Posttraumatic Grief: Healing from Childhood Neglect (with Sarah Flynn)


Grief from Trauma with Sarah Flynn

   We are so excited and honored to bring to you yet another meaningful guest article - this time authored by therapist Sarah Flynn (MREM, MA, RCC), and coming to you all the way from Canada!  In this, Sarah compassionately addresses the often-overlooked grief that can stem from a childhood missed out on, or lost entirely, due to ongoing trauma.  Grief is so often thought of in a much different context, yet survivors so frequently feel this deep, painful ache and/or longing that most struggle to even find words for or verbalize.  It's grief.  And, this article lovingly and thoughtfully walks you through that realization and validation.  Sarah has been a lovely and very helpful individual to get to know, and the information she brings to the trauma community is invaluable. Be sure to read more about her below and visit all the places you can find more of her work!


Posttraumatic Grief: Healing from Childhood Neglect

  Most people think of grief as a response to the loss of a loved one, but grief can be a response to any type of loss, including the loss of something that never was (such as a happy childhood).  This post explores the experience of grief in the present as a response to having bad experiences (from abuse, neglect, or trauma) in the past as a child.  Grief of this sort is a necessary and restorative process that permits a person to bring new life and a renewed sense of hope to childhood hardship and deprivation.  Looked at in this way grief allows us to cleanse ourselves of hurt and loss and continue to grow and to expand our sense of ourselves.

   Many people do not realize that they may be suffering in the present from having been mistreated, deprived or traumatized as a child.  Partly this is the case, because it is hard to know that something is missing if one has never had the experience of its presence.  If you did not have loving, attentive, nurturing parents who were joyful about life and about you as their child, you might not know that this is something that you lacked.  If you were emotionally abandoned or neglected, you may not know what it is like to be emotionally accompanied or cared for.

   A child’s need for love and nurturing is as essential as a plant’s need for water and sunshine.  If you did not receive love, nurturing and attention consistently in your childhood, you may be experiencing pain in the form of grief as an adult and not realize that this is why.  Many children who were mistreated were led to believe that they do not deserve to be treated with love, respect and compassion.  Allowing yourself to fully feel the pain of what you did not receive in the past allows you to empty out these old hurts and disappointments to make room for experiencing joy and the promise of each new day.  As Pete Walker puts it, “…the broken heart that has been healed through grieving is stronger and more loving than the one that has never been injured.  Every heartbreak of my life, including the brokenheartedness of my childhood, has left me a stronger, wiser and more loving person than the one I was before I grieved.”

   Often a person does not begin to grieve their childhood losses until they have reached a point in their lives where in they can emotionally afford to do so.  This may be because the person has found a therapist with whom they feel safe enough or because they find themselves with a social support system that is stable and strong enough for the first time.  The self-compassion borne out of grieving the losses of your childhood makes it clear that you did not deserve the abuse or neglect that you suffered and that you are hurting now because you were hurt then and not because you were bad then.

   If you were neglected or abused as a child your emotional or intellectual development may have been truncated.  This may be because you needed to use your energy to protect yourself rather than to grow and develop naturally emotionally and intellectually.  There may not have been opportunities for you to participate in normal, age-appropriate activities such as playing, asking hundreds of curious questions, using your imagination, experimenting with language and cause and effect, or getting to know yourself and your own emotional internal world in an intimate way.  Moreover, these losses and the feelings of grief associated with them may have been unacknowledged or even actively denied by those around you.  In some cases the lack of acknowledgement of loss can be more emotionally devastating than the loss itself.  The grief associated with unacknowledged childhood loss may be outside your awareness, but actively affecting you to this day.



    Sarah Flynn (MREM, MA, RCC) is a counsellor in private practice in Victoria, BC, Canada
who specializes in complex post traumatic stress and dissociative disorders. She has
advanced training in several trauma therapies and has been working with those who suffer
from Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(CPTSD) since 2009. She offers counseling services by phone, Skype and in person. She
has several articles on dissociation and complex trauma on her website.


  Website  ✧              ✧  Facebook  



    DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative identity Disorder
    Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
    Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
    Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
    Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
    You Did Not ShatterA Message for Survivors with DID



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Trauma and Attachment (with Jade Miller): Part Two


Trauma's Effect on Attachment Styles

   We are so honored and eager to bring to you Part Two from guest host and author, Jade Miller, who has created a three-part series on attachment and how it relates to trauma to share with you. If you missed the introductory article on Attachment Theory, as well as our goals with this series, you can check it out here.  But, fear not! There's enough of a recap here that you'll be able follow along if you've only got a minute - though we still encourage you to go back when you have time. So, let's just jump right into it! Please be sure to check out all the wonderful things you need to know about Jade below! We are truly thankful to her for allowing us to bring you her insights and wisdom, and want you to be able to locate and appreciate all of her other work, too.



Trauma and Attachment Styles

   In the last post, we discussed secure and insecure attachment and what each mean in terms of the inner beliefs a person holds as result of each. To review:

Secure attachment occurs when a caregiver consistently and appropriately meets a baby’s needs over a long enough period of time that the baby learns to expect a compassionate response. This causes them to internalize the belief that the world is basically a good place, that they themselves are worth caring for, and that others are willing to meet their needs.

Insecure attachment occurs when – for any reason – a caregiver is incapable of or unwilling to meet a baby’s needs predictably and in an appropriate way. Babies interpret this in slightly different ways, depending on their unique personality, and thus can result in one of three types of insecure attachment.  But the bottom line will be that their view of the world, themselves, and/or others is negatively affected.

   In this post I’m going to share how trauma affects people differently based on their attachment styles formed in infancy.

❧    ❧    ❧

   To put it very simply, trauma occurs when something happens to someone that is beyond their ability to process it in a healthy way, so the experience is not integrated correctly on a physical, emotional, or neurological level. (Some people prefer to understand it in terms of emotional and even physical energy that becomes trapped in the body with no way of being released.) In most cases, trauma happens when a person perceives a threat to their life, bodily integrity, or sanity

    It’s important to understand that the factors that cause an event to be experienced as traumatic are unique to each individual. No two people are the same, so even those who experience the same event (e.g. a natural disaster, or siblings who witness domestic violence in the home) may react to it differently according to their unique biological makeup as well as their individual personalities and sensitivities.


Trauma and Individuals with Secure Attachments

   People who are lucky enough to have a secure attachment to a caregiver as infants/children are at a significant advantage when it comes to experiencing a traumatic event. Sensitive caregivers are available and able to help them process the trauma so that it becomes appropriately integrated in their bodies, minds, and emotions.

