January 23, 2009
As I am writing my longer post about working with child parts, I want to encourage you to think about this topic as well. Read the following questions, and be honest with yourself – think about them. Journal about them, and make these questions the topics of discussion in your internal meetings. Try the acronym exercises if you need a starting place.
- What are your beliefs about child parts? Who are they? What are they? Why do you have child parts?
- What are your healing and therapy goals for working with your child parts?
- Do you want your child parts to grow older? Or are you happy to incorporate them into your life at whatever age they are?
- Would you feel better if your child parts grew up? What would you lose if they got older? What would you gain?
- Do you remember the same things the child parts remember? If not, do you believe them? Why or why not? Do you understand why they might have different memories than you?
- Do you know how to comfort, soothe, and protect your child parts in safe and healthy ways? List out viable options. Examine various barriers causing complications and troubles for you.
- Can you sit near your child parts without hurting them, and without having any unhealthy or destructive internal struggles? If not, do you know what gets in the way of this happening or how to address the issues? If so, are you able to hold their hand or let them sit with you in a safe and comforting way?
- Do any of your child parts bring joy, laughter, and smiles to your life? How so?
- Do any of your child parts carry your pain? Your emotions? Your trauma memories? If so, what are you doing to address those issues?
- Are you actively involved in aggressively protecting your child parts from anyone inside or outside that will hurt them? Why or why not? What are you doing that is effective? Where do you need help?
Working with child parts is a complicated and critical part of the therapy for trauma survivors with Dissociative Identity Disorders. Your approach to your kids, your values and your beliefs about the kids will affect how you do your work with them.
Is your approach effective?
If you were the child, would you want to interact with you?
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 18, 2009
Trauma survivors with Dissociative Identity Disorder have an internal world – an internal landscape that is visible, tangible, and very real for the different internal parts. No one on the outside can see this internal world – it is within the mind of the DID person and it belongs totally and completely to them.
Many times, this internal landscape is an internalized replica of what happened in the outside world. For example, you might see a house that looks just like the place where you grew up. Or you might see rooms that appear to be the same as rooms where you were hurt. When you first look within your internal world, it is not uncommon for most of the landscape to parallel your trauma history. It is, in fact, during the traumatic times that your various parts were split off.
However, the internal world belongs to you, it was created by you, and it does not have to stay “as is”. If you can visualize something new, you can change your internal world. If you want to create and develop nice internal homes, you can do that. It is your world, and you can surround yourself with whatever you choose.
This internal world can be changed and affected by work done with external people with the internal parts. Like any other situation, if the interactions are with a safe person, the changes to the internal world will lead to greater healing and stability. If those interactions are with a not-safe person, the changes in the internal world will be done to serve the offender / abuser, and will not benefit the DID survivor.
The internal landscape comes naturally with the concept of dissociating because the other people that are split off from the natural born child have to have a place to be, to exist, to live. They have internal homes – their own place be – when they are not out presenting in the body.
When the host person is in a lot of denial about the DID system, it is not unusual for that host part to not be able to see much of the internal world. Hosts with denial very often say, “It’s dark inside”, or “It’s all black”, or “I can’t see anything.” When this is the case, it is a very clear indicator that there is work to be done.
The host person of your system may not be the best person to go to when you are trying to work with your internal worlds. The host typically has the job of dealing with the outside world. Hosts are great for that, but someone else in your system could be better prepared to work with internal worlds. For that matter, if the host person has a great deal of trouble accepting that there are internal worlds, you might have to side-step that debate, and work on the issue separately as an internal group. Invite your host to join in with you, but don’t stop doing this work if the host personality finds this too difficult.
You will have internal leaders as well – they may or may not be the same leaders that deal with the external worlds. These leaders will likely be aware of who is in their area. They even be aware of other areas that are separate from their own “world”.
Those of you that can see each other can create an internal meeting place – a neutral area, much the same as a living room or den of a house. Create this place as an area that belongs to everyone and is created to be shared between whoever shows up. This makes for a good place to practice overall group communication.
