December 8, 2012
Many times I get asked what abuse is.
I understand this question, and the need for that question because many of the dissociative survivors who I speak with grew up in such chronically abusive homes that abuse was normal. Normal is just normal to them. What I would define as abuse was their norm, their everyday, their usual, their expected. And once abuse is “just how it is”, it becomes tricky and confusing to learn where actual abuse – physical, sexual, emotional abuse – starts and stops.
It gets even more confusing when the person that is being abused has a genuine relationship with the abusive person. Having genuine care for someone may give the abuser extended grace, or extra permission, or repeated forgiveness for the inappropriate actions they did. What about when the abuser’s behaviors are gentle, or appear as loving, or are done in the guise of helping the other person? Is gentle touch ever considered to be abusive or inappropriate?
It also gets fuzzy when the abusive parent, for example, has medical illnesses, or psychiatric illnesses and severe mental health problems of their own. Even if this person is acting in abusive ways, do they realize they are being abusive? Do they know when they are doing something irrational or violent or neglectful? Should their poor behaviors be categorized as rigorously abusive as the negative behavior from those without mental health troubles? How much abuse or neglect should a child be allowed to tolerate from a sick parent before it is considered too much?
And what about situations where the person is taught to honor their father and mother, and / or to obey their father and mother, because to not do what you are told to do is a sin based on their religious beliefs. When do those parents cross the line from claiming their rightful authority over their child? When does honoring parents actually become a dishonorable request?
Where is that line between appropriate and abuse?
Where does the unacceptable start?
It’s often not clear.
It’s especially confusing to a young child or teenager growing up in a home where these kinds of behaviors are typical.
I’m going to list some examples below, and in this post, I’m not going to give my opinion for what I deem to be abusive versus what isn’t. I would be glad to hear comments from you first. I will have an opinion, of course, but I’ll wait and say mine afterwards.
Are any of the following situations abusive? And if so, how so?
*** Please note – if you are sensitive to triggers and self destructive behavior, please be sure you are in a safe enough space to read further.***
*** Also, if you think I am describing your personal situation, I assure you, I am not. These are examples created for discussion purposes only.***
What do you think about these situations?
1. A divorced, single mother with low income and high anxiety obsessively restricts the amount of food that her children are allowed to eat. She does this by hiding the food, and especially hiding any cookies or chocolates from the children. She frequently locks the children out of the house (ie: after school) to keep them from sneaking extra snacks until she gets home from work. She will not allow the kids to keep any snacks in their bedrooms. The children are fed something most days, but there is very little food in the house. Sometimes the fridge is barren and empty. The children feel hungry most of the time and they start stealing food from local stores because they are hungry. The mother is too proud to get help from her wealthy family members or from charities. She wants to “do it on her own”, and would rather go hungry than ask for help.
2. A father, who says he is happily married to the mother, makes flirty comments to his puberty-aged daughter. He doesn’t touch the girl, but his comments and his gazes are sexualized. He says he is only complimenting his daughter for looking cute and attractive. The father’s buddies whistle and make many of the same kinds of comments in front of him while staring at his daughter. These comments make the father beam with pride. The mother hears some of these comments but acts as if she didn’t hear anything at all.
3. A mother is very angry at her children and decides to discipline them. She doesn’t hit them, but she speaks openly about fantasizing slapping their faces. She also removes various items from the children. For example, all toilet paper is hidden, all towels are removed, the use of the shower is taken away, all silverware is removed from view, lamps are removed from the bedrooms, hangers are removed from the closets, all food is removed from the children, the blankets and pillows are removed from the bed. The children are told to stay in their rooms for 24 hours and if they leave their room, they will be locked out of the house. The children don’t know whether they are allowed to go to the bathroom or not. From time to time, the mother gets inches from the faces of the children and loudly lectures them for 15 – 30 minutes at a time. She is seething with fury and anger during this entire episode, making hideously ugly faces at the children, and laughing at their discomfort. The mother has not touched the children, and believes her methods of discipline to be appropriate.
I could give more examples for your consideration, but for this particular post, I think I will stop there and check in with you readers at this point.
- How are you feeling after reading these scenarios?
- Do you feel comfortable reading them?
- Were these situations upsetting to you in any way?
- What are your thoughts about these three different situations?
- Are any of them abusive or excessive?
- Are any of the parents in these scenarios acting inappropriately? If so, how so?
- What do you relate to in these examples?
- If you view any of these things abusive now, would you have viewed them as abusive when you were a child?
Your thoughts and comments are much appreciated.
Copyright © 2008-2012 Kathy Broady and Discussing Dissociation
May 13, 2012
Mother’s Day 2012.
It’s Mother’s Day.
A difficult topic.
A difficult day.
Often a day of loss and grieving.
A day that many dissociative survivors don’t want to think about.
