March 29, 2013
It’s the Easter weekend — a complicated and conflictual weekend for most dissociative trauma survivors. So many layers of your inside levels will be awakened, aware, involved, wondering, waiting, going, sitting, thinking, watching, feeling, remembering, refusing, believing, fighting, crying, calling, hiding, etc. Its a time of being pulled in dozens of different directions all at once.
Lots of headaches, that’s what that means.
And lots of pain. Ouch, ouch, ouch.
So yes… I am thinking of you all, and wishing peace for you. I know it’s difficult. Really difficult.
The Easter season is typically overloaded with the triggers, external pulls, family complications, and spiritual battles. The inside battle within your system may be raging at full intensity.
As best you can, remember to sit with each other, and learn what you can about the others that you see nearby. What struggles are they having? What thoughts are in their mind? What feelings do they hold? What feelings do they avoid?
Is there anything you can do to help them? What can you do to give them comfort? What can you do to make the struggle less sharp? How can you keep your system safe, both on the inside and outside?
Intense weekends such as this are usually heavily overloaded with information, from your past and maybe in your present. These are things you need to know. It’s from your life, and you can know what you and your insiders have been through. You are allowed now. It’s ok to know. It’s good to know, even when it’s difficult to know.
For many of you, just making it through alive and well is the goal. Self-injury may seem like the “best option”, but it really doesn’t help in the long-run. Look for other options to handle this time of stress. Read through the bunches of articles here that give other options to consider. The intensity of what you are feeling will gradually subside… You don’t have to cut or purge it away. It’s ok to feel what you feel. Your feelings belong to you — you are allowed now to have them.
For others of you, you may feel solid enough to use this time to make headway in reaching others in your system who are struggling more than you. It can be painful to hear and connect with the trauma memories held by many in your system, but it really is ok to remember what has happened in your life, and you don’t have to be punished for that anymore. FInd ways to heal your wounds and comfort your heartaches. Be kind to each other. Kind, gentle, soothing. Come together. Be a team.
Some of you will be far enough in your healing journey that you can find the good things to enjoy about the holiday weekend. Maybe you can enjoy a warm walk outside in the sunshine, or a handful of the kids’ favorite candy. Something near you may smell really nice – where is that? Breathe deeply, bringing in things that are good. Yes, there will be beauty in this weekend — see if you can find it.
Speaking of finding things….
Can you see the two caterpillars in the picture?
In my personal way of thinking, good beats out evil, so …. do your best to hold on tight till the darkness passes, and as soon as you can, find ways to reach those places of goodness, peace, comfort, joy, and love. It’s ok to let go of that darkness. You don’t have to stay there any more. You can move over to a life of warmth now. You are allowed to do that.
You can do it, I know you can.
I am thinking of you all, and I wish you the best in your healing journey.
Happy Easter everyone.
Copyright (C) 2008 – 2013 Kathy Broady and Discussing Dissociation
January 26, 2012
Recently, my magpie visitors set a new record high for the size of the group gathering at my balcony waiting for treats.
At one single point in time, I had 18 pies there surrounding me, all squawking and squawling and calling and cheeping and chirping and whistling and warbling and garbling and gawking and flapping and hopping, each hoping to be the next in line for the little bits of bologna I was handing out to them. Eighteen pies! That’s a lot of birds, and they were making a whopping lot of noise!
There had been a number of rainy days in a row, and while pies surely know how to survive in the roughest of weather, they were all looking very raggedy in their sopping wet feathers. Oh, they were a sad sight, all droopy, and soggy, and drippy. Some of the pies were trying to fluff up more than usual to keep the rain off them. Others couldn’t even muster their feathers up anymore. The days of rain must have worn them out.
I know I wouldn’t want to be living outside in a rainy rainy thunderstorm that lasted for days and days. I don’t know where pies go to sleep and rest, but I can’t imagine it being fun at all. It seems to me that bug-chasing in the rain would be difficult, and sludging through deep puddles of muddy water would be more suited for ducks than for pies.
Yes, my big group of pies were a sad sight. A big soggy, soppy, sad sight.
And they were hungry. Really hungry.
Most of the time, the pies will take turns nicely when it comes to treat time. There are the more aggressive front runners, of course, but for the most part, everyone gets a share, and it’s easy enough to make sure that the treats are spread out rather evenly between everyone.
It’s a totally different story when they are hungry.
And it’s even more challenging when there are 18 hungry birds all at the same time.
The claws come out, literally. The pies will fight each other to be first in line, or to get that specific bite of food that they had their eyes on.
