Posts Tagged ‘dissociation’

On my blog entry entitled How to Move Past Betrayal by a Mother Figure, a reader posted the following comment:

I have read and read and read… about this whole “alter” thing and it still confuses me. I read the book Sybil, and I have watched videos of people with MPD changing into someone else. I was mostly wanting to know if I had it as well. My T says no I do not. I never lose time in the way they describe, but time is weird to me in that a day ago can seem like weeks ago to me. I know I am nothing like Sybil.

I do not have names for different personalities or anything like that. However, I do see different aspects of myself that can seem like whole different entities. When I am doing good, and confident, the person I feel inside cannot even hardly imagine the person I was a few days ago when I felt broken and insecure. It seems like a whole different person to me. When I am insecure, I do not feel like I can do anything. The road to an education seems so ludicrous to me I cannot even believe what I am doing. And then I shift inside and feel confident that I can get 4.0 grade average and I will conquer anything I set my mind too. That is just one example. However, I am fully cognitive of all of these major shifts going on inside of me.

Sometimes within the same few hours, I will feel happy and full of live and the future looks bright. Then in just a matter of a few hours or even minutes at times, life is not even hardly worth living. I am struggling inside.

What is all this craziness anyway? Is it the mid-life crisis? Is it hormones? My physician has assured me that my hormones are pretty stable. ~ Heavenly Places

My therapist is not a big fan of labeling patients. He did apply the label of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) only because he needed it to push through my denial. I kept arguing with them that what I had been through “wasn’t that bad,” “others had it worse,” etc. and simply refused to acknowledge that my abuse had been “that bad.” Seeing the label PTSD on the top of a white board with a list of painfully familiar symptoms was a powerful way to help me break through the denial and give myself permission to grieve the devastation of my childhood abuse.

My therapist is fully aware of my having alter parts and my work in integrating them outside of his office, but he never once attached a label for this. I was so fearful that he would think I was “crazy,” but he didn’t. Instead, he said that he doesn’t want to use labels because healing from trauma happens in the same way no matter what your label is – You need to talk about what happened until you no longer feel the need to talk about it anymore. Upon this foundation, I have added that you need to find a way to love and accept each part of yourself, whether that part is a memory, emotion, feeling, alter part, or any other internal “separation.”

I, too, saw the movie Sybil and did not relate because she was so out of control, and I never have been. My switching has always been seamless, which is the whole point of DID in the first place. I apply the DID label to myself because it helps me understand my healing process, but I see limitations in the label because it has been designed by mental health professionals from the outside rather than multiples who experience it from the inside. For example, I have talked to a couple of people with a Dissociative Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (DD-NOS) label whose experience is very similar to mine, only they split into colors instead of “personalities.” This is an important distinction to the DSM, but it really much is not of a distinction to me. Regardless of the label, I think that DID, DD-NOS, Dissociative Fugue, etc. are just ways that we try to explain to others how we dealt with the trauma in our own heads.

So, my advice is not to get too caught up in the label. If it is useful to you, use it to help you find additional resources for healing. For example, Chrystine Oksana’s Safe Passage to Healing provides some wonderful healing suggestions for people who have alter parts. Other than that, the label itself is not the part that matters. What matters is that you find a way to love and accept each part of yourself – each memory, feeling, experience, emotion, etc. There are many ways you can do this, and you don’t need a label to learn how to love and accept yourself.

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I bought Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God, and I started reading it this week. It is a fascinating book addressing many of the same observations that I have made about the connections between the body, emotions, and spirituality.

For those of you who are triggered by religion, please note that she uses the word “God” to represent the “something” that exists outside of ourselves and within, which is also referred to as a “higher power.” This is not a religious book, nor is it exploring religion. The focus is on how, through examining our eating patterns, we can discover who we truly are in a metaphysical sense, which leads us to whatever that “power” is when we are quiet and still. She claims that her methods work even if you have no belief in any sort of higher power.

I am so excited about this book and will probably be referencing it a lot as I work through it. I feel like I am reading it too quickly and might have to read it twice to be able to absorb all of the pearls of wisdom it holds. Today, I would like to focus on an interesting observation about how our childhood hurts and traumas affect us in adulthood:

To the extent that we go into survival mode—I can’t feel this, I won’t feel this, it hurts too much, it will kill me—we are slipping into baby skins, old forms, familiar selves. Young children, especially infants, mediate the pain of loss or abandonment or abuse through the body; there is no difference between physical and emotional pain. If the pain is too intense and the defenses are too weak, a child will become psychotic and/or die. It is lifesaving for a child to develop defenses that allow her to leave a situation she can’t physically leave by shutting down her feelings or turning to something that soothes her. But if as adults we still believe that pain will kill us, we are seeing through the eyes of the fragile selves we once were and relying on the exquisite defense we once developed: bolting. Obsessions are ways we leave before we are left because we believe that the pain of staying would kill us. ~ Women Food and God, pp. 41-42

I found Roth’s observations about the way children deal with pain to be very interesting, especially as I have had preverbal memories/feelings bubbling up. There is no question that I continue to act and react as I did as a child, although I have made a lot of progress in this area. So, I guess my question is how to unravel all of this in my head. When I am feeling pain, how do I choose not to react by “leaving” (dissociating)?

