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Archive for January, 2009

Many people mistakenly believe that Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) is obvious. This is likely due to the media’s portrayal of DID in movies such as Sybil. The whole point of DID is for the abused child to be whatever she needs to be in any situation. The child needs to be seamless when she switches between alter parts in order to save herself or someone she loves. (Most child abusers of children with DID have threatened the lives of someone the child loves.)

Considering that people believe that DID is obvious, they really have a hard time wrapping their minds around the multiple system for someone with polyfragmented DID. After all, how can a person switch 50 times a day without anyone noticing? It is actually very easy for a person with polyfragmented DID to do this. I only recall one time in my entire childhood that anyone ever “caught” me, and I had no idea what my friend was talking about when she called me on it.

Anyone with DID is very compartmentalized. After all, that is the point of developing DID in the first place – to compartmentalize the trauma so you can appear not to be a victim of abuse or trauma. DID is also very organized with each alter part and personality fragment having a role to fill.

Each multiple system for DID and polyfragmented DID has a “gatekeeper” that determines who comes out when. Unlike the representations in the movies, alter parts are not vying for position to run the show and be “out” all the time. Instead, the environment triggers who is needed when to fill a particular role.

Most people with DID, whether polyfragmented or not, have a host personality. This is the alter part that stays out whenever the abuse is not taking place. It is typically the host personality who seeks therapy because she experiences loss of time. Lost time is simply when the host personality is pulled inside and protected while an alter part experiences the abuse. This enables the host personality to interact with the world as if no abuse has ever taken place because, from the perspective of the host personality, no abuse has occurred.

The important thing to remember is that all of the parts, whether there are two or 5,000, are parts of one spirit. So, all of the parts are interconnected. They are not fighting for power. Instead, they are working together in the best way possible to protect the body from further harm and to make sure that the essence of the person is not destroyed by the abusers.

The best way to understand this is to think of a block of ice. You can shave the ice, break it into pieces, or divvy it up in a number of ways, but it is all still water. When you melt the ice, whether as one block or as 50,000 little pieces of ice, it will still return to one fluid bucket of water, and you will not know which part was originally which. All parts are intertwined.

This is what integration is all about. No matter how many parts a person has, they will merge back together as the person warms the parts through self-love.

Suggested Reading:

Safe Passage to Healing

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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This week, I am writing a series on polyfragmented Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I am hoping that this series will educate people about polyfragmented DID as well offer hope to those with this diagnosis that healing is possible.

Polyfragmented DID can manifest in many different ways. What all polyfragmented DID multiple systems have in common is that they have many alter parts that work together to give the appearance of the person functioning as a singleton.

Roles of Alter Parts

Each alter part has a role. Some hold the fragmented pieces of the inner child, which feels like having many inner children. (An inner child is really a repository for unmet needs.) Others hold memories of various abuses, emotions, and/or feelings. Some are protector parts that come out to protect the inner children whenever the person feels threatened or gets triggered.

Clusters

Some Polyfragmented DID multiple systems “cluster” their alter parts. For example, you might have an inner child who is protected by several protector parts. So, before the person can access and heal the unmet needs in an inner child part, he must first heal the pain of the protector parts that are “guarding” the inner child.

Layers

Some polyfragmented DID multiple systems have “layers” of alter parts, and the alter parts in each layer might be unaware that another layer exists. This is how my multiple system worked. One layer held all of the memories, feelings, and emotions associated with the mother-daughter sexual abuse. Those parts had names like Irate and Melancholy. None of those alter parts were aware of the other layers of alter parts. So, when I integrated those parts, I believed that I was integrated until the next layer of alter parts revealed itself.

I had several layers of alter parts. In addition to the one already discussed, I had a layer for the abuse by family “friends.” Another layer held the memories of the sadistic abuse by the couple who prepared my sister and me for the ritual abuse. Another layer held the ritual abuse memories. Still another layer held the memories of being raped by men.

Healing in layers was a blessing because I only needed to deal with one set of traumas at a time. If I had remembered everything at one time, I would have been overwhelmed and possibly committed suicide. Thankfully, the layers enabled me to focus upon and heal a little at a time, which made my healing process much more manageable.

