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
June 25, 2010
Last night I lost my keys in the office. It was a silly ordeal – they were hanging right where I last put them – but it took me awhile to remember where that was.
I had a little help finding them, and I am really thankful that Mr. Janitor Man was so very kind. He was patient with me, looking everywhere with me while I retraced my steps of the evening. We looked under couches, in between cushions, under pillows, through trash bins, in the fridge, in drawers, in cupboards, on shelves. I knew they had to be there – after all, I had just locked myself IN the building. I hadn’t gone anywhere because I needed my keys in order to unlock the door to get out of the building, so I knew they couldn’t be far.
But where were they?!
It took awhile, but I gradually got closer to the last place I left them, I remembered exactly where they were.
Success!! There they were – right where I left them.
And thank you, Mr. Janitor Man for your patience with me.
In order to find them, I simply had to stop and think about where I was when I last remembered having them, and go from there. My keys were just a few inches from that place.
Today, I had to wonder how my thought processes were the same – or different – from survivors with dissociative identity disorder (DID / MPD) who have to search for their lost keys.
A few weeks back, I was on the other side of this equation.
A DID survivor had lost her car keys for several days. She had looked everywhere. She had the feeling that they were still in the house, and remembered where She had last set them. But the car keys were nowhere to be found.
To help her sort through the lost key issue, She and I had an entirely different process than I did with Mr. Janitor Man.
She had already re-traced her steps best She could. It was clear the keys were not anywhere She thought they should be.
Because of the dissociative issues and system conflict in her life, there were several additional issues to consider:
- Had anyone inside moved the keys after She put them on the table?
- Were the insiders purposefully hiding the keys from her?
- Was this an issue of self-sabotage, system conflict, or simple dissociation?
- If She didn’t remember where the keys were put last, which insider did remember?
- If someone inside remembered, were they going to tell her?
- How long were the insiders going to keep this secret? Did they think that was funny?
- Were the keys sitting right there in plain sight, and was someone within her system purposefully blocking She’s vision?
- Was She simply “not allowed” to see where the keys were?
- Was someone inside hiding the car keys to keep her from driving?
- Why did they not want her to be able to drive?
- Was this a safety issue (to prevent some self-harm options that required a car)?
- Was this a power and control issue (“we can do what we want, and She can’t stop us”)?
- Were the insiders trying to sabotage and ruin She’s plans for the weekend?
- Was this a system punishment of some sort?
- Were the keys genuinely lost, and were all our questions about insider involvement way off track?
It became obvious that She didn’t know where the keys were. There was no use wasting more time asking her to find them on her own.
Asking inside – asking the parts in She’s system – to tell her where they were wasn’t working either. Everyone was quiet inside, and no one was willing to say where the keys were.
The only feeling that She got in response to the questions was that the keys were still in the house. She had noticed She could feel a little rise in tension when She looked in the kitchen. She was guessing the keys were there, but She still had no idea. She had looked everywhere in the kitchen – a few times – and still couldn’t find them.
She asked her insiders again, and again – and still no one would cooperate with a direct answer. Where should She look in the kitchen? Should She keep looking in the kitchen? Now what?
It was beginning to get clearer that either someone was hiding the keys on purpose from She. It was also becoming clear that others inside were feeling too scared of Key-Hider to tell She where the keys were. The awkward silence was very telling.
We tried directly asking Key-Hider where the keys were. The only response to that question was a bit cheeky. “If I wanted the keys hidden from her, why would I tell you where they are?” Oh ok. Got that message loud and clear. So Key-Hider wasn’t going to cooperate.
Hmmmmm. Now what?
I asked She to go stand in the kitchen. Since it appeared that the insiders didn’t feel like they could show She where the keys were – She was clearly not supposed to see the hiding spot – we didn’t go against that rule. Instead, we respected that rule. I asked She to close her eyes. I spoke to the insiders through She. They were, of course, listening behind her. As a rule of thumb, when talking to any part of the DID system, expect that there will be others listening in the background, even if the part you are speaking with is not aware of anyone else being near.
