Education

Trauma and Attachment (with Jade Miller): Part Two

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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.

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   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. 
 

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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)

・・ Joystarters.com – 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!
 

FIND JADE ON ALL HER PLATFORMS!

 -  J8 Peer Consulting       -  Amazon Author Page
  -  Facebook                          -  LinkedIn

 

MORE INFORMATIVE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  -  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

 

FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

  -  Facebook
  -  Twitter
  -  Instagram

Trauma and The Body 101: Introduction

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    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.  ...be 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!

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MORE INFORMATIVE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  -  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

 

FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

  -  Facebook
  -  Twitter
  -  Instagram

Trauma and Attachment (with Jade Miller): Part One

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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 (also known as insecure-dismissive) 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-anxious (also known as 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!
 

FIND JADE ON ALL HER PLATFORMS!

 -  J8 Peer Consulting       -  Amazon Author Page
  -  Facebook                          -  LinkedIn
                                   
 

 

MORE INFORMATIVE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  -  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

 

FOLLOW US ON SOCIAL MEDIA:

  -  Facebook
  -  Twitter
  -  Instagram

DID Myths and Misconceptions

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 coursework (for students and practicing clinicians alike), and a seemingly unending barrage of defamation attempts.  The latter sounds ridiculous, but probably shouldn't come as too much of a surprise once you consider that DID is caused by longterm, recurrent trauma in childhood - most often abuse.  There is ample motivation 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 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 so that you can better follow along.  DID is a dissociative trauma disorder in which a survivor has undergone longterm, repeated trauma in early childhood. This trauma, combined with other factors, results in a rather dramatic interruption of psychological development -- particularly as it pertains to identity. Through a process known as dissociation, this thwarted development 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 - are able to 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 one's childhood.  The alters in a DID mind exist to help the survivor cope with deeply painful and unconscionable trauma, holding it outside their awareness to the best of their ability.  However, often once the survivor begins to find safety and/or enter adulthood, this once supremely creative and protective mechanism can turn into a maladaptive trait causing real life consequences.  Additionally, all of these experiences can be, and often are, happening alongside the symptoms of PTSD (eg. flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, insomnia, etc), as well as symptoms of other co-occurring disorders commonly seen in trauma survivors.

    So, now that you know a bit more about the 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 truly bonkers ;)  Let's do this!

 

Part One: The General Public

 

✘ Myth:  DID is very rare.

Not even close. Its yearly 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 trauma survivors built on secrecy; who can be afraid to receive such a stigmatizing diagnosis, have or have had therapists untrained to recognize their condition, are riddled with amnesia (leading many to be unaware anything is even "wrong”), and whose self-preservation often includes intense denial of trauma — it's still inarguable that DID is anything but rare.  It is a major mental health issue.

[Update: More studies on the prevalence of DID: x, x, x, x, x, x ]

 

✘ 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, 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 / actually 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 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.) More very valuable research here on DID validity: , , , .

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. DID, however, has no higher rates of this than other conditions, and there is even a specific set of criteria that clinicians can use 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 call you a liar, say it's not real, or (even if they do believe you) hurl a bunch of insults at just because you're a complex trauma survivor. This is not what most are looking for when it comes to cultivating sympathy or attention.  While some do try, many tire very quickly once 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. Furthermore, there are even greater hurdles to clear for anyone trying to seek treatment or therapy for DID (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 having them, 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.  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, photos, their wardrobe, reading old letters they don’t recall writing, and more.

 

✘ Myth:  Switches in DID will be dramatic, obvious, detectable, or involving 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 DID population has an overt presentation 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 structured around concealment. Dramatic switches or changes in one's behavior or physical appearance 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 try their VERY best to mirror the host's presentation.

For some, in the presence of loved ones or others “in the know”, some of these acts of concealment can fall away and their alters may feel more free to express themselves individually - but it still won’t be anything like what you’ve seen on TV.  Child alters, however, are sometimes the most distinct when fronting in survivors who are very "adult". They've even been know to win over some 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, especially in public settings.  As for the act of switching itself, 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, just breathing).  Switches can be detected if paying very close attention and while being aware of the condition, but it’s very, very rare for strangers or acquaintances to recognize one themselves.  They’d sooner assume something else entirely.