Suggested Reading:

Safe Passage to Healing

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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On my blog entry entitled Encouraging One Another after Child Abuse, a reader posted the following comment:

I’ve read things on this page that discussed topics that I’ve never seen anyone brave enough to take on before and I am amazed. I am 43 and have been in therapy more than 2 years now but even my therapist, who is experienced with multiples, has trouble understanding my polyfragmented system and how it operates. I’m scared there is no place in this world for me. ~ Cam

I have not yet discussed polyfragmented Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) on my blog, so I thought this would make a good series, both for Cam as well as other people with polyfragmented DID who are reading my blog.

So, what is polyfragmented DID? Let’s start by talking about “standard” DID, and then I will tell you the differences.

People with DID dissociate to such a degree that they compartmentalize their memories, feelings, and emotions into different alter parts. People with DID might have only two alter parts, or they might have several.

The difference between standard DID and polyfragmented DID is a matter of degree. Rather than splitting into three or four alter parts, someone with polyfragmented DID might fragment into 100 or even 1,000 alter parts. Many of these alter parts might be personality fragments, which means that they are more one-dimensional than three-dimensional.

For example, an alter part might feel like a “separate personality” with more depth. A personality fragment might only hold one memory or one emotion. It is generally more challenging to integrate an alter personality than a personality fragment. The terminology “polyfragmented DID” simply helps to describe a more fragmented reaction to severe abuse.

While many people might assume that polyfragmented DID is harder to heal from, that has not been my experience. By being polyfragmented, I was able to heal a little at a time, whereas friends who only had two parts really struggled with the “all or nothing” integration process, which was excruciatingly painful for them.

I have been successful in healing from polyfragmented DID, so I know that it is possible. If you have been diagnosed with polyfragmented DID, you can heal, too. The key is learning how to love and accept each part as “me.”

Suggested Reading:

Safe Passage to Healing

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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One of the beauties and frustrations of the process of healing from child abuse is having to relearn the same lessons. For example, I used to struggle with pretty bad obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) symptoms. I learned that repressed anger manifests as anxiety and depression. I processed a lot of repressed anger, and … voila … my OCD symptoms eased dramatically.

Then, a year later, I found myself once again struggling with deep anxiety. You would think that I would just say, “Aha. I must have more repressed anger to process.” But, no, that’s not what happened. I wrestled with the anxiety until I eventually “relearned” that I needed to process my anger. I did, and the anxiety went away again.

This is only one of many examples of how I seem to spiral around and “relearn” the same lessons as I heal on deeper and deeper levels. I wish I could learn it all only one time and not have to go through the struggle of first using a negative coping tool until I finally have that “aha” moment again.

I am in the process of relearning another lesson. I have battled an eating disorder for most of my life. In 2005, I mastered it. First, I went about three months eating in a healthy way, lost a lot of weight, and felt really good about myself. Then, I got derailed and had to “relearn” the same lesson again in 2006. This time, it lasted for eleven months! Eating well and feeling good about my body came easily and naturally.

Then, something triggered me badly, and I fell off the wagon. For almost two years now, I have not been able to get back to that place. And then, out of nowhere, I “relearned” the same thing that worked twice before, and now I am losing weight again and feeling better about my body.

The beauty is that, once we learn a lesson, we never really “unlearn” it. The truth is buried inside of ourselves somewhere. However, the frustration is that it seems to take a few passes to embrace a lesson and practice it in a life-long way. Maybe we need a few passes so we can absorb a lesson and put it into practice.

If you are frustrated that you learned a lesson that now eludes you, try to take a step back and remember that the lesson is already inside of you. You did it before, so you can do it again.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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When I was in the early stages of healing from child abuse, I often wished that I could go back to my life as it was before I started healing. I wished I could wave a magic wand and “forget” about all of the information that I had recovered through flashbacks. Hub sometimes asked if I could do that as well because he liked it better when I was “happy” all the time instead of dealing with deep issues for years on end.

I no longer wish that I could just stuff it all back inside. Yes, the healing process has been grueling, and, yes, I have images in my head that are not pleasant. However, those are my experiences, and they are all part of what shaped me into the person that I am today. To “forget” my experiences is to lose who I am, and I don’t ever want to lose “me” again.

One of the bizarre realities of healing is that I sometimes feel worse (for a time) as I am healing. One day I might reach a plateau in healing and feel really good and “zen.” The next day, I might become triggered and work through more unresolved pain. It is hard to wrap my mind around the fact that I am actually in a healthier place in the midst of all of that pain than I was when I felt more at peace.

