September 10, 2012
Recently, I had a conversation asking the question whether the insiders in a dissociative system should be called parts or people. And now, after recently reading Insomniac’s cute comment to me about that very same topic, I’ve decided to make a quick, informal post about it. I’m interested in hearing what the rest of you think about this topic.
Of course, the official “politically correct” term is probably parts. Well, maybe it’s still “officially” supposed to be alters, but yuck. Personally, I really dislike the term alters, and I really don’t use it often – it’s not a comfortable term in my opinion. Nope. It has too many other implications for me, and I just don’t go there very often. But the word parts – that one I have used many times.
However…. It is true, that when I get to know people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID / MPD), and I get to know their insiders, those inside people become exactly that to me — people. DID people are people with a lot of people. I don’t see the insiders as “parts” anymore. I see them, experience them, interact with them, relate to them, remember them, refer to them just like they are people in their own right. Real people. Not a part of one someone. A group of individual someones.
For right, or for wrong – that is how it feels.
I realize this is probably not at all the expected “mental health professional” stance on describing dissociative systems. It’s not an intellectual approach. This is a statement about what the experience is like for me when I meet you all.
So yes, to me, insiders are like people. They are people that share a body, but they are people, many of whom are easily recognized as their own person within the group of people.
Inside people very much have their own voice. They have their own presentation, their own thoughts, beliefs, memories, feelings, body sensations, facial gestures, perceptions, clothing, jobs, etc etc. They can each make the same body look very different (that’s so fascinating to me!). They have their own eyes, their own way of sitting, their own way of walking. They have their own way of speaking and their own way of writing. They become their own selves. And in a way that they are not parts of any one someone, but more like they are important members of a group.
Groups are one, but the groups are filled full of lots of different individuals. Each of these individuals will have their own unique reason for being part of the group, and the whole of the group is completely flavored by the individuals that belong to it.
It is amazing to me that there are such differences between the people in a dissociative system. I realize that many of these differences are probably related to the differing demands being placed on the person as a whole at the time of creating each specific new insider, including some not-so-happy reasons to need to be somebody else. However, the basic ability to become somebody else (even to pretend to be somebody else) has got to be an incredible talent in itself – I know I can’t do that very well (and yes, I have tried, funny enough. I guess that’s why I’m not a Hollywood actress, lol.)
My hat is off to dissociative people who have created and developed highly sophisticated life skills at being different people.
It’s a rather awesome ability, if you ask me.
Copyright © 2008-2012 Kathy Broady and Discussing Dissociation
January 3, 2009
I have a question about stability. I accept that I need to be reliable, motivated, responsible and willing to delve into things I generally don’t want to delve into. As for stability – I can see how a stable client is easier to work with for a therapist. However, what if the beginning stages of therapy have resurfaced old issues or retraumatised the client to the extent that they are now “unstable”? How would this fit with your schema? And what should the therapist’s (and client’s) roles be in re-stabilising?
Typically trauma survivors, particularly those with Dissociative Identity Disorder and PTSD enter therapy because their life is already full of emotional complications, symptoms of depression, anxiety, self-injury, internal chaos, flashbacks, confusion, memory loss, time distortion, time loss, body numbing, nightmares, voices, etc. As a whole, people do not enter therapy because their life is already stable. They go to therapy because they have some awareness that they are starting to fall apart. There is something wrong, something very uncomfortable, and something very unmanageable about their life. They may not be able to define it, but they can feel it and see it in the way their life is unraveling.
And yes, Kerro, you are right. There are various stages of therapy that can be quite de-stabilizing, yet maintaining stabilization is a fundamental building block of therapy. Sometimes the path seems like two steps forward, one step back. And, yes, there are times when it feels more like one step forward, two steps back. It is a very fine balance. To do the healing work required for trauma survivors to gain overall life stability, these survivors have to address painful difficult issues that are potentially de-stabilizing.
So, not doing the work leaves people de-stabilized.
But doing the work also can cause people to be de-stabilized.
Some days, it feels like the line between the two is nonexistent.
Take it slowly, one step at a time. Look ahead, increase your self-awareness, try to maintain the stability that you have, and try to predict the areas of your stability are the shakiest and and prepare for them ahead of time. This is important.