I asked She to keep her eyes closed, and to put her hands out to feel around in the kitchen. With DID, one part can be in charge of the most of the body, while someone else can gain control of the hands (or any other part of the body). I reminded She that this was possible, and encouraged her to let someone pass through her to be in charge of the hands.
While She and her insiders were rummaging through kitchen areas, I continued to speak to the inside system. I reminded them that She was not looking, that She could not see anything, and that they would not be breaking the rule of showing She where the keys were located, but I asked them to work together as a team. Together, they were searching the kitchen for the car keys.
One of the things I mentioned to the Insiders was asking them if anyone else saw the Key-Hider hide the keys. By this time it was clear that Key-Hider wasn’t being supportive of She. Key-Hider was not going to say where the keys were hidden, and Key-Hider was acting more in direct opposition to She. I asked for those who were willing to be kind and helpful to She to think about what they saw from behind the scenes, fully expecting that someone inside could have seen where Key-Hider put the keys. I asked if any of the Helpers saw Key-Hider hide the keys, and if any of the Helpers could help She to find them. I continued to remind She to keep her eyes closed, and to let the Helpers find the keys through her hands with their hands.
Within about fifty seconds, She giggled. She could hear the keys, and once She was holding the keys, She was allowed to open her eyes.
After being missing for days, the keys were found!
She was thrilled, to say the least.
She mentioned that the most significant things I said were that She herself didn’t have to be told or shown where the keys were and that Key-Hider wasn’t put on the spot with demands for immediate answers or cooperation. The idea that we could completely obey the rules, respect the opposition, and yet go around the rules by working with the other Insiders made a huge difference. She said she would not have thought about asking her insiders for help, but it made all the difference.
So what’s the moral of the story?
- If you are DID, remember that there are many others in there, and some of them will be on your side.
- Even if you feel like others are against you, there will be some that will help you.
- Using system communication, talking together, approaching problem-solving as a team will be more effective than you trying to work out issues alone.
- Talk to each other!
- Work together!
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
February 21, 2010
This series showing different ways that dissociative trauma survivors picture themselves is proving to be very interesting. This current picture is no exception.
Besides being a wonderful picture showing incredible artistic talent, “From_Ashes” says a lot about being dissociative and having a dissociative disorder.
Please know that I do not personally know this artist nor am I familiar with her system or how things work for her. In this blog, I will ask questions and interpret some DID system issues by the way things were drawn, but not because I am familiar with this person in real life. My guesses might be wrong! I am simply looking at this picture and presenting some of my thought about how DID can be seen and more deeply understood by paying attention to this drawing.
In a therapeutic setting, I would of course, ask the survivor to explain her drawing before I began presenting some of my own interpretations. However, for the purposes of this blog, I will present some of my thoughts without having had the opportunity to speak with the artist directly. Some of my thoughts, when looking at this picture, include:
WOW! This girl can draw! (ok, just had to say that again, lol)
Notice the three different ages of the three different people. The physical resemblance between them speak of how the three different people are one and the same outside person, and yet the ages, emotions, experiences and roles are clearly unique and different from each other. Notice the distinctly different child part, teenager part, and adult front part.
While the adult part is the closest to the front of the picture, she is not who you notice first. The child part stands out the strongest, followed by the teenager. I would wander if this survivor’s child parts are the most visible or prominent in real life.
The adult part is present, yet the lightness of her features is significant. Sometimes adult hosts parts feel like shells or fronts or outer facades. I would explore with this survivor to see if the adults of her system feel faint, as in not strong enough to have a dominant presence. Does the adult need help to become more in charge of her system? Does the adult feel insignificant, or unimportant, or too unsure to be in charge?
On a different level, I would spend a lot of time checking to see if the opaque, clear coloring of the adult front (which may very well represent the body’s actual age) is a clear “mask” by which the others inside hide behind. For some survivors, the external face / host face provides a thin covering that stays in front of the actual insider that is present. The outer “shell” face is what the outside world is supposed to see while who is actually there from the inner world is constantly changing and evolving.
Exploring the meaning of the various colors is important.
