April 5, 2010
I didn’t have a chance to watch or write about last week’s episode of Showtime’s United States of Tara, so before the series got too much further, I thought I’d bring up the topic.
First of all – it’s now really clear to me what people were referring to as triggering about episode two. The sudden sexual explicitness would be triggering to a lot of trauma survivors. If you haven’t yet seen this episode, beware of the last five minutes of the show.
Tara’s male alter, Buck, sneaks out in the middle of the night, goes to a bar, and develops a sexual relationship with a woman that works at the bar. Tara is completely amnesiac for the hours Buck spends with the other woman, but she gradually notices some clues that she is missing time. Tara runs into the bartender while grocery shopping, initially does not recognize her at all, and is embarrassed by the bartender’s flirty familiarity. Tara eventually has vague recall of who the woman is, but reassures her that they will not be continuing that relationship, whatever it was. Tara and Buck argue about this situation, and Tara says “Absolutely not!” but Buck seems to be winning. He is able to continue his relationship with his new girlfriend despite Tara’s best efforts to squash it from happening.
There are layers of internal system conflicts demonstrated in the situation with Tara, Buck, and the bartender. Specifically from this week’s show, I want to bring up the topics of sexual preferences and sexual acting-out.
Here are some questions I have been asked dozens of times:
If a male alter in a female body is attracted to women, is that a homosexual interest? Or is that a heterosexual interest?
If you had an insider sneaking out of the house to have a sexual relationship with another person, how would you handle that? If this relationship was happening behind amnesiac walls, how long would it take for you to figure it out?
You might think that this story line is dramatic twist, but I have to admit, I have seen something very similar happen several different times during my years of working as a trauma therapist with dissociative survivors.
Sexual relationship issues do surface during the therapy treatment years. Not only does this issue provide conflicting feelings for external relationships, it also can create significant tension, anxiety and conflict between system parts. For example, it is not unusual for male insiders express a very different sexual preference than female insiders. It is not unusual for male insiders to feel like they should have their own options instead of being “stuck” with whomever the girls have chosen. The child parts may have a strong vote as well, meaning that they often want complete abstinence in order to feel safe. This may or may not be acceptable to the adult parts, (or to the adult partners / spouses). The subsequent arguments that can develop between system parts can be intense. Learning to work out conflicts and find suitable compromises can be very difficult in these situations.
Re-enactments of sexual trauma have an impact on sexual interests and preferences. As sexual trauma issues surface, survivors can respond in all kinds of ways. Some of the ways include finding an external relationship that either imitates the traumatic relationship, or finding an external relationship to use as avoidance of sexual trauma issues. Sometimes sexual addictions flare up rapidly, and the sexually interested insiders may feel intensely pulled towards sexual activities, including self-focused activities. Or most commonly, survivors completely lose interest in participating in a sexual relationship, and if a spouse or partner requests ongoing participation, there is a high-risk of the original traumatized child parts being pulled out.
It’s a difficult dilemma.
Most survivors with dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD) will have insiders that express all of the above views.
Finding the best balance varies from person to person, relationship to relationship.
How do you address all of this?
How do you sort out all the different layers of conflict?
How do you meet all the varying needs?
It’s certainly not easy.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
March 23, 2010
So here we go again.
The second season of the Showtime series “United States of Tara” starring the Emmy Award winner Toni Collette has begun.
The first season was full of controversial episodes, and most of the survivor population with dissociative identity disorder was disappointed and angered by the series. Even though some of the best-known trauma psychiatrists were allegedly acting as advisors for the show, there were still far too many inaccuracies and misrepresentations for the comfort level of real DID survivors. (Maybe next time, Showtime, executive producer Steven Speilberg, or writer Diablo Cody should speak more with clinical therapists that treat dissociative clients on a long-term basis. If you ask me, therapists know more about the clinical realities of DID than psychiatrists anyway, but that’s a whole different rant.)
