February 22, 2009
Many trauma survivors with DID, especially those relatively new in the treatment process, often have difficulty accepting that there are “other people inside your head.”
The ideas of losing time (including big chunks of time), losing control of yourself and your mind or your body, having a limited awareness of what has happened in your life, sharing your life with a bunch of others of all different ages, and understanding that all this was caused by severe trauma, can all be difficult realities to grasp.
Inside parts. Dissociative alter personalities. Splits of you, from you, but very different from you.
The willingness to share your life with others can be difficult, especially if you haven’t realized that those others inside have been taking turns already. If this has been happening for years without your awareness, why do you need to know now?
So… if you don’t want them to be there, why are they there? And why is it so hard to accept that they are there?
When someone is experiencing severe trauma that is either physically painful and/or emotionally difficult to tolerate, the need to dissociate increases. If the person cannot escape with their feet, they can escape with their mind. If they cannot physically leave the situation, they can mentally leave the situation by floating away, floating up, or totally blacking out their awareness of such traumatic events.
The more frequently a person has to use their dissociative abilities to leave traumatic situations, the more rigid and firm those dissociative walls can become.
Pretty soon, those dissociative walls become impermeable – sturdy and solid — preventing any information or emotion from crossing through. Young children that need to be ok in the morning for school, and to look happy and cheerful in front of their parents, friends, and teachers, will not be able to do that if they are stressing about how badly they were hurt and injured during the night. The dissociative walls allow them to escape the pain of the trauma while it’s happening, but also to escape the memory and stress of it in the hours and days afterward.
When all too much trauma happens over and over again, young children learn to create other selves to be there instead of them. As these other selves are needed for more and more life events, their life experiences and subsequent personalities develop more and more.
The one child becomes two. Then three. Then four. And every time a particular traumatic situation occurs, the other child created in that kind of situation learns to show up for it. Once child one knows how to split like this, it becomes easier to do it again and again. The child parts themselves can learn how to create parts of their own if needed. For example, if the child doesn’t want to carry the anger about being abused (maybe they know they will get in very big trouble if they show anger), then they can give that emotion to a different part to carry and contain for them.
The dissociative walls between the different parts allow the “containers” to be totally separate from each other, and to not allow seepage, spillage, leakage of information from one person to another.
So as years go by, the child gets older, and becomes an adult… or, for some people, the original child self has stayed hidden and away from the world, and remains so tucked in that even the main adult parts are splits off from the “original child”. Through the years, numerous other splits have happened and there are many others inside.
How does the main adult part manage that? There are too many splits to know them all. There have been too many traumatic events to make sense of it all. There is too much pain, and horror, and distress, and shame, and guilt tucked away in all the different parts.
To accept each of those parts means to accept that they were specifically split off and created for a reason. It means, they have feelings or historical information that could be difficult to digest and hard to live with. It means that there is a whole lot more to the story. Any part that was given the job to “be the happy one” or “act like nothing is bothering you” or “function like you have no problems” will have a hard time connecting to all the parts that have been exposed to the trauma information and intense feelings.
Even as adults safe from ongoing trauma, those dissociative walls that were once created for protection and to maintain a great distance between the person and the “too much for me” piles will still be in place, even if they are not as necessary as they were in the middle of current trauma. However, it is also true, that as time passes and the amount of ongoing trauma decreases, those dissociative walls can begin to crumble and weaken and chip apart. It is not “natural” to have to be dissociative, so if there is no trauma forcing the dissociation to stay in place, those dissociative walls will begin to shrink. PTSD, emerging trauma memories and an increasing awareness of the others inside will begin to be more obvious.
However, that puts the dissociative person into an uncomfortable in-between place. They are not totally dissociating away the awareness of everything, but they do not yet have sufficient information to make a clear picture of what they are figuring out. It’s like having a 1000 piece puzzle, and while 250 of the pieces might be in place, it is very hard to figure out where to put the 251st piece. The picture is not clear. The individual pieces do not make sense. It is not obvious what anything is. It’s a very frustrating place, and at this point, it feels like too much of the news is bad news.
The dissociation that has been there for years already makes it hard to think differently. The dissociative walls kept tons of specific information away from the person’s awareness, and as long as the person remains partially dissociative, the new information will have that “not real” feeling to it. The traumatic information that is still too far on the other side of that dissociative wall will not yet feel “real”. The dissociative wall that helped you separate the trauma from yourself is still keeping the reality of that information separated from yourself.
The partial dissociation makes it not feel real.
The parts of you that are not dissociated from that information will not have any doubt about how “real” it is. They may not like it, but they have no doubts about knowing what happened.