The child part has a lot of red near her. Red can often symbolize pain or hurt. It might represent a lot of injury, as in having blood-related injuries. However, this child part doesn’t look particularly sad. She may be a little more connected to some of the happier moments in time, keeping the pain / red at a little further distance from herself. This child part has more true-to-life colors in her skin tones, etc. She might very well feel more alive and well than many of the others inside.
If the red color does represent pain or injury, the red lips can indicate a number of oral injuries. Red on the head might indicate a lot of headaches or head injuries.
Around the child part, there are a variety of puzzle pieces. There is a mix of assembled, connected puzzle pieces and empty holes without a puzzle piece. My first thought is that each of the different puzzle pieces could represent a memory or pieces of life-story information. It appears that the child part has put together quite a few of her experiences. Maybe she already knows a lot of trauma memories and has been working on her healing. The gaps in time (as shown by the missing puzzle pieces) could represent memories and emotions not yet addressed.
The puzzle pieces could also represent other internal system parts. Maybe the number of puzzle pieces by the child part means there are a lot of other kid parts. The puzzle piece by the teenager could represent others near her age-group as well.
The teenager clearly feels a lot of emotional pain. The heaviness in her eyes is obvious, and this part knows about a lot of hurts. This part struggles with self-esteem issues, as noted by the way she is pulling back and hiding more. However, she has started in her healing journey to and some of the connected, organized puzzle pieces are touching her as well. She has lots of stories yet to tell, however, as so much open space surrounds her. There is still a lot of unknown about this part. She keeps a lot of secrets tucked away in her silence.
Why is the teenager in black and white? Her skin tones are not yet “real”, so maybe she feels more disconnected and distanced from certain areas of life. Does she not feel real? Does her body not feel real? Does this part know about self-injury issues?
The wings around the front adult part might indicate dissociation. This front adult part doesn’t give the impression of being strongly grounded. She might be one of the parts that floats, or that leaves frequently. Maybe her ability to stay connected to the current day, or intense emotion gets compromised by being too easily able to dissociate.
As with every system picture, I would ask about the communication that happens between these different parts. Each of them are walled off from each other in the picture, so they may not be able to speak with each other as easily as they will be able to once they complete more of their healing. The adult front part probably hears more from the others behind her, but may very well have difficulty feeling heard by them.
The adult front part probably has a trouble staying connected to the painful memories as the red and orange part of the wings (flames?) are further from her. Also, she needs to keep up a public appearance of being ok, including dressing nicely, and looking good. To stay cool, she cannot get too close to the hot topics / intense emotions.
I would explore the title of this picture. What does the title of this picture mean? Are each of these parts named “Ashes”? Did someone named “Ashes” create it? Was this picture a gift from someone? Do these parts feel like they have risen above the ashes and overcome their tragedy?
Are these thoughts accurate?
As I mentioned above, if I were speaking to the creator of this drawing, I would be asking questions instead of assuming answers. However, many of my questions would be about the topics that I have mentioned above.
If you would like to see more incredible artwork by this artist, please look here.
Kathy Broady LCSW
Copyright © 2008-2010 Kathy Broady LCSW and Discussing Dissociation
February 20, 2010
This picture is an example of an internal landscape for a trauma survivor with dissociative identity disorder. Internal worlds are very real, and they sometimes feel more real than the external world for certain parts. Internal worlds are more than having an imagination. They are interactive, busy, alive places.
Some survivors with DID have trouble looking inside. Many people say they can hear things, but it looks black inside. Even if you cannot see inside, there will be others in your system who can see your internal worlds. Try communicating with them, and as you build positive rapport with these other parts of your system, they may be willing to let you see what they see.
Becoming more familiar with your internal worlds is an important part of internal communication and getting to know the other parts inside. Internal worlds are like internal homes. They provide a type of internal community for your system insiders.
Think about how much harder it would be to get to know various people in a work office setting if you couldn’t see the different areas, the different cubicles, the different desk locations. If there were a dozen people in that area but the lights were off, or in curtains were drawn, it would be much more difficult to connect with the people that were there. Seeing each other helps. Seeing where each other is also helps.
