Archive for August 6th, 2009

A reader sent me an email asking why so many people do not believe in Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). I replied to her email, but I thought this would also make a good blog topic.

I think that many people resist the existence of DID for the same reasons they resisted accepting that the earth is round or that the earth revolves around the sun. People form their beliefs based on their own experiences and the experiences of others, and they tend to resist ideas that don’t fit neatly into the little box they have created to explain the world around them.

The same thing happened with the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In her book Trauma and Recovery, Judith Herman explains the history of PTSD. She says that PTSD is the same “woman’s disease” that you read about in the 1800’s, only it was called “hysteria.” Everyone believed that hysteria was something only experienced by women until a bunch of soldier’s came home from WWI exhibiting the same symptoms found with this “woman’s disease.” Today, few people question that the trauma of watching your buddy’s head get blown off in battle can result in flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms.

Society has finally accepted that PTSD is a real disorder, but people tend to apply it only to people who have endured documented trauma, such as the battlefield or perhaps a serious accident in which a loved one died. Many still resist applying PTSD to survivors of child abuse. Also, there is no question that the Iraq war happened, but we only have the “he said, she said” to go on when it comes to child abuse. So, a PTSD diagnosis for child abuse has not fully been embraced by society at large.

If society cannot wrap their brains around PTSD resulting from child abuse, then DID is going to be even harder for them to accept. This moves us into the realm of repressed memories from abuse that happened when the survivor was very young (typically under age 6). As you might remember from the 1990’s, the media did its darndest to allege that repressed memories were unreliable. This is a convenient myth for child abusers to perpetuate because then they are free to harm young children all they want without any fear of repercussions. After all, who is going to believe the grown woman (or man) who just starting having flashbacks 30 years later?

As Martha Stout pointed out in her book The Myth of Sanity, DID is not something to be “believed” or discounted. It simply is. My experience is my experience, and this experience has been shared by many other child abuse survivors. I believe that, in the next couple of decades, society will learn to accept the reality of DID, just as they learned to accept that the earth is round and not flat.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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