Of course, if they could understand that there was enough food for everyone, and that they didn’t need to fight to get their turn, it could have all happened peacefully. But these so-called wild birds didn’t understand that. They were still fighting out of their natural instincts.
The pretty little gray timid pie stayed in the background. She’s smaller and younger than the others, a newcomer to the group. She’s noticeably different in coloring from all the others, and the rest of the pies dominate her for the most part. She didn’t fight anyone for anything, and she would not have gotten a single bite of bologna had I not specifically made sure to directly give some to her. Even then, I had to take time to convince her that it was ok for her to have it. Then, after all that, I believe a more aggressive bird swooped in grabbing and snatching the pieces that fell to the ground, not even allowing little gray pie to finish her own serving.
Some of the more trusting-of-me pies would run up near to my feet, separating themselves from the crowd, willing to get as close to me as possible to ensure they would get hand-fed away from the others. That was the easiest way to make sure of getting something to munch on.
Some of the pies would charge in fast, demanding first dibs, and then fly away to enjoy their mini-feast in the privacy of some hidden corner of grass somewhere else.
Sometimes two or three pies would squabble over the same bite. These squabbles can become real fights where they are pulling each other’s feathers with their beaks, or digging their claws into the tummies of the other birds, pinning the unfortunate bird on its back. (Yikes! I sure don’t like that!) Sometimes they will click and snap their beaks at each other, making a loud scary noise, clearly meant to intimidate the other pie with a definite “Get back or I’ll poke you!” message. They will repeatedly screech and scream at each other, with their beaks open wide, making very loud protests and declarations of “Mine! Mine! Mine!”.
So much fighting!
It’s not like a tiding of wild birds will ever have to learn to get along with each other on a small balcony in one part of town. As these babies grow up, they will have to spread out into their own areas to live, and I assume, some of the birds I am pampering now will have to scoot on down the road to other areas. In nature, there is a very definite pecking order and lots and lots of space to move to. Maggies will argue and fight to survive, and to fight to claim their territory just like all wild animals have done for thousands of years. Survival of the fittest keeps the species alive and well.
And the tough times in life bring out the fighting responses.
But what about when the fighting occurs within a group that really does have to live together?
What happens when moving on down the road is not a legitimate option?
What about squabbles and fights within a dissociative system? For people with dissociative identity disorder, living with groups of people, and internal fights, and intense conflict is a common state of mind. There are ways to internally separate those that are fighting with each other, at least on a temporary basis, but really, everyone is always there. Until the conflicts are resolved peacefully, the fighting can continue to happen day after day.
That kind of ongoing conflict would be very difficult to live with. It would feel noisy, and stressful, and overwhelming. It could be scary for the more timid parts, and intense for the ones with extreme emotions. All too often, internal conflict leads to self-destructive behaviors.
Can you relate to that?
What do you do when your groups of insiders squabble?
How do you work out the conflicts and disagreements?
Do you know how to find ways to problem-solve by working the problem, instead of fighting each other?
Does your system take turns, sharing time and resources with each other?
Do your insiders help each other more than they hurt each other?
There are always going to be different opinions, and different perspectives, and opposing needs. There are going to be parts inside that are more aggressive than others. There will always be parts that are smaller, younger and quieter. Within the dissociative system, there will very often be many insiders that are still feeling wounded, hurt, distraught – insiders who need extra care, nurturing, and attention.
How do you tend to all the varying needs and wants without squabbling in ways that make the problems worse, instead of better?
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 10, 2010
*** trigger warning for dissociative trauma survivors ***
The collage and the material discussed in this blog is emotionally intense and could be triggering. Please be sure that you are in a safe place before reading further.
Trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder often have to live a double life. There is the public face, full of pretty smiles and general surface chatter that says “I’m fine”, “I’m doing great!”, “I had a good time”, “Nothing is wrong”, etc.
Recognize any of those kinds of cover-up phrases?
Unfortunately, all too often, looking the other side of these statements proves a very opposite reality. The person is feeling anything but “great”.
Every DID survivor I have ever met has a whole repertoire of phrases and quick answers that indicate they are doing well, that everything is ok, even when they actually are not ok. DID survivors know how to cover and hide their pain. Besides dissociating away the evidence, feelings, and awareness of the abuse from themselves, they have also developed a variety of social skills to cover and hide the depth of their confusion, upset, emotions from others.
On the other side of “I’m fine”, there are very different feelings – depression, fear, anxiety, sadness, overwhelm, emotional pain, grief, shame, anger, just to name a few. Sometimes there are flashbacks, body memories, nightmares, self-injuries, addiction issues, etc. There are often feelings related to self-injury, self-destruction, and self-hatred. Sometimes there are incidents of trauma in the current day, or domestic violence, or sexual assault, or date rape. Life can feel pretty dark.