Getting to know the internal locations of your insiders is equally important. When you see where someone lives, you learn a lot about them.
Please note: It is extremely important to keep the details of your internal world private to only the most trusted people in your life. This kind of information is personal, and if you give away too much info about your internal worlds to someone who has less than noble intentions, you could be putting your system at risk.
With cautions in mind, here is a picture that represents a portion of an internal landscape.
When I look at this picture, if I was speaking to the dissociative person, I would ask:
- Can you tell me about this place? And this place? And this place? I would ask the person to describe the different structures to help me understand the importance of each location. Since the inside worlds can be whatever you want it to be, it can be important to hear why you have those specific things.
- What is this yellow triangle thing? Where did you get the idea to build this kind of place in your internal world? What does it represent? What are those circle things and why are they connected together?
- Who lives here? And who lives here? And who lives here? Each separate location / building / structure can be the ‘home’ of someone in the system.
- Do the neighbors all get to speak and interact with each other? Why or why not? Can the people in these areas always hear what is going on in these other areas? Why or why not?
- I see the little worlds. Each of these circles looks like it could be its own little world of people. What groups of your insiders are connected to these areas? Can you tell me more about these?
- Do these colors have any specific meaning to you?
- Part of your internal world looks bright and cheery. Part of it looks dark and heavy. How does that match with your experience of what your internal worlds are like?
- Who in your system is allowed to go through these doors? What are the rules for who can go through them vs. who cannot? What does it look like on the other side of these doors?
- What is the purpose of having a lake in your internal world? How does it help you to feel better? What have lakes meant to you in your outside life?
- I see the clear blue sky in a distance. Why is the blue sky so far away? What is over there at the horizon point? What is making the rainbow so much heavier and prominent than the sky? What does that mean to you?
- The trees on the island appear to be separated from the other structures. Do the insiders that live on the island have to stay separate from the others? Are the people able to cross to the other section? Do these people know those people?
- What are the brown leaf-type shapes on the left edge? What do they represent?
- If this is a picture of your internal world, where are the people? What are they doing? Do you see other insiders when you look at these places?
- How has your internal world changed over time? What has remained constant? What has changed? Do you know what was going on in your life when the changes occurred? Are there any changes that you would like to make to your internal worlds at this point in time of your life?
- When your internal worlds look like this, how do you feel?
- How much time do you spend looking inside at these worlds? How easy is it for you to see this? Does anything ever block your view of these areas?
- How real do these internal worlds feel to you?
Kathy Broady LCSW
February 15, 2010
The healing process for survivors of abuse and neglect is very difficult. While it is a rewarding journey, it is a painfully difficult process.
Trauma survivors with dissociative identity disorder typically have lots of child parts in their systems. Sometimes these child parts may seem to outnumber the adults!
Working with the kids is an important part of the healing process. Inside kids often know a lot about your internal system, family dynamics, and trauma memories.
But these inside kids, while very much connected to the rest of your adult self, also have real kid needs. They need to be cared for, kept safe (inside and out), allowed to have healthy daily provisions, given support, comfort, and compassion. These are the parts of you that were frozen in time when your needs were not properly meet during your actual childhood. They are the parts of you that just could not go on any further in life, and had to stay stuck where they were, back in that time. They are often the parts that lived through the horrors that you are remembering.
If you ask me, child parts are little heroes. If you think that working on your trauma issues is hard as an adult — with a therapist and all the current-day resources available to you — imagine how hard it was to be a little child living that trauma, completely on your own, with no help at all. Your little kids have had a rough go of it. It really is important for you to do what you can to soothe their wounds and heal their hurts.
One thing that helps child parts to move forward and to not stay stuck is to meet some of their unmet needs. Between years of abuse and neglect, and many incidents of trauma, your child parts will have oodles of experiences of not having their needs met appropriately. The sooner you and your system can treat your child parts in healthy ways, the sooner they will heal. Having corrective emotional experiences will allow your child parts to experience the positive things that were missing in their development.
If your child parts are not in a place where they can emotionally flourish, it will be important for you to help them reach a place where they can experience creative happy living.
Reading good children’s stories with your child parts are as helpful for your inner kids as they are for outside children.
