceptance, compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience
41. To have someone who will push you to move forward, instead of sitting complacently
42. To have someone who will recognize family dynamics and their impact on you
43. To have someone who will remember what your insiders say, especially when it is too difficult for you to retain it
44. To have someone who will set appropriate limits and boundaries
45. To have someone who will sit with you while you face your deepest fear, shame, guilt, horror
46. To have someone who will sort out conflict and disagreement
47. To have someone who will stay with you, even when you expose your worst self
48. To have someone who will talk to your inner parts, even the ones you are afraid to speak to or unable to speak to
49. To have someone who will teach and model new behaviors, and healthy emotions
50. To have someone who will team up with you in your healing journey
True therapy is so much more than a sequence of techniques to address trauma, or emotional containment, or cognitive distortions, or dissociative separation, or destructive behaviors.
Therapy happens with real people, between real people. Therapy is a healing process. It touches many levels of life. The emotional depth of true healing is founded in the solidity of the therapeutic relationship.
Unfortunately, your trauma and abuse happened at the hands of violent, hateful, destructive people.
Fortunately, your healing will happen within a caring, accepting, compassionate relationship.
Kathy Broady LCSW
May 2, 2009
I have a page on this blog that lists all the articles I’ve written in chronological order since the beginning of the Discussing Dissociation blog.
Several people have asked me over the past few months to make links for each of the articles in order to make it easier to navigate around and to find the various topics.
And, while BTC tried to assist me with that long ago (thanks, BTC!), I just couldn’t quite figure it out (how embarrassing!).
The good news – today, just today – I have finally figured out how to make the links for all the articles on this blog. Every single article is now linked on the List of All Articles page.
Please have a look at the list. Have you been able to read all of the articles yet?
- Which articles mean the most to you?
- Which articles are the most difficult for you?
- Which articles are the most relevant for you?
- Which articles are the most painful for you?
- Which articles are the most challenging for you?
- Which articles are the most helpful for you?
- What have you learned by reading the various articles on this blog?
I’m looking forward to many more blog articles yet to come.
Your comments and feedback are always appreciated.
Kathy Broady LCSW