   When a person experiences trauma, but has a secure attachment to someone, that attachment can restore their sense of security and counteract the effects of the trauma. When a child experiences something potentially traumatic, they seek comfort from their attachment figure. Secure attachments help children regulate emotional arousal that occurs in the face of a threat. Later, the attachment figure will help the child form a narrative about the event so that the brain can adequately process it. Rather than the event becoming stuck in the right brain as just experience and raw sensory data, a sensitive caregiver will help the child contextualize and understand what happened - which is one way of bringing the trauma into the left brain, synching the two halves, and helping the mind integrate the experience.

   Here is an example: Suppose a child is playing on the playground in the park, and suddenly a person walks by with an aggressive dog on a leash. The dog sees the child and lunges toward them, barking and growling, before being pulled away by its owner. 

   A child with a secure attachment will most likely run to its caregiver, crying, and the caregiver will pick up the child and comfort them. A sensitive and empathetic caregiver might say something like, “Wow, that must have been so scary! I’m sorry that dog scared you!” They will comfort the child by holding or hugging them until the child is calm. The very best way of helping a child integrate the scary experience they just had would be for the caregiver to actually put the experience into narrative form. They may say something like, “You were playing on the playground and then a big scary dog came by and barked at you. It scared you really bad. Then you came running over to Mama and I hugged you until you felt better.” The brain’s memory bank is sometimes described as an elaborate filing system. And, trauma has the potential to become stuck in a separate part of the brain, instead of being filed correctly. Forming a narrative helps the child make sense of what happened to them so the brain knows how to file the memory appropriately and can then “close out” of the “file,” so to speak, once it understands. With very young children, they may need to talk about the event and hear the story repeated over and over before they are able to finish processing it.


Trauma and Individuals with Insecure Attachments

   If a person without a secure attachment relationship experiences trauma, the event is more likely to remain unprocessed and unresolved from an emotional, physical, and neurological viewpoint. The person is often unable to regain their sense of safety in the world and may experience the threat of trauma as ongoing, even after the actual threat has subsided. In the face of unrelenting hyper-arousal, dissociation is often next in line as the person attempts to cope.

   It’s important to understand that without a secure attachment style, an overwhelming event is more likely to be perceived as trauma, no matter whether the person is still a child or not. People who grow up securely attached have developed much-needed skills to help them process overwhelming events and reduce the likelihood that they will become traumatized by something. However, this does not mean that securely attached people are never traumatized. It simply means the risk that something will be experienced as traumatic is lower, and the amount of time it takes for them to recover from a genuine trauma is often less than those with insecure attachment styles.

   People with an insecure attachment styles do not have a healthy template with which to relate to others, the world, and themselves. They are more likely to experience something overwhelming as a trauma, because they lack the internal (and often external) resources with which to process it. Below are the tendencies of each insecure attachment style in how they cope with emotional distress (traumatic or otherwise).


  People with an avoidant attachment style often see other people as a source of apathy, fear, or discomfort. So traumatic experiences do not drive them to seek help from others. Rather, they withdraw internally even more, and attempt to utilize their own resources to cope with an overwhelming event. Many attachment experts theorize that people with this attachment style are more likely to develop addictions. Those with the avoidant attachment style see people as a source of indifference or distress rather than a source of help, so they turn instead to ways of comforting themselves that do not involve other people.

  People with the insecure attachment style see other people as a helpful resource, but their low self-esteem creates a seemingly bottomless void of need. These people are often drawn into co-dependent relationships because they see others as their only source of comfort and soothing. They have not internalized the ability to self-soothe because their early interactions with caregivers were inconsistent or confusing. They did not receive comfort consistently enough to learn how to comfort themselves, so they feel the constant need for contact and connection to others when they are overwhelmed.

  People with the disorganized attachment style – as noted previously – do not have any consistent way of responding to emotional upset. They view others as dangerous or scary, and themselves as unworthy of help. They have never formed a reliable strategy to deal with powerful emotions, so they are often haphazard in their attempts to cope with overwhelming events. They may seek comfort from others at times (although such comfort is rarely internalized), or they may withdraw. At other times, they may seem unaffected or numb to the traumatic experience, and they are prone to dissociation as a defense mechanism. (Please note that anyone with any attachment style can utilize dissociation; the disorganized style is just more prone to it.)

   In the example of the child on a playground, lunged at by a big scary dog: those with insecure attachment styles, if faced with the same situation, could be at risk of a lifelong phobia of dogs. Or, they could be triggered to an anxiety attack by the sound of a dog barking or growling. The fear and panic they felt then, if experienced as trauma and left unintegrated, could cause all kinds of symptoms in their adult life. 

❧    ❧    ❧

If you are interested in learning more about emotional development and/or attachment and trauma here are some links: 

・・ Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development (Allan Schore)

・・ – Please note that this is a faith-based blog, but there are some great articles on attachment, crisis, and neuroscience

・・ The Link Between Types of Attachment and Childhood Trauma

・・ Neuroscience Attachments & Relationships

Stay tuned for Part Three of the Trauma and Attachment series, coming soon!


    Jade Miller would describe herself as a blogger, artist, SRA survivor, peer worker, and member of a poly-fragmented DID system.  ..who also desires to bring education and awareness about the reality of SRA/DID to the public and increase the number and availability of resources to survivors for healing.  We would firmly agree, and also add that she's a fantastic advocate, with an abundance of passion, knowledge and experience of which we can all benefit.  Her blog is not only an invaluable resource, but she's also a published author with some must-read material.  Notably for survivors are her two illustrated books for younger parts of DID systems called Dear Little Ones and Dear Little Ones (Book 2: About Parents)!  You can even listen to her read it on YouTube, and see the illustrations.  She's also written books on Attachment and Dissociation, and has also compiled her experiences of struggle and healing into more personal books in the past.  All of these are very well worth your time, and we strongly encourage you to seek out all of her published work as well as her online presence (listed below).  We are super honored to partner with her to bring you this series and deeply value her support to us, and to survivors everywhere!


  -  Thoughts From J8  (blog)         -  Amazon Author Page
  -  Facebook                                    Pinterest
  -  Twitter                                       -  LinkedIn



  -  DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative identity Disorder
  -  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  -  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  -  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  -  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light



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Trauma and The Body 101: Introduction


    After sharing a post on social media earlier today, we thought it was very much worth bringing here since it's an informative, cursory introduction to the topic of trauma and its effect on the body.  ...a topic we're rather passionate about because it is quite a challenge to find a trauma survivor with C-PTSD or DID who doesn't also struggle with their physical health in some way (some more profound than others). Too often, the survivors we help are often put in the unfair position of having to decide whether to spend their time, money and energy addressing their chronic health conditions first, or putting that same effort into therapy first.  It is possible to do both, simultaneously, and can be quite beneficial to do them in tandem, but only in the hands of experienced, trauma-informed clinicians who TRULY understand the mind's relationship to the body.  For now, hopefully this will at least get some of the wheels turning and we can dive into this topic more deeply in the future!