The book, “I Knew You Could” by Craig Dorfman is a wonderful children’s story about encouragement, support, positive self-belief, and healthy determination. The story is about a little train that goes through different areas of life, questioning his train-abilities and wondering if he can make it through the various stops in life.
I am not a professional storyteller by any means, but through the years of working with DID / MPD clients, I have been asked by many a child part to read a story. It seemed to me that maybe other child parts out there in the world would also enjoy having a positive, encouraging story read to them.
Please use this story as a way to encourage yourself and comfort your inner kids. Your healing journey is difficult — filled with lots of stops and bumps along the way — but you have already survived the worst of it. You can heal from here, and create a much better life for yourself and your insiders.
When you hear “I Knew You Could”, what are your favorite lines in the story?
Which phrases fit your life right now?
What does this story mean to you?
And whatever difficult things are happening in your life… keep working at it!
You can do it.
I know you can!
Kathy Broady LCSW
December 5, 2009
Multiplicity, the 1996 movie with Michael Keaton, is not specifically about Dissociative Identity Disorder – it is technically about being cloned — but it is a funny, light-hearted comedy that absolutely pertains to DID / MPD.
Have you watched this show?
Keaton’s character has a lot in common with DID. As you watch the movie, you can see the following similarities happen in this sequence:
- Putting his fax machine (electronic equipment) on the blitz easily
- Creating split, after split, after split, with each different self assigned to work in different areas of his life
- Feeling that life is overwhelming and he can’t get it all done
- Participation in scientific experiment (ok, so this is supposed to be a fun post, so I won’t delve into that)
- Having an unusual, complicated sense of time, especially once he has more than one self
- Fighting between the parts over “who’s me” – “I’m the main one – No, I am!” The different selves squabble over who is the leader of the body-life, e
- As the different parts have different experiences, they contain different memories and different feelings. While they all started from the same place, they develop unique lives.
- The different parts argue with each other – take opposite opinions, have different goals, different priorities. They each make significant decisions that effect the whole of the body-life.
- At first, the idea of having split lives works really well. It helps to get more things accomplished effectively.
- Experiencing “memory loss” – the parts are not aware of what the other parts are doing, and they have to suddenly cover for the activities of the other parts
- Gradually realizing they need to coordinate and talk about whose doing what to keep things running smoothly
- People out in the world can notice the difference between the different parts, despite their best efforts to not let this be seen
- Sometimes its hard to tell the difference between the parts – sometimes the differences are more than obvious
- Once the original person starts splitting, the easier it is to split again, and again, and again. Eventually, the parts begin to split as well.
- “Not me” – it was one of the others – passing responsibility and blame to someone else in the system
- Bickering and fighting occurs between the parts — they even get jealous of each other
- As there is more and more unawareness of what the others are saying or doing, the reality of being multiple affects his life more significantly
- As the different ones experience new activities for the very first time, the newness of the event is an exciting unexpected experience for each of them.
- The “host” of the system realizes that he has handed his life out to so many others, and at some point, he misses his life, and wants to get back involved. While being away so much has its perks, he realizes he is missing out by not being involved.
- Consequences start happening when the parts do not know what the other parts know, when one part can’t cover for another, and the information gaps start becoming more and more obvious.
- There are hurt feelings between the parts when they think outside people like one of the other parts better than them
- When they finally work together on a project, they can accomplish a lot, really quickly
- When insecurities arise between the parts, they have to remember “You are me, I am you” – they have to remember they are really the same person, even though they experience life as different people
That’s pretty good for Hollywood!
How many of these events can you relate to?
Have these kinds of complications happened in your life as a multiple?
Have you experienced these feelings in your life as a multiple?
This movie is a nice change from the usual dark, unflattering versions of multiplicity portrayed in the media. It’s not a perfect display of life as a dissociative survivor, but it shows a lot of humor about the difficulties in developing system cooperation and internal system communication.
If only real life as a multiple was this fun…!
For some light-hearted entertainment that you might relate to as a multiple (or as someone who lives with a multiple), I recommend watching this show.
