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 24, 2009
In the typical process of trauma therapy, your therapist and the dissociative trauma survivor will spend a great deal of time talking about how difficult it is to be multiple — and it is difficult, no doubt about it. For the typical multiple, there were years and years of pain and horror and abuse requiring the need to split over and over into a number of different personalities just to survive the unthinkable.
But the point of this blog is to talk about what an outsider / singleton sees as the benefits of being multiple and having Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID/MPD). Yes, there really are some advantages to being split!
I see the following benefits in multiplicity:
- Being able to do more than one thing at the same time. Talk about having the ability to multi-task! I’ve known situations were one personality can be talking comfortably on the phone while another personality is busy doing the day’s work. How cool is that?!!!
- Always having someone to talk to. When you are friends with each other on the inside, you don’t ever have to be alone. Your best friends can be right there with you, any time of the day or night.
- Being able to maintain the joy of a child’s perspective. Children can be so innocently full of wonderment, and joy, and happiness. They know how to be carefree and happy and amazed at the simplest of life’s pleasures. Child parts, once safe from trauma, can keep that sense of joy near to them their whole lives long.
- Being able to take a break even when the outside body has to keep going. When you’re split, you can tuck back inside, and rest, or sleep, or think, and let someone else be out front managing whatever is going on in life. Having that ability to pull away and separate from the outside life can come in handy sometimes!
- Having the ability to remember so much more of life’s experiences. In my opinion, once a person with Dissociative Identity Disorder finds safety, and learns to connect with all their internal people, and lowers their dissociative walls, it seems to me that people with DID actually remember more of their life than “regular” singletons do. This includes remembering more of the good times as well as the bad.
- Having the ability to understand life and events from a variety of different perspectives. Those with DID don’t have to imagine what it would be like from a different perspective – they often have someone inside that already genuinely sees things that way!
- Blocking out pain. While blocking pain is not always a positive or helpful skill, there are times and places where having the ability to block out pain, both physically and mentally, can be a great benefit.
- Quite possibly needing less sleep? I can’t prove this, but it seems to me that a significant number of folks with DID can function quite effectively on less sleep than what the average singleton person needs. Maybe this is because the various parts can rest and sleep internally? By taking turns resting inside, does that make the overall physical need to sleep less? I have no real answers for this, but it’s not uncommon for this to appear to be the case.
- Looking younger. Again, I cannot prove this, but in my years of working with multiples, folks with DID look considerably younger even as they physically age. One would think that the years of trauma, abuse, and stress would have a negative effect on the physical appearance, and while there are obvious scars, there also seems to be a common ability to not age physically as quickly as singletons do. You all nearly always look younger than you actually are. How cool is that?!
- The ability to fit in with a variety of different people. While some system splits were formed as trauma-based ways of matching with various groups of people (and some not so good as others), the positive flip-side of that ability is that people with multiple personalities can literally find themselves fitting in easily with a wide variety of people in a variety of ages.
Sometimes I wish I could do some of those things too!
The point being, despite the difficult beginnings required in splitting into multiple personalities, there are many good and positive attributes to being multiple.
What do you enjoy about your multiplicity?
What strengths do you have?
How has multiplicity enhanced your life?
What qualities of being a multiple would you want to keep, and never lose?
Your thoughts and comments are welcome.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 26, 2009
Here is a quote from my article “Overcoming Instability Issues and Unsuccessful Memory Work,” posted on January 3, 2009.
“If you cannot speak, in your normal voice, discussing your trauma memories from the safety of the here-and-now while still connected in the present, then don’t even try to address your memories. It is too soon.”
It has come to my attention that I need to expand on these statements.
A. Your Normal Voice
To clarify, speaking “in your normal voice” does not mean to be devoid of all emotion. A dissociated, numb, detached voice is not your “normal voice”. A “normal voice” can and does have plenty of emotion — otherwise, we would all sound like robots.