Use this room to have general group meetings, to talk about daily events, to discuss decisions, to make plans. Check in with each other – ask how the others are, how they are feeling today, and what’s going on for them. The more your group as a whole participates in life issues, and becomes aware of each other, listening to each other, the more cohesion and cooperation you will get. Developing a group consensus – where insiders can agree to do various issues, will significantly improve your overall stabilization and ability to function.
Besides group meetings, make it abundantly clear that it is also ok for everyone to speak with everyone else. This is important, as breaking the “no-talk rules” is critical in your overall healing. Encourage each other to spend time together, to get to know each other, to talk on a regular basis. Do not base these kinds of communications on trauma material – base these on typical outside interactions, where you get to know the person, what they do, what they like, who they are before you start asking about crisis or traumatic material.
When you look around your internal world, you will get clues from the actual landscape that is there. If you see a locked door or a walled off area – there could be someone else on the other side, specifically separated from the rest of you. If you see black fuzzy shadowy areas, there are very likely groups of other people hidden inside of those. If you see a house or a building, there will likely be people inside those areas as well.
Explore. Walk around. Look deeper into areas that you haven’t gone into before. Look in the hidden areas – you’ll find all kinds of internalized parts if you look for them. Think about where you used to hide as a child. If you look in those same kinds of places on the inside, you’ll find some of your internal kids hiding there in your internal worlds. These hidden kids may also know where other hidden children are. Be sure to ask.
If you are leery about doing these walk-arounds on your own, take someone with you. The buddy system works well and be sure to inform the others inside that you are exploring, and ask them to come check for you if you’re not back in a certain amount of time.
Your inside world will be a mini-version of what your life has been like. What happened externally will have been internalized. In many ways, your internal world will be a version of your life story, and all the insiders needed to get through the different events. The places will be the same. The stories will be the same. It’s you and your life – just on the inside.
Remember, as you find someone inside, approach them the same as if you were looking at an outside person in that situation. If they look hungry, give them something simple to eat. If they look thirsty, share a favorite drink with them. Give them clean clothes, warm blankets, a warm wash cloth, and small teddy bear for comfort if they are young. First meet their physical needs. Your first priority is to help them feel safe and protected.
Once these parts feel safer with you, they will begin to talk with you a little more. Do not push for memory content. This will overwhelm too many people too fast, and it’s not necessary. If the hidden ones you find will move to a new area closer to the safe common ground, that is great. It might take a lot of work, before they are comfortable enough to do that, but let them know the option is available whenever they are ready for that.
Start with getting everyone connected more in the here and now. Let them peek at the external life to see that they live in a new place and time. Many of these insiders will have been locked in their traumatic worlds all their lives. They need time to see that it is now (2009), and that it will be news to them that they can live in a safer place. Build nice areas for them to stay, so they don’t have to go back to their traumatized “homes”. The longer they can stay in safe neutral areas, the better.
(To be continued…..)
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 17, 2009
This blog is a continuation of the initial article posted on December 31, 2008, “25 Ways to Avoid Self-Injury and Prevent Self-Harm.”
If you are feeling pressured to get past the “heat of the moment” and you need some ideas of how to do this safely, try using a handful of the following ideas. These ideas will not help solve your self-injury issue on a long-term basis, but they could help you to get through the actual moments when you are feeling at the highest risk. Safe distractions that also provide some element of emotional expression are a good balance.
- Find a brick wall (or any kind of strong wall with no windows), and kick a soccer ball against the wall. Consciously put the anger you are feeling into the ball as you kick it. The cracking sound of the ball smacking the wall can be satisfying as well. The louder the better!
- Use handfuls of ice, ice packs, or cool cloths to soothe and calm yourself. Some people may find warm cloths or heated warm towels more comforting. Changing a physical sensation in your body and concentrating on that may help to calm your frayed nerves.
- Put your anger into something useful — be more assertive with utility companies that aren’t doing their job, or tackle other external household issue that need a more aggressive approach. I’m not necessarily promoting being rude to someone who doesn’t deserve it, but you might be able to constructively resolve an existing problem with your added energy and intensity.
- Color or draw. Small, repetitive movements are soothing and calming, and you might learn something from your picture. The others inside might tell what they are upset about through the drawing that is made.