    For decades most of us have been well-aware of the psychological ramifications that can come post-trauma, but for some reason the depths of physical unwellness have largely been left out. Trauma in and of itself is an attack not only on the survivors mind, but their neurological system. And, what follows in the coming months and years, frequently causes an ADDITIONAL kind of damage to their bodies. The welling fear and anxiety, the hypervigilance, the emotional outbursts, and/or spontaneous crying are often each suppressed to the best of the survivor's ability, with intense commitment. "It's not appropriate to cry in public", "If I dive under my desk at work after a sudden sound, I could get fired", "If a co-worker pranks me or comes up behind me and I turn and whack 'em in fear, they could press charges", "If I lash out at my loved one, I'll hurt them and they might leave me". All these concerns and more keep us shutting off these physiological responses our bodies are cued to make as they navigate the circuitry of a traumatized brain. But, in having to exhaust such energy and physical stamina to pull this off, as well as emotionally numb ourselves from our natural responses, the distress it causes the body is remarkable.

    You'll be hard-pressed to find a long-term trauma survivor who doesn't have some kind of unexplained pain, fibromyalgia, migraines, allergies, autoimmune disorders, intense insomnia, or chronic fatigue -- and the number of survivors with POTS, EDS, or some other form of dysautonomia (autonomic nervous system dysfunction) is something of note in many trauma circles. The majority of these conditions come as the result of a collection of physical and psychological processes that tell our bodies how to respond, as well as us ignoring those responses, and how drained of its resources the body becomes over time. It's why it's crucial for therapy to address the whole body, and for the body to find some way to get all this energy OUT. it through some kind of movement, rhythm or other expression. Talk therapy does wonders for cognitive understanding and processing through traumatic material, but can at times embed these traumatic responses deeper into our bodies (especially as we pretzel ourselves up tight and try stifling some of the terror and/or emotion that spills out into our bodies when we talk about it). The suppression of all that intensity and not allowing the adrenaline and neural energy to process out, find a place to go or level itself out naturally, leaves our bodies having to find their own creative ways to do so (or just makes it harder and harder for it to ever find homeostasis on its own). ...which often leads to some of these chronic illnesses.

   The good news, however, is that there are ways to find wellness again - physical and psychological. Treating the whole body, honoring its natural responses while finding a safe and healing place to channel them, and even just simply recognizing what your body is experiencing more, can all make a dramatic difference in your recovery. Finding therapists and physicians who are aware of this mind/body connection in trauma can also go a very long way in leading you to the proper care your body needs and deserves. And, we also can't recommend enough looking more into this topic in the meantime.  Bessel A van der Kolk, and many of his colleagues, have done some really amazing work and research in this field, and we still firmly believe The Body Keeps the Score is a brilliant and invaluable book on the topic.

    We are sending you an abundance of love and compassion, hope this was helpful, and hope you remain eager for a few upcoming posts we have planned.  From new imagery skills for flashbacks, emotions and intrusive symptoms; to Jade's continued series on Trauma and Attachment; and even doing a slightly deeper dive into Healing is Not Linear!  We'll see you soon!



  -  DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative identity Disorder
  -  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  -  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  -  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  -  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light



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Trauma and Attachment (with Jade Miller): Part One


Understanding Attachment Theory

   We are so honored and eager to bring to you guest host and author, Jade Miller, who has created a three-part series on attachment and how it relates to trauma to share with you here.  We know the words 'attachment theory' can sound foreign or intimidating to those without a psychological background, or even sound like something that doesn't really pertain to you or matter much.  But, it truly does, and our goal throughout the series is to demystify it in a way that is very approachable and can teach you valuable things about yourself and your healing.  It is so helpful for survivors (especially those with C-PTSD and Dissociative Disorders), as well as their loved ones and supporters, to truly understand the complexities and nuances of attachment, because they play such an integral role in how these disorders come to be and why they're so multidimensional beyond just the PTSD.  While the trauma itself is disruptive, it's the attachments we have not only to our perpetrators but with everyone else on the outside that further impact how we internalize that trauma and how we view the world around us.  We truly hope this series is both enlightening and helpful as you continue on your path of understanding and wellness.  And, we are truly thankful to Jade for allowing us to bring you her insights and wisdom.  Please be sure to check out all the wonderful things you need to know about her below! 


Attachment Theory in a Nutshell

  Attachment theory is the theory that humans are born with an innate tendency to seek care, help and comfort from members of their social group when they are facing overwhelming danger and/or are in physical or emotional distress. The group of behaviors used to solicit caregiving behaviors from others is known as the “attachment system.” In infants, the primary attachment-seeking behaviors would include crying, and (when old enough) what is known as an “approach” method - which seeks physical closeness to, and comfort from, the attachment figure. (The attachment figure is usually the mother and father, but can sometimes be another relative or whoever takes care of the baby’s physical and emotional needs most often.) If you’ve ever had the chance to people-watch in a place where there are children, you’ll probably notice that very young children stay close to their parent. And if they do venture away – on a playground, for example – and something scares them, they will run or crawl quickly back to their parents. This “approach method” is an attachment-seeking behavior. The opposite of carrying out an attachment-seeking behavior is trying to “avoid” something in the environment that is perceived as threatening. Attempts to avoid a threat usually involve the baby either ignoring it or actively seeking distance from it, rather than trying to approach it.  The behavior of approaching a caregiver when distressed is simply part of our survival instinct as a species.


What is important to understand about the attachment system is:

1) it is primal and innate, as it has been linked to evolution and survival, and forms the patterns by which the person relates to others in the future,

2) it is formed during the earliest development of an infant through interactions with the mother, father, and/or primary caregiver(s), and

3) the attachment system is powerfully activated during and after any experience of fear and of physical or psychological pain. This is why it matters so much in relation to trauma.

  So now that you know what it is, let me briefly describe the types of attachment that can be formed, depending on those crucial early interaction patterns.


Attachment Styles - Secure and Insecure

To break it down for you, there are 2 types of attachment: secure and insecure.

   Secure attachment is (or should be) the goal of all parenting behaviors and interactions between mother/father/caregiver and child, from birth to independence and beyond.  Securely attached infants develop positive, healthy, and relationally-effective internal working models (called IWM’s by the psych folks) that become the blueprint – or software, if you prefer – for the way they interact with people and the world at large, generally speaking, for the rest of their lives. It also affects, to no small degree, their perspective of themselves and their own lives. The securely attached infant’s IWM is based on the belief that the world is a good place and the infant is a good person; they are forming the belief that others are capable of and willing to meet their needs, and that they are worthy of having their needs met. Securely attached babies may express distress when they are separated from their caregivers, but they readily accept comfort when the caregiver returns to them.