Pick a safe topic (one not about trauma), but a topic about which you have passionate opinions. For example, what was your opinion about Bush vs. Obama? Did you have a strong preference for which man you wanted to have as the next President? How much emotion was in your voice when you expressed your opinions about the election?
Or, think of your favorite funny movie – one that really makes you laugh and leaves you feeling good for the rest of the day. When you talk about that comedy show, reliving the funny plots to your friend, do you have emotion in your voice?
In each of these situations, most people will have a relatively strong emotional connection to the topic, but they will be able to use their “normal voice” and incorporate a healthy amount of emotion in their speech.
Reaching up to (but not beyond) this level of emotional intensity is my recommendation for early stages of trauma work.
B. Emotional Intensity
I do not recommend that the first steps and stages of addressing memories and trauma be experienced in the extremes of emotional states. To go from blocked, dissociated, amnesiac non-awareness of traumatic material to full-fledged, full-voiced screams and cries is far too big of a jump. That’s a black vs. white approach, and neither extreme is going to be helpful for you.
Of course there are times when more extreme and intense emotion needs to be expressed – that is absolutely true. However, I do not think it is in any survivor’s best interest to start at that level of emotional intensity. Expression of that kind of emotional intensity happens way further down the line in treatment chronology. If you jump there too soon, there will be problems.
Why?? Because of the backlash. If you have no awareness of certain traumas for years of time, and then, within a short amount of time, you get flooded with a tidal wave of emotional information about that trauma, you can bet that there will be struggles with self-injury, self-mutilation, and physical pain as a backlash response to the sudden and excessive emotional pain of remembering.
The strength of your dissociative walls – the years of not knowing about certain traumatic information, emotion, and physical feelings – clearly and without question indicates that there is, and will be for an extended period of time, system conflict about that memory information surfacing.
While some parts will be very relieved at the chance to talk about their trauma, you will also have some insiders upset and angry that the memory surfaced in the first place. Some insiders could be so upset if memories surface or are talked about that they might threaten punishment or harm, or they might forego threats and simply act on their own beliefs and their own feelings. You will have some insiders re-living the physical pain, and others trying to deny the whole shebang. With all the opposing responses going on within your system, you won’t be able to sit with the emotional intensity for very long. An internal war will follow. That’s not very healing. That’s quite traumatizing.
It is much better and safer to approach emotional intensity in graduated steps — to build your tolerance and emotional endurance, and to make sure that there is no internal backlash. While some parts of you might want to scream and shout, there may very likely be someone else inside who will believe that kind of behavior should be punished.
If you don’t have sufficient system cooperation to be expressing such intense emotion, and to maintain your safety in the days following, then it is not safe for you to be pushing for that level of intensity.
C. The Here and Now
When doing trauma work, it is absolutely critical to have a solid connection to the present day, the here and now. All too many dissociated insiders actually think / feel / believe they are still living in the time frame that they are most connected to. Just because you – the adult host — know it is 2009, does NOT mean that your inside parts have that solid awareness. They are more familiar with other time zones. They may fully believe they are still there, in those times, living in those places, near those perpetrators, etc. They will be frightened of ongoing abuse, and will react accordingly.
Check that thoroughly. If for any reason, your insiders still think they are in that traumatic time frame, they will still be too afraid to address the issues in the most effective ways. They will still believe their perpetrators can hear them, or can see them, or will be showing up again at any moment. (Working with internal introjects of external perpetrators is a huge issue, but will be addressed in at a different time.)
As you show the current time frame to your insiders and prove to them that they are living in a new time frame (2009), and that they are living in your current house, that the perpetrators they fear are far far away, you are giving your memory-holding parts the ability to get grounded back to the current day once they begin memory work. This grounding to the current time frame is critical for them to know they are safe.
D. Current Safety
ALL parts must know they are safe enough to talk about their trauma, but this is especially true for child parts. They have to know that it is ok, and that the perpetrator isn’t going to show up and hurt them for talking. They also have to know that the other insiders will not punish them for talking about their memories.
Before starting any memory work with young parts be sure to address the following issues with them:
- Are they still connected to now – 2009? Show this, prove this, in any way that they can.