- Dance out your feelings. Use strong energetic body movements to release the adrenaline and to wear yourself out. Pick music that fits your mood. Sing along if you can – the voice release is good too.
- Write a long letter to your abuser(s). At this point, write these letters with plans to NOT send them. The point is not to set up a confrontation. Let your focus be on expressing your feelings about what they did to you. Write the things that you might never have the courage to actually say to them in real life. When you are finished, you can read the letters out loud repeatedly. Use intensity in your voice. Let yourself say the words with emotional honesty and genuine expression.
- Get obsessed with some safe activity — for example, do in-depth research on a particular subject on the internet, pull every weed from your yard, wash every dish in your cupboards, pace 10,000 steps, etc.
- Count those annoying little doodads on the ceiling, and when you lose count - which you will – start over.
- Do puzzles (the harder the better). There are lots of free online jigsaw puzzle sites if you do not have any actual puzzles in your home.
- Practice relaxation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises. Take long, slow, deep breaths. Inhale deeply and slowly, hold for a few counts, then release your breath slowly. Do this until you can feel yourself calm down.
- Play video games, and take your aggression out on beating the game, or smashing and bashing the other “enemy” characters in the games. Time away “in another world” can help release the pressure you are feeling right now in your world.
- Clean out your fridge or freezer, scrub it, making it clean and organized. This same idea can be applied to closets, or drawers, or bookshelves, etc. Getting involved with a complicated household task will give you another focus, a place to put your energy, and a positive sense of accomplishment when you are finished.
- Alphabetize your books, CD’s, Videos, DVDs, etc.
- Hammer nails into a piece of lumber or old tree stumps until you are exhausted. Watch your fingers – the idea is to NOT do any self-injury! The physical movement will be helpful, the noise will be satisfying, and if you speak about your anger and upset while you are banging away, you will be expressing your feelings at the same time.
- Wash your vehicle, your outside windows, your driveway, your floors, etc. The physical movement helps, and the accomplished feeling of being clean afterwards can help lift your mood.
- Go sit in the waiting room of a hospital, and read a book or magazines, and sip on coffee. You do not have to talk to doctors or any of the hospital staff – people will assume you are there waiting for someone who has an appointment. Just being in a calm, safe place can help.
- Take the time to groom your pets and give them treats. Try teaching your dog a new trick.
- Do something for yourself that makes you feel pretty, such as brushing your hair, doing your nails, getting your hair cut, coloring your hair, wearing perfume, etc. When you feel lousy, try doing the OPPOSITE of that by doing something that helps you feel pretty.
- Make something creative. You might have to pre-plan this, or have some options available just around the house. Finish a paint-by-number picture, work on needlepoint or sewing projects, try beading, learn how to make your own jewelry, etc. Getting creative will help distract you and put you in a better frame of mind.
- Do a collage. It is amazing what comes out in pictures, and you might not have realized what was going on in the background. The collage might explain it to you.
- Do acronym writing exercises. These might help you uncover why you are feeling so terrible while expressing some of the pain. Expression often eases the pain.
- Hold a frozen orange. Feel the coldness. Look closely at the frost on it. Hold the frozen orange where you wish to SI. Scratch the orange, smell the aroma. Look at bright orange color. Count the little dots in the orange peel. As you feel better, allow yourself to eat the orange and throw the peelings away.
- Throw water balloons at a fence, a wall, or a tree and watch them explode. As you throw each water balloon, make a comment about something you are upset about. Use your body and your voice to express your feelings.
- Build a model car or airplane or create something that takes a lot of detailed mental focus.
- Go to the library or book stores where it’s fairly quiet, but people are around. Make a list of 100 books you would like to read at some point in time. Or pick five books from each aisle that you would be willing to read. You can browse for hours, and no one would think anything of it. The same kind of book browsing could happen at online book sites as well.
Stay busy – do things over and over from these lists until you feel safe enough to manage your self-injury impulses. Sometimes just getting past the peak time will be enough to keep you safe.