But if there is a dissociative wall standing between you and the others inside, you could have trouble accepting their reality as yours.
The dissociation keeps it separated from you.
That just means you are in the middle of the process. If your dissociative wall is 100 bricks tall, and you have only knocked down 17 of them, the trauma and those other insiders are not going to feel totally real or connected to you. It will be considerably different once you have knocked down 53 bricks, and even more different when you have knocked down 79 bricks. When you have knocked down all 100 bricks, you’ll be totally connected with the experiences of the others inside. Their reality will be the same as yours, and vice versa. You will all know the whole story of what happened on the time line of your life.
Give yourself the time that it takes to address all that is on the other side of those dissociative walls. I can promise you, you won’t want to be flooded with ALL of that information at once. BUT, do know in your head, that it takes a lot of work to be emotionally and mentally connected with everything that you had to block off.
While you are partially dissociative, some things really won’t feel real. While you’ve done a portion of the work, you won’t know where everything fits in the whole picture.
The more you get to meet and to really know your inside people, the less you will be affected by the dissociative walls. The more real your relationships are with your insiders, the more real and connected you will be to all the pieces of your life.
As long as you put in effort to stay distant and separated from the others inside, you are working to maintain those dissociative walls.
Do you genuinely want to know what has happened in your life? That’s a much harder question to answer than you might think.
And yes, too much of the information dissociated away will be difficult, painful, or bad news. Who wants to purposefully block off or escape from good news? It’s just not necessary. But escaping from bad news can be necessary for survival, for sanity, for safety.
But keeping the dissociative walls means keeping the pain contained within yourself.
Lowering the dissociative walls means you can release the pain for everyone inside you, and give healing experiences to all that are there. Everyone will have a chance to experience the good stuff in life, and to be free from the captivity of severe trauma.
It’s not natural to have to dissociate to get through life. When you don’t have to dissociate anymore, then you have truly accepted your own reality, no matter what it is.
Kathy Broady LCSW
February 16, 2009
I am not sure who wrote the following list of “Do’s and Don’ts for Singleton Friends of Multiples”. This list was e-mailed to me years ago by a person with Dissociative Identity Disorder, saying this list was comprised by an anonymous group of multiples. I have had it posted on AbuseConsultants, in the survivor poetry section of that website.
I am sure that there could be many other suggestions added to the list, but for today, I will post it in exactly the same format as I received it.
For anyone wanting to offer friendship and support to a person with Dissociative Identity Disorder, a group of multiples have suggested the following helpful guidelines:
Do’s and Don’ts for Singleton Friends of Multiples
- Do NOT ever touch us from behind.
- Do NOT ever touch our throat.
- Do NOT ever touch the back of our head.
- DO speak to our inner children like children.
- Do NOT ask “Who’s here now?” If we wanted you to know we would tell you.
- Do NOT tell an alter that you don’t know to “go get” the host…there could be several of the same name…different age groups.
- Do NOT expect consistency of feeling, thought, or action on any subject.
- Do NOT tell anyone to go inside because you do not like their views.
- DO set healthy boundaries.
- If you are uncomfortable with something said or done, say so, and do NOT avoid us in the future without an explanation.
- Be HONEST.
- Be understanding that we have many crisis situations in our lives of healing from our abuse, i.e.: flashbacks, panic attacks, body memories.
- Laugh, make jokes with us, really, it’s OK!
- Do NOT assume anything if you honestly want to know about our “disorder” please ask, we’ll tell you the truth.
- Do NOT treat us like “the freak you happen to know” around your singleton friends.
- Do NOT use our difficulties as a subject of conversation with your singleton friends.
- Sometimes we are paralyzed with depression, and cannot call you, clean our house, or get out of bed. Don’t take it personally.
- We will fight being hospitalized….. even though we actually show that we need it at the time. Hospitals are extremely frightening for us.
- DO be supportive of our healthy behaviors no matter how small the accomplishment may seem to you.
- DO be encouraging.
- When we ask to talk to you, we aren’t asking you to come up with answers to our problems. We don’t expect you to FIX it. Sometimes we just need someone to LISTEN… that is the greatest gift of all!!
- DON’T tell us that the abuse happened a long time ago and for us to “just get over it!” That is a HUGE insult!!
For those of you that are multiple, what other suggestions would you add to this list?
Do you agree or disagree with the suggestions as listed?
What have you needed your husband or wife to do – or not do — specific to your needs as a trauma survivor?
Your thoughts, comments, and suggestions are welcome.
Kathy Broady LCSW
February 15, 2009
As the show, “United States of Tara” is gradually starting to demonstrate, survivors with Dissociative Identity Disorder have friends and family members that offer varying levels of support:
- Those that find dissociative trauma survivors to be really good, kind, decent, and wonderful people, and will stand by them faithfully.