If only…. If only, if only…..
I’ve been thinking about these things all week, knowing I would / should write something about mothers. Hmmmmm…. I wasn’t sure which angle to talk about….
Then I thought about something that has been happening around here each day.
I’ve been watching some birds again. For several weeks now, I’ve been able to see a very dedicated momma lark and a equally dedicated daddy lark tenderly care for their little three baby birds. This little bird family has sparked great interest, curiosity, and hours of entertainment.
This little fearthery family tucked their home deep within some very leafy trees across the street from me. I just had to go over there to see if I could find it! Their nest, not at all visible unless you meander directly under their tree with the grouping of many of trees, was cleverly built where it stayed the most protected from the cold blowing winds, where it would stay dry during the drenching rain storms, and where it would stay shaded from the heat of the day. I was impressed! The little babies, while having to brave the uncomfortable changes in weather, were clearly as protected as little birdie babies could be. Well done, momma bird!
To my delight, I have been able to see and admire their very busy lives. All day long, the parent birds have been flying all over the neighborhood, searching for food to bring back to their babies. All day long, the baby birds have been running around in the grass, chasing their parents around, looking for tasty treats to eat. And when I say all day long, I literally mean, all day long. From sun up to sun down, someone in this little lark family was searching for food for the babies.
And noisy! These young babies are loud little sqawkers! I was just sure all that racket was coming from a big ol’ crow, or some other big bird, but when I paid closer attention, to my complete surprise, that noise was coming from those little baby birds. My goodness! Noisy little flappers! They are the loudest larks I’ve ever heard!
For the longest time, the baby birds just ran around like little speedy zingers in the grass – ding ding ding ding zing zing zing – running really fast, but just running. Last week, I saw them actually fly up towards their favorite trees. That was exciting. The babies could fly!
I could still see the momma and the daddy bird fly back and forth, searching for food for their babies, delivering it back to them. Once I realized the lark parents were feeding a family, I started leaving more food out for them. I love my maggies, of course, but now I tried, in particular, to be sure the Larks had food to take to their babies any time they happened to show up on my front door.
These birds were smart. If I tossed out a piece of cheese to the momma, she would immediately pick it up, grab it in her beak however she could, fly across the street to the babies, and disperse it to her little ones from there. Then she would fly right back to my side of the street – to the exact same spot where she got her cheese – and wait there for me to toss another one down. And the routine continued. It seems like hundreds of hunks of cheese have been flown over my street. Along with bits of bread, little tiny pieces of meat, and whatever seeds she selected from the bird seed pile. Clever momma!
Feeding these babies has been a lot of work! Their momma has been so dedicated to them. She hasn’t rested one little bit.
Then another milestone happened. This past week, the little baby birds were actually allowed to fly across the street too! Momma and Daddy Lark have been trying to show the babies where to find their own food, Instead of feeding them beak to beak, they have been encouraging the babies to pick the food up from the ground themselves.
You would think this would be an obvious thing for the babies to figure out. But no. Not at all. Those three silly baby birds still run around behind their momma just squawking and screeching, wanting their momma to beak-feed them. Bless her heart. She’s showing them how to pick up their food. She knows they need to learn these skills for their survival. They can’t live on home-delivery forever!
On top of that, Momma Lark had to show her babies how to find their food, how to keep their food, and how to eat it safely away from the other birds that would fight them for that same exact bite of food.
I have to admit, my maggies have not been very nice to these little baby larks! My maggies are just sure they are the most important birds around here, and they are the only ones deserving of food from this house. They have not been very keen on sharing, that’s for sure! I have to make sure the maggies have plenty of food too (and they do, believe me!). The timing of feeding the little lark babies is becoming a fine art.
And those huge crows! They are the worst. They’ll steal food from anyone, even chasing and terrorizing the small birds in the air, following them around and around through the trees until they steal the food right from their beaks, or until the smaller birds drop the food for the crows to pick up. Those mean crows. I don’t like them very much.
Momma Lark has a lot to teach her little ones. It’s been tense, and scary on several occasions. Those little babies were clearly going to have to learn how to fight for their own survival. After several days of these “how to safely pick up your own food with your own beak” lessons, I think maybe, just maybe, a few of them are starting to catch on. Slowly.
Momma Lark must be exhausted by now!
Her work isn’t yet done with these young larks, but she’s well on her way. It’s been truly impressive to see.
The phrase “ A mother’s work is never done” came to mind.
And again, I had to think of my own mother. And the many years of “momma work” she has whole-heartedly given to me, including this year as well. I’ll save the details of that story for another time, but I do have to mention her with my deepest respect. The same goes for my momma-in-law. She’s been an absolute gem to me (and my family) for years and years. These two women have dedicatedly worked from their hearts for their families as hard as any Momma Lark ever has. They are incredible women. Beautiful souls. Tough as nails, but gentle as feathers. I can and do learn a lot from them.