The more you work on emotional expression in an ongoing way without allowing it to build up to a critical numbing point, the better. One of the biggest keys to resolving self-injury issues is to increase your emotional endurance. The more you can sit with your feelings, the less you will have to hurt yourself to numb them away.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 16, 2009
This is an excellent journaling exercise that can be adapted to any topic at any time. The entirety of the exercise is to find a difficult or complicated topic. Ask yourself a question about that topic and then write out 100 responses to that question.
For lots of people, one hundred sounds like a huge number for a writing exercise, but once you start thinking about the issue in smaller increments, you might be pleasantly surprised with how many thoughts come to mind so quickly. Most people find this exercise easier to do than they realize. On really big or complex topics, one hundred might not be enough. If you want to keep going past one hundred, please do so.
This exercise is good when you do not have an immediate or direct answer for your struggle. Start with listing the peripheral, simple reasons, and as you write more and more, you will likely reach more specific and complex answers to your concern.
Or this exercise is good to use when you feel like you are flooded with too many answers. Writing out every option that comes to mind can help to organize your thoughts and validate your big feelings.
Any of the following questions could be your starting point:
- What are 100 things that are on my mind right now?
- When I am feeling overwhelmed what 100 things are bothering me?
- What are 100 things that frighten me?
- What are 100 things that I am angry about?
- What are 100 positive things that happened when I was a child? (100 negative things? 100 harmful things? 100 helpful things?)
- What are 100 things that I like and enjoy?
- What are 100 things I wish I could say to my mother (father) but can’t or won’t?
- What are 100 things I wish my parents had handled better for me?
You can pick the topic and make the question relative to whatever you are experiencing at the time. Pick an issue that you are addressing in therapy now. Use this process to help sort through your thoughts and feelings.
The purpose of such a long list is to take sufficient time to get past the surface obvious answers to your question and to get into the deeper more subconscious answers to your question. Plus, the self-expression and self revelation required to do this exercise make it an interesting task. Breaking down any huge emotion, or any complex situation, or any frightening topic into smaller chunks will help you to develop a sense of mastery and control over the issue. Smaller items are easier to manage than the overwhelming whole. You might be able to fine-tune your struggle into more specific areas by doing this exercise than how it felt ahead of time.
For example, “I’m scared of everything” – a vague, over-whelming, sweeping out-of-control feeling – could become “I’m afraid of specific item A, specific item B, and specific situation C.” By definition, you can start to consciously realize and remember that there are lots of “everythings” in the world that are not specifically A, B, or C. Pinpointing troubled areas helps you to know there are other areas that are not a problem. That’s a good thing. Finding safety somewhere is better than feeling afraid “everywhere”.
It is best to complete the list in one sitting, if at all possible. Write your answers as quickly as possible, and don’t worry if an answer gets repeated more than once. The repetition of an answer can imply that that particular issue is truly bigger than many of the other issues listed.
Remember to pay attention to your own emotional saturation point. While this journaling exercise is intended to help you gain mastery over difficult topics, if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed from pulling up too much at once, immediately step back for a few minutes and take a breather. Get grounded again before you start to work on it more. You might consider dividing your topic into an even smaller focus area, or you might purposefully start and stop a few times, just to keep more stabilized.
Once you have completed your lists of reasons, be sure to read over it a few times. When you are looking at it from a whole, you might see different things than when you were inching through the individual points. You might find several repeating themes, or whole new areas of thought that you hadn’t expected to surface. Be sure to discuss your findings with your therapist, especially when you learn new bits of information.
To make this an exercise in system communication, allow and encourage the other parts of your system to participate in the making of the list of 100 things. Individual parts can each have their own lists, or they can put their name / initials beside their contributions to the group lists. Or use this exercise to focus questions more in the directions of system work. For example:
- What are 100 kind things I can say or do for my inner kid parts this week?
- What are 100 areas of conversation that we as a system can talk about?
- What are 100 activities I want to do with my inner people?
- What are 100 things we can do in our internal world to make our internal landscape more pleasing and comfortable for us?
- What are 100 things that I hear from inside today?
These kinds of exercises, whether done on paper, or within your internal committee meetings can give you a format, a method, or a starting place to help you hear and understand your other system members.