Insecure attachment, on the other hand, breaks down into 3 subgroups:  

  Insecure-avoidant is the infant that may appear content – or even indifferent – in regard to their caregiver.  Sometimes these infants are even mistaken by people unfamiliar with infant development for securely attached children because they do not react to separation from their caregiver. They do not react to reunion either; they appear indifferent to their caregivers’ presence or absence. The truth is that these infants have closed themselves off to the world. Their IWM summary – if they were able to think abstractly – would be “the world is a bad place but I am a good person, so I will shut out the world.”  They do not turn to other people for help or comfort.  Brain scans of these babies, when placed in a situation that would normally cause distress, show that despite the fact that they do not cry or fuss, they truly are distressed and their level of distress – as shown by the brain activity on the scans – is the same or greater than their peers who are securely attached (or insecurely attached but in a different subgroup); they have simply learned to suppress it.  They don’t actively seek caregivers’ attention.  They turn inward and search for internal resources and solutions that do not involve other people.

  Insecure-ambivalent is the infant that seeks their caregivers’ attention when distressed, but is not readily comforted despite their caregivers’ attempts to do so.  Their IWM would be summarized: “The world is a good place but I am a bad person, so external comfort cannot help me.”  These infants exhibit attachment-seeking behaviors but when the caregivers try to comfort them, it takes much longer to calm them down, if calming can be achieved at all.  They seek outside help but simultaneously view such help as ineffective.

  Insecure-disorganized infants have not managed to organize their reactions in any enduring way.  Sometimes they appear avoidant, sometimes they appear ambivalent, and other times they appear secure.  Their reactions to separation or distress are unpredictable and un-enduring over time.  These infants’ IMW would be summarized thusly: “The world is a bad place and I am a bad person, there is nothing I or anyone else can do to help me.”  They are unpredictable and seem confused. They sometimes exhibit both attachment-seeking and avoiding behaviors simultaneously or in rapid succession, as if they are trying to pursue two incompatible goals at the same time.  They do not seem to know what they want or how to get it.


  Attachment theory is a topic that I am very passionate about, because I believe the early blueprints we develop, which become our beliefs about the world and ourselves, inform every future relationship we have with others and even ourselves. A person’s attachment style, and the availability of healthy people with which they can bond, profoundly affect the impact a traumatic experience will have on someone. I will write more about that in the next blog post.

  If you want more in-depth history and discussion of attachment theory, the research is plentiful and easy to find. If you don’t like any of those links, Google “attachment theory” or “John Bowlby” and/or “Mary Ainsworth” and you will have an abundance of reading material. Their methodology for establishing the foundation for their theories is also available, which I’m not going to discuss here because it’s not pertinent to the material at hand and I’m already attempting to condense plenty of information. If you do want a breakdown of the methodology, Google “The Strange Situation," in conjunction with Bowlby/Ainsworth.

In the next post I will talk about why attachment style matters and how it affects a person’s response to a traumatic experience.


   Jade Miller would describe herself as a blogger, artist, SRA survivor, peer worker, and member of a poly-fragmented DID system.  ..who also desires to bring education and awareness about the reality of SRA/DID to the public and increase the number and availability of resources to survivors for healing.  We would firmly agree, and also add that she's a fantastic advocate, with an abundance of passion, knowledge and experience of which we can all benefit.  Her blog is not only an invaluable resource, but she's also a published author with some must-read material.  Notably for survivors are her two illustrated books for younger parts of DID systems called Dear Little Ones and Dear Little Ones (Book 2: About Parents)!  You can even listen to her read it on YouTube, and see the illustrations.  She's also written books on Attachment and Dissociation, and has also compiled her experiences of struggle and healing into more personal books in the past.  All of these are very well worth your time, and we strongly encourage you to seek out all of her published work as well as her online presence (listed below).  We are super honored to partner with her to bring you this series and deeply value her support to us, and to survivors everywhere!


  -  Thoughts From J8  (blog)         -  Amazon Author Page
  -  Facebook                                    Pinterest
  -  Twitter                                       -  LinkedIn



  -  DID MythsDispelling Common Misconceptions about Dissociative identity Disorder
  -  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  -  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  -  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  -  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light



  -  Facebook
  -  Twitter
  -  Instagram

DID Myths and Misconceptions


  Dissociative Identity Disorder is by far one of the least understood mental illnesses out there.  It is enshrouded in misinformation, outdated material and coursework for students and clinicians alike, and a seemingly unending barrage of attempts at defamation.  The latter seems ridiculous, but probably shouldn't come as too much of a surprise when you consider that DID is caused by longterm, recurrent trauma in childhood - most often abuse.  There is a rather hefty incentive for entire organizations to want to squash its credibility or deny its existence, particularly when some of the founders of such organizations were accused of child sexual misconduct themselves.  But, that is NO excuse.  In fact, it's a massive reason for why we exist at all and why we are so passionate about getting solid, credible information out there to everyone.

  There will be no shortage of information here on what DID is not, coupled with clarifications on what it is, but let's at least provide a brief summary for those of you unfamiliar enough so that you can better follow along.  DID is a dissociative trauma disorder in which a survivor has undergone longterm, repetitive trauma in early childhood. This trauma, combined with some other factors, results in a fairly dramatic interruption of psychological development - especially as it pertains to identity. This results in "differentiated self-states" - also known as alters/parts - who may each think, act, and feel considerably different from one another.  These parts of the mind - who may have their own name, age and personality - can take executive control of the body leaving the survivor without any awareness for the time they were gone. These amnesic gaps in memory can be for just a few moments, a few days, or even entire chunks of their childhood.  These alters exist to help the survivor cope with deeply painful and unconscionable trauma, holding it out of their awareness to the best of their ability.  But often, once they begin to find safety and/or enter adulthood, this once supremely creative and protective mechanism can quickly become a maladaptive skill that causes real life consequences.  And, all of this can be going on alongside the effects of PTSD (flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, etc) or many of the other potential co-occurring disorders that frequent trauma survivors.

  So, now that you know a bit more about the very basics of DID, LETS GO DEBUNK SOME MYTHS!  Since this is a lengthy one, we divided them into three parts: myths the general public tends to believe, misconceptions that even those familiar with the condition still hold onto, annnnnd then some of the crazies ;)  Let's do this!


Part One: The General Public


✘ Myth:  DID is very rare.

Not even close. Its prevalence rate (~1.5%) is actually more common than young women with bulimia and even on par with well-known conditions like OCD.  While it is very hard to gather statistics on a community of survivors who are built on secrecy, afraid to receive such a stigmatizing diagnosis, therapists who are untrained to recognize it, a condition laden with amnesia (leading many to be unaware something “is wrong”), and intense denial of trauma — it is still inarguable that it is anything but rare.  It is a major mental health issue.