But still, all too often, the survivor will say, “I’m fine.”
The following collage says it well.
In case they are a little hard to read, the words on the collage are as follows:
This can’t be happening
It’s not real
It’s not real
It’s really happening.
What will I say? What do I say?
I can’t breath I can’t breath
I need air.
Gravel in my hair hurts.
What will I say tomorrow?
What if I get grass stains on my dress?
I can’t breathe.
Please God help me. Please.
Please save me.
Someone help me
There’s no on
And he’s on top
And I can’t breathe
And this is hopeless
And I think
I can’t escape
God please —
I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine I’m fine
I can never tell anyone about this
What would everyone say? They’ll all be bragging
About what a good time they had tonight
I can’t say
This is the night
God abandoned me
That my soul was killed
That the world left me behind.
I had a great time, thanks. Thanks for asking.
In this collage, notice the initial dissociative statements. “This can’t be real” indicates the need to dissociate and separate from what is happening. Even when the artist recognizes that it is really happening to her, she separates herself with the tiny “to me”.
The middle section describes a sexual assault. Some of the pain and discomfort of the abuse is included – for the most part, the details of the rape are not mentioned. However, the fears and pleas for help are included, showing the desperation felt by the woman being assaulted.
Finally, at least for a short while, the abuse has stopped.
It appears, that after the assault happens, this survivor is expected to make a social appearance at a party or a dance. The social event is supposed to be great fun, but how can a social event be fun right after having experienced a sexual trauma?
But still, the survivor says she’s fine.
- What keeps her from talking about what she just experienced?
- Do you understand why she covers and hides the abuse instead of telling others about it?
- Does this survivor remember that she was just assaulted?
- Did she build an amnesiac wall around the abuse?
- Did one insider deal with the trauma, and another insider go to the party?
- Is this survivor denying the abuse?
Part of the healing process is connecting the reality of the situation with the truth of emotion. Chances are, this survivor does not actually feel fine at all.
What could she do now?
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
June 20, 2010
This weekend is often a difficult weekend for trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder. First, there is Father’s Day (for those of us living in the USA), and secondly, it’s the Summer Solstice. Anytime the difficult days get stacked on top of each other, it’s going to make for a complicated time.
On days when the issues seem to surface in layers, what do you do to cope?
(**This blog article is about difficult topics so it could be triggering – please pace yourself carefully and keep yourself safe.)
Father’s Day has many of the same emotional complications as was written about on Mother’s Day. The days proceeding are often full of painful memories, heartbreaking loss, fear, conflict, and upset. The vast majority of DID survivors have had abusive fathers, so the idea of celebrating fathers typically stirs up great turmoil.
The first day of summer, like all season changes, has relevance to those who have experienced difference forms of Ritual Abuse (RA). Many of the dark church organizations celebrate the seasonal changes and these so-called “celebrations” are full of trauma, abuse, gross activities, icky messes, scary events, etc. Survivors of these ordeals are often flooded with flashbacks, emotional distress and internal conflict during the times of season changes.
When you put the two of these highly emotional events together, dissociative survivors experience a lot of overwhelm. Some of the difficulties can include PTSD symptoms (nightmares, flashbacks, depersonalization, body memories, difficulties sleeping, irritability, feeling distant from others, etc.) and anxiety symptoms (panic attacks, excessive fears, heightened startle reflex, nausea, trembling, heart palpitations, headaches, obsessions, chest pain, etc), self-destructive thoughts, self-injury behaviors, suicidal ideation (pervasive thoughts about wanting to die), depression, tearfulness, or detached numbing. It’s probably been a miserable weekend for a lot of DID survivors.
Fathers that participate in dark church rituals are often not the kind of fathers that you find written about in Hallmark Cards. These are the kinds of fathers that prefer abusive activities, or that like sadistic pain, or have freaky and perverse sexual interests. They are difficult men who have caused a lot of hurt and pain for a lot of people, especially for their children.
And yet, even so, there are nearly always those parts within the DID system that feel loyalty and a deep bonding with the father figure. These parts are typically parts that have adopted some level of acceptance of the traumatic activities, and have long ago learned to tolerate the abuse or to even define it as anything but abuse.
DID survivors often manage abuse by their fathers by creating a father introject within the internal dissociative system. Father introjects are internal system parts that remember the father so well that they look-feel-sound-act-appear to the others inside as the same as the actual father. An internal introject may do the same kinds of abusive behaviors to the other parts of the system, recreating the same abusive patterns and feelings that the external father did. Since the internal world is so real to DID survivors, it can feel like the father is still there, still controlling things, still making all the decisions, still threatening harm, still causing harm.