 

✘ Myth:  DID is a disorder of “multiple personalities” — that is what's "wrong" in 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 dysfunction lies in the complex trauma and the countless effects it had on the child’s mind and their neurology -- including flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, dissociative amnesia ('losing time'), depersonalization/derealization, emotion dysregulation, somatic symptoms, and heightened vulnerability to a long list of other medical and mental health disorders. Most of the healing from DID revolves around the processing of traumatic memories and sifting through the layers and layers of pain, sadness, anger, betrayal, grief and trauma that each alter holds.  Yes, therapy does also address the very unique, distinct challenges of having alters -- from how to get along with one another and work cohesively, to keeping the body safe when individual parts are struggling with self-harm, to how to keep child parts from popping forward whenever you pass the toy section at a store -- but DID is ultimately a trauma disorder, NOT a disorder of personality.

 

✘ Myth:  DID happens because the mind is so traumatized that it splits into tons 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 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 (most notably OSDD and its subtypes), and age may be a very slight influencing factor in the lessened alter differentiation and/or amnesia experienced there -- but most with those presentations were quite young for their trauma as well. There are also many reasons that 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 the symptoms, systems and experiences of OSDD survivors, 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 specific 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 where that boundary has been established beforehand), to "hit-or-miss" (dependent on the person, their intent, the state of things inside, being triggered forward but not actually wanting to be there, and so forth), to "never" (it’s either completely inappropriate and uncalled for, it's unsafe, they have a highly protective reason for staying inside, they can’t even hear you, they don't know how to come forward on their own, or some other very important reason).  Survivors with DID are not a magic trick.

NOTE: DO NOT TRY TO CALL PARTS FORWARD UNLESS YOU ARE A TRAINED PROFESSIONAL OR HAVE THE SYSTEM’S IMPLICIT PERMISSION TO DO SO IN NECESSARY SITUATIONS.  To not obey this is a serious violation of psychological and emotional boundaries.

 

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

Nope, 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 mainly the result of extreme dissociation combined with mental visualization that just FEELS incredibly real on the outside (as opposed to a true external hallucination of an alter). 

For most survivors with DID, "seeing" and speaking to their alters happens internally - inside the mind - often including a landscape called an "internal world". Communication may happen through passively-influenced thoughts, face-to-face (in each other's respective bodies, via the internal world), or through “voice” communication heard in the mind.  This is why DID diagnoses can so commonly be mixed up with schizophrenia; the discussions and differently 'voiced' thoughts can seem like “hearing voices”, particularly if you don't know what that sounds like. But, in DID, these voices and conversations are not actual auditory hallucinations.  They are more like very “loud” versions of one’s own thoughts (versus, say, hearing the radio or microwave talking, or voices of those whom you know do NOT belong to you or share your life story).  Alter communication is very much a part of you and stems from somewhere in your conscious mind, even if the thoughts, ideas and tones are considerably different from your own inner monologue.

Other frequent means of communication are things like: journaling, art, post-it notes, non-dominant hand writing, pictures; and, now more commonly, things like online blogging, social media, voice recordings, 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. (Not to mention that trauma 'took place' every single day, for a lot of years, for a lot of people).  This can happen for some - and their parts’ names may even all 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 sky-high suicide rates, while warring against heartless stigma and lack of access to basic care -- they're just all lying?  No, no annnd 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 are instead the ones living in fear of being cheated on, becoming inadequate, burdensome, or dissatisfactory to their partners that they're the ones who are 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 them 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 comorbid conditions.  Medications to calm extreme anxiety, alleviate depression, lessen nightmares, stabilize mood, help with compulsions, quell 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.

Theme here: everyone is different.  Integration into a single, individualized 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 everyone working toward a common goal - all 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 why someone might 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 "alter ego".

Alter [most likely] stands for "alternate personality", though there has also been confusion about the phrasing of "alternate states of consciousness" and/or "altered state of consciousness". One was once used in patient charts (abbreviated) on trauma disorders units, and the other in sources online and in research that attempted to compare it with trauma-related dissociation, not label the actual trauma-related dissociation. The absolute origin of the term alter is hard to pinpoint, as is how and why the others found themselves into psychiatric hospitals and research papers without first having an identifiable source to pull it from. But, the most currently accepted understanding is that is stands for 'alternate personality'.  However, "states of consciousness" is a term that is used interchangeably for alter/personality in various therapeutic circles. So, the first two are none too dissimilar.

"Alter ego", however, 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 around the teens.  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 human trafficking, organized violence, ritual abuse, or mind control, it's well-observed for systems to be well into the hundreds, or even impossible to count.  System size does not validate or invalidate a survivor. There is also no direct correlation to system size and severity of trauma.