What is stability?
Stability consists of a lot of different elements all at once. Some examples of stability are when survivors:
- Can manage intense emotions without using serious self-injury to cope.
- Can be challenged with something emotionally difficult without making it ”the end of the world” or some other dramatic crisis.
- Are willing to move forward by learning about new areas of life and using new coping skills, instead of self-destructing from the same old place and/or blaming others for their lack of progress.
- Do not consider suicide as a realistic problem-solving solution to difficult situations.
- Can manage feeling depressed, and even suicidal, but knowing they wouldn’t actually do anything lethal or harmful.
- Take their medication as prescribed, regularly and consistently.
- Eat regularly, without starving themselves or without bingeing repeatedly.
- Get a regular, sufficient amount of sleep, rest, and personal down time.
- Have a steady source of monthly income that meets their basic needs.
- Can incorporate painful trauma memory work into their lives without self-destructing or attacking others.
- Work cooperatively with their internal system without attacking each other from within.
- Maintain a safe and consistent distance from and/or can establish boundaries with people that repeatedly abuse them.
- Can keep their regular job/employment, even while working on therapy issues.
- Can use their dissociative skills to their advantage, instead of to their detriment.
Sometimes therapy is like walking through a minefield. If you know you have to get through the minefield to survive, but there is the potential that you will set off one of the mines on your way through, you would tread very carefully. You would check everything you do, in smaller and more detailed increments. You would listen and watch for clues every single step of the way.
In the therapy process, once you start feeling a little too de-stabilized in a particular direction, back off and stop pushing that issue at the moment. Give it a break for an hour, a day, a week, a month — depending on the circumstance. Get to know yourself and what you can handle. Learn your own red flags for when you are starting to fall apart and getting too overwhelmed. Give yourself the space and the time to do your work. There’s no need to rush headlong into things that particularly de-stabilize you.
Remember, when healing from trauma, there are usually many, many different areas of healing. Remember the list of 50 different treatment issues for DID/MPD? If you are finding one area too difficult to deal with right now, simply put that issue on hold, and work on a different area. They ALL have to be done. They ALL have to be addressed. You can decide when something is genuinely too difficult, or too tangled, or too emotional, or too destabilizing for right now.
As a general rule of thumb, put internal communication work and system work as the first steps to focus on. If you cannot even speak to your insiders, you certainly will not be able to tolerate their intense emotional trauma memories.
In years gone by, the mental health profession used to promote abreactive memory work as valid and necessary. I absolutely, unequivocally disagree with that. Abreactions are often hypnotically induced, and they are basically inducing a flashback — putting the person back in time and directly into the intensity of the trauma. Most survivors find they do not even recall abreactive work, so as far as I am concerned, it is an absolute waste of time, and just leaves the person feeling more traumatized than healed.
If you cannot speak, in your normal voice, discussing your trauma memories from the safety of the here-and-now while still connected in the present, then don’t even try to address your memories. It is too soon.
In my opinion, memory work is NOT the core of the healing from dissociative disorders. I believe that developing the internal communication, internal cooperation between parts, and system teamwork is a much more important element, as well as being crucial to a person’s stability. Decreasing the dissociation and separation between the inside people has many facets to it. The trauma is only one area of separation between insiders. Build strong connections with each other first and then, much further down the road, address the memory / trauma issues, and you will likely find that the memory work is much less de-stabilizing than it once was.
Memory work has its role, and yes, survivors do have to process their trauma. Please know that you are not getting a “free pass” on not addressing that. BUT, it is not the first goal of treatment, and it is certainly not the main focus of the therapy.
In your outside life, when you first walk up to someone new, as you are first meeting them, do you say, “Hi. You don’t know who I am. I don’t know who you are. But I want to know your most painful memories. Tell me all your deepest, darkest secrets RIGHT NOW.”
Hello??? Of course you don’t approach people like that. SO, don’t approach your insiders that way either. Get to know them as people first. Find out who they are, what they are like. Build a relationship, a connection, and a rapport with them first.