I wish all mothers were as dedicated and hard-working as the Momma Lark I have been watching. The world would truly be a better place if we all had that kind of nurturing and protection throughout our lives.
Ever heard the phrase “as happy as a lark”? Maybe this is why.
To the Momma Larks of the world – I thank you.
Copyright © 2008-2012 Kathy Broady and Discussing Dissociation
October 15, 2010
Self-injury is a problem all too common for trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD) or borderline personality disorder (BPD). For that matter, self-injury (SI) is an issue for other populations of people as well. This discussion will focus more on the effects of trauma and abuse and how self-injury can be addressed effectively. However, because self-injury is actually a very complicated topic, this particular blog article will reach only a few of those layers.
In my years of working as a trauma therapist, I have noticed that many DID survivors self-injure when they are in emotional pain. They are hurting, their heart feels broken, they feel betrayed or abandoned, or they feel incredibly sad (but can’t cry). Turning to various forms of self-injury and self-harm sometimes helps to temporarily relieve their emotional pain. (Trauma survivors also self-injure when they believe they need to be punished, or when they are extremely anxious, or when they are feeling strong compulsions or hearing internal instructions, etc.)
One of the reasons self-injury works is because the brain cannot distinguish between a self-caused physical injury and any other type of physical injury and upon recognizing a body injury, the brain releases all the necessarily chemicals and hormones. Dopamine, serotonin, and neural structures are significant in this process. I’ll refer all the complicated medical explanations to others more qualified, but the point being is that the act of self-harm creates a reaction in the brain that allows the hurting person to feel a little more calm and numb.
In other words, when self-injuring, survivors are trying to feel better. They know they are in emotional distress, they recognize the emotional pain, and they know they are hurting. And they want to feel better, or at least to feel differently.
Self-injury can be a quick fix for these intense feelings. In that sense, self-injury is not a lot different from having a few shots of whiskey, or a shot of heroine, or a plateful of doughnuts, or a pound of chocolate. Many addictive behaviors are centered around finding a way to feel better when hurting.
Typically speaking, this has been a life-long issue. From even their youngest days, most dissociative trauma survivors were neglected or ignored when they were hurting. They were not comforted, and their pain was not acknowledged. Even as very young children, they were left alone with their pain and injuries. All too often, they were not properly tended to, they were not cared for, they were not hugged, they were not given medical aid. They were hurt – physically and emotionally – and they were left on their own to manage.
In my opinion, this lack of comfort and the years of neglect are some of the biggest crimes committed against young children. Neglect is as significant in causing harmful life-long effects as any direct trauma.
So, when working with trauma survivors who experienced significant pain and next-to-no comfort, a critical and crucial part of their healing process is to teach how to accept and create healthy and positive comfort.
Children who are injured in healthier environments are very much comforted by their mothers or fathers or other caregivers. Their hurts are recognized and acknowledged appropriately. These children are given hugs and gentle affectionate kisses. They get band-aids — sometimes they get the fancy special band-aids with Snoopy or Spiderman or pretty flowers on them! They are checked on repeatedly, they are allowed to sit close to their caregiver, they are given other little treats (such as stickers, or the chance to watch their favorite cartoon), etc. These injured children learn that positive forms of comfort can help them feel better.
Since traumatized dissociative survivors were typically not taught these ways of receiving comfort, this becomes an important treatment goal in their healing process. They need to know their wounds can be tended, that their hurts matter, that someone hears them, and that they can be treated gently during times of pain.
Tending to the hurts and the wounds often has to be modeled to dissociative trauma survivors. In many situations, this will be completely new experience for them, and the process of having their hurts be important, can be a profound experience.
As trauma survivors start to experience genuine comfort and caring from others (this may start first in the therapeutic office setting), these survivors will eventually learn to copy these same kinds of behaviors and apply them towards themselves and their other insiders.
Emotional pain is no different, and in some ways, addressing and comforting emotional hurts is even more important.
Teaching trauma survivors to sit with their emotions and to increase their ability to endure intense emotions is an essential part of the healing process. In early stages of therapy, most DID survivors can barely touch their feelings. In the later stages of the healing process, DID survivors can sit with their feelings, no matter how intense they feel them, and not turn to anything destructive or harmful.
In order to sit with those feelings, survivors need to learn what to do during those moments. They need to know and understand that they matter and that bringing more harm and pain to their selves and their bodies is not the answer. Learning how to comfort themselves – how to self-soothe, instead of self-injure – is a significant process in their healing.
Self-soothing means that the person is doing something that brings comfort in a helpful, positive way. Feeling better can become about comfort instead of numbing. Survivors can learn that they are worth being comforted, instead of being feeling unvalued and ignored.
