Our Support for Survivors and Statements Regarding the Film 'Split':
We at Beauty After Bruises have spent the past month - ever since first hearing of the upcoming film 'Split' - thinking long and hard, holding discussions amongst the board, talking with survivors, and just paying attention to the general chatter surrounding the movie. We’ve been trying very hard to find the most effective, most thoughtful, and most sincere way to not only address our concerns, but most importantly, to lift our survivors up in its wake. For those of you unaware, Split is a psychological thriller - behind which M Night Shyamalan is the mastermind - that features a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder terrorizing and abusing women as a result of his disorder and introjected personalities. We, of course, have not seen the film, nor have we discovered what “twists” might lie ahead or could suddenly ‘change the whole story’ — but we recognize that already does not matter. What matters is that, for the umpteenth time in traditional media, someone with DID is being portrayed as dangerous, violent, “insane”, manipulative, and/or capable of unspeakable crimes — often murder. To date, there is still not ONE semi-accurate (meaning, as close as film can come while still being entertaining) portrayal of the disorder. Those which have come much, much closer have still managed to paint survivors as untrustworthy, unfaithful, and unsafe (toward others AND themselves). These movies/shows are often the only exposure to the condition most will ever get. And, viewers may know it’s “just a movie”, but it still leaves a strong impression - particularly when you’re only ever given one message over and over and over again. Many won't even go see this movie; they'll only have seen the trailer. With zero chance for greater context, the sole takeaway is simply that those with DID are dangerous. …that they have these “wild and reckless alter egos”, that they're "insane or sociopathic”. ...even leading viewers to wonder things like “Are they just lying and trying to blame their own crimes on their alters?”. These recycled concepts are not only grossly inaccurate, but they do a massive, massive disservice to anyone with DID, to complex trauma survivors. ...and really anyone with a mental health disorder who must constantly battle against stigma.
One of our primary missions here has always been to educate — not just clinicians, but the general public. We need to demystify this disorder that is anything but rare and yet still the one no one seems to know anything about. We’d be letting trauma survivors down tremendously if we didn’t seize the opportunity to do so now. It’s the only silver lining in this extremely disheartening circumstance - a spotlit opportunity to educate. So if you’ve seen the trailer, or your curiosity has been piqued for any other reason, you’re in luck.
Dissociative Identity Disorder is a disorder that stems from severe, repetitive, longterm childhood trauma — most often abuse and neglect. It only develops before the ages of roughly 7-9 and that is because the prolonged exposure to trauma interrupts the constant, ever-changing psychological development of a child. These traumas create dissociative barriers within the mind that, in more simplistic terms, don't allow for all parts of one’s personality and awareness to communicate with one another as they normally would. These ‘walled off’ parts of the mind continue to develop in identity and character just as they would for any child at that age, but because of those barriers, they become individual alters (also known as self-states or parts). Now, because of the inability to communicate across the mind, it often results in amnesia for much of the trauma; and different alters hold these memories, emotions, and other important details. They are not “alter egos” or “different people”. They are all part of ONE mind, and are all pieces that make up the whole person — each just relating to the world, themselves, their experiences, and one another differently based on the knowledge and emotions they have access to (which, for some, is only trauma).
These alters can and do “switch” - meaning they take executive control of the body. But, while it's common to be unaware of these switches as a child, when they grow older (particularly if they’ve begun therapy), people with DID can and often do know that it is happening. For those who are still unaware of their DID, they may start to notice that they are losing time, that things are out of place, that they have no memory of conversations a loved one swears they had, etc. They are away something is very wrong, even if they aren't exactly sure what just yet. If one is in therapy or already self-aware, they can begin to gain access to these parts of their mind and learn to communicate - eventually learning the traumatic content, along with how to live more effectively and efficiently in the world. ...together. Some individuals are even able to begin this without therapy. They are absolutely in no way “insane”. The majority experience zero psychotic symptoms at all. However, most do have co-occurring Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from their extensive trauma, and must battle flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and all of the nasty and grueling symptoms that come with being a trauma survivor.