- Those that genuinely love and support and accept them even though the DID survivors can be all kinds of weird and “nutty” and difficult.
- Those that get angry and upset with them because DID survivors can be all kinds of weird and “nutty” and difficult.
- Those that believe and support the trauma and abuse history of the DID survivor.
- Those that do not believe that the DID survivor was abused at all.
- Those that believe the multiplicity, are comfortable with a variety of alter parts presenting, acknowledge the switching as a very real thing and a natural part of DIDer’s life.
- Those that don’t believe the multiplicity is real, accuse the DIDers of just play-acting, and don’t recognize the other parts even when they are there.
- Those that initially say they will be a friend, only to totally reject, leave, or abandon the dissociative person when things get complicated or difficult.
So far, the Showtime Series has not adequately addressed the issues involving trauma and abuse. It also has not shown any young child parts (teenage parts are very different than child parts). Have you met a multiple that didn’t have child parts? I most certainly have not. I don’t know if the series will get into those serious elements of dissociation or not, but it is a critical element in normal life with DID. How the friends and family members treat the DIDer’s child parts is often an extremely accurate barometer of how supportive and accepting that person will be for the DIDer over all.
It is, of course, the most helpful if the friends and family members of the dissociative survivors are gentle, accepting, kind, and understanding. And sometimes, that is the case. There are some wonderfully supportive spouses, parents, and children out there. They make the healing process so much easier by contributing with their comfort, faithful assistance, gentle patience, and reassurance.
Unfortunately, all too often dissociative survivors continue to be alone and isolated, even abused and neglected within their own families.
Spouses often feel angry, ripped off, frustrated with all the added relationship complications. They might feel like they are left picking up the pieces, and overloaded with more than their fair share of the household work and parenting. It’s often hard for spouses to have patience for all the complications caused by the dissociative disorder and the survivor’s trauma history because of the heavy load it creates for them.
Extended family members are all too often filled with the perpetrators and original abusers. Most perpetrators that engaged in violence so extreme as to split a child are not ever going to become a positive support for the DIDer.
Children of dissociative people can certainly be loving and accepting of the different sides of the DIDer, but the external children cannot be the main source of emotional support or the emotional care-taker for the trauma survivor. If dissociative parents put too much emphasis on their own needs, hurts, and wants, and keep their own struggles as the bigger focus in front of the external children, those external children will be left emotionally neglected and will most likely become angry, resentful, spiteful, and hateful towards their dissociative parent.
And as much as dissociative survivors may not want to admit that they can be more difficult than average to live with, it is generally true.
What can a DID person do to facilitate their getting more support from others?
- Be genuinely appreciative – recognize even the smallest of kindness from someone and thank them. Thank them each time they give something of value to you. Nobody likes to be taken for granted, and if you have the attitude that these favors are “owed” to you, you will soon find yourself alone.
- Communicate what is going on for you. Often, others will be more willing to give if they understand why it is necessary or important. Don’t assume that they will automatically understand why you need certain things. Tell them, and explain it in a way that they can understand.
- Be determined to do as much as possible for yourself on your own. Yes, your trauma history has left big gaping wounds, but the more you meet your own needs and find ways to resolve those issues without “taking from” or “pulling on” others, the more genuine your friendships can be.
- Reciprocate kindness. When someone takes the time and effort to be supportive of you, be sure to return the favor by doing supportive things for them as well. If you are taking, taking, taking more than you are giving, the relationship will either die or explode in your face.
- Get professional support when your emotional needs become too heavy for your friends and family members. For example, friends and family members may very well pull away from you if you lean on them too heavily during intense times – ie: during extended or repeated times of suicidal feelings, episodes involving self-injury, or flashbacks. These heavy, intense issues belong in the therapeutic context and not between you and your support people.
- Build your support options so you are not putting too much pressure on one or two people to support you through the hard times. The more support options you have, the less likely any one individual support person will feel burnt out or overloaded by how much you lean on them.
- Remember that is it more important for you to learn how to emotionally support yourself and your internal system than it is to teach (force) someone else to support you.
- Take time to enjoy everyday “normal” experiences with your support people. Put your trauma issues aside, and do something that is pleasant and enjoyable to everyone.
Remember the old adage: To have a friend, be a friend.
Kathy Broady LCSW
February 12, 2009
Do you believe everything you read?
Do you believe everything you hear?
I realize “inquiring minds want to know” and gossip can seem initially enticing, but seriously, how much credence do you give to what other people have to say about anything?
How do you decide the difference between a credible source and a shoddy source?
How can you tell when you are being manipulated or tricked?