✘ Myth:  People with DID are dangerous, villainous killers or have alters who do extreme harm.

Contrary to popular belief, survivors with DID are no more dangerous than those with any other mental health condition or the general public. The crime rate, violent use of weapons, domestic disturbances, etc. are no greater than (and often less than) the general population. In fact, due to survivors' prolonged exposure to trauma and violence, it is far more common for those with DID to be re-victimized and on the receiving end of violence and/or abuse than to perpetrate it.  Many even take very staunch stances on pacifism after a lifetime of aggression and pain.


✘ Myth:  DID isn’t real.  It’s a condition created by therapists / exaggerated BPD / attention-seeking / HPD and compulsive lying / etc.

Research begs to differ.  DID has distinct markers that separate it from all other disorders already in the DSM and it’s conclusive that DID results from longterm childhood trauma - nothing else.  It’s the only condition that has such pronounced amnesic gaps ("missing time"), differentiated personality states, as well as unquestionable exposure to extensive trauma; it did not just materialize from thin air or without solid precedent. Iatrogenic cases (“therapist created”) do not present the same as authentic DID and can be distinguished (just as malingerers and factitious presentations can be separated).  For more information on those: here.

As for the idea of it being “just attention-seeking”:  It should be observed that ALL disorders, even physical illnesses, have groups of individuals who will pretend to have them. But DID has no higher rates of this than other conditions, and there is even a specific set of criteria that exists for clinicians to confidently determine if someone is faking the condition. But, primarily: there are far easier, more believable, more profitable, and more "rewarding" conditions to fake for attention or to garner sympathy than DID.  DID is a condition riddled with stigma, vitriol, and people from all corners of the world eager to tell you that you're a liar, it's not real, or (even if they do believe you) still hurl a bunch of insults at you just because you’re a trauma survivor or have a mental illness.  This is not what most are looking for when they hope to cultivate sympathy or attention.  While some do try, many tire very quickly when they realize how many small quirks and minor details about their alters they must be able to recall and maintain seamlessly, and most are not trained actors to manage this.  Then, there are much, much greater hurdles to clear for anyone trying to seek treatment or therapy (as opposed to just claiming it in their personal lives or online) - so most do not. 

We do not disbelieve the existence of eating disorders, cancer or OCD merely because some people fake it, do we?  ...even though the rates of malingering or factitious disorders for those conditions are higher.  Why should DID be any different?


✘ Myth: If you have DID, you can’t know you have it.  You don’t know about your alters or what happened to you.

While it is a common trait for host parts of a DID system to initially have no awareness of their trauma or the inside chatterings of their mind, self-awareness is possible at any age.  Particularly once starting therapy, receiving a diagnosis, or becoming familiar with the condition, the entire path to healing relies on gaining access to all of that information, as well as establishing communication with parts inside. But, even without therapy, some can be aware of a few traumatic experiences, be able to recognize the signs of switching, or learn about themselves through old journal entries, self-photos, reading back old letters shared with loved ones they don’t recall writing, and more.


✘ Myth:  Switches in DID will be dramatic, noticeable/detectable, or involve parts who want to wear different clothes/makeup, etc.  “If you really had DID, everyone would know it.”

*buzzer noise*  False.  Only a very, very small percentage of the population with DID have overt presentations of their alters or switches (5-6%). While some hints of detection can be seen amongst friends and therapists, most changes are passable as completely normal human behavior. DID is a disorder built around concealment. Dramatic switches and changes in exterior or behavior would attract far too much attention, which could be dangerous for the survivor.  Alters learn how to blend in, and many who do have considerably different personality traits, mannerisms, accents, etc. often do their VERY best to mirror the host's behaviors instead.  In the presence of loved ones, or those “in the know”, some of these acts of concealment can fall away and alters may feel freer to express themselves individually - but it won’t be anything like what you’ve seen on TV.  Child alters, however, are sometimes the most distinct when fronting in a survivor who is very adult, and are often what wins over even the most stern of DID-doubters — but this is one of the primary reasons that DID systems tend to keep these parts away from the front at all costs in public settings.  As for switching, it can often look like an inconspicuous fluttering of the eyelids, a little muscle twitch or facial tic, or some other small movement of the body that looks like anyone repositioning themselves (or, y’know, breathing).  Switches can be detected if paying very close attention while being aware of the condition, but it’s extremely rare for strangers or acquaintances to ever recognize one themselves.  They’d sooner assume something else was responsible entirely.


✘ Myth:  DID is a disorder of “multiple personalities” — that is all that's going on for the person afflicted and is what makes it an illness.

Having separate identities is merely the byproduct of something greater, not the sole disorder.  The real “disorder” lies in the complex trauma and the effects it had on the child’s mind and neurology.  Most of the healing from DID revolves around processing traumatic memories and digging through the layers and layers of pain, hurt, sadness and anger that each part holds.  Yes, having alters poses very distinct challenges which are often tackled in therapy, too, but DID is a trauma disorder - NOT a disorder of personality.


✘ Myth:  DID happens because the mind is so traumatized that it splits into all kinds of alters.  The mind just shatters into pieces under all the pressure of trauma.

This was a long-believed model for DID, and one still held by many therapists today who have failed to update themselves with the current understanding of dissociation and identity development.  The Theory of Structural Dissociation states that DID results from a failure to integrate into one identity, NOT a whole that breaks, shatters or splits.  We have a more detailed (but also very “layman-friendly”) explanation here: You Did Not Shatter.


✘ Myth:  DID can develop at any age.

DID only develops in early childhood, no later.  Current research suggests before the ages of 6-9 (while other papers list even as early as age 4).  Prolonged, repeated trauma later in life (particularly that which is at the sole control of another person, or breaks down a person’s psyche and self-perception) can result in Complex PTSD, which does have some overlapping symptoms, but they WILL NOT develop DID.
It should be noted there are also other dissociative disorders, some that even mirror DID very closely (OSDD and their subtypes), and age may be a very slight influencing factor in the lessened alter differentiation and/or amnesia experienced there -- but most are quite young for their trauma as well. And, there are many reasons one may present as an OSDD-type system instead of a DID system, but they are a conversation for another day!  Understanding DID is tough enough for most!  Still, many of these myths will also apply to many of their symptoms, systems and experiences, too.


✘ Myth:  Survivors with DID can switch on demand if needed for a task or someone just simply asks for them.

Plainly put, this is just not possible. Sure, for some there are moments where they can call upon certain alters for certain tasks, but there are no guarantees or absolutes (and, for any number of reasons).  When it comes to outsiders trying to call upon parts, this could range anywhere from "sometimes possible" (particularly in therapy or in extremely safe relationships), to "hit-or-miss" (depending on the person, their intent, the state of things inside, being triggered forward but not actually wanting to be there, and so on), to "never" (either because it’s completely inappropriate and uncalled for, it’s unsafe, they have a highly protective reason for staying inside, they can’t even hear you, or some other very important reason).  Survivors with DID are not a magic trick.



