“I’ve got one!” Anne came running into my office after meeting with a client. Anne is a fellow psychotherapist with many years of experience but after reading my last article on Dissociative Identity Disorder she had realized that she may be overlooking DID as a possibility. With her expanded understanding Anne observed the signs, gently prodded her client with open-ended questions and found him telling her more than she ever expected. She didn’t share her thoughts on the diagnosis with the client but the client’s relief was palpable. His way of organizing his experience was being accepted by someone who didn’t show the panic he often feels. Anne had her first DID client.
Every psychotherapist needs to develop an appreciation of the beauty of DID that has helped our clients survive. Start with the moments you yourself may have dissociated. Yes, we all do it. Have you ever been listening to a client and realized you haven’t heard the last five minutes? You were awake but you were somewhere else at the same time. Have you ever arrived at your destination feeling like you were on autopilot and that you may have missed a red light? There may be more intense times such as when I was giving birth to my first child. It was painful and I had the distinct feeling I left my body and was watching myself from above. For a moment I blissfully didn’t feel anything.
Next think of the times you have compartmentalized. Yes, we do that too. We misplace our keys and cannot recall where we left them yet when we find them it all comes back to us. We may have been in an accident and have no memory of the event even though we were conscious. We block out uncomfortable conversations and forget what we were looking for when we walk into the next room. Memory is a tricky storage device.
Now imagine a young child, already familiar with using her imagination, who is being repeatedly abused or traumatized. She can’t cope with the hurt, the lack of power and the feelings of worthlessness. Soon she begins to make up imaginary characters who take the abuse for her, who think of ways to fight the abuser or who develop skills that might make her special. As she grows older she creates other characters closer to her age to hold her pain. In the world of DID these imaginary characters are called alters, short for alternate personalities. Now she has developed a habit of dissociating and organizing memories. It becomes a matter of survival. She can keep herself from feeling physical and emotional pain. After all nothing has happened to her.
Eventually she becomes a teen and no longer believes in fairy tales. She has given up any hope that others will protect her so she develops a new, angry and cynical alter. At the same time she wants to succeed in the world. Now she can use her well honed skills to become the various parts of herself as needed. She has the ability to really focus on school, jobs, or a talent. Outwardly there is numbness to her success. But all is not quiet in her head. The little ones from her past are still upset and newer more powerful alters want them to shut-up, might blame them for the abuse or accuse them of exaggerating or making up stories. Alters can be formed to contain the hate, shame and guilt. The ‘system’ becomes complicated and the ‘host’ begins to lose control as one alter or another takes over. Unfortunately there may be competing needs amongst these ‘parts’ of a person’s personality and that’s where the trouble begins and we find a new client in our office.
Take some time to learn more about DID and you will develop great respect for the mind’s ability to cope.
Source by Jane Parker