Each time trauma survivors are comforted in their pain, instead of ignored or injured more because of their pain, they are experiencing a corrective emotional experience. Correcting the neglect by experiencing proper comfort, including self-soothing comforts, is incredibly significant in the healing process.
Comfort actually works much better than numbing, especially in the long run. Comfort allows for pain to heal. Numbing (or self-injury) means that the pain is just postponed until it comes back again.
Ways to Self-Soothe Include:
Self-soothing is unique to each person, just as any other preference is unique to each person. There are dozens and dozens of healthy options — explore a variety of different options to see what works best for you. Some ideas to try include:
- Listening to music that matches your mood – if you are feeling sad, listen to music that will help you express that sadness.
- Sing to yourself (even if this means making up your own songs, or singing sounds), or play musical instruments as a way of expressing your feelings.
- Wrap yourself up in your favorite comfy clothes or in a warm blanket and snuggle up somewhere safe, quiet, and protected.
- Hold or hug a pet, a stuffie, or a pillow.
- Sit close to someone safe. Lean against their shoulder, or find some way to have physical contact that is in no way sexualized or dangerous.
- Sip on your favorite tea, or any other gentle beverage, and treat yourself to a few simple snacks that are not heavy, but are tasty and nutritious.
- Rock in a rocking chair, or sit in a swing, and let the movement relax and calm you.
- Walk slowly or sit quietly in areas of nature that are beautiful and inspirational.
- Make your room, or your home feel particularly cozy – have nice smelling candles, or soft lighting, or bring out your favorite treasures to look at, sit by a calming fireplace (not for injury purposes! But yes, sitting by a warm fireplace can be very beautiful and calming). If you need to clean up an area first, that is ok, because it is important to be in an area that you can feel calm and quieted.
- Take a warm shower or a warm bath, using very nice smelling soaps and body washes. Dry off with your favorite most soft towels. The more you can make this a “spa-like” experience, the better.
- Bring in fresh flowers, or fresh greenery, or pretty leaves. Looking at something beautiful from nature, even while you are indoors, can be calming and soothing.
- Allow yourself to cry, uninterrupted, when the feelings come. Crying really is allowed, it really is ok, and it is a natural expression for pain. Use soft tissues, and don’t punish yourself for having real human emotions. Give yourself permission to feel, permission to heal, and permission to respond naturally to your pain. The more you can express your emotions in natural ways, the healthier you are.
Trauma survivors — you really can help yourself to feel better without bringing more pain and injury to yourself. The key is to surround yourself with lots of nice, positive moments that help you feel better through the course of the day. Practice self-soothing every single day, especially on painful days. It will get easier, even when if it doesn’t feel easy or natural to you at first. You can learn this, and when you do, it will make a huge difference in your life.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
July 12, 2010
This article is written for the child parts of the DID survivors that read this blog.
Hey Kids, did you see the news yesterday? Hmmmm…. probably not, because most kids don’t watch the news. And because of that, I wanted to make sure to let you know about something I saw in the news that might interest you.
Look! Look! They found something that looks like a real unicorn!!
If you look here, you will find the video that talks more about it, and shows more pictures of it walking around in its natural forest home. This little unicorn guy was found in Italy, and I think he is being protected and tended to very carefully. That’s good, because there aren’t very many unicorns in the world!
What do you think it is?
Is it a real unicorn?
Is it a deericorn?
Maybe it’s a unideer.
Whatever it is, it is very cool!!!
Do you ever think about unicorns?
Do you have coloring books with unicorns in them?
What would you do if you saw a real unicorn?
And if you don’t like unicorns, what is your favorite animal?
Now I realize this little deer only looks like a unicorn, but so many kid parts talk about like unicorns that I just had to share it for everyone to see.
And for the older parts of the dissociative systems, it really is ok to let your child parts experience some of the positive wonders of the world. It is ok to let your child parts play, and to let them enjoy experiences. Simple pleasures like chocolate shakes, or yo-yo’s, or puzzle games, or teddy bears, or soccer balls can go a long ways in connecting with your child parts.
If you have dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD), your childhood was most likely interrupted by too much pain, grief, loss, trauma, betrayal, neglect, and hurt. As a child, your play times would have been few and far between, and you would have often felt too sad or hurt to play. Dissociative skills, dissociative walls, and dissociative amnesia could have separated some of the effects of the trauma from your awareness, but in all the years I have been working with multiples, I have never yet had any dissociative survivor tell me that she or he had lots of fun and play times as a child.
This is a very sad statement because having carefree playtime is a normal childhood need. It is actually important to proper growth and development. To miss out on playtime as a child means to have unmet needs.
To help meet some of those unmet needs, it is ok, and even therapeutically important to let your child parts have fun. Let them play. Let them enjoy some carefree activities. Let them learn how to have good times.