Remember, developing good, effective internal communication is the key to your healing.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 12, 2009
Creating a collage is another way of allowing your internal system parts to tell more about themselves.
Pictures can be a powerful way of communicating. And a collage – a collection of pictures – can tell a lifetime of stories.
Most trauma survivors were repeatedly told by their abusers, “Do not tell”. Violence, threats, abuse, and pain often accompanied these rules. How many times did you hear “don’t say anything to anyone” or “don’t talk about this” or “you better stay quiet”? All of those directives involve restrictions on being able to talk. Years later, even in the safety of therapy, the intimidation of the no-talk rules can still feel as powerful and real as ever.
One important aspect of healing and therapy is learning to work around the negative, confining rules and those scary points that keep people stuck. If some of your parts are too scared to tell what happened, maybe they could show what happened instead. Pictures can be a way of communicating when talking is a hindrance.
A picture paints a thousand words!
Sometimes writing is too complicated and can also be “against the rules,” especially in the early days of treatment. Thinking creatively, you can work around these rules too. Typing, for example, is actually different from writing. Cutting out printed words is also different from writing. Using stencils, stickers, and rubber stamps are also ways to show wording without having to write.
Collage allows the artist to show a mixture of pictures and words to tell stories without officially breaking no-talk and no-write rules. Collages can be made with a specific topic in mind, or they can be another useful format for the system descriptions.
To create your collage, use a variety of magazines, newspapers, advertisements, and telephone books, etc. Look through these printed materials and cut or tear out any picture, word, or phrase that seems relevant.
If you are sufficiently computer savvy, you can also create a collage from computer pictures. The web certainly has a wide variety of images available for collage purposes. If you can copy-paste and arrange pictures on a document, you can create an incredible collage without so much as lifting a piece of paper.
Let your internal system help pick out these pictures and words, and pay close attention to their interest in selecting pictures, even if you are not sure why they want that particular one. It is very important to not edit or limit the choices of pictures made by your insiders – let them pick whatever pictures they relate to. Each of your parts will have their own things to say, and everyone inside will relate to pictures in a very different way.
Don’t be alarmed or hesitant if you don’t understand why some of the pictures are selected. Chances are, you won’t understand the meaning of all the items picked. That’s ok – that means your insiders are getting ready to tell more about life from their own perspective. Be open to this new information – getting new communication is a big part of why this exercise is helpful. Besides, as you get to know the insiders that selected those pictures, and as the time is right, they will tell you the relevance and meaning of all their selections. If your insiders are picking pictures they relate to, they are completing the assignment, and that is a good thing. Don’t interfere!
Even though you might want to know why the various collage pictures are being selected, be very careful not to push your insiders to talk about everything at once. Not only will that put the others on the spot, and potentially chase them away from the assignment, but you could also easily overload and overwhelm yourself if you start demanding explanations for every picture or phrase that is selected. Select the pictures from a comfortable emotional distance and save the “talking time” for later. There will be plenty enough time on different days for your system members to explain their choices to you.
If you find that lots of your parts are doing this exercise at once, you can either make different piles for the pictures that belong to different folks, or just cut out everything you see and separate the piles of pictures into themes at a later point. I have known people to be working on dozens of tiny collages all at the same time. I have also known people to assemble gigantic collages on huge poster boards. Use whatever style works for best for you! The important point is that your parts are creatively showing you what has deep meaning for them.
The purpose of the collage is to provide another way to tell without telling. Using groupings of pictures and cut out words or phrases can help to say things that you are not allowed to say directly. Any form of expression is helpful in the therapeutic process, even if some of it stays unclear for a long while.
Another added benefit to this exercise is that you will get to know your system parts better. You might recognize patterns for who leans towards what type of pictures. You might hear a new voice that you don’t recognize insisting on a picture that has absolutely no relevance to you.
Collage work can help with the processing of traumatic memories. You might see entire story-lines displayed right in front of you in the groupings of magazine pictures. You might develop a greater awareness for who in your system dealt with what types of abusive situations.
Tending to everyone, listening, and allowing everyone in your system to have an unedited say in picture selection is important. As with any exercise that includes your whole system, it can lead to greater trust, system cooperation, and internal connection.