Kathy Broady LCSW
July 14, 2009
When you have dissociative identity disorder (DID/MPD), and you’re thinking as a multiple personality — thus having a multitude of different thoughts at once time — it can be very difficult to make decisions.
How do survivors with DID ever make up their minds?
How do survivors with DID decide whose opinion to follow?
How do survivors with DID ever decide what is best for them?
How do survivors with DID sort out having a dozen different opinions at once?
It is complicated to think like a multiple.
There are gaps of missing time, non-sequential pieces of information, jumbled feelings and emotions, snippets of conflicting facts, confusion, voices from the past, fears of more punishment, flashbacks, internal arguing, programmed thoughts, insistent introjects, personal insecurities, etc. The chaotic internal workings of a dissociative trauma survivor can make it very difficult to think clearly.
Non-dissociative “singletons” (people who do not have multiple personality disorder) can experience simultaneous mixed feelings, opposing thoughts and conflicting perspectives on specific situations as well. Singletons can write out extensive lists of “pros vs. cons” on any number of situations. Non-dissociative singletons do not experience just one thought or one feeling at a time either. They see the big conflicting picture all at once.
So what makes decision making even more difficult for survivors with DID?
All too often, dissociative trauma survivors functioned through the difficult times of their life by separating their thoughts and feelings into individual compartments and using dissociative, amnesiac walls to keep these compartments separated. Having mixed emotions and conflicting beliefs at the same time was often too much to manage in the middle of a traumatic event. Dissociative survivors learned to split the different feelings and the different perspectives into different parts of themselves, blocking one perspective away from the other. It is easier to separate and contain overwhelming conflicting emotions when the two opposing emotions did not have to directly collide with each other.
For example, all children love their parents. But if a young girl has a father who is sexually abusing her, and a mother that is either pretending not to see that or is helping the father to abuse her, then huge conflicting emotions are going to occur. The child will want to please her parents, even in this painful abusive situation. But in order to do that, the child will have to find ways to separate her experience of the parents she loves from the parents who are hurting her. Dissociating the conflicts into separate parts help this to happen.
- The child can split off a part of herself that is willing to obey her father even to the point of acting like a passive or promiscuous young child that appears to want to be sexual with the father.
- She can split off a part of her that feels the physical pain and injury of the assault.
- She can split off a part of her that contains the intense betrayal by the mother.
- She can split off a part that holds the emotional pain, deep wounding, and heartbreak of the assault.
- She can split off a part that holds the anger and rage at having been assaulted by both of her parents.
- She can split off a part that holds the fear of being violently assaulted by her parents again and again.
- She can split off a part that is the happy little girl who goes to school the next day, blocking out all the pain, acting very connected to her parents, not showing any sign of having been through a horrendous assault the night before.
The person as a whole sees the situation as a whole. But if a dissociative trauma survivor has separated the different feelings and perspectives and kept that information separated locked and blocked behind various dissociative walls, then the survivor is aware of only some of the information at any given point in time. She is not aware of the whole picture, because she has it dissociated parts of it away from herself.
Dissociative people are accustomed to separating the intense conflicting emotions and managing only one or two at a time. This might help in the short-run, but it does not help in the long-run.
So how do dissociative trauma survivors make good decisions if they are used to looking at situations from the constraints of one limited perspective at a time? What happens when they cannot see the situation as a whole? How can they make a good decision if they cannot put the entire picture together at the same time?
This is a common problem for survivors with DID. The part of them that sees and recognizes the dangers cannot always communicate with the happy naïve part who is determined to believe she is safe and unharmed. The ones that believe they are out of harm’s way (and who wouldn’t want to hold tight to that belief?) refuse to connect with the fear, anger, pain of the trauma (because who would want to feel that?!)
The problem is that by not seeing the whole picture at one time, dissociative trauma survivors find themselves tangled into a variety of dangerous situations. For example, they can bond to dangerous people without recognizing the danger. They see only as much as the current perspective allows them to see, and they don’t even realize that there is trouble looming in the near future. By dissociating the perceptions and experiences that might better recognize the danger, dissociative survivors can put themselves in high-risk situations over and over and over again.