The first episode starts with Tara tossing out the clothing and personal items that belonged to her formerly recognized four or five insiders. Tara had ended the first season in the hospital, and had apparently done so well in her brief hospital stay, that it had been three whole months since her insiders had surfaced. She was sure they were all gone. She was already saying goodbye to them – more like good riddance to them – and her family gathered around the charitable donations dumpster to make crass comments toward the inside parts.
Oh dear. What a way to start the season. Fifty-one seconds into the show and my eyes are popping out with enough material for a blog post. (Dare I even watch the rest of the episode?!) Yeeesh!
So this very first minute of the show brought up some of my very biggest complaints about the way some mental health professionals and hospital programs treat DID / MPD.
One of the most devastating techniques that treatment providers can use with dissociative survivors is to push the whole integration idea. To push the idea that insiders need to not be allowed out, or need to be silenced, or need to be pushed to the back, is damaging to the person as a whole. Integration is not anywhere near the cure-all or ideal goal it is professed to be, and frankly, expecting dissociative clients to having these “alleged integrations” too fast is absolutely harmful.
I have seen too this happen far too many times. This is not good treatment for dissociative identity disorder!!
You cannot go into a hospital program and walk back out, a few weeks later, as an integrated multiple. This is NOT possible. I don’t care how much this is advertised as possible, it is not. It is complete farce, and it will not work.
Sure, you can temporarily push your insiders back into hiding. Or, your insiders can push you out to the front and rebuild the dissociative wall behind you so that you are completely separated from your system. You might think you are alone. You might think you are “integrated”. But you are just separated from your insiders. In fact, you are more dissociated than ever because now you have a complete dissociative block between you and the rest of your selves.
This is not helpful.
Unfortunately, there are hospital programs or therapists that encourage this kind of treatment.
It doesn’t work. It won’t stick. Those inside parts are not gone. They might be hidden, but they absolutely are not gone. And this new or encouraged separation will just cause problems down the road. I’d bet money on that.
I realize that many of you may want to push your insiders back in, or make them shut up, or make them go away, because you believe that your life would be easier and more manageable if they were gone. I can understand the concept that having one personality is easier than having a dozen or two (or three) personalities. I get that.
But it’s still not a good idea.
The various parts of you were created for a reason, and they hold valuable pieces of your life, your history, your emotions, your skills, your abilities, your memories, your talents, your energy, etc. They represent years of your life, and it takes all of you together to make the whole picture – and as appealing as it might be to think that three weeks in the hospital can solve everything with a quick integration, this is an illusion and a lie. Genuine integration, if it is actually desired and if it is actually going to be successful, requires years of work. The various selves to work through all the things that caused them to be separated in the first place – and that just takes time.
It is a cruel trick for hospitals to sell this approach as something they can achieve for the client – because the hospital won’t be there six months or a year down the road, when the apparent “integration” falls apart and the devastated client is left feeling at fault. And it is compounding the wrong for Showtime to present this approach as something that actually happens.
The other problem in this first minute of United States of Tara is the negative way that Tara and her family are speaking about her insiders. Where is their kindness and compassion? Why such blatant disrespect? Where is the appreciation for what those insiders did for her?
EVEN IF I believed in sudden or quick integration as a general theory (which I most definitely do not), I would still say to Tara and her family members that their “good riddance, you big pains in the butt” attitude was an obvious indication of why this particular attempt at integration was not going to work.
Clearly, there were still plenty of issues left unresolved. Clearly, Tara and her family harbored resentment, irritation, and bitterness toward her insiders. The insiders did not integrate because there was acceptance, understanding, and blending of their roles. These insiders were clearly not wanted, not liked, not understood, not appreciated. They were hated. And if Tara is still hating on her insiders, then she is still hating herself. This is not the kind of foundation from which any kind of healthy progress is made.
You cannot integrate your insiders if you hate them.
You cannot make them go away, just because you hate them.
I suppose you can pretend they do not exist because you don’t like what they did. But that will not help you to get better.
I suppose you can act like they are not real because you don’t want them. But that will not help you to get better.
Hating on your insiders, in any way, shape, or form, is not conducive to good treatment.