 

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

Sure, some do have these alters, and it’s often for good reason and due to themes that exist in abuse, not necessarily themes within the disorder.  Many will have none of these alters, others have completely reversed takes on them, and so forth.  While it makes for easy book and film-writing - and some survivors absolutely do find themes within their system and another's - there is no universal recipe for a DID system.  Additionally, getting too specific or trying to categorize alters into specific role subtypes can be quite damaging and lead to a whole host of new issues (none too dissimilar to the complications that arise from 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 develop from from positive childhood influences, and then 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 or incapable of feeling, becoming a terrifying entity, a loving creature, or even a shapeshifter can feel infinitely safer and more protective of the whole than fragile humanity. Note: Alters do not come about by conscious choice or planning.  They happen within a child’s mind, through their understanding of the universe at the time, unconsciously, and by way of a heavily dissociated surreality. Anything that seems even moderately safer than their current state is fair game inside their survival escapism.  Just as human alters can be deaf, blind or have no voice to speak, even within an able-bodied system, inhuman alters who are unable to do similar tasks are just as real, valid and important as the humans. They are protective and significant, not weird or unbelievable.

 

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

*re-accessing our theme here* All humans, systems, and alters are different.  Some child parts are deeply traumatized and hardly able to function.  While, others' kid parts are the most innocent, endearing, and happy little angels.  But there is also every shade in between, and some systems have TONS of kids - up to hundreds even - each vastly different from the other.  Happy, sad, energetic, daring, lonely, scared, adventurous, genius, precocious, disabled, shy, athletic, mean, messy, giggly, pristine, posturing, infantile, newborn, brave, hidden, exuberant….. the possibilities are endless in child parts, including their capacity to grow, change and transform.

 

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

The word introject refers to any alter who is modeled off an outside individual - mirroring their personality, behavior and sometimes even going by the same name and visual presentation.  These individuals may be positive or negative influences in the survivor's life; some are even fictional characters. (Remember: Alter development is not a conscious process and takes place within a young, traumatized child's mind. Pulling from fiction makes complete sense to little minds.) Most notably, though, are abuser introjects -- alters who are so prevalent in DID systems that the term introject itself has nearly become synonymous with “the bad guys”. That said, it is extremely important to remember that these introjects serve a very important, valuable purpose, and(!) they are NOT the actual abuser. They are a victim, a single part within a large beautiful mind, bred from the survivor's essence. They are just copying behaviors shown to them by bad people, not harboring the intent, sadism or immorality of the actual perpetrators. Most are even trying to protect the system at large. Antithetical as it sounds, these introjects can truly believe that hurting the body or internal system members, can still be ultimately protective, misguided as that is.

Let's learn why.

Introjects are only able to model outside individuals so well because they’ve spent copious amounts of time with them. So, in the case of abuser introjects, it typically means that those alters were the most abused by them. By “becoming them”, they not only get to deliver themselves from that powerless dejection, they get to decide what is allowed and what is not. They write the rules. Their intimidation, bullying and posturing as the voice you fear most in this world can make you far less likely to talk in therapy, to tell a family member or friend; to seek justice, file a report, go back to school/work, and more.  ….anything your real abuser threatened great harm against you for even considering. Introjects' verbal insults may leave you timid and embarrassed, afraid to “put yourself out there”. They may feel this is the only way to protect you from the 'inevitable' pain, rejection, betrayal or loss that comes from making connections. Even healing from your trauma can feel too threatening or unsafe. By being a relentless, menacing part who terrorizes your mind and body, you stay sick, which keeps you safe from whatever those "threats" are. ...but only by adding new threats to your safety.  Helping them see this paradox can be the first step in getting them to take pause, and eventually become an alter you can work with instead of fearing implicitly.  Some of these introjects are even extremely young child parts who just posture as these ‘big bad adults’ for some semblance of control and power. It's helpful to keep all of this in mind when you're under siege.

It is especially important to remember that they are not evil. They’re usually extremely traumatized and were given a highly manipulated understanding of safety and love.  But also, YOU as a whole are not evil just because these parts live inside of you. They are not the actual abuser and they are just reenacting behaviors/thought patterns that were taught to them by bad people for years and years. It's all they know. But, the difference is that deep down they believe they're keeping you safe from something they believe to be absolutely unbearable. You just need to figure out what that is.

 

✘ 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 everyone safer (even if that just means safe from having to feel any PAIN if they're profoundly suicidal).  It’s important to keep in mind that just because these things may not make sense to YOU (since you can clearly see all the destruction and harm it's causing elsewhere in 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 utterly horrifying), you might not be the most empathic or understanding person either.  Moreover, many system members adopted their concepts of “safety” when the body was a child. ..a traumatized child.  What they consider safe isn'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), they’ll become more and more traumatized as you confirm to them their every belief about the world. You can’t actually “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 other means) 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, 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 disappear entirely or “be killed”.
 