And in many ways this can be true.
It can be difficult to separate who the external father is from the internal father introject. They can very much feel like mirror-images of each other, shadow replicas, and the child parts of the system will not be able to tell the difference between them.
But father introjects are NOT the actual father, no matter how much they may claim to be so. Father introjects actually belong to you. They split from you, they came from your mind, and they originated with you. They are actually part of you, and not part of the father. They may have been taught by the father, but they are actually yours.
However, they will be powerful parts of the internal system though so their power and influence is not to be ignored or minimized. It is more important to work with these parts, and reconnect their loyalty to the survivor person instead of to the father figure. This is an absolutely crucial part of the DID therapy process, and if you haven’t yet gained a safe working relationship with your father introject, you will need to do so.
Father Transference Issues
In the therapy process, male therapists will have many of the same kinds of transference issues regarding father issuesj as female therapists have with mother issues. In fact, it is often difficult for some female dissociative survivors to work with male therapists because of the kinds of trauma, abuse, and controls associated with their father. Male therapists often have to address transference issues of being seen as the abuser, controlling male, dominant owner, sexual pervert, etc. So many trauma survivors have issues with men — and even more have issues with their fathers — that it makes being a male therapist for female trauma survivors particularly difficult.
Other female trauma survivors are so used to be led by men or connected to men, especially their father, that they feel more at ease with men and less comfortable with “neglectful, abandoning mothers”. (Female therapists tend to get more of the abandonment transference issues, while male therapists tend to get more of the abuser-male dominance transference issues.) The relationship between survivors and their parents will very often dictate which gender of therapist is a better fit for them.
Typical Father Issues
Father issues are not easy to work through. They often take years of time to sort out, and they are very painful. Many survivors truly feel bonded to their fathers, even if some of their relationship involved sexual activities. Sometimes feeling sexually connected to the father felt better than being emotionally abandoned by the mother. When this is the case, there are numerous emotional complications to process during your healing.
Do you understand the role your father has played in your life?
Do you experience system switching, feelings of fear, or flashbacks when you are in the same room with your father?
What would your father do if you said no to him?
What would your father do if you chose a lifestyle very different from the one he chose for his life?
Are you allowed to live separately from him? Have you been allowed to move away from his neighborhood?
How much control or influence does your father have over you life in the current day?
Are you safe when you are in the same room as your father?
Does your father still abuse you or any of your younger parts? Does he still exert a level of sexual dominance over anyone in your system?
Would you be betraying your father if you refused to let him touch you in sexual ways?
If your father is an abuser, you can get distance and separation from him.
You don’t have to stay bonded to abusers.
You don’t have to stay connected to violent relationships.
You don’t have to be abused to be accepted.
You do not have to be sexual to be accepted.
All men are not abusers.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
March 28, 2010
Isn’t this an interesting picture?!
Assuming the artist of this picture is a trauma survivor with dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD), this drawing shows many of the system insiders.
How many insiders do you find represented in this picture?
When I look at this picture, the different parts that I see could include the following.
The front girl, on the light side, is probably the one that presents the most to the world. She is neat, trim, clean, dressed nicely. Maybe she is the leader of the parts on that one side of the system. She probably is the one that goes to work or school, etc. She doesn’t seem to be too happy, but she has an air of strength to her. I see sadness in her eyes.
The dark, shadowy side of the face, with a wilder hairdo represents a different side of this person. It’s hard to know, without asking, if the left side represents one part, or a combination of different parts. I would assume that more than one part is represented. This side of the drawing appears to be male. My guess is that the male parts are quite dominant for this survivor.
The shoulder of armor and chest guard, along with the hand holding the sword shows a strong, determined, protector part. Notice that this part of the person comes out towards the front of their physical presentation. It could mean that these protector parts are very close to the surface, and they may be the first ones you meet when encountering this dissociative survivor. Even if you don’t meet them directly, they are right there, watching everything, and paying very close attention to what’s happening.
The strong protective hand and sword are out in bright light. I’d have to ask to be sure, but my guess is that this survivor fights strongly for the things that are good. Their heart doesn’t belong to the darkness. They fight for positive, for goodness, for safety, for healing.
The outer leg, dressed in jeans with running shoes implies a male part. I know that girls wear jeans and tennis shoes, but when trying to show the male parts, this clothing is different from the other more female items, so I would ask about the boys. In fact, that whole left side could be more about boy parts while the other side could be more female. (Or is that shoe a steel-toed boot? I can’t quite tell, so I would be asking about that.)