Hating your yourself, in any way, shape, or form, is not conducive to good treatment.
Your insiders are still parts of you, now and for always.
As far as I am concerned, neglecting your insiders is a form of self-abuse. Neglect is neglect, and if you are not working hard to appropriately meet the needs of your insiders, you are carrying out of form of neglect.
It is so very important to develop positive acceptance and understanding with your insiders. It is imperative to the success of your healing, and one of foundations of your treatment, to be kind, gentle, and compassionate to your inside parts. Build positive teamwork. Build good cooperation. Build good internal communication skills. Become friends with each other. You and your insiders really have to be able to get along and work things out together in order for your healing to progress.
Somehow Tara forgot to do this, and somehow her hospital program forgot it as well.
She can pretend that shoving her insiders away, or pretending they don’t exist, is a wonderful option for her.
But it really will not work.
Later in the previews, it becomes clear that Tara starts realizing she is switching again. (She calls in transitioning. What a bulky word, but ok – it’s a transition from one self to another.) So yes, she clearly switches from one part to another. That’s no surprise.
Someone on her treatment team should have told her months ago that that her “they are gone” approach wasn’t going to work.
Because it didn’t.
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 18, 2010
What is it like to live with dissociative identity disorder?
How does it feel to have dissociative identity disorder?
What do you wish others could understand about DID?
Have you found it hard to put the experience of dissociative identity disorder into words?
Sometimes pictures say a thousand words.
Dissociative Identity Disorder can be hard to explain in words, but a visual image can show what is hard to explain otherwise. Have you drawn or created some pictures that show how DID / MPD feels?
If you have a picture — a drawing, a painting, a collage — that represents DID as you relate to it, and if you are willing to share your picture, I would like to show some of those images here in this blog as a way to help describe DID.
What to do:
If you have some appropriate images that you would like to share, please send them to my email address: Info @ AbuseConsultants.com (remove the spaces). If there are words or a story that goes along with your image about dissociation, please include that as well. You can request that your submission be posted with or without an identifying name / title, etc.
Please do not submit any copyrighted material from other sources or any other material that is not your own.
Please do not send the only copy or the original copy of your pictures or artwork to my mailing address. Send scans or photos of the pictures only. Please note: anything that is submitted for consideration in this project will not be returned.
Personal details regarding internal system information or system maps will not be posted, in order to protect individuals and their system from the potential risk of making that information public.
When you are considering which pictures to submit, please remember that you are responsible for determining what you are comfortable sharing and what is too personal for you to share. Please listen to and respect your own feelings in this regard.
Keep in mind that the Discussing Dissociation blog is an online environment, and you are submitting your pictures or images for consideration as part of a public post. Please understand that once a picture is posted on a blog, it is publically visible to anyone in the world with internet and could potentially be copied by anyone that views it. If you choose to submit a picture, you are accepting all responsibility for what happens with your picture as a public item. Kathy Broady / AbuseConsultants.com are not responsible.
The Purpose of this Project
Please know that I will not personally know these artists nor will I be familiar with their systems or how things work for them. In the blog articles, I will ask questions and interpret some DID system issues by the way things were drawn, but not because I am familiar with the people in real life. My guesses might be wrong! I am simply looking at these pictures and presenting some of my thought about how DID can be seen and more deeply understood by paying attention to artwork and drawings.
In a therapeutic setting, I would of course, ask the survivors to explain their art before I began presenting some of my own interpretations. However, for the purposes of this blog, I will present some of my thoughts without having had the opportunity to speak with the artist directly.
The intention is to provide education information for those working with dissociative disorders – to point out possibilities of dissociative issues within artwork – to explore options about system interpretation, etc.
My interpretations may or may not be correct — only the artist will know that. The artists are not required to nor expected to provide the “correct” interpretation of their work to me or to the readers of this blog as their privacy is important.
However, for the purposes of discussing elements of dissociation, I will be speaking openly even without knowing if my comments are accurate or not.
Thank you for your willingness to participate in this project!
I look forward to seeing what DID looks like to you!