What critical thinking processes do you use to figure out who to believe and who to ignore?
One of the signs of personal strength, personal stability, and a solid awareness of yourself and your internal system is if you can hold your own ground and use your own judgment and not be blown around by any ol’ gusty windstorm that shows up.
Independent thinking is a necessary skill for personal growth and emotional maturity. It is critical for safety, and in terms of therapy, it is critical for your healing process as well.
It is important not to assume that everyone is telling you the truth. It is also important not to assume that everyone is telling you a lie. You will get the truth from some of the people some of the time. You will never get all of the truth from all of the people all of the time. Can you tell when someone is lying to you? What about when they are misrepresenting the truth? Sometimes people will present partial information, purposely omitting certain bits, emphasizing other bits, hoping to lead you into a specific erroneous perspective. Do you look for information over and beyond what someone is presenting to you?
What I’m discussing here is how hard it is to think for yourself. It’s not as easy as you might think. Can you really and truly think for yourself?
Can you think for yourself when you are under pressure from someone else to take on their beliefs and opinions?
For someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder, it gets even more complicated. Have you ever experienced the conflict when another part of your system appears to believe something very different from you? How do you sort that out? How do you decide what to believe overall?
This can be a particularly difficult issue for dissociative people because of the way it plays into historical issues. For most DID folks, there was at least one perpetrator in their life that forcefully made them accept / internalize / absorb perspectives and opinions and beliefs very different from their own. Being forced to internalize and remember beliefs that conflict and differ from what one truly believes creates a pressing need for splitting off new dissociative alters separate from the core person. The core person can keep their own safe personal distance from the nasty opinions of the predator while having a separate place within themselves to contain and retain those forced opinions. The dissociation helps to lessen the constant state of conflict.
The dissociative, amnesiac walls provide the necessary cushion and buffer for those opposing beliefs and for the parts that hold them. However, those dissociative walls do not prevent those insiders from acting in various ways, in support of those non-preferred opinions. In fact, having the dissociative separation makes it easier for those parts to act independently of your preferences.
Some dissociative survivors have been purposefully taught to not believe their own reality. I’ve heard more than one survivor talk about situations where they were specifically taught that up was down, and down was sideways, and red was green, and blue was pink. There are several complex reasons why the survivors are taught to believe confused information, but my point in this blog is more to say that this kind of purposeful self doubt and external domination of thought has happened to a number of survivors.
Another area of concern is making sure that your child parts are not being convinced of information that your adults parts would know and recognize to not be true. Predators will specifically take this approach with child parts, convincing them that it is important to never tell the older ones inside, and then convincing the child parts to believe horrendously inaccurate information. Please read an excellent article about protecting child parts.
If you’ve been forced in the past to take on views of others, how easy is it for you now to think for yourself?
How easily can you stand on your own?
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 18, 2009
Trauma survivors with Dissociative Identity Disorder have an internal world – an internal landscape that is visible, tangible, and very real for the different internal parts. No one on the outside can see this internal world – it is within the mind of the DID person and it belongs totally and completely to them.
Many times, this internal landscape is an internalized replica of what happened in the outside world. For example, you might see a house that looks just like the place where you grew up. Or you might see rooms that appear to be the same as rooms where you were hurt. When you first look within your internal world, it is not uncommon for most of the landscape to parallel your trauma history. It is, in fact, during the traumatic times that your various parts were split off.
However, the internal world belongs to you, it was created by you, and it does not have to stay “as is”. If you can visualize something new, you can change your internal world. If you want to create and develop nice internal homes, you can do that. It is your world, and you can surround yourself with whatever you choose.
This internal world can be changed and affected by work done with external people with the internal parts. Like any other situation, if the interactions are with a safe person, the changes to the internal world will lead to greater healing and stability. If those interactions are with a not-safe person, the changes in the internal world will be done to serve the offender / abuser, and will not benefit the DID survivor.
The internal landscape comes naturally with the concept of dissociating because the other people that are split off from the natural born child have to have a place to be, to exist, to live. They have internal homes – their own place be – when they are not out presenting in the body.
When the host person is in a lot of denial about the DID system, it is not unusual for that host part to not be able to see much of the internal world. Hosts with denial very often say, “It’s dark inside”, or “It’s all black”, or “I can’t see anything.” When this is the case, it is a very clear indicator that there is work to be done.
The host person of your system may not be the best person to go to when you are trying to work with your internal worlds. The host typically has the job of dealing with the outside world. Hosts are great for that, but someone else in your system could be better prepared to work with internal worlds. For that matter, if the host person has a great deal of trouble accepting that there are internal worlds, you might have to side-step that debate, and work on the issue separately as an internal group. Invite your host to join in with you, but don’t stop doing this work if the host personality finds this too difficult.
