January 19, 2010
What an interesting phrase.
Externalizing responsibility is when someone fails to accept responsibility for the messes they make or for the problems they cause. It is also failing to accept responsibility for the situations they find themselves in.
Internalizing responsibility is personally taking on the responsibility for what happens (in the past, present, or future). It is accepting the responsibility for personal welfare or for consequences of actions instead of dumping the blame on others.
Do you externalize responsibility?
Do you internalize responsibility?
For dissociative trauma survivors, the issue of when to accept responsibility versus when to deflect responsibility is a very complicated topic.
Most DID survivors have had years of experience internalizing responsibility for the actions of their perpetrators, family members, abusers, etc. Abusive offenders are some of the world’s best at externalizing blame onto someone else, and most trauma survivors internalize that blame, guilt, shame within themselves. Purposeful and direct blaming of the victim, especially child victims, typically ends up with the victim feeling responsible for the abuse.
Having this convoluted, complicated history of who is or isn’t responsible makes “accepting responsibility” a very difficult topic for trauma survivors.
Survivors spend years of time blaming themselves for the abuse (internalizing responsibility). Survivors typically end up feeling like they were bad, or they did something to cause it, or it was because they were too pretty, or too available, or too easy, etc. Survivors were usually told by their abusers that they deserved the abuse, or they liked the abuse, or they wanted the abuse, or some variation of the sort.
Perpetrators know that if they verbally blame the victim, that victim will be more likely to internalize the responsibility for what happened. Perpetrators typically do not accept responsibility for their actions. The more the perpetrators push blame and responsibility onto the victim, the more the victim will internalize that responsibility and blame.
But typically, survivors are not responsible for being abused. At least, they are not responsible for what the abuser does. The abuser is responsible for what the abuser does.
However, it is very difficult for many trauma survivors to put the blame of their abuse back onto their perpetrator. Trauma survivors will argue with their therapists that their abusive loved ones were not at fault – that they cannot be considered a perpetrator – that they are not to be blamed.
How many of you refuse to believe that your father (or mother) sexually abused you even if other parts in your system have said this clearly?
How many of you refuse to blame your perpetrator, and instead will run in circles protecting your family member from being called a perpetrator?
How many of you will argue that you have no right to be angry with your father – perpetrator? How many of you will define criminal actions as “not a problem” in order to not assign responsibility to your loved one?
Children are not responsible for being abused. Adults are responsible anytime they have abused children. Children will internalize the blame, but they are not responsible for being abused.
What about when the trauma survivor is an adult? What if the adult survivor is being abused as an adult? Who’s responsible then?
Adult trauma survivors do get abused. There are thousands of domestic violence situations where adults are being abused on a regular basis. Rapes and date rape situations can happen to adult trauma survivors. Dissociative survivors can still be involved in the sex slave industry or other ongoing abuses even as an adult. Abuse certainly can happen into adult-hood.
Who is responsible in these situations?
Of course, the abusers are still responsible for their own abusive behavior. (The topic of recognizing who abusers are will be discussed in a different blog article.)
However, these issues are not simple once the victim is an adult who has to be responsible for their own selves and any dependents. If you are an adult trauma survivor caught in abuse, it is not your fault you are being abused, but it is your responsibility to get yourself out and away from this abuse.
These adult survivor victims are responsible to get the help they need to get out of their abusive situations. They do not cause the abuser to abuse, but they are responsible to learn how to protect themselves and to protect any children that may be involved in the situation. It is important to build and utilize enough resources for safety and protection that will make the abuse come to an end as quickly as possible.
Finding the Balance
The difficult part is internalizing the correct portion of the responsibility. Even adult trauma survivors well experienced in therapy will internalize responsibility that genuinely belongs to the abuser. Other adult trauma survivors will stay stuck completely in the victim role, refusing to accept responsibility for getting out of the mess they are in. Sometimes survivors will cause-create-instigate-perpetuate emotional conflicts that are of their own making, and yet, claim to be the victim of their circumstances (more on that topic another time…).
So think about it…
Internalizing responsibility vs. externalizing responsibility.
What really does belong to you?
What really does belong to someone else?
Are you taking on too much?
Are you acting like a victim in situations where you are actually responsible?
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
February 12, 2009
Do you believe everything you read?
Do you believe everything you hear?
I realize “inquiring minds want to know” and gossip can seem initially enticing, but seriously, how much credence do you give to what other people have to say about anything?
How do you decide the difference between a credible source and a shoddy source?
How can you tell when you are being manipulated or tricked?
What critical thinking processes do you use to figure out who to believe and who to ignore?
One of the signs of personal strength, personal stability, and a solid awareness of yourself and your internal system is if you can hold your own ground and use your own judgment and not be blown around by any ol’ gusty windstorm that shows up.
Independent thinking is a necessary skill for personal growth and emotional maturity. It is critical for safety, and in terms of therapy, it is critical for your healing process as well.
It is important not to assume that everyone is telling you the truth. It is also important not to assume that everyone is telling you a lie. You will get the truth from some of the people some of the time. You will never get all of the truth from all of the people all of the time. Can you tell when someone is lying to you? What about when they are misrepresenting the truth? Sometimes people will present partial information, purposely omitting certain bits, emphasizing other bits, hoping to lead you into a specific erroneous perspective. Do you look for information over and beyond what someone is presenting to you?
What I’m discussing here is how hard it is to think for yourself. It’s not as easy as you might think. Can you really and truly think for yourself?
Can you think for yourself when you are under pressure from someone else to take on their beliefs and opinions?
For someone with Dissociative Identity Disorder, it gets even more complicated. Have you ever experienced the conflict when another part of your system appears to believe something very different from you? How do you sort that out? How do you decide what to believe overall?
This can be a particularly difficult issue for dissociative people because of the way it plays into historical issues. For most DID folks, there was at least one perpetrator in their life that forcefully made them accept / internalize / absorb perspectives and opinions and beliefs very different from their own. Being forced to internalize and remember beliefs that conflict and differ from what one truly believes creates a pressing need for splitting off new dissociative alters separate from the core person. The core person can keep their own safe personal distance from the nasty opinions of the predator while having a separate place within themselves to contain and retain those forced opinions. The dissociation helps to lessen the constant state of conflict.
The dissociative, amnesiac walls provide the necessary cushion and buffer for those opposing beliefs and for the parts that hold them. However, those dissociative walls do not prevent those insiders from acting in various ways, in support of those non-preferred opinions. In fact, having the dissociative separation makes it easier for those parts to act independently of your preferences.
Some dissociative survivors have been purposefully taught to not believe their own reality. I’ve heard more than one survivor talk about situations where they were specifically taught that up was down, and down was sideways, and red was green, and blue was pink. There are several complex reasons why the survivors are taught to believe confused information, but my point in this blog is more to say that this kind of purposeful self doubt and external domination of thought has happened to a number of survivors.
Another area of concern is making sure that your child parts are not being convinced of information that your adults parts would know and recognize to not be true. Predators will specifically take this approach with child parts, convincing them that it is important to never tell the older ones inside, and then convincing the child parts to believe horrendously inaccurate information. Please read an excellent article about protecting child parts.
If you’ve been forced in the past to take on views of others, how easy is it for you now to think for yourself?
How easily can you stand on your own?
Kathy Broady LCSW