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
December 5, 2009
Multiplicity, the 1996 movie with Michael Keaton, is not specifically about Dissociative Identity Disorder – it is technically about being cloned — but it is a funny, light-hearted comedy that absolutely pertains to DID / MPD.
Have you watched this show?
Keaton’s character has a lot in common with DID. As you watch the movie, you can see the following similarities happen in this sequence:
- Putting his fax machine (electronic equipment) on the blitz easily
- Creating split, after split, after split, with each different self assigned to work in different areas of his life
- Feeling that life is overwhelming and he can’t get it all done
- Participation in scientific experiment (ok, so this is supposed to be a fun post, so I won’t delve into that)
- Having an unusual, complicated sense of time, especially once he has more than one self
- Fighting between the parts over “who’s me” – “I’m the main one – No, I am!” The different selves squabble over who is the leader of the body-life, e
- As the different parts have different experiences, they contain different memories and different feelings. While they all started from the same place, they develop unique lives.
- The different parts argue with each other – take opposite opinions, have different goals, different priorities. They each make significant decisions that effect the whole of the body-life.
- At first, the idea of having split lives works really well. It helps to get more things accomplished effectively.
- Experiencing “memory loss” – the parts are not aware of what the other parts are doing, and they have to suddenly cover for the activities of the other parts
- Gradually realizing they need to coordinate and talk about whose doing what to keep things running smoothly
- People out in the world can notice the difference between the different parts, despite their best efforts to not let this be seen
- Sometimes its hard to tell the difference between the parts – sometimes the differences are more than obvious
- Once the original person starts splitting, the easier it is to split again, and again, and again. Eventually, the parts begin to split as well.
- “Not me” – it was one of the others – passing responsibility and blame to someone else in the system
- Bickering and fighting occurs between the parts — they even get jealous of each other
- As there is more and more unawareness of what the others are saying or doing, the reality of being multiple affects his life more significantly
- As the different ones experience new activities for the very first time, the newness of the event is an exciting unexpected experience for each of them.
- The “host” of the system realizes that he has handed his life out to so many others, and at some point, he misses his life, and wants to get back involved. While being away so much has its perks, he realizes he is missing out by not being involved.
- Consequences start happening when the parts do not know what the other parts know, when one part can’t cover for another, and the information gaps start becoming more and more obvious.
- There are hurt feelings between the parts when they think outside people like one of the other parts better than them
- When they finally work together on a project, they can accomplish a lot, really quickly
- When insecurities arise between the parts, they have to remember “You are me, I am you” – they have to remember they are really the same person, even though they experience life as different people
That’s pretty good for Hollywood!
How many of these events can you relate to?
Have these kinds of complications happened in your life as a multiple?
Have you experienced these feelings in your life as a multiple?
This movie is a nice change from the usual dark, unflattering versions of multiplicity portrayed in the media. It’s not a perfect display of life as a dissociative survivor, but it shows a lot of humor about the difficulties in developing system cooperation and internal system communication.
If only real life as a multiple was this fun…!
For some light-hearted entertainment that you might relate to as a multiple (or as someone who lives with a multiple), I recommend watching this show.
Kathy Broady LCSW
October 23, 2009
There is a young woman who will always be precious to me. I haven’t spoken to her in years, but she forever changed my life.
This date – October 23rd — had specific meaning for her.
And every year on this date, I specifically think of her.
Back in the 80’s…
Annemaria was a 13 yr old wildly aggressive but enormously quiet girl that kept setting fires in the residential treatment center and starting fist fights with grown men. She was a complicated child, and was court-ordered to have an assessment by a psychologist. Fortunately for Annemaria, the psychologist had just attended a presentation about multiple personality disorder (MPD), learning about the symptoms of dissociation and trauma. Annemaria was quickly diagnosed with MPD and due to the variety of extreme acting out behaviors she demonstrated within the custody setting, she was given an unusual opportunity.