You will have internal leaders as well – they may or may not be the same leaders that deal with the external worlds. These leaders will likely be aware of who is in their area. They even be aware of other areas that are separate from their own “world”.
Those of you that can see each other can create an internal meeting place – a neutral area, much the same as a living room or den of a house. Create this place as an area that belongs to everyone and is created to be shared between whoever shows up. This makes for a good place to practice overall group communication.
Use this room to have general group meetings, to talk about daily events, to discuss decisions, to make plans. Check in with each other – ask how the others are, how they are feeling today, and what’s going on for them. The more your group as a whole participates in life issues, and becomes aware of each other, listening to each other, the more cohesion and cooperation you will get. Developing a group consensus – where insiders can agree to do various issues, will significantly improve your overall stabilization and ability to function.
Besides group meetings, make it abundantly clear that it is also ok for everyone to speak with everyone else. This is important, as breaking the “no-talk rules” is critical in your overall healing. Encourage each other to spend time together, to get to know each other, to talk on a regular basis. Do not base these kinds of communications on trauma material – base these on typical outside interactions, where you get to know the person, what they do, what they like, who they are before you start asking about crisis or traumatic material.
When you look around your internal world, you will get clues from the actual landscape that is there. If you see a locked door or a walled off area – there could be someone else on the other side, specifically separated from the rest of you. If you see black fuzzy shadowy areas, there are very likely groups of other people hidden inside of those. If you see a house or a building, there will likely be people inside those areas as well.
Explore. Walk around. Look deeper into areas that you haven’t gone into before. Look in the hidden areas – you’ll find all kinds of internalized parts if you look for them. Think about where you used to hide as a child. If you look in those same kinds of places on the inside, you’ll find some of your internal kids hiding there in your internal worlds. These hidden kids may also know where other hidden children are. Be sure to ask.
If you are leery about doing these walk-arounds on your own, take someone with you. The buddy system works well and be sure to inform the others inside that you are exploring, and ask them to come check for you if you’re not back in a certain amount of time.
Your inside world will be a mini-version of what your life has been like. What happened externally will have been internalized. In many ways, your internal world will be a version of your life story, and all the insiders needed to get through the different events. The places will be the same. The stories will be the same. It’s you and your life – just on the inside.
Remember, as you find someone inside, approach them the same as if you were looking at an outside person in that situation. If they look hungry, give them something simple to eat. If they look thirsty, share a favorite drink with them. Give them clean clothes, warm blankets, a warm wash cloth, and small teddy bear for comfort if they are young. First meet their physical needs. Your first priority is to help them feel safe and protected.
Once these parts feel safer with you, they will begin to talk with you a little more. Do not push for memory content. This will overwhelm too many people too fast, and it’s not necessary. If the hidden ones you find will move to a new area closer to the safe common ground, that is great. It might take a lot of work, before they are comfortable enough to do that, but let them know the option is available whenever they are ready for that.
Start with getting everyone connected more in the here and now. Let them peek at the external life to see that they live in a new place and time. Many of these insiders will have been locked in their traumatic worlds all their lives. They need time to see that it is now (2009), and that it will be news to them that they can live in a safer place. Build nice areas for them to stay, so they don’t have to go back to their traumatized “homes”. The longer they can stay in safe neutral areas, the better.
(To be continued…..)
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 15, 2009
Acronyms are some of my favorite writing exercises. I am repeatedly impressed with the amount and quality of helpful information that can surface through the use of acronyms.
Acronyms are helpful when you get stuck. They are also particularly helpful when addressing a topic head-on or “with logic” is getting you nowhere. Sometimes, it is better to take a more gentle, roundabout, less direct approach. Let the information and feelings surface on their own without having to break the no-talk rules that are often so deeply embedded within.
Acronyms are particularly helpful when you just can’t quite figure out how to say what is going on for you. Or, when the parts inside are struggling with whether to tell you or not, and they don’t want to say it directly.
Acronyms are a creative way of “telling without telling.”
Pick any word or phrase or theme that describes how you feeling or what you are thinking at that moment. For example:
- What’s bothering me today?
Upset about school; Angry with my boss; Blocked feelings
- How would I describe how I feel today?
Frustrated and mad; totally numb; scared of everything
- What about my relationship with _________.
My mother is stupid; Afternoons with Suzie; Uncle Sam is weird
- I am remembering ________.
Nights at that house; Visits from Ted; Nightmares
- I keep thinking about __________.
Voices I hear; Seeing others inside; My puppy Patches
Write this word or phrase vertically on the page.