- Can they still see the room that you are physically in?
- Can they see that you live in this house now?
- Can they see that the house looks different? Can they see how the yard, garage, grounds, barns, etc look different from when the places where you grew up?
- When they are talking about the scary things that you remember, can they come back to being right there, in the current-day place where you are – the place that is far, far away from where those mean people live?
- Can they see your therapist’s office? Do they see the couch there? The pictures / decorations that are there? Do they know that your therapist’s office is also a very very very long way away from where those bad people are?
Reassure all child parts that you can and will keep them safe, both inside and out. If you cannot promise that you will be able to keep them safe from mean insiders and outside perpetrators, then address those issues first, before attempting to make the hurting parts talk about trauma.
Everyone needs solid reassurance about safety BEFORE talking about their trauma.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 15, 2009
Acronyms are some of my favorite writing exercises. I am repeatedly impressed with the amount and quality of helpful information that can surface through the use of acronyms.
Acronyms are helpful when you get stuck. They are also particularly helpful when addressing a topic head-on or “with logic” is getting you nowhere. Sometimes, it is better to take a more gentle, roundabout, less direct approach. Let the information and feelings surface on their own without having to break the no-talk rules that are often so deeply embedded within.
Acronyms are particularly helpful when you just can’t quite figure out how to say what is going on for you. Or, when the parts inside are struggling with whether to tell you or not, and they don’t want to say it directly.
Acronyms are a creative way of “telling without telling.”
Pick any word or phrase or theme that describes how you feeling or what you are thinking at that moment. For example:
- What’s bothering me today?
Upset about school; Angry with my boss; Blocked feelings
- How would I describe how I feel today?
Frustrated and mad; totally numb; scared of everything
- What about my relationship with _________.
My mother is stupid; Afternoons with Suzie; Uncle Sam is weird
- I am remembering ________.
Nights at that house; Visits from Ted; Nightmares
- I keep thinking about __________.
Voices I hear; Seeing others inside; My puppy Patches
Write this word or phrase vertically on the page.
As you think of that theme, take one letter at a time, and write down the first word or phrase that you think of that starts with that particular letter. Again, there is no right or wrong, just write down the words that come to mind as you think about your theme word. If you immediately think of more than one word for any particular letter, you can write down both words if you want to.
If you get stuck on a letter that is difficult, you can adjust the exercise however you see fit. The easiest option is to turn the difficult letter into any “miscellaneous” letter of your choice, allowing you to fill that spot in with any words that come to mind about your theme.
Once you have completed the list of words for your acronym, read through what you have written. Take this writing exercise a step further by using that same list of words as parts of a paragraph. The words can be used in any order in combination with as many other words as needed to complete your paragraph.
Read through your paragraph. Is there a particular phrase, or word that stands out to you? Again, there is no right or wrong answer. Pick a word or phrase that either needs further explanation, or seems to summarize your thoughts the best, or just “hits you” as important.
Using this new word or phrase, start the exercise again. Repeat this process as many times as necessary – with a new acronym, a new list of words, a new summary paragraph. You can repeat this process again and again because each new acronym will lead to greater understanding of the issue at hand.
Example of Acronym Writing:
Reaching the inside is not as hard as you might think. Yes, they have experienced terrible things that no one should ever have to endure. They need reassurance that they will never have to do that yucky stuff ever again. Let each part of you live a safe life.
R real scared
C crying, comfort
I understand that everybody feels real scared about writing, and talking, and telling. It is important to know the reality of what has happened so you can learn how to become safe. It is ok now for each of the child parts to have comfort. They are still crying because they have been hurt again and again. They need to know they can always be safe. I am here to help you find safety. Nobody deserves to be hurt, not even the inside parts that are named Nobody.
Pick the word or phrase that sticks out for you in this second paragraph. Do a third acronym with those words, then a fourth acronym, then a fifth, etc. Keep going until you have reached some answers to the words and feelings you were searching for.
Kathy Broady LCSW