Kathy Broady LCSW
January 11, 2009
A fun and creative way to increase system communication and overall system familiarity is to make a scrapbook displaying pages that describe each of the people in your system. Getting to know your system is an absolute essential part to your healing and recovery, but doing system work doesn’t have to be drudgery. A system scrapbook can be a wonderful treasure and a priceless keepsake for many years to come. It can help create and solidify nice memories for you.
This exercise is similar to making any other personal scrapbook or souvenir album or photo album. You will need a scrapbook, or a notebook, or a binder full of paper. Have a wide variety of writing utensils available, ie: pens, pencils, crayons, markers. Allow for different colors to be used. If you want to get creative with your pages, you could also set out scissors, glue, glitter, strips of fabric or cloth, stencils, rubber stamps, yarn, buttons, dried flowers, photos, ribbons, pretty papers, etc.
Invite each and every one of your internal system parts to design their very own page or two or three about themselves.
The pages are to be created by each of your individual system people to introduce and describe themselves, their activities, their interests, their friends, their history, etc. They each can each decorate and design their pages however they so choose. Encourage your parts to creatively display as much information about themselves on their pages as they are comfortable. It’s also good to include drawings, or photos, or collage, or poems, or lists of information, or “Facts about Me”, etc. The sky is the limit with creative expression!
The purpose of this exercise is to assist your system in getting to know themselves and each other, to increase system communication, and to lower amnesiac barriers between the different parts. As everybody fills out their own personal pages, they are providing a good visual summary for the others in the system to get to know who they are, what they like, what they don’t like, who they know, etc.
There is a particular personal fulfillment in being able to creatively express who you are as an individual. The same principal applies to internal parts as well. Having this freedom of expression is a great way to encourage other levels of communication, and being recognized as an individual within a system is also an important emotional need. The self-worth of each of your internal parts can increase just by being recognized as a valuable part of your system.
Completing a personalized page will be a challenge for many insiders, as they often do not know what they like. It’s ok to let the pages be filled out gradually – there doesn’t have to be a time limit or a rush for completion. In fact, the longer you allow this exercise to continue, the better. Some of your insiders might have to look around in the outside world to find more things that they enjoy. Many of them won’t be used to the idea of “liking anything”. Having the freedom and encouragement to explore, and to pick and choose for themselves will be a very new – and possibly unsettling – but positive experience for many of your internal parts. The entire design side of this exercise could be a totally new experience for most of your parts.
Of course there will be those who are resistant to telling anything at all about themselves to anybody, even to other insiders. These parts do not need to be forced to participate. There will be plenty of other folks that find this exercise to be a fun and creative way to meet each other. Encourage as much of your system as possible to participate in making their own page, and remind everyone to keep looking through the other pages.
View the amount of participation and interest each insider shows as an emotional barometer. The amount and intensity of interest your parts show in completing their pages and looking through other pages will absolutely parallel how comfortable, interested, and willing they are to participate in overall system communication.
This project can be rather involved, and may take days, even weeks, to complete. That’s ok! Hopefully more and more insiders will get involved over time. And as you do ongoing work in your healing process, you will continue to meet new insiders. As those new parts surface, encourage them to add their pages to your scrapbook as soon as they are ready to do so.
Another value in this exercise comes in your working together as a team. Some of the older parts will probably have to help the younger ones. Who is comfortable being near the kids? Everyone will have to take turns. Who gets to go first? Some parts will have to share when they both want to include the same item on their page, and as a system, you’ll have opportunities to problem-solve the various dilemmas. If someone makes a mistake, who will comfort them or assist them? If someone breaks a crayon, will they get in trouble? If these parts see someone new in the scrapbook, will they try to communicate with that new person on the inside? The actual process of learning to work together as a group in creating such a valuable system book is invaluable.
Please do not show this book to anyone you do not completely trust as there is no need to set yourself up for uncomfortable situations with people who are not open to understanding dissociative disorders. This system treasure book is primarily intended for you to get to know you and all your other inside peoples. It is a good therapeutic exercise and I’m sure your therapist will be very interested in seeing it as well.
Get creative, and have fun!
Kathy Broady LCSW