✘ Myth:  Communication with alters happens by seeing them in front of you and talking to them just like outside people -- a hallucination.  (We can thank The United States of Tara for this one.)

Not so much.  This is a very rare, inefficient, and an extremely conspicuous means of communication.  It also relies on a visual hallucination, which is typically a psychotic symptom that most with DID do not have.  However, it IS a possibility, and some do experience this; but it’s typically due to extreme dissociation and mental visualization that just FEELS incredibly real on the outside - as opposed to a true external hallucination of an alter.  For most, survivors tend to view and speak to their alters internally — sometimes through thoughts, face-to-face communication inside the mind in their respective bodies (many have an internal world), or through “voice” communication heard in the mind.  This is why DID diagnoses can so commonly be mixed up with schizophrenia because these internal conversations can SEEM like “hearing voices” (especially if you have nothing to compare it to), but they aren’t actual auditory hallucinations.  Instead, DID voices are very “loud” versions of one’s own thoughts (versus, say, hearing the radio or microwave talk to you, or voices of those whom you know do NOT belong to you in any way).  Alter communication is very much a part of you, even if the thoughts, ideas and tones of it are considerably different than your own inner monologue.

Other frequent means of communication are things like: journaling, art, post-it notes, online blogging; and now more commonly things like social media, voice memos, videos, and more.


✘ Myth:  Parts in a DID system are all just variations of the host at different traumatized ages of their life.

Nope.  Parts can be any age, gender, or personality type.  They can have entirely different outlooks on the world, faiths, sexual orientations, political views, etc.  Many are even associated with no specific trauma at all but still have a very important and necessary role inside the mind.  Alters are NOT merely “frozen” or “stunted” aspects of the host, marked by when trauma took place (and trauma "took place" every single day for years for a lot of people).  This can happen for some - and their parts’ names may all even be similar or variations of the survivor’s name - but even then they typically show a great deal of variation from what the survivor was like at those ages.  Personality differentiation is a hallmark of the condition. Without it, it's not DID.


✘ Myth:  Because 'x' person lied about having DID, they’re probably all lying.

Generalizations have never gotten us anywhere in life.  Do some people lie about having DID?  Yep.  Do some ignorantly use it as a crutch to try and excuse bad behavior?  Sure do.  Does that mean the millions who are struggling every day just to go on after an entire childhood of trauma -- who are fighting an uphill battle of perseverance to overcome the sky-high rates of suicide, while warring with heartless stigma and the lack of access to even basic care -- they're just all lying?  No, no and no.  Does it instead make the people who lied the ones we should be shaming?  ..the terrible jerks who appropriated someone else’s suffering for their own gain?  Definitely.


✘ Myth:  People with DID will inevitably cheat on you/be unfaithful because their parts will just go be with someone else.

I know it’s hard to believe, but everyone is different. What one person does, their system does, or television leads you to believe will be inevitable DOES NOT apply to everyone. Many exist in highly exclusive, monogamous relationships and instead live in fear themselves of being cheated on; becoming inadequate, a burden, or dissatisfactory to their partners to the point that they are the ones to be left. DID survivors tend to be more concerned with just finding a healthy, non-abusive, communicative relationship than to "go wild" with the "promiscuous alters" (but more on those later).


✘ Myth:  You can treat DID with medication.

There are zero medications to treat DID.  There are, however, medications that can be helpful in managing some of the symptoms of PTSD or other co-occurring disorders.  Medications to calm crippling anxiety, alleviate depression, lessen nightmares, stabilize mood, help with compulsions, aid in severe insomnia, etc. can all be helpful at various points in a survivor’s treatment.  But nothing exists to help the symptoms associated with DID, and many can even make them much worse.  Be extremely wary of anyone suggesting they can help with your dissociative symptoms or switching.  They are most likely misinformed, or possibly even lying to you.


✘ Myth:  Integration is a “must”, or is everyone’s goal in therapy.

As will be a theme here, everyone is different.  Integration into one individual identity IS the goal for some.  But it is not, and does not have to be, for everyone.  It is possible to achieve full healing by processing memories, establishing communication across the whole mind, lowering dissociative barriers, and showing aptitude in all working toward a common goal - without actually integrating.  Others may choose to integrate SOME parts, or "downsize", but still leave a small system to go about their life.  There are many, many reasons for why someone may choose any of the above.  But integration is NOT a must, and anyone insisting that it is or refuses to accept your decision to remain distinct, does not have your best interests in mind and heart.


Part Two:  Supporters, Therapists/Clinicians and Survivors Themselves


✘ Myth:  The term alter stands for "alternate personality", "alternate identity", or "alter ego".

No, it came from "altered state of consciousness".  That's what extreme dissociation is, an altered state of consciousness.  When you access another part of your mind, an alter, your mind is operating on a different plane of awareness than it was only a moment ago - feeling different feelings, accessing different memories, and cognizant of knowledge and information that other parts of the mind are not.

"Alter ego" has zero relevance in DID whatsoever.  It can stay with Beyonce and Fight Club.


✘ Myth:  People with DID only have a few alters.

Some can only have a couple or a few, but it's more common to be in teens and twenties.  It's also extremely common to only be aware of a few for some time, and then discover many many more as therapy progresses and it is safe for them to be known by the others.  Systems in the 30s and 40s are not uncommon either.  For those with backgrounds of ritual abuse, mind control, human trafficking or other organized violence, it's incredibly common to be well past 100 or even impossible to count.  System size does not validate or invalidate a survivor.


✘ Myth:  All systems have specific types of alters  (i.e. “The Rebel Teen”, “The Promiscuous Alter”, “The Loving Mother”, “The Adorable Child”, “The Dreaded Introject”, etc.)

Sure, some do have these alters - and it’s often for good reason and themes that exist in abuse, and less so because of themes within the disorder.  Many will have none of these parts, others have completely reversed takes on them, and so forth.  While it makes for easy book and film-writing, and some survivors do find themes or similarities within their system and others', there is no universal recipe for a DID system.  And getting too specific or trying to organize alters into subtypes can be incredibly damaging and lead to a whole host of new issues (none too dissimilar to trying to fit regular humans into boxes or “types”).


✘ Myth:  All alters will be (or should be) the same gender/race/sexuality as the survivor.

As mentioned before, different genders, sexualities, and even races can exist within one system.  Sometimes this happens at complete random, others stem from positive childhood influences, and other times these changes were bred out of traumatic necessity.