As you think of that theme, take one letter at a time, and write down the first word or phrase that you think of that starts with that particular letter. Again, there is no right or wrong, just write down the words that come to mind as you think about your theme word. If you immediately think of more than one word for any particular letter, you can write down both words if you want to.
If you get stuck on a letter that is difficult, you can adjust the exercise however you see fit. The easiest option is to turn the difficult letter into any “miscellaneous” letter of your choice, allowing you to fill that spot in with any words that come to mind about your theme.
Once you have completed the list of words for your acronym, read through what you have written. Take this writing exercise a step further by using that same list of words as parts of a paragraph. The words can be used in any order in combination with as many other words as needed to complete your paragraph.
Read through your paragraph. Is there a particular phrase, or word that stands out to you? Again, there is no right or wrong answer. Pick a word or phrase that either needs further explanation, or seems to summarize your thoughts the best, or just “hits you” as important.
Using this new word or phrase, start the exercise again. Repeat this process as many times as necessary – with a new acronym, a new list of words, a new summary paragraph. You can repeat this process again and again because each new acronym will lead to greater understanding of the issue at hand.
Example of Acronym Writing:
Reaching the inside is not as hard as you might think. Yes, they have experienced terrible things that no one should ever have to endure. They need reassurance that they will never have to do that yucky stuff ever again. Let each part of you live a safe life.
R real scared
C crying, comfort
I understand that everybody feels real scared about writing, and talking, and telling. It is important to know the reality of what has happened so you can learn how to become safe. It is ok now for each of the child parts to have comfort. They are still crying because they have been hurt again and again. They need to know they can always be safe. I am here to help you find safety. Nobody deserves to be hurt, not even the inside parts that are named Nobody.
Pick the word or phrase that sticks out for you in this second paragraph. Do a third acronym with those words, then a fourth acronym, then a fifth, etc. Keep going until you have reached some answers to the words and feelings you were searching for.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 12, 2009
Creating a collage is another way of allowing your internal system parts to tell more about themselves.
Pictures can be a powerful way of communicating. And a collage – a collection of pictures – can tell a lifetime of stories.
Most trauma survivors were repeatedly told by their abusers, “Do not tell”. Violence, threats, abuse, and pain often accompanied these rules. How many times did you hear “don’t say anything to anyone” or “don’t talk about this” or “you better stay quiet”? All of those directives involve restrictions on being able to talk. Years later, even in the safety of therapy, the intimidation of the no-talk rules can still feel as powerful and real as ever.
One important aspect of healing and therapy is learning to work around the negative, confining rules and those scary points that keep people stuck. If some of your parts are too scared to tell what happened, maybe they could show what happened instead. Pictures can be a way of communicating when talking is a hindrance.
A picture paints a thousand words!
Sometimes writing is too complicated and can also be “against the rules,” especially in the early days of treatment. Thinking creatively, you can work around these rules too. Typing, for example, is actually different from writing. Cutting out printed words is also different from writing. Using stencils, stickers, and rubber stamps are also ways to show wording without having to write.
Collage allows the artist to show a mixture of pictures and words to tell stories without officially breaking no-talk and no-write rules. Collages can be made with a specific topic in mind, or they can be another useful format for the system descriptions.
To create your collage, use a variety of magazines, newspapers, advertisements, and telephone books, etc. Look through these printed materials and cut or tear out any picture, word, or phrase that seems relevant.
If you are sufficiently computer savvy, you can also create a collage from computer pictures. The web certainly has a wide variety of images available for collage purposes. If you can copy-paste and arrange pictures on a document, you can create an incredible collage without so much as lifting a piece of paper.
Let your internal system help pick out these pictures and words, and pay close attention to their interest in selecting pictures, even if you are not sure why they want that particular one. It is very important to not edit or limit the choices of pictures made by your insiders – let them pick whatever pictures they relate to. Each of your parts will have their own things to say, and everyone inside will relate to pictures in a very different way.
Don’t be alarmed or hesitant if you don’t understand why some of the pictures are selected. Chances are, you won’t understand the meaning of all the items picked. That’s ok – that means your insiders are getting ready to tell more about life from their own perspective. Be open to this new information – getting new communication is a big part of why this exercise is helpful. Besides, as you get to know the insiders that selected those pictures, and as the time is right, they will tell you the relevance and meaning of all their selections. If your insiders are picking pictures they relate to, they are completing the assignment, and that is a good thing. Don’t interfere!
Even though you might want to know why the various collage pictures are being selected, be very careful not to push your insiders to talk about everything at once. Not only will that put the others on the spot, and potentially chase them away from the assignment, but you could also easily overload and overwhelm yourself if you start demanding explanations for every picture or phrase that is selected. Select the pictures from a comfortable emotional distance and save the “talking time” for later. There will be plenty enough time on different days for your system members to explain their choices to you.