It was clear that Annemaria was acting out her child abuse history. She openly admitted to purposefully committing violent crimes so she would be taken out of her abusive home. It was a brilliant plan for finding safety from her offender-parents. Unconcerned about the long list of legal charges against her, she knew she would be safer living in residential treatment centers, and she was glad to be there. No one doubted her abusive past, and a long string of child protection workers advocated for her safety.
As requested, the Court agreed to give Annemaria the longest sentence possible so she could remain in the residential treatment center instead of being forced to go home. They did this for the preventive safety of the people she would be willing to assault in the future, but also for her own current-day safety and protection. The Court also ordered that she be given specialized treatment and intensive therapy.
Since she was so violent towards men, she was to be assigned a female staff member, and this staff member was to devote the vast majority of her time to working individually with Annemaria.
This is when Annemaria changed my life.
I was assigned to be Annemaria’s personal staff member.
I knew about sexual abuse, but I didn’t know a thing about MPD. I had been trained to work with family systems, but I didn’t know anything about internal systems. But I was thoroughly pleased to have been given the assignment of working with Annemaria. I knew it would be fascinating work, and frankly, Annemaria and I already had a little bit of a connection. Afterall, I was the only person in the entire treatment center that she would speak to.
I had two years to work with Annemaria. We did hours and hours of therapy every week, and even more hours of everyday life-skills work. She blossomed in that safe, healing environment but for such a young child, her stories of abuse were more than any of the treatment staff could fathom. Eventually, a non-threatening but strong young man was assigned to assist me during Annemaria’s acting out or heavy-duty memory flashbacks. She bounced a lot of male anger in his direction, but he handled that like a pro. The work was tough, and we leaned on each other a lot. Even so, I developed secondary PTSD, and experienced numerous nightmares after listening to Annemaria’s stories of trauma. I really hadn’t known such horrors existed. Talk about a learning curve… They hadn’t explained ANY of that in grad school!
I had so much to learn. I had no idea anyone could be abused in the ways that Annemarie described in such vivid detail. She was only 13. It had just happened. She had been abused her whole life, but still… it had just happened! Even though she was dissociative, she knew a lot about it.
She and I taught each other about two very different worlds. She taught me about her world, and I taught her about mine. We both ended those two years in a very different place.
I was truly never the same.
I hope that I impacted her life in the same way.
I also wish I could re-do those two years with Annemaria. Now that I have had 20 years experience working with MPD – currently called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) — I would do those first two years very differently. I’ve learned more about self-injury and how to manage those behaviors effectively. I’ve learned about depression, anxiety, PTSD and vicarious traumatization. I’ve learned about flashbacks, amnesia, body memories, and internal system communication. I’ve learned about organized abuse, the sex slave industry, pornography, and ritual abuse. NOW I am properly prepared to address the issues that Annemaria was speaking about.
I just didn’t have a clue.
And how sad was that.
Today is Annemaria’s day.
And today, while I was recording my BlogTalkRadio show on Internal Communication, I thought of Annemaria.
While I felt confident in explaining how so many things work for DID / MPD, I thought of Annemaria.
I just wish I knew then what I know now.
I could accomplish so much more with Annemaria in two years at this point in time than I could have back in the 80’s when I was new to the field. It saddens, me in that respect, because I didn’t give to her then what I could give to her now.
But she changed my life.
In fact, she changed the entire course of my life.
I would not be where I am if it were not for Annemaria.
And for that, I owe her a few years of decent therapy.
Annemaria, if you ever find me again, you’ve got yourself a therapist for as long as you need one!
And thank you, Annemaria.
Kathy Broady LCSW
August 2, 2009
It always amazes me when dissociative trauma survivors tell me that after they’ve met three or four of their inside alters (or maybe even a few more than that, but not many), that they think they’ve met everyone in their system. They think they are “done” meeting their insiders.
That never makes sense to me. Oh, I understand why the survivors would want to believe they have so few others inside, but that hope rarely matches with the actual amount of dissociative symptoms that they experience in their lives.