Above all: 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 system member to come forward and take medications 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, talents, 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 not only 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. Some alters can operate on entirely different neural pathways of the brain, and that determines a lot of what the rest of the body will experience, feel and tells the other organs to do. This may mean allergies to different foods, different glasses/contacts prescriptions, over- or under-production of various hormones, and so forth. The brain is incredibly powerful; it not only tells the rest of the body how and when to operate, but it can completely change how the body interprets and responds to cues, sensations and feedback based on which areas of the brain are most active at the time. Much of this is still being studied because it's so fascinating, but there's no shortage of anecdotal examples, plus there are several others already within published 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 specialists can struggle with the sheer volume of curveballs and knowing they must remain vigilant to any and all unforeseen complications. Most psychology curriculums that lead to a degree in clinical practice only spend about a week or two on DID and other dissociative disorders. To add insult to injury, the majority of the information is out-of-date. Trauma-informed classes rare enough and are something most passionate MH professionals must go out of their way to find. Then, they invest extra time, coursework and continued education just to be able to competently and confidently treat a trauma survivor. Depending on the program, many of these folks are still unfamiliar with the nuances of dissociation, personality differentiation, system dynamics, common pitfalls of therapy, memory-processing, and alter integration (if that’s what a patient desires). While a clinician who's missing these skills may still be able to bring a PTSD patient through to wellness, these are an absolute must when it comes to rehabilitating a patient with DID.

When patient safety is often in jeopardy (either due to self-harm, eating disorders, drug/alcohol use, or ongoing abuse), and suicide attempts occur as frequently as they do in this population, there is limited room for error. And, just sitting with that knowledge can be extremely (and justifiably) upsetting for many therapists. This may leave them feeling anxious, desperate, or even becoming quite protective over their client - which only increases the opportunity for unintended mistakes.  Specific training in DID, or at the very least a sincere dedication to learning it (and quickly) while working with a patient, is highly advised.  Not just anyone can treat this condition, and trying to do so 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 defense, and when it is, it’s almost always publicized because it’s preposterous. 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 truly have the condition, nor do they demonstrate any of the behavior consistently).  But, oh wait! There's an even bigger reason: this is not a viable defense in a court of law. DID is NOT insanity.  Regardless of what any alter does outside of one’s awareness, the whole person is still responsible for their crimes and will be prosecuted 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 will offer unsolicited advice and/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 happening inside the mind and why.  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 extraordinarily damaging and traumatic to the already-suffering survivor. This 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!

Hardly shocking that media can be extremely inaccurate, but when it comes to Split, Sybil, Three Faces of EveFrankie and Alice, etc, you'd think that most would know they're pretty awful. ...but, just one look around and you'll find that disproven rather swiftly.  These films are not just abysmal in terms of representation, they severely damage and inhibit the public's understanding of DID.  And, sadly, it’s not just the general public who seem unsure of their accuracy. I recently heard a mental health professional, who treats both C-PTSD and DID, refer to some of these as “good” and “informative” -- a reference point for those who are new to the condition. Sadly, knowing just how harmful they are is not “a given”, even in the MH community.

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 that 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, abusive to her family, cheated on her husband, and was deemed unsafe to even be around children. Her switches were SUPER dramatic, alter differentiation was the most extreme, and they used very predictable tropes for her alter characterization. She introjected a therapist without any trauma or major life event to necessitate the addition, sought extremely toxic "therapy" without the show ever defining it as such, and safety was dealt with so irresponsibly that it was disturbing. There much more to add.)

We could write an entire article on this alone (and we may even do so one day), but for now, let’s just squash the myth that USoT is “positive representation”.  I know that as survivors we tend to think of anything that isn’t actively hurting or 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, but hey, we even managed to exercise some restraint there while discussing it in this article here! :)
 

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    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 held onto or believed when you first heard of the condition? 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 bonkers

     We sincerely hope this was very useful to you, and we hope to see you sharing it with anyone who needs some clarity!

 

 

MORE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

  ✧  Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  ✧  Distraction 101: 101 Distraction Tools
  ✧  Flashbacks 101: 4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks
  ✧  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  ✧  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
  ✧  Self-Care 101101 Techniques for Self-Care
  ✧  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
  ✧  Trauma and Attachment: 3-Part Series on Attachment Theory with Jade Miller
 