Even if you are an adult, it is not too late to let your kids have fun. Play is a normal part of growing up, and if this was stolen from you, letting your child parts play in the current day will help with your overall healing and sense of well being.
Giving your child parts the chance to play in the here and now is a corrective emotional experience for them. Corrective emotional experiences are experiences in the current day that help to correct the wrongs and fill the voids that were left after a childhood full of trauma and neglect. Corrective emotional experiences allow for healing, growth, and positive movement.
So go find a unicorn!
Go to a baseball game!
Watch a few cartoons!
Draw in your coloring books!
Play, have fun, and enjoy life for awhile!
Your whole system will feel better for it.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
July 19, 2009
Something about heartbreak totally changes a person.
Changes your life.
I’m not sure I can put words to it yet, but I know it happens.
It consumes your thoughts, your mind, your time.
What hurts the most? Abandonment? Abuse? Neglect? Betrayal? Dishonesty? Physical pain? Sexual trauma? Aloneness?
I suppose there is no way to say what hurts the most. It’s probably different for different people anyway.
When there is heartbreak, the heart breaks.
The sadness lingers.
You breathe it in with every breath. It’s all around you at all times.
It sits with you. Next to you. Beside you. On you. Behind you. In you.
The heart hurts.
You can feel it. It’s a physical pain. It’s an emotional pain.
Sad, slow music can express it oh so very well.
It’s just hard to find the words.
Sometimes heartbreak cannot be soothed. There are no words to comfort or reach or soften the depth of the break.
Sometimes sitting with is helpful.
Sometimes aloneness is all that can be tolerated.
Sometimes someone else’s heart can hear the heartbreak, even without the words.
It’s in the emotion. Or in the feeling of the person.
Or in the feeling around the person.
Real heartbreak is palpable.
Anyone listening or paying attention can see it, and feel it, and sense it – if they will.
Maybe that’s why heartbreak changes life.
It creates profound crossroads in a person’s life.
The road chosen changes after heartbreak.
Life changes after heartbreak.
It’s never the same.
The heart breaks.
Kathy Broady LCSW
March 14, 2009
To continue the previous post, here are five more life-lessons I’ve learned from my years working with those with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID/MPD).
By their life example, multiples have shown me:
6. Spiritual Strength even Under Persecution. Most survivors with DID and long-term severe abuse have had various religious / spiritual connotations mixed in with that abuse, creating a version of Spiritual Abuse and a variety of spiritual crises. Every trauma survivor handles these situations in his / her own way, and yet in my experience, most survivors have at least one or two insiders, if not a whole grouping of insiders or even their whole self, that develop a very strong spiritual life despite the trauma and its effects. Maybe these trauma survivors develop a strong spiritual life because of the trauma? My thought is that any survivors that have the personal strength to fight against the vileness perpetrators and horrific abuse have a deep spiritual reason to do so. How they portray that faith in later years of their life varies widely, but the point is still there: persecution and pain can strengthen and deepen spiritual beliefs. What a strong statement of faith!
7. The Ability to Overcome Adversity in Life. Dissociative trauma survivors have faced head-on some of the most difficult challenges in life. They have dealt with overwhelming pain, tragedy, heartbreak, betrayal, abandonment, and isolation. They have encountered some of the darkest trials and tribulations of life, even during their earliest , most vulnerable years. And yet, despite the effects of being attacked and consumed by wickedness, corruption, and depravity, so many of these dissociative survivors have gone on to have incredibly productive, successful lives as gentle, giving, compassionate, caring people. These are inspiring people with thousands of stories of courage and strength. They are true examples of resilience and over-coming the odds!
8. Joy, Happiness, and Fun-filled Laughter. I have been amazed at how many trauma survivors have maintained an incredible sense of humor and an appreciation of fun, good times, laughter, and joy even after being crushed by intense pain and horror so much of their lives. Maybe seeing so much heavy darkness has created a greater appreciation of light-hearted fun? Any which way, it speaks volumes to me that people who have been immersed in pain can and do continue to find humor, fun, and positive excitement in life. Having good times and finding ways to enjoy life have an elevated importance for these folks, and that makes a lot of sense to me. Laughter truly is the best medicine, and trauma survivors that can still laugh (in the good ways!) are genuinely inspirational.
9. The Pure Hearts of Children. Children have a natural joy and wonderment with life. Even though dissociative trauma survivors have had tragic childhoods destroyed by sadistic criminals, these trauma survivors typically split off a part of themselves that totally protected the purity of childhood innocence and beauty. Through dissociation, they were able to keep a part of themselves totally separated from darkness, evil, horror, pain, trauma, and abuse. That is amazing to me. It shows the importance of these childhood feelings and that even the worst viciousness of predators does not take this precious innocence away. This creative, incredible ability to maintain self protection is extraordinary.