For example, if someone is still losing time, but they believe that have a good solid relationship with the parts that they know – then why are they losing time? Yes, it is possible that someone you know in your system can still block you out of awareness at certain times. Then again, if everyone you know in your system said they did not know what happened during a period of lost time, then it only makes sense to realize there are other parts of the system out and in charge during that missing time. If all of you are losing time, then there are more insiders yet to meet.
In my definition, meeting new insiders is a sign of progress. The survivor will not be creating new parts by meeting new parts – they are simply finding the parts that have been hiding from them all along behind strong dissociative walls. Any time you can reclaim more of the information that had been previously blocked from you via dissociation, you are making progress. Learning about your system and your history are always steps of progress.
So who should you look for or when will you know if there are more parts to meet?
All dissociative trauma survivors have their own unique system, of course. No one’s system is exactly like anyone else’s. There is no right or wrong for how big or how elaborate your system is. You would have split as many times as you had to, and you will have as many parts as you needed.
However, there are some common types of alters that exist in most DID survivors. This is a non-exhaustive list:
(Please note: alters may start off in these categories, but their roles can change.)
1. Host parts – check to see who was the host at various times in your life. This role can change and be assigned from part to part to part through time.
2. Child parts – your dissociative splitting would have started prior to age 7, so you will definitely have at least one child part, however, most DID survivors have bunches of child parts.
3. Parts that are relatively happy and trauma-free. These parts do not remember any trauma whatsoever. They can be of any age, but they believe they had a completely safe and happy childhood / adult life. Some parts might believe there was childhood abuse, but they can be blocked from the awareness of abuse happening in the adult years.
4. Parts that are created to manage the outside world. These parts may be the ones that went to school, or go to work, or handle social situations. They are typically quite separate from the trauma-holders or those that hold intense emotions. These parts may not be aware of a lot of trauma, they may hold a lot of denial, and they have the job to look as normal as possible. They will help the person get through life by doing normal things.
5. Parts that don’t remember anything “good” happening. If there are parts that only remember good things, there will absolutely be parts that only remember painful, not-so-good things. They contain the information that the normal daytime “happy” parts were not allowed to know, experience, or remember.
6. Parts that know a lot of memory information. These are the parts that either experienced or witnessed the trauma, abuse, neglect, etc. Getting to know these parts will involve listening to stories about the trauma, body memories about the trauma, flashbacks of the trauma, etc. It is common for there to be numerous parts to handle various types of abuses by various perpetrators. For example, one part may have managed a specific kind of abuse by perpetrator A. Another part may have handled a different kind of abuse by perpetrator A. Another part may have handled the abuse by perpetrator B. Yet another part handled the abuse by perpetrator C. And so forth.
7. Parts that contain a specific emotion. Many people split off various emotions into certain parts to contain those intense overwhelming emotions. If you believe, for example, that you never feel anger, you will likely have other parts in your system that do contain those emotions for you. These parts often have names such as “the sad little girl”, or “the angry one”, or “the scared one”. Getting to know these parts will mean starting to accept and experience these emotions.
8. Parts that split off at particularly traumatic years of life. These parts could also be memory-holders, but during years when there was more stress in the external life, there will likely be more parts. Years of more extreme abuse can lead to more parts being created of a similar age simply because more selves were needed to manage the overwhelming abuse.
9. Parts that are loyal to the mother. All children love their mother, even abusive, neglectful mothers. However, this emotion might need to be contained within certain parts, especially in the case of abusive mothers. Some parts are created to agree with the mother’s abuse (defining it as anything but abuse), and others are created to be obedient to the mother, even if they are terrified or in pain.
10. Parts that are loyal to the father. Just as with the mother, the father may have a variety of parts that are loyal to him, his beliefs, his ways, etc. They may learn that it is safer to align with the perpetrator and to separate themselves from the child-survivor.
11. Parts that contain loyalty to the perpetrators. These parts are often rewarded by the abuser-perpetrators and are encouraged to view themselves as separate from the rest of the system. It will take a lot of work to bring their loyalty back to the person they were created from.