Every day, I am becoming much more whole, and I am discovering the beauty of my true self. I no longer feel the need to pretend to be someone else. Being me is much more interesting than any shell of a personality that I used to hide behind.

So, if I had a fairy godmother or a genie give me the option of going back to not remembering about my child abuse history, I would politely decline the offer. For better or for worse, this is who I am. I would much rather be myself, warts and all, than go back to being a shell of a person, always running from my truths.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I always find it interesting to hear that some people do not believe that there is a mind-body connection. To me, it is so obvious. Who suffers from heart attacks? Typically, it is the people with “Type A” personalities – those who are constantly on-the-go and rarely take time to stop and smell the roses. Who suffers from cancer? Typically, it is the “Type C” personalities – those who hold things in. I don’t think it is a coincidence that you can “type” diseases based upon similarities in mental states.

When I read the introduction to the book Safe Passage to Healing, I was shocked to see so many physical similarities between myself and the author. The panic attacks that the author described were eerily similar to my own, and I had never heard one described quite like mine before this.

I was also shocked by the author’s physical profile. She stayed healthy throughout her childhood, just as I did. However, as she moved toward being ready to face her past, she found herself constantly sick, just as I did. Every minor cold turned into bronchitis (or another type of “itis”) that took me weeks to recover from.

Now that I have done the hard work of healing from many of my issues, I have a strong immune system. I rarely get sick any longer, and when I do, I recover within days rather than weeks.

I do not believe that my body just happened to have a strong immune system, then a weak one, and then a strong one again. I believe it was all about the mind-body connection. My body manifested what I was feeling emotionally.

The mind-body connection is what makes yoga such a powerful healing tool. As you focus upon relaxing and calming your body, this calm can carry over to your emotional state as well. In fact, for thousands of years, people have used yoga as a way to calm the mind in preparation for meditation.

As we appreciate the power of the mind-body connection, we open ourselves up to many more healing tools, both physically and emotionally (and some would argue spiritually as well). Love and compassion that we show to one aspect of ourselves has the power to break through the walls in other areas of our lives. It is all interconnected.

Related Topics:

Child Abuse History and Illnesses

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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My Sunday School class got into an interesting discussion about encouragement. The leader asked for examples of times when another person encouraged you or when you offered encouragement to another person. The leader then pointed to my blog as an example of offering encouragement to others. (I do not believe that he has ever read my blog, but I do talk about it in class from time to time.)

One person asked how you choose who to encourage you. I said, “The one who has done it.”

That is what I see this blog as – my gift to all of you who are newer to the process of healing from child abuse. Because you know that I have healed to the degree that I have, you have the hope of healing to this degree as well because you see that it is possible to do.

Over at isurvive, my favorite message board for child abuse survivors, only a handful of people who are farther along the healing process continue to stay active on the board. Most of the people who come to isurvive (me included) seek it out because they are in deep pain. They are looking for reassurance that they can survive the healing process, and they are looking for guidance on how to do it.

As people heal from the abuse and move on with their lives, they no longer have the need to frequent a message board for abuse survivors. Occasionally, an “old timer” will pop in and share his or her story about life after healing, and those posts are amazingly encouraging.

Lori, the board owner, encourages the “old timers” to continue to visit as they can because it is so encouraging for “newbies” to see that healing really is possible. When some of my friends from 2004 come back, I tear up in awe as I see the strong person that my friend has become.

One of my friends really hated her mother/abuser (for very good reason) and returned to say that she had forgiven her mother and had built a new relationship with her. Because I was along for the ride when she was healing, I understood better than most just how profoundly this woman had changed. While my choices with my own mother/abuser are differently, I deeply respect the place of healing that my friend has reached.

In my Sunday School class, we also talked about the importance of honesty when encouraging another person. I never want to misrepresent what healing is like. I don’t want to pretend that I will ever be a “normal” person, as defined by acting and reacting as a person who was never abused.

Instead, I try to offer a realistic picture of what healing is like. It is hard work but totally worth it. If I could go back to the time before I had the memories in my head, I wouldn’t. I like the person that I have become, and I like the difference that I have made in other people’s lives by choosing to heal. I hope that all of you will one day be able to say the same thing.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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