10. Loving Others More than Yourself. Trauma survivors were typically forced to put their abusers’ needs ahead of themselves in a harmful, tragic, devastating ways. There is no doubt about the harm that happens to children when their own needs are ignored and neglected. However,many trauma survivors seem to turn this abusive extreme around. In a less abusive context, they maintain the awareness that others are as important as themselves, and they can be extremely compassionate and selfless towards other people. The examples of selfless generosity, giving, and caring can be awe-inspiring and genuine examples of how to love someone else.
In my opinion, trauma survivors that retain the ability to genuinely love and connect with others have risen above the worst effects of the abuse they suffered. Maintaining the ability to bond correctly with animals, and/or people, and/or spiritual powers despite the years of forced darkness and evil is truly amazing and inspirational.
Those of us fortunate enough to experience less trauma and abuse in our lives should take note. Trauma survivors can be incredible role models of what is truly important in life.
- Do you have the depth of character and strength to withstand a war against evil?
- Would you handle persecution and pain with as much grace and strength as DIDer’s do?
- Would you still be a good person even if you spent years of life being controlled by darkness?
I encourage everyone to look deeper than dysfunctional symptoms and mental illness. What can trauma survivors teach you about life?
What can you learn about the power of good over evil?
I see examples of that every single day in the trauma survivors that I know.
Kathy Broady LCSW
February 28, 2009
This week, the readers here have posted a wide variety of reactions to the idea that being multiple could have benefits. If you haven’t yet read all the comments on that blog, please do so. They are very interesting.
When people have DID/MPD, they have experienced life as a multiple since their childhood. It is their norm – basically the only way of life they know. Multiples typically have not experienced life any other way other than being multiple, even if they didn’t realize they were as split as they are. Sure, one or two of the host personalities may not have a strong personal connection to what it’s like to be multiple, and many of them can deny the existence of the internal others to some degree, but the internal system as a whole would have been there for nearly your whole life.
And frankly, many DID’ers that are newly diagnosed just haven’t realized how much they have been switching their whole lives long. But just because they haven’t recognized their dissociative abilities doesn’t mean that they haven’t been living their life as a very active multiple, switching, possibly losing time, and putting amnesiac walls around anything that is too uncomfortable for them.
So what if you are dissociative and you really really detest being a multiple personality? What if you can’t stand being DID/MPD, and you hate it, and you despise it, and you make sure that everyone in your system knows it, and that everyone in your treatment support team knows it too?
- How does that affect how your internal system views you?
- Will they feel loved and accepted?
- Will you feel good about yourself?
For sake of argument here, let’s be sure to separate the fact of being dissociative as being very different from being traumatized and abused. I will clearly and adamantly acknowledge that no young child likes the trauma and abuse that happens as the first step in the process of creating various alter personalities. I am not proposing that the road to becoming DID is a pleasant one. It clearly is not. The very idea of being forced to become a multiple is horrifically tragic in itself. Any trauma, abuse, neglect, violence, horror, pain, that you’ve gone through is too high a price for anyone to pay.
Often the fact of being multiple becomes inextricably entangled with the fact of having been abused. The multiplicity comes to represent all the pain and fear and wrongness of the abuse, and rejection of the multiplicity is part and parcel of rejecting the reality of the painful past that caused it.
But how do those feelings of adamant rejection affect your healing?
One of the ways to treat and understand multiplicity is to join in, to some degree, with the idea that the alter personalities are their own individual people. Of course they are all connected to the same one person, but you can balance that out with also seeing each of the insiders as their own unique person. How would an outside person feel if they were treated the same way your insiders are being treated?
If your internal parts know that you hate the fact that you are multiple, might they begin to internalize that feeling as if you hate them? I would think so.
How would you feel if you were repeatedly told that you were disliked and unwanted and despised? Remember, your insiders don’t have to be told these things in actual words. They are connected to you, and they will know how you genuinely feel about them, whether or not you make a point of telling them. They will be able to feel how much you don’t like them. You will not be able to hide this fact from them.
How would you feel, if day after day after day, the people that you lived with refused to speak to you? Or to acknowledge you? Or to care about you? Would you feel cooperative? Would you want to be friendly and helpful? At what point would you lose your patience and tolerance? How might you act when that happened?
In this context, if you have Dissociative Identity Disorder, and you also firmly believe that multiplicity in itself is a horrible way of life, that strong pervasive belief will negatively affect your treatment progress and your healing. How could it not? Your insiders are aching for acceptance and kindness and comfort no less than you are – and constant rejection can and will make them continue to act out in resentment and anger and desperation. Nobody else’s acceptance will ever mean as much to them as the acceptance of their own group – their own self – and if that is perpetually withheld from them, then both they and you will be at a self-created stalemate in your healing.