DID patients can recover, and that recovery doesn’t always have to involve integrating into just one personality — but for some it does. Most with DID function every day out in the world, coping with and managing their internal system, living productive lives just like everyone else. ..usually with those around them none the wiser. DID tends to be a disorder of concealment, not drama. Drastic, flashy, overt switching would have attracted far too much attention when they were younger and likely resulted in more abuse. So, most have learned to hide their switching to the point its imperceptible even to some well-trained therapists. It’s not as United States of Tara as you have been led to believe.
Which, that brings us back to the film, Spilt.
Above all things, we want you to know that survivors with DID ARE NOT ANY MORE DANGEROUS THAN ANYONE ELSE. In fact, survivors with DID are far more likely to be re-victimized than they are to harm another individual. (Like, way, way more likely.) They are not axe murders, serial killers, terrorizers, nor are they always plotting some violent revenge on their abusers. And, if they do commit any sort of wrongdoing, they must also be (and always are) held accountable for their actions — regardless if they were aware of them at the time or not. They cannot blame a crime on another alter, nor can they plea insanity solely because another part of their mind was in charge at the time. That is not insanity. Only a marginal percentage of those with DID have committed any crimes at all, and those who have were usually minor offenses. So, films like this, while they may be entertaining and really hit the spot for those who love to be thrilled psychologically, they paint an entire community of vulnerable, already-victimized individuals as if they are the ones who are violent and dangerous. They’ve known violence for so much of their lives and all they want now is just to get by - and bonus if they get be seen and recognized just within their own darn mental health community. It does them an indescribable amount of harm every time someone uses their years and years of torment as a child, and subsequent decades of suffering, as a plot point for others' amusement or terror. ...especially when it will be seen by millions just to earn ten times as much.
We recognize that M Night is an extremely talented, creative and gifted artist. He’s capable of mindbending work. But we know those gifts could be better-cultivated through art that does not actively hurt those who’ve already been hurt for so much of their lives. We have put a great deal of thought and reflection into this, as have professionals and entire organizations who research this disorder, and know confidently that this has no shades of reactivity nor oversensitivity. It's not getting upset just to be upset; that would do us, and them, no good. This is about standing up for and protecting a group of individuals that NO ONE has stood up for or cared about for most of their lives. Ignorantly portraying mental illness in any media is just lazy and always detrimental, but these survivors have been fighting for 50+ years just to be recognized in their own community. By their own physicians. ...just to be seen as valid, as honest, and as in desperate need of educated treatment. We have finally started winning that battle a bit more, but we still have so far to go. So when it comes to public media, the fact there has not yet been ONE single positive portrayal of a survivor with DID is something to be unhappy about, but the fact I need more than both hands to count all of those which have portrayed them as violent, dangerous, manipulative con artists or murderers? That’s just absolutely inexcusable at this point, and we do not need one more. It’s just… it’s so low… to not only hurt the abused further and trivialize the highly intricate adaptation they needed just to survive — but to effectively demonize them? Just so you can make a killing? Irony in words, eh? We are just so saddened, disheartened, frustrated, and so many other things on behalf of all survivors.
Above everything else: Survivors? We want you to know that we stand with you. We respect and admire you. We understand what you battle every single day of your lives just to keep going. And, we will always fight for you. We have promised that since day one and this is us keeping that promise. We also stand alongside, and are incredibly grateful to, The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation (ISST-D) — one of the most respected and revered organizations when it comes to complex trauma — who have also put out a public statement regarding this film. They have worded things far better than we ever could hope to, and we want to link their video and written statement so you can further grasp the impact a film like this can have, and understand what it is that survivors with DID are facing daily. ….but more than that? You’ll get to see someone else standing up for survivors and using this [albeit unfortunate] opportunity to educate the public and show care and compassion toward those who need it most.
There are times when it’s no longer helpful to try your best not to make waves. There are times when it’s necessary to use your voice and speak up, and speak clearly, for those in pain. This is us using our voice for you, in hopes that it can elevate yours.