Building the strength, the courage, and the willingness to talk to all the other internal parts in your system is key to getting past the dissociative walls and being able to make decisions from a more complete perspective. Face your difficult emotions, confront the truth of your trauma, listen to all of your inner selves, and recognize that other internal parts have valid information. No one can make a good decision based on partial information. Be willing to look at the whole picture.
As you learn to trust your internal parts to give you the rest of the story, you will be less vulnerable to people who aggressively or suggestively tell you what to think. The more you can trust yourself, the less vulnerable you are to people who would manipulate your thinking by maneuvering behind your dissociative walls. Predators and perpetrators will have less ammunition to use against you when you can trust your own selves. They will not be able to abuse you as much if you are aware that it is happening. The less you dissociate time and information, the more you can appropriately handle life’s current day conflicts.
If you truly know the whole story of what happens in your life, both in the past and in the present, then you are less vulnerable to feeling or thinking or believing something just because someone else more aggressive tells you that you do. You can learn to connect to and trust in your own thoughts or feelings or beliefs, and to make your own assessment of a situation based on that.
Look at the whole picture and think for yourself.
Kathy Broady LCSW
March 7, 2009
Many dissociative trauma survivors have issues with time.
Sometimes the past sneaks up into the present. Sometimes the present disappears. Sometimes there are two time zones (or more) occurring at the same time. Sometimes there are huge gaps in time. Sometimes time stands still.
It can be confusing to say the least.
- Have you ever had a flashback from some year gone by overwhelm your current day?
- Have you ever been overwhelmed by such huge feelings that for them to make any sense, they must have roots in something much deeper than your current-day conflict?
- Have you ever woken up in the current day and wondered where you were?
- Have you ever lost hours of time, with no awareness of what happened, and no explanation of what you have been doing?
Losing time can be very difficult. Many folks with DID get understandably upset when this happens — struggling with the after effects of their behavior, left confused, bewildered, possibly angry, waking to their plans being destroyed, their relationships damaged, their money spent, their body feeling weird, their day interrupted. Most singletons cannot even begin to fathom what life would be like with so many missing gaps in time.
There is a huge sense of loss of control when there is lost time. Is the amnesia that is covering that lost time still important? Is it covering up some huge secret that the host of the system cannot know about? Or is it just an old habit – an old familiar way of life, and nothing to worry about? Either way, the not-knowing, and the apparent “not being allowed to know” what happened in one’s own life can understandably be very upsetting for many people.
Sometimes the effects of lost time are minimal, barely noticeable — maybe a small bruise, or scratch that came from nowhere, or a change of clothes, or maybe you’re simply sitting in a different place than you last were. Lots of people with dissociative disorders are so used to losing time that they don’t even notice it anymore. Switching and the coming and going are so normal for them, and the covering for a “bad memory” are just natural parts of the day. In fact, it can be so natural, that many people with DID/MPD are firmly convinced that they don’t lose any time at all. However, a close examination of that belief can usually prove otherwise, but that is not an uncommon initial assumption.
Sometimes lost time cause a lot of anxiety and panic, and sometimes the effects are quite devastating. The host of the system may have no awareness that one of the insiders participated in a sexual activity the night before, but the host might be able to feel body pain and stiffness, and just not have an explanation for that. The daytime alters may not have realized that “the body” is now pregnant, and they may not absolutely no idea who the father is. Or the host of the system may have no idea how the car got wrecked. The dayside people can see the damage done to the car, but might not have any awareness of what happened. Or maybe they have absolutely no idea why their spouse and children are so angry with them. Maybe they don’t remember being involved in a knockdown drag-out argument last night where the spouse and the children were repeatedly insulted, ridiculed, and denigrated.
Sometimes something good has happened – ie: where another part has had the courage to do something that you hadn’t been able to manage. The house may suddenly look cleaner and more organized, or the kids have been helped with their homework. “Good news” isn’t as frequently blocked from awareness, but it can certainly happen. And sometimes, inside system parts can purposefully block the awareness of someone else inside so they can give them a nice surprise. Insider parts can buy nice prezzies for each other, keeping the others unaware of what they are getting for Christmas or Hanukkah, for example.