I am trying that as I write this with some success. I am upset about a conversation with my son, but I have not turned to food, alcohol, or Xanax to “leave” the pain. I am trying to let myself feel it in the hopes that it will pass and not “kill me.” I know that I have faced much worse pain than this, but I also don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing nothing but feeling pain as it bubbles up to the surface. But what is the alternative? I admit that my lifelong history of dissociating hasn’t exactly made me happy, either.

It sounds like the key is learning how to live in the present and feel whatever comes up in the present moment. This is the same stuff my therapist told me over and over again, but I still have a long way to go before I am there.

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After I returned home, Irate stayed out. I later learned that this state of consciousness is called “co-consciousness.” Both Irate and Faye were kind of “sharing” the decision-making. Of course, as Irate’s name suggests, this was an angry alter part, and I stayed angry for weeks. Hub was very confused. He knows how annoying my mother is, but he thought I was really overreacting.

I started having “conversations” in my head with Irate. By this, I mean that I would “think” a question or statement, and I would experience a “loud thought” in response that did not seem to originate with me. I had read enough about dissociative identity disorder (DID) in passing to understand what an alter part was, but I was baffled as to why I would have one. After all, outside of some spiritual and emotional abuse, I had no memories of any “real” abuse. I was truly baffled.

I did some online research and learned about a term called dissociation. I could relate to the description, such as the “floaty feeling” I experienced whenever I was around my mother. I also felt dissociated when Irate was present and taking charge. So, I decided I did not have DID but did have some sort of dissociation issue. I would learn about it and “fix” myself.

I read the book The Myth of Sanity by Martha Stout and learned a lot about dissociation. I learned that it runs on a continuum with normal dissociation on the left, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the middle, and DID on the right. Between PTSD and DID were the dissociative disorders, which I assumed that I must have to account for Irate’s presence, but I was convinced that I did not have PTSD because that was “serious,” and nothing I had ever been through was “that bad.”

I read horrific stories of Dr. Stout’s patients that explained why they developed alter parts. I was so confused because I was certain that I had never suffered from any sort of abuse and certainly not sexual abuse. After all, I was a virgin for my husband, and being a virgin in my teens and early twenties was such an important thing to me.

I knew that if I had suffered serious enough physical abuse to cause DID, then there would be some sort of medical record, so I had to consider the possibility that perhaps I had been sexually abused. I worked up my courage and called my sister. I asked her if she had any memory of me being abused in any way as a child. She said, “I don’t know for sure, but I have a very bad feeling about mom.” The second she said it, I re-experienced the oral sex flashback that I had experienced the year before. In that moment, I knew that my mother had sexually abused me and that I was opening a Pandora’s box.



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Over on my professional blog, I write about how trauma affects children on Trauma Tuesdays and Trauma Thursdays. I write this blog for people whose lives are touched by adoption. Most of the people who read my trauma articles are either foster parents or adoptive parents who are parenting children who have suffered from trauma, such as child abuse. I try to explain the mind of the abused child so that the parents can have a better understanding about why their children act and react the way that they do.

A therapist who has healed from dissociative identity disorder (DID) contacted me about a new blog that she has started called Forbidden Topic. Her blog is so good that I added it to my resources section. Like me, this woman is hoping to break the silence and correct the misperceptions that pervade society about dissociation and DID.

If you struggle with dissociation, including DID, or just want to learn more about it, her blog is a wonderful resource.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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Myth of Sanity

One of the best books I have read about dissociation is Martha Stout’s The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness. I found this book after becoming aware of dissociating quite a bit without having recovered any memories of the abuse. I feared I might be going crazy and hoped that this book would provide me with some answers.

This book explained dissociation to me in a way that I could understand. The author says that dissociation runs on a continuum. On the far left, we have normal dissociation that everyone experiences. An example of this is “losing yourself” in a good movie. While you are caught up in the movie, you temporarily “forget” that you are surrounded by people in a dark room. In the middle of the continuum is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). On the far right is Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), formerly called Multiple Personality Disorder. Between PTSD and DID are all of the dissociative disorders that are more severe than PTSD without reaching the extreme of DID.

What’s funny is that I knew that I had a dissociative disorder while still being in denial about having PTSD. Anyone with a dissociative order, by definition, also struggles with PTSD. By seeing this on a continuum, it helped me to understand dissociation much better. Also, the continuum helped me to understand DID in a way that I had not beforehand.

The book shares stories of several patients who have struggled with various forms of dissociation. At the end of the book, the author shares a particularly powerful story about a patient who has healed from her past. The stories helped me to feel less alone and also gave me hope that, perhaps one day, I would be like the lady who healed at the end of the book. And now I am. :0)

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