Because the flip side of treating your insiders like individual people is remembering that they are the same person as you.
If you are repeatedly telling yourself that you hate the way you are, what does that do for your self-image and self worth?
If you believe that the way you are is not ok, not good enough, not right, not acceptable, not normal, then you are reinforcing a lot of negative beliefs of yourself – and it is a short road from having a low self-esteem to have a ton of self-hatred.
- What if hating your multiplicity is a version of hating yourself?
- What if accepting your multiplicity is a version of accepting yourself?
Multiplicity is simply what it is – the fact of having more than one personality / “person” in your head. In my opinion, it does not have to be a bad thing. The trauma and the abuse were devastatingly bad – absolutely. The dissociative walls can really cause problems in the current day, even if they were initially helpful. The PTSD, anxiety, depression, and other emotional fallout can be debilitating at times.
But the multiplicity – just the multiplicity… does it have to be bad to share your life with others?
Again I ask….
Is accepting your multiplicity “as is” a version of accepting yourself?
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 19, 2009
Trauma survivors with Dissociative Identity Disorder can see an internal world. Step back, turn around an look inside – it will be there.
What happens if you have looked inside and all you see is a lot of darkness, or desolation, and not so many people with welcome arms?
First of all, think about what internal darkness means to you as an individual. There are a variety of options. For example:
- It could have metaphorical meaning – what does darkness mean to you?
- It could represent how your life history feels emotionally to you.
- It could represent how barren, empty, starved, and deprived you feel in terms of getting your basic human needs met.
- It could represent the lack of emotional connection between you and your insiders at the moment.
- It could mean that you are feeling too scared to know.
- It could represent the way you were told or instructed to make your internal worlds look (ie: some survivors have had abusers that controlled what to make and create on the inside).
- It could mean denial – that you really don’t want to know what is happening in your internal worlds.
- It could be a cover or a façade or a front area that blocks off the rest of the internal worlds.
- It could mean that some little ones hid in the dark and therefore their internal world is also dark. Those parts of you might feel safer and more hidden in the dark, and they might like it that way.
- It could mean that some of your parts were put into a deprivation sort of situation where their trauma itself kept them locked in a dark space. They may not know anything but darkness, so their internal areas will be representative of what they lived through.
- It could mean that there are others deeper within your system making your world dark on purpose.
There is no one answer to explain why you see what you see. The goal of your therapy work is for you to understand your internal worlds as they apply to you, the individual.
Desolation very often represents neglect. Think about what land or households look like when they are ignored for years. Would the grass be green and trimmed? Would there be any grass at all? Would the buildings be in good condition? Would the area be clean and well-kept? Would it look like a tornado has spun through it?
Has your internal system been neglected? If you were to picture the way their feelings of neglect would look, what would it look like?
When you look at your insiders, do they look similar to neglected or abused children? Do they have clean, fitted clothing? Stylish haircuts? Plenty of food and water? What do you see in their eyes? What can you feel from their souls?
Think about the actual devastation caused by hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and floods. The damage and destruction is enormous – totally overwhelming, requiring years of rebuilding and repair. Personal tragedies, loss, neglect, and chronic severe trauma have a similar effect on survivors’ emotional lives. With DID survivors, when there is no one around to help clean up the mess after the years of severe trauma occurs, or to offer comfort and consolation or ongoing protection, their internal worlds can become as chaotic and destroyed as a hurricane site.
Without ongoing care and attention, your internal worlds can become similar to such landscapes.
But remember – these internal worlds belong to you. You can make changes in them, and as you incorporate more positive steps, your internal system will feel better. Think about it: if you lived in there, would you feel better sitting for days in a deserted, dark, barren, rocky desert? Or would you feel better sitting in a comfortable warm house, full of basic necessities, surrounded by a grassy field with pretty flowers and shade trees?
When you see that your internal world needs some attention in order to make it comfortable, start where you can. Some starting places are:
- Build a new area, totally separate from the desolate area, and create it as a safe place, that is very pleasing to the eye, and comfortable in every way you can think of. Invite the members of your system to come there. You can make community rules such as, in this living space, no one is allowed to hurt anyone else, everyone gets to their own possessions, and everyone gets their own private living space, etc.
- Take a corner of the dark and desolate area. Try making it a more pleasant living space by making necessary changes. Invite others to visit, and to talk about the kinds of things they’d like to see in your internal worlds.
- Specifically make an effort to speak to the others that you see inside. If you don’t see anyone, leave written messages in visible places. Come back and check to see if you’ve gotten any response from anyone.
- Leave packets of food, drinks, soap, clothing, and other basics that would come in handy for others that are in need. Watch to see if anyone inside is willing to claim these items.
- Listen closely. Do you hear others? Where is the sound coming from? Walk in that general direction. As you get closer, call out and introduce yourself as a friend that is approaching.