✘ Myth:  Inhuman alters are impossible (robots, wolves, ghosts, cats, etc).

Not impossible at all and instead very common.  For many children, being a human is scary.  It gets them hurt.  Being invisible, incapable of feeling, becoming a scary entity, a loving creature, a shapeshifter even — these may all feel infinitely safer and more protective.  Alters do not come about by conscious choice.  They happen within a child’s mind, through their understanding of the universe at the time, and whatever seems dramatically safer than what they’re currently going through.  Just as some human alters have no voice to speak, are deaf or blind - these inhuman alters who may be unable to do some of these very same things are just as valuable and important as the humans. They are protective, not weird or unbelievable.


✘ Myth:  All “littles” are broken and damaged.  Or, conversely, all littles are happy, bubbly kids that hold the survivor's “innocence”.

Theme here: all humans, systems, and alters are different.  Some child parts ARE deeply traumatized, hardly able to function.  While, for others, their kid parts really are the most innocent, endearing, and happy little souls.  But then there is every shade in between.  Some systems have TONS of kids - hundreds even - each vastly different from the other.  Happy, sad, energetic, daring, lonely, scared, adventurous, genius, illiterate, precocious, shy, athletic, girly, mean, messy, pristine, posturing, infantile, newborns, brave, hidden, exuberant….. the possibilities are endless in child parts.


✘ Myth:  “Introjects” are inherently evil and are just like the abusers in that person’s life. 

The word introject refers to any part who is modeled off an outside individual - mirroring their characteristics or behavior, sometimes even going by the same name and visual presentation.  These can be positive or negative; some are even fictional characters.  (Again, it’s NOT a conscious process, and it happens within a young, traumatized child's mind.  Pulling from fiction makes complete sense to children.)  While positive or fictional introjects are very much a possibility, negative/abuser introjects are far more common in DID systems.  And, colloquially, introjects are often talked about in terms of being “the bad guy”.  But, it is important to remember they serve a very valid and important purpose, and they are NOT the actual person.  They are a part within the mind, the survivor's essence, and are just copying behaviors that were shown to them because they feel it’s for the system's own good.  Even if they are hurting the body, or internal system members, they are not “evil” in the same way the real abusers are.  These parts are just very misguided in what they feel to be ultimately protective - especially when it feels like the exact antithesis.

Introjects can only model these individuals so well because they’ve spent copious amounts of time with them.  And, in the case of abuser introjects, it usually means these parts were themselves the most abused by that person.  But, by “becoming them”, they may keep you stuck and afraid - which can mean you are far less likely to talk in therapy, tell a family member or friend, seek justice or file a report, go seeking any more information in your mind, talk to certain parts inside, and more.  ….all things your real abuser would have threatened great harm against you for if you tried to do them.  Introjects' insults may leave you timid and afraid, so you won't “put yourself out there” anymore (which, to them, may be exactly what they feel is necessary to keep you safe). Even healing or becoming well might feel too threatening or unsafe (for countless trauma beliefs), and by being a menacing part who terrorizes your mind and body, you’ll stay safe from whatever those "threats" may be. …even if behaving that way creates new threats to your safety.  Helping them to see this paradox can often be the first step to getting them to take pause so you can eventually mend.  Many of these introjects are actually even extremely young child parts who are just posturing as this ‘big bad adult’ for some semblance of control and power.

But, it’s important to remember that THEY are not evil; they’re usually just extremely traumatized and were given a manipulated understanding of safety and/or love.  But also YOU as a whole are not evil just because these parts live inside of you.  They are just mimicking behaviors/thought patterns they’ve seen in someone else for years because they believe they’re keeping you safe.  Most don’t honestly feel any gratification in causing harm nor do they have any sadistic feelings in their body like real abusers do.  There is a dramatic difference between going-through-the-motions and having true malevolent intent like the REAL bad guys.


✘ Myth:  Alters who persecute (via bodily self-harm or harm to other parts inside) are bad and should be tamed/gotten rid of/ignored/killed/etc.

In a similar vein, most of these parts are doing these things for a reason - a reason they feel is extremely important or keeps you safer (even if that just means safer from PAIN if they are profoundly suicidal).  It’s important to remember that just because these things may not make sense to YOU, since you can clearly see all the destruction and harm it's causing in your regular life, they aren’t working with the same information, life experiences, or emotional connections to the world as you.  If you were locked in a dissociative barrier for years, only able to pull from a select number of life experiences (most that were pretty horrible), you might not be the most empathic or understanding person either.  But, moreover, many adopted their concepts of “safety” when you were a child. ..a traumatized child.  They aren’t always going to make sense.  Ignoring them, trying to shut them up or restrain them, punishing them, or any of the various attempts at “getting rid of them” will not only never work (their needs will only become greater and louder), but they’ll also become more traumatized as you confirm their every belief about the world.  Also, you can’t “get rid of them” anyway.  So, it’s far better to try and understand them. 


✘ Myth:  You can kill alters.

Even if mock deaths or temporary experiences of alters “dying” from old age or otherwise have been acted out in some systems, they aren’t actually dying.  You cannot kill off a collective part of the conscious mind like you can a person.  Their thoughts, memories, emotions will all still be there, and so they must be as well. The part may have gone into extreme hiding, been momentarily immobilized, or merged with another part of the mind, but they most assuredly did not and can not completely disappear or “be killed”.  Moreover, THIS IS EXTREMELY DANGEROUS AND TRAUMATIC TO EVEN ATTEMPT.  Do not do it.


✘ Myth:  Alters can’t have their own mental health issues if the main survivor doesn’t have them.

They actually can, and many do.  It’s extremely common for individual alters to battle depression, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, eating disorders, self harm, etc. while other members of the system experience no such thing.  Some extremely differentiated systems may even need that part to come forward and take medication that the rest of the system does not need and will not get.  ..and their brain’s neurology responds accordingly.

One note about some disorders, however.  Non-verbal, poor eye contact, savant-like, or sensory-processing-disorder alters CAN be extremely common in DID systems.  However, it’s important not to just jump to calling these parts “autistic” if the system as a whole is not autistic.  It’s possible for alters to behave in ways that mimic their understanding of SYMPTOMS in disorders they know about, while not actually possessing the neurology for them.  This is a complicated subject we could try to elaborate more on at some point, but it’s just an encouragement to pause and not automatically label certain parts as having certain conditions just because they show a few traits from them.  It can cause a great deal of conflation and misrepresentation of those illnesses.

But, make no mistake, most expressions of mental illness amongst alters are incredibly real and valid and should be treated as such.


✘ Myth:  It’s impossible for alters to have different vision, health conditions, strengths, and so on. "Those are physical. Even if the mind is different, the body stays the same."