If you find that lots of your parts are doing this exercise at once, you can either make different piles for the pictures that belong to different folks, or just cut out everything you see and separate the piles of pictures into themes at a later point. I have known people to be working on dozens of tiny collages all at the same time. I have also known people to assemble gigantic collages on huge poster boards. Use whatever style works for best for you! The important point is that your parts are creatively showing you what has deep meaning for them.
The purpose of the collage is to provide another way to tell without telling. Using groupings of pictures and cut out words or phrases can help to say things that you are not allowed to say directly. Any form of expression is helpful in the therapeutic process, even if some of it stays unclear for a long while.
Another added benefit to this exercise is that you will get to know your system parts better. You might recognize patterns for who leans towards what type of pictures. You might hear a new voice that you don’t recognize insisting on a picture that has absolutely no relevance to you.
Collage work can help with the processing of traumatic memories. You might see entire story-lines displayed right in front of you in the groupings of magazine pictures. You might develop a greater awareness for who in your system dealt with what types of abusive situations.
Tending to everyone, listening, and allowing everyone in your system to have an unedited say in picture selection is important. As with any exercise that includes your whole system, it can lead to greater trust, system cooperation, and internal connection.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 11, 2009
A fun and creative way to increase system communication and overall system familiarity is to make a scrapbook displaying pages that describe each of the people in your system. Getting to know your system is an absolute essential part to your healing and recovery, but doing system work doesn’t have to be drudgery. A system scrapbook can be a wonderful treasure and a priceless keepsake for many years to come. It can help create and solidify nice memories for you.
This exercise is similar to making any other personal scrapbook or souvenir album or photo album. You will need a scrapbook, or a notebook, or a binder full of paper. Have a wide variety of writing utensils available, ie: pens, pencils, crayons, markers. Allow for different colors to be used. If you want to get creative with your pages, you could also set out scissors, glue, glitter, strips of fabric or cloth, stencils, rubber stamps, yarn, buttons, dried flowers, photos, ribbons, pretty papers, etc.
Invite each and every one of your internal system parts to design their very own page or two or three about themselves.
The pages are to be created by each of your individual system people to introduce and describe themselves, their activities, their interests, their friends, their history, etc. They each can each decorate and design their pages however they so choose. Encourage your parts to creatively display as much information about themselves on their pages as they are comfortable. It’s also good to include drawings, or photos, or collage, or poems, or lists of information, or “Facts about Me”, etc. The sky is the limit with creative expression!
The purpose of this exercise is to assist your system in getting to know themselves and each other, to increase system communication, and to lower amnesiac barriers between the different parts. As everybody fills out their own personal pages, they are providing a good visual summary for the others in the system to get to know who they are, what they like, what they don’t like, who they know, etc.
There is a particular personal fulfillment in being able to creatively express who you are as an individual. The same principal applies to internal parts as well. Having this freedom of expression is a great way to encourage other levels of communication, and being recognized as an individual within a system is also an important emotional need. The self-worth of each of your internal parts can increase just by being recognized as a valuable part of your system.
Completing a personalized page will be a challenge for many insiders, as they often do not know what they like. It’s ok to let the pages be filled out gradually – there doesn’t have to be a time limit or a rush for completion. In fact, the longer you allow this exercise to continue, the better. Some of your insiders might have to look around in the outside world to find more things that they enjoy. Many of them won’t be used to the idea of “liking anything”. Having the freedom and encouragement to explore, and to pick and choose for themselves will be a very new – and possibly unsettling – but positive experience for many of your internal parts. The entire design side of this exercise could be a totally new experience for most of your parts.
Of course there will be those who are resistant to telling anything at all about themselves to anybody, even to other insiders. These parts do not need to be forced to participate. There will be plenty of other folks that find this exercise to be a fun and creative way to meet each other. Encourage as much of your system as possible to participate in making their own page, and remind everyone to keep looking through the other pages.
View the amount of participation and interest each insider shows as an emotional barometer. The amount and intensity of interest your parts show in completing their pages and looking through other pages will absolutely parallel how comfortable, interested, and willing they are to participate in overall system communication.
This project can be rather involved, and may take days, even weeks, to complete. That’s ok! Hopefully more and more insiders will get involved over time. And as you do ongoing work in your healing process, you will continue to meet new insiders. As those new parts surface, encourage them to add their pages to your scrapbook as soon as they are ready to do so.