- As much as possible, be sure to also nurture yourself in your outside world the same as you are doing in your internal world. For example, if you see that your inner children are starving, give them something to eat. And if you are hungry and starving on the outside, nurture yourself by getting something healthy to eat as well.
- Speak to the ones you see. Approach them gently. Find a way to reach them without scaring them more. Pay close attention, and match what each person needs – it will vary from person to person. Treat them as kindly as you would treat an outside person that looked scared or hurting. Comfort them, and do what needs to be done to help them feel safe.
- Ask the insiders what they need or want to feel safe and protected. You might see things on your own, but get their opinion as well. They will know more about who / what they are afraid of, and listening to what they need will help you to be more precise and accurate in terms of giving to them.
One of the most critical points to remember is this. No matter what you do, do not leave the barren dark areas of your internal worlds neglected and without care or attention. Don’t turn your back on your insiders that need your time and nurturing. Give all your insiders the safety, protection, and caring that they have so desperately needed. Help each of them to heal by giving them the things they (and you) have been missing in their life. It’s ok for you to take the time you need to figure out how to do that but please don’t be guilty of neglecting your own system.
Kathy Broady LCSW
December 27, 2008
Thanks for coming back and reading more of the Discussing Dissociation blog. It’s exciting to see the number of site viewers growing each week – I think you all must be spreading the news! I appreciate all of you who have already become regular readers, and thanks for telling your friends.
As a follow-up to yesterday’s post about giving- making- creating- providing new and positive experiences for your internal child parts, I want to encourage all the multiples here to expand that idea to include your whole system on an even wider scale. This idea applies to non-multiples too, of course, but since we are “discussing dissociation” here, I’m going to write about these idea within the context of DID / MPD.
I have found that most dissociative trauma survivors have a fair bit of trouble understanding how to be genuinely kind to their inside people. It is very similar to being nice, and kind, and accepting towards outside people, but the effort gets directed to your own insiders instead of outside people.
I could explore the many different reasons for this. Is it because your family treated you so poorly? Were you so hideously neglected that taking care of yourself is truly a skill you have yet to learn? Is it because you truly believe you don’t deserve anything nice? Is it that you are full of self-hatred that you won’t be kind to yourself? Is that you are so angry at anyone (everyone?) that it is easier or essential to take it out on yourself? I don’t know. I’ll leave those questions with you to think about.
For now, I want to focus on what kind things you actually do for your internal system.
- What do you do to be nice to your inside people? What did you do this week?
- What do you do to show the others in your system appreciation and kindness?
- What do you do to encourage them through the hard parts of therapy work?
Think about all the different kinds of things you can do for your people on the inside. Your internal world — your internal landscape — is totally your own world. It belongs to you and only you and your internal system. You and your insiders control that inner world. You all can truly make a huge impact by doing nice, kind, gentle, supportive, and comforting things for each other in there on that level. Even if you can’t afford to buy things in the external world, you can do things for free on the inside worlds. Your inner world can be a true haven and a place that is comfortable and “just right”.
When you can see the others inside, and when you listen to them, and pay attention to each other, you will be able to recognize their needs and then do something about it to make their day better. Taking better care of your insiders will have a huge impact on your life, your system work, your healing process, and your external world.
One of the biggest keys to your overall healing depends on how YOU all treat your own system and internal parts. Do you support each other inside? Do you take the time to be kind to each other inside? Do you comfort each other inside? What do you do to help each other inside? Do you treat each other with respect? Are you trustworthy with each other?
For those that are DID, I believe that one of the most significant therapy goals is doing INTERNAL self care. Look at your others inside — share blankets and stuffies with them. Give them hugs, sit quietly with them. Meet their needs, clean up the messes, give them clean clothes to wear, and a quiet safe place to rest. If your inside world stays chaotic and unkept, neglected or dangerous, then how on earth are you going to feel safe or ok in the outside world? Start by addressing things in your own world, and let it ripple out from there.
The more folks learn to be there for their own selves, the less they will depend on their therapist, or spouse, or any other outside person to “take care” of them. The more you can take care of your own selves, the less it matters if someone else is busy or away for a few days. The more you take care of your own selves, the more you will feel GOOD about yourself and your ability to handle life.
Here are more questions to think about:
- What is the nicest thing that someone in your system could do for you?
- What are some of the most meaningful things you could do for them?
- How do you show the hurting ones that you have compassion for them?
- How do you show your little ones that you will protect them and keep them safe?
- What kinds of things can you do for your insiders to show them that you will help to take care of them and tend to their needs?
- How does your system respond when you are kind and attentive to them vs. being neglectful and angry towards them?
This is an important topic — your thoughts and/or comments are welcome.
Kathy Broady LCSW