However, for dissociative trauma survivors, the original foundational reasons for losing time were long ago based on avoiding or escaping the direct involvement in something terrible. While blocking out the awareness of events during their original occurrence was incredibly helpful at that initial traumatic point in time, as a person’s safety increases, and as their dissociative walls decrease, those hidden chunks of lost time often re-surface later in the form of PTSD, flashbacks, body memories, etc.
As repeated patterns of managing traumatic incidents become set and solidified within the dissociative splits, the amnesia between those alters and others inside just simply stay in place. In those original traumatic moments, those insiders were created with dissociative walls firmly intact, purposefully preventing the other system parts from knowing what happened. That same “missing time” protection stays in place until the dissociative person begins to address why it was necessary for them to have that chunk of time hidden from their life in the first place.
Think about the most recent incident or two where you lost time. Part of the healing process is getting more connected with those periods of lost time. Don’t just comfortably sail past the fact that you don’t know what happened in the middle of the afternoon, or that you have no earthly idea where you were last night. Work at that.
These missing gaps of time are pieces of your life that hold valuable information. I can promise you, your body didn’t just cease to exist while you were dissociatively “away” on a mental vacation. Something was happening with some of your parts, and someone was doing something. You might not been out and involved in life during that period of time, but I can guarantee that someone in your system knows exactly what was happening. They were there instead of you.
The terms “missing time” or “lost time” are actually misnomers. The time didn’t get lost. The time is not gone. The person dissociated away from time — someone else in your system was out instead of you. If you don’t know what happened, then you dissociated away and you have not yet talked to your internal system about who was out instead of you. By talking to the others in your dissociative system, you can find out exactly what happened in that “lost time”.
The question is whether or not you would like to know what happened while you were away. Do you want to remember what happened in those missing gaps of time in your childhood? Do you want to know what happened in those missing gaps of time last week? Are you willing to ask your insiders to tell you about their time in the body and their time out in the world?
Becoming less dissociative, less DID/MPD, more integrated, more whole means knowing about ALL the missing gaps of time – the good news, and the not so good news. If you cannot integrate what happened in your own life, you certainly cannot integrate with your other alters inside. If you cannot sit with the emotions and feelings that you had during the difficult times in your life, you certainly cannot integrate with the inside parts that contain those feelings.
Overcoming the amnesia and time loss means that you must communicate actively with the others in your system. Yep, we’re back to system communication once again. Talk to your internal people – they can tell you exactly what happened while you were away.
Work hard to figure out what has happened in your life. Be willing to remember what happened in those missing chunks of time. Don’t comfortably skip over the details that you conveniently dissociated away – go back and really work at learning what happened in your own life.
Here are some questions to ask yourself and your internal system after you notice some missing time:
- What happened? Do you have any guess or sense whatsoever of what happened? What was happening right before you lost time and what is the first thing you noticed when you got back, grounded and connected to the current day?
- How did you feel? How did you feel emotionally before you left? How do you emotionally feel now?
- How does the body feel now? What is different from before?
- What did you do to recover the information in the time that went “missing”? What clues did you find to help fill in the gaps for you? Look around the house or your car. Does anything look different?
- Did you know who in your system was “out” while you were not out? Who can you ask internally? Who saw what? Even if your insiders did not see what happened in the outside world, did they notice any internal movement? What changes and interactions were happening within the inside world while you were away? Did anyone see anyone else “walk by”?
- If you get a sense of who was out, can you talk to that part of yourself without losing time? Have you been able to work more with the others in your system to lesson the likelihood of this happening again??
- If someone else in your system was caught in a memory or a flashback, do you want to know about it? Are you willing to hear their story about their trauma? Are you willing to sit with them and deal with their pain?
Are you brave enough to know what happened while you were away?
Are you genuinely serious enough about your healing to want to know what happened while you were away?
Are you ready to claim all the different aspects of what has happened in your life?
You can get back all the information that was allegedly lost during that missing time.
You can truly know what happened.
Kathy Broady LCSW