In fact, building connections in your internal system, building that teamwork approach, improving communication, and etc. is the main and most effective stabilizing factor that I know. Once you truly can connect with your insiders, and you care for them and have relationships with them, you can hear their trauma through an entirely different perspective. You will have compassion for your inner people, and that will help you to heal. Jerking their memories out of them before you even have a relationship with them isn’t good for anyone.
Focus first on relationship building with your parts. Get to know them. Talk to them. Learn their names. Overcome your fears of who they are. Appreciate their strengths. Develop friendships with them. I guarantee that your overall stability will greatly improve as you are more connected with your internal system on a genuinely friendly, caring basis.
Kathy Broady LCSW
December 27, 2008
Thanks for coming back and reading more of the Discussing Dissociation blog. It’s exciting to see the number of site viewers growing each week – I think you all must be spreading the news! I appreciate all of you who have already become regular readers, and thanks for telling your friends.
As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about giving- making- creating- providing new and positive experiences for your internal child parts, I want to encourage all the multiples here to expand that idea to include your whole system on an even wider scale. This idea applies to non-multiples too, of course, but since we are “discussing dissociation” here, I’m going to write about these idea within the context of DID / MPD.
I have found that most dissociative trauma survivors have a fair bit of trouble understanding how to be genuinely kind to their inside people. It is very similar to being nice, and kind, and accepting towards outside people, but the effort gets directed to your own insiders instead of outside people.
I could explore the many different reasons for this. Is it because your family treated you so poorly? Were you so hideously neglected that taking care of yourself is truly a skill you have yet to learn? Is it because you truly believe you don’t deserve anything nice? Is it that you are full of self-hatred that you won’t be kind to yourself? Is that you are so angry at anyone (everyone?) that it is easier or essential to take it out on yourself? I don’t know. I’ll leave those questions with you to think about.
For now, I want to focus on what kind things you actually do for your internal system.
- What do you do to be nice to your inside people? What did you do this week?
- What do you do to show the others in your system appreciation and kindness?
- What do you do to encourage them through the hard parts of therapy work?
Think about all the different kinds of things you can do for your people on the inside. Your internal world — your internal landscape — is totally your own world. It belongs to you and only you and your internal system. You and your insiders control that inner world. You all can truly make a huge impact by doing nice, kind, gentle, supportive, and comforting things for each other in there on that level. Even if you can’t afford to buy things in the external world, you can do things for free on the inside worlds. Your inner world can be a true haven and a place that is comfortable and “just right”.
When you can see the others inside, and when you listen to them, and pay attention to each other, you will be able to recognize their needs and then do something about it to make their day better. Taking better care of your insiders will have a huge impact on your life, your system work, your healing process, and your external world.
One of the biggest keys to your overall healing depends on how YOU all treat your own system and internal parts. Do you support each other inside? Do you take the time to be kind to each other inside? Do you comfort each other inside? What do you do to help each other inside? Do you treat each other with respect? Are you trustworthy with each other?
For those that are DID, I believe that one of the most significant therapy goals is doing INTERNAL self care. Look at your others inside — share blankets and stuffies with them. Give them hugs, sit quietly with them. Meet their needs, clean up the messes, give them clean clothes to wear, and a quiet safe place to rest. If your inside world stays chaotic and unkept, neglected or dangerous, then how on earth are you going to feel safe or ok in the outside world? Start by addressing things in your own world, and let it ripple out from there.
The more folks learn to be there for their own selves, the less they will depend on their therapist, or spouse, or any other outside person to “take care” of them. The more you can take care of your own selves, the less it matters if someone else is busy or away for a few days. The more you take care of your own selves, the more you will feel GOOD about yourself and your ability to handle life.
Here are more questions to think about:
- What is the nicest thing that someone in your system could do for you?
- What are some of the most meaningful things you could do for them?
- How do you show the hurting ones that you have compassion for them?
- How do you show your little ones that you will protect them and keep them safe?
- What kinds of things can you do for your insiders to show them that you will help to take care of them and tend to their needs?
- How does your system respond when you are kind and attentive to them vs. being neglectful and angry towards them?
This is an important topic — your thoughts and/or comments are welcome.
Kathy Broady LCSW