12. Introjects created from external people. System introjects are internalized parts of the system that act – think- feel – believe themselves to be a mirror image of the external person that they are replicating, except they often believe they are the actual person (and not the replication). They may adamantly believe that they are a different person from the survivor-self, complete with a different body from the survivor. These parts contain a lot of memories, factual information, emotional realities for how it was like to be near the outside person.
13. Parts that contain the programming / mind controlled messages. These parts are often created by design and on purpose by organized abusers. These parts are given specific learnings that function as “rules” to control the survivor’s overall behavior. They are often separate from the host parts, and quite hidden within the depths of the system. The other system parts will experience their influence, but have trouble recognizing them as specific alters.
14. Parts that hate the mother or father. Hating the parents may be a difficult dilemma to address, especially since there will be parts of the person that naturally love their parents. However, years of repeated abuse and neglect can create the need for parts to contain the hatred felt towards parents who would allow such atrocities to happen to their child.
15. Parts that are created along the lines of family dynamics. Some survivors will internalize their family into their own DID system. You might find internal replicas of the sisters, brothers, parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. The family dynamics will be played out in a variety of ways but will most obviously be noted in the way the survivor splits off their system.
16. Floaters and other parts that separated themselves from the body during times of trauma. These parts may have risen above the body, and from the out-of-body experience position, may have specific information to share with the survivor about the kinds of things that happened.
17. Internal self-helpers. These parts would have been created by the system themselves and not necessarily during a state of trauma. They are typically leaders of the system that are considered to be holders of wisdom, or gentle peace, or spiritual guidance. They are devoted to the survivor system as a whole and work towards maintaining safety, stabilization, balance, etc. They typically do very little with the outside world, and focus most all of their energies towards helping the system to survive.
18. Parts that are specifically parental figures to the outside children. It is not uncommon for a survivor to split off “parental parts” just to be focused on raising the outside children as well as possible. These parts very often work hard at being different from their own outside parents, and strive to be the best parent they can be.
19. Parts that were involved in abusing others. This is a very difficult area for survivors to reach, but it is more common than not. Especially for those people who have been abused by organized perpetrators (ie: cults, sex slavery groups, etc) there will be parts who were forced to have the perpetrator role and required to do things that harmed other people.
20. Parts that contain a specific skill or talent. Certain parts can be created to develop positive talents and abilities, often as a way to help manage or express or avoid the pain that is felt so deeply by the others in the system. Maybe one part is better at playing a musical instrument than anyone else. Maybe someone else learned how to write poetry. Or maybe someone was created to be an athlete and to run, jump, excel at sports, etc.
As you can see, there can be a large system just by having parts to fulfill the different roles that are often needed to get through the abuse. Some parts may have a variety of these jobs, overlapping from a variety of categories.
But don’t be surprised if you have a variety of parts in each of the categories listed above.
Many survivors do.
Kathy Broady LCSW
July 14, 2009
When you have dissociative identity disorder (DID/MPD), and you’re thinking as a multiple personality — thus having a multitude of different thoughts at once time — it can be very difficult to make decisions.
How do survivors with DID ever make up their minds?
How do survivors with DID decide whose opinion to follow?
How do survivors with DID ever decide what is best for them?
How do survivors with DID sort out having a dozen different opinions at once?
It is complicated to think like a multiple.
There are gaps of missing time, non-sequential pieces of information, jumbled feelings and emotions, snippets of conflicting facts, confusion, voices from the past, fears of more punishment, flashbacks, internal arguing, programmed thoughts, insistent introjects, personal insecurities, etc. The chaotic internal workings of a dissociative trauma survivor can make it very difficult to think clearly.
Non-dissociative “singletons” (people who do not have multiple personality disorder) can experience simultaneous mixed feelings, opposing thoughts and conflicting perspectives on specific situations as well. Singletons can write out extensive lists of “pros vs. cons” on any number of situations. Non-dissociative singletons do not experience just one thought or one feeling at a time either. They see the big conflicting picture all at once.
So what makes decision making even more difficult for survivors with DID?