The mix of male-female clothing (male-female parts) is also emphasized through the waist area, with the draping of the skirt versus the leg of the jeans. It is extremely common for most dissociative survivors to have a mix of both genders in their systems.
The cat part is obviously a strong part of this system, holding a place of balance in the center of the system. This cat’s role in the system is important and significant. The cat is young, probably a child part. This part is one of the most obvious parts of the system, and yet still hides its identity from the outside world – we can see it’s there, but we can’t see who it is. Does this part hear more than it sees? Why is this the only part that is looking the other direction? What does that mean?
It appears that the cat-child is directing intense self-hatred to at the female host via self-injury and cutting. The self-injury is probably related to a number of different issues, but notice that it seems to be aimed towards one female part. Explore that further.
Does the woman feel pain? Is she capable of dissociating pain easily? Does she dissociate the pain involved in cutting and self-injury? The staring, flat expression in the woman’s face could indicate that she is dissociating and not feeling the cuts that are being made on her shoulder and leg. Is she aware that it’s happening? Is she amnesiac for times of self-injury? Why is she the one being hurt? What message is the cat-child trying to give her?
Since it appears that the woman does not feel the pain, maybe the cat-child is the one that feels the pain. The strong, dramatic striping on the cat could indicate intense feelings and waves of pain. It has the look of heated flames (and tiger-stripes), but the feel seems more painful than peaceful. How wild and out of control does this cat-child act? How many times this cat-child has been hurt? My guess is that this little part has endured a lot of the trauma.
Even though this young cat-child part appears to be angry, hurting, hurtful, and self-destructive, notice that the female leader has an open palm, a friendly, gentle acceptance of this troubled young cat-child. This is the only paw of the cat-child that does not have the claws sticking out. This is a good sign, and it shows some gentleness and compassion between system members.
The small hand of the cat-child could also indicate that there is a definite connection with feeling like a small child, and not just as a small animal. Maybe the child can come more forward during times of feeling safe and comforted, while the cat-side stays out at other times.
It is not uncommon for dissociative survivors to have animal parts within the system. There will be reasons for way these parts are presenting, and it will be important to understand the life-stories of these parts the same as with any other part.
While it’s a little hard to see, it looks like there is a small, crying child part (or two?) hiding under the blanket. These child parts appear to be scared, and deep in hiding. Even the teddy bear helps to hide them. These little parts can still see a lot, but they may not come out and interact with the world very often. They are probably kept inside and away from people for the most part.
There is a tiny small area of dark-purple with the child part and the teddy bear. This is the only area of color in the whole picture, and is an important topic for discussion. What does it mean? What does it represent? Why did the purple need to be colored while the rest of the drawing could stay in blacks and whites? What do these child parts know that is still a secret? What does the darkness around them represent in their life?
I would ask if the cat-child part is also a protector of the young children hiding under the blanket. Both the cat and the woman show gentleness on the side with the child parts, so maybe the woman and the cat both feel protective of the little ones.
The protective covering of the hidden child parts is full of mystery and warrants further questioning. There are layers of something, intertwined together, with a few straggling strings at the bottom of the blanket. What does all this mean? Does the DID survivor work extra hard to protect these parts? Do the adult parts of this system know the secrets that are held within the shadows of this blanket?
Overall, the insiders in this DID system seem to be close to each other. They sit near to each other, and have an obvious comfort with each other. The do not seem to be afraid of each other, and they appear to be close enough to be able to talk easily together.
My guess is that the switching between the woman host and the others that are represented on her personhood is not as obvious as it would be between the woman and the cat-child. Some switches are much less visibly different, and I would guess that the woman and her male parts are in close communication, and switch fluidly and easy between each other. They seem to have a good balance of sharing and cooperation, and while their roles are very different, there seems to be a strong level of comfort and familiarity with each other.
I would ask, in this case, if the necklace and female shirt area represent the sexual parts. While there is the obvious female statement, my guess is that the emphasis on the bright chest area indicates that some parts inside have a strong sense of sexuality. Or, the white color could mean the opposite – a numbing or lack of feeling. Either which way, this is an issue that should be explored with this dissociative system.
It is important to note that the kneeling knee and the bare foot are on the same side as the female / sexual parts of this system. Putting these indicators of submission together with the chain necklace could symbolize some history in sex slavery. This is a difficult topic, so ask questions gently.
As always, please remember that my guesses and interpretations of this DID artwork could be completely wrong. However, please take the ideas as presented, as use them in the ways that fit for you. Let these ideas create questions for you as you explore your own art, or the art of your clients.
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