Not impossible at all, and instead, extremely normal.  We must remember that the mind and body are extremely connected, but that DID also isn’t just “in the mind”.  There are all kinds of changes that take place neurologically to encourage these harsh separations.  Alters can genuinely operate on entirely different neural pathways of the brain, which then dictate a lot of what the rest of the body experiences, feels, or tells the organs to do.  This may mean allergies to different foods, different glasses/contacts prescriptions (reading visual input better or worse), over- or under-production of various hormones, and so forth.  The brain is wildly powerful and it not only dictates how the rest of the body operates, but also how it interprets cues, sensations and feedback based on which areas of the brain are most engaged at the time.  Much of this is still being studied because it's so fascinating, but there is no shortage of anecdotal examples as well as those already existing in current research.


✘ Myth:  Anyone can treat a DID patient.  All trauma-informed therapists are capable of seeing a DID client through to healing.

DID is extreeeeemely complex.  Even some DID specialists can find themselves frequently surprised by the endless curveballs or be overwhelmed by the prospect of unforeseen complications.  Most psychological programs that lead to a degree and clinical practice may take only a week or two max on DID (and the majority of the information is out-of-date anyway).  Trauma-informed care is rare enough, and is something that most passionate MH professionals must go out of their way to find, and then invest extra time, coursework and continued education in order to competently treat a trauma survivor.  And yet, even they are sometimes not fully informed on the nuances of dissociation, personality differentiation, system dynamics, common pitfalls of therapy, memory-processing, or alter integration (if that’s what a patient desires).  These are all absolute musts when it comes to rehabilitating a DID patient.  And when daily safety is often in jeopardy (either due to self-harm, eating disorders, drug/alcohol use, or ongoing abuse), as well as suicide attempts being very common in this population, there is limited room for mistake.  Additionally, just knowing this reality can be extremely (and justifiably) upsetting to many therapists, which can leave them anxious, feeling desperate, or becoming very protective over their clients - which can lead to more accidental mistakes.  Specific training in DID, or at the very least, a sincere dedication to learning about it (and quickly) while working with a patient, is highly advised.  Not just anyone can treat this condition, and trying to while ill-equipped can be catastrophic.


Part Three:  The Bizarre and the Out-There


✘ Myth:  People use DID as an excuse to get away with crimes -or- people with DID can commit all the crimes they want and just blame it on an alter.

Very rarely is this ever used as a criminal plea, and when it is, it’s almost always publicized because it’s preposterous to most.  Despite what Primal Fear may have taught you, no, people don’t really lie about DID just to get away with crimes (if for no other reason than it’s very easy to prove they don’t really have the diagnosis nor do they demonstrate any of the behavior consistently).  But, oh wait, there's an even bigger reason: this is not a viable excuse in a court of law.  DID is NOT insanity.  Regardless what any alter does outside of one’s own awareness, the whole person is still responsible for their crimes and will be persecuted accordingly.  If someone uses that as their defense, it will fail them.


✘ Myth:  People with DID are possessed by demons.

This sounds like something to laugh at, but one short gander in DID communities online and you will find all KINDS of people who firmly believe this and offer unsolicited offers or demands for survivors to be exorcised.  Regardless of your faith, this is NOT what is happening in DID, and research has provided us with a complete explanation of what IS going on here.  Demonic possession, even if you believe, would not present in such a highly organized, specific, and intelligent way, while also happening to meet all the criteria for a well-documented mental health condition.  And, attempts at exorcisms, “praying it away”, or even the mere suggestion of something more sinister existing within them can be so extraordinarily damaging and traumatic to the already-suffering survivor.  It was a somewhat-understandable explanation in like, the 1600 or 1700s — but in 2017, this projection onto survivors who simply switched?  Is absolutely inexcusable.


✘ Myth:  This is just something the Americans made up. 

Patently false.  It’s been found worldwide, and some of the leading research in the field has come from countries that are not the United States.


✘ Myth:  DID and schizophrenia are the same thing.

Not even a little bit.  There aren’t really even any universally overlapping symptoms from person to person. Schizophrenia is a neurodegenerative disorder (frequently labeled a psychotic disorder - which carries its own unfair stigma to overcome), Dissociative Identity Disorder is a trauma disorder.  It is PREVENTABLE.  No medication can make it better.


✘ Myth:  Films like Split, Sybil, Three Faces of Eve, and Frankie and Alice taught me everything I need to know about DID!  And, The United States of Tara is amazing representation!

Shocking that media might be terribly inaccurate, but when it comes to Split, Sybil, Three Faces of EveFrankie and Alice, etc, you would think most are pretty aware that they are garbage.  …..but a quick look around and you'll find that disproven almost immediately.  These films specifically are not only abysmal representation, but they are actually severely DAMAGING to the understanding of DID.  And, it’s not just the general public who seems unsure. I heard a mental health professional very recently, who treats both C-PTSD and DID, refer to some of these as “good” and “informative”. ...a reference point for people to consider.  So, I wouldn't say that knowing just how harmful they are is “a given” even in the MH community, either.

Even when it comes to The United States of Tara, while it is absolutely BETTER than the others, it is not “good representation” by any stretch.  Yes, it did touch on some important topics, but most of those are moot when it also displayed the most commonly stigmatizing and damaging tropes in droves and got so dark by the end many with trauma histories couldn’t even finish it.  A simple scroll back through these myths and you’ll find MOST of them in the show.  (She was violent to strangers and abusive to her family, cheated on her husband, was deemed unsafe to be around children, switches were SUPER dramatic, alter differentiation was absurdly extreme and predictable characterizations of alters, she introjected a therapist without any traumatic premise for the addition, sought extremely toxic "therapy" without ever fully defining it as such, safety was dealt with irresponsibly, and soooo much more.)  We could write an entire article on this (and we may even one day), but for now, let’s just squash the myth that it’s “positive representation”.  I know that as survivors we tend to think of anything that isn’t actively abusing us as being GREAT!, but just because something isn’t a total disaster or has some redeeming qualities does not mean that it’s positive.  At all.  And we shouldn’t accept it as such.  USoT is great for some laughs and entertainment, but it is not good DID representation.  We save our choice words more for films like Split, however -- but hey, we still managed to exercise some restraint while discussing that one in this article here. :)


    No doubt there are far more myths than this.  We encourage you to add some of the most wild things YOU'VE heard in the comments.  What are some misconceptions you've held onto or that you believed when you first heard of the condition?  And what are some things you still hear from those around you or online?  ...possibly even from clinicians?  While none of these are a laughing matter, and we hope that we've educated significantly, it's still okay to get a laugh from things now and then, especially when they're so absurd.  If we didn't, we'd all go a little mad.  We sincerely hope this was very useful to you, and we hope to see you sharing it with anyone who needs some clarity!




  -  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  -  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  -  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  -  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light


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