All too often, dissociative trauma survivors functioned through the difficult times of their life by separating their thoughts and feelings into individual compartments and using dissociative, amnesiac walls to keep these compartments separated. Having mixed emotions and conflicting beliefs at the same time was often too much to manage in the middle of a traumatic event. Dissociative survivors learned to split the different feelings and the different perspectives into different parts of themselves, blocking one perspective away from the other. It is easier to separate and contain overwhelming conflicting emotions when the two opposing emotions did not have to directly collide with each other.
For example, all children love their parents. But if a young girl has a father who is sexually abusing her, and a mother that is either pretending not to see that or is helping the father to abuse her, then huge conflicting emotions are going to occur. The child will want to please her parents, even in this painful abusive situation. But in order to do that, the child will have to find ways to separate her experience of the parents she loves from the parents who are hurting her. Dissociating the conflicts into separate parts help this to happen.
- The child can split off a part of herself that is willing to obey her father even to the point of acting like a passive or promiscuous young child that appears to want to be sexual with the father.
- She can split off a part of her that feels the physical pain and injury of the assault.
- She can split off a part of her that contains the intense betrayal by the mother.
- She can split off a part that holds the emotional pain, deep wounding, and heartbreak of the assault.
- She can split off a part that holds the anger and rage at having been assaulted by both of her parents.
- She can split off a part that holds the fear of being violently assaulted by her parents again and again.
- She can split off a part that is the happy little girl who goes to school the next day, blocking out all the pain, acting very connected to her parents, not showing any sign of having been through a horrendous assault the night before.
The person as a whole sees the situation as a whole. But if a dissociative trauma survivor has separated the different feelings and perspectives and kept that information separated locked and blocked behind various dissociative walls, then the survivor is aware of only some of the information at any given point in time. She is not aware of the whole picture, because she has it dissociated parts of it away from herself.
Dissociative people are accustomed to separating the intense conflicting emotions and managing only one or two at a time. This might help in the short-run, but it does not help in the long-run.
So how do dissociative trauma survivors make good decisions if they are used to looking at situations from the constraints of one limited perspective at a time? What happens when they cannot see the situation as a whole? How can they make a good decision if they cannot put the entire picture together at the same time?
This is a common problem for survivors with DID. The part of them that sees and recognizes the dangers cannot always communicate with the happy naïve part who is determined to believe she is safe and unharmed. The ones that believe they are out of harm’s way (and who wouldn’t want to hold tight to that belief?) refuse to connect with the fear, anger, pain of the trauma (because who would want to feel that?!)
The problem is that by not seeing the whole picture at one time, dissociative trauma survivors find themselves tangled into a variety of dangerous situations. For example, they can bond to dangerous people without recognizing the danger. They see only as much as the current perspective allows them to see, and they don’t even realize that there is trouble looming in the near future. By dissociating the perceptions and experiences that might better recognize the danger, dissociative survivors can put themselves in high-risk situations over and over and over again.
Building the strength, the courage, and the willingness to talk to all the other internal parts in your system is key to getting past the dissociative walls and being able to make decisions from a more complete perspective. Face your difficult emotions, confront the truth of your trauma, listen to all of your inner selves, and recognize that other internal parts have valid information. No one can make a good decision based on partial information. Be willing to look at the whole picture.
As you learn to trust your internal parts to give you the rest of the story, you will be less vulnerable to people who aggressively or suggestively tell you what to think. The more you can trust yourself, the less vulnerable you are to people who would manipulate your thinking by maneuvering behind your dissociative walls. Predators and perpetrators will have less ammunition to use against you when you can trust your own selves. They will not be able to abuse you as much if you are aware that it is happening. The less you dissociate time and information, the more you can appropriately handle life’s current day conflicts.
If you truly know the whole story of what happens in your life, both in the past and in the present, then you are less vulnerable to feeling or thinking or believing something just because someone else more aggressive tells you that you do. You can learn to connect to and trust in your own thoughts or feelings or beliefs, and to make your own assessment of a situation based on that.
Look at the whole picture and think for yourself.
Kathy Broady LCSW