Another value in this exercise comes in your working together as a team. Some of the older parts will probably have to help the younger ones. Who is comfortable being near the kids? Everyone will have to take turns. Who gets to go first? Some parts will have to share when they both want to include the same item on their page, and as a system, you’ll have opportunities to problem-solve the various dilemmas. If someone makes a mistake, who will comfort them or assist them? If someone breaks a crayon, will they get in trouble? If these parts see someone new in the scrapbook, will they try to communicate with that new person on the inside? The actual process of learning to work together as a group in creating such a valuable system book is invaluable.
Please do not show this book to anyone you do not completely trust as there is no need to set yourself up for uncomfortable situations with people who are not open to understanding dissociative disorders. This system treasure book is primarily intended for you to get to know you and all your other inside peoples. It is a good therapeutic exercise and I’m sure your therapist will be very interested in seeing it as well.
Get creative, and have fun!
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 10, 2009
I’m going to take a slight detour in the internal communication series and write a little about working with difficult alters. It is crucial to work with these internal parts, no matter how challenging and hopeless things seem in the beginning. Your therapy and healing will never be resolved unless you approach the issues connected with these difficult insiders.
And for that matter, the whole process of building a connection with these difficult, complicated insiders is based on building good communication skills with them, so in that sense, this post is still part of the internal communication series. System work, in whatever way it happens, is a critical part of internal communication and the overall healing journey for everyone with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID/MPD).
Insiders may first appear in your therapy process being difficult – obstinate, obnoxious, aggressive, scary – and they may maintain destructive behaviors for a long time, but regardless of where they start, any alter within your system can become a helper or a protector. If you as the person truly want to achieve healing, then the healing of your difficult insiders can and will happen as well. No matter how difficult they initially present, they can become productive, helpful, positive members of your system.
Remember, even as a multiple, you are still one whole person. If any of your insiders are left to behave obnoxiously, or if they maintain their destructive negative goals, their behaviors and feelings will affect you and the outside people that interact with you. You cannot block off your “problem parts” and pretend they don’t exist and still expect to achieve positive healing. ALL of your insiders have to have the chance to heal, including the people you are afraid of or the ones about whom you don’t immediately find anything likable.
Some difficult alters are destructive by their own choice and design. They do what they do because they purposefully want to be negative and interrupting. Other difficult situations are complicated simply because the issues at hand are very complex and emotionally challenging. Those internal parts may not want to be as much “trouble” as they are, but until their issues are more resolved, they may not know what else to do.
Who do I define as a difficult alters? Some examples are:
- Those that purposefully sabotage or terminate your therapy and your healing process.
- Those that are self-destructive, violent to the body, or harmful to the body in any variety of ways.
- Those that sabotage other people within the system, including hurting or negatively manipulating others, blinding them, locking them up, abusing them, etc.
- Those that are willing to hurt outside helpers – any of the people that are legitimately trying to promote healing. Any version of hurting the helpers – verbally, physically, emotionally, monetarily, violently, etc. – counts as being difficult and destructive to your treatment and to your system overall.
- Those that cannot contain the new learning and tend to repeat the same negative behaviors over and over.
- Whoever the system members themselves define as “difficult” or “challenging” because those parts hold issues or feelings that are particularly hard for them to work with.
- Those that have trouble connecting to the current day, time, place.
- Those that act out their trauma instead of talking about their trauma.
- Those that stay locked in trauma memories and do not see or interact with the current day, time, place, etc.
- Those that adamantly insist on staying hidden, separated, and amnesiac from the others inside.
The quick answer to address these complicated insiders is to speak to them. Talk to them. Get to know them. Try to understand them. Listen to their perspective on life. Even these insiders can be and should be approached in your therapy sessions. I can promise you, if you avoid talking to these insiders, they will continue to act out their issues. Ignoring them frequently means they will just act out more to get your attention.
It is essential to approach these insiders knowing they have had their job for a reason. You might not like the reason, or understand their reason, but the point is, they are doing what they do because they believe it is helping to achieve a goal that they want. Try to understand what it is that they are doing. Why are they acting out like that? What do they believe? What do they value? From their framework, does their behavior make sense?
Really listen closely to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Work hard to hear and listen to their perspective. You might be pleasantly surprised to hear that their goals are not as “bad” as you might have originally thought they were. The main difference is that you might not agree with the visible behaviors.
Once you have an understanding of why they are doing what they are doing, you can work with them to problem solve and find new ways – more positive and helpful ways – to get what they want. You can begin negotiations on what helpful and positive goals will be.
And the whole process starts by talking to them. Communicate with them. Let them talk to your therapist. Let them get involved in the healing process. Remember, if they aren’t helping the healing process, they’ll continue to hurt it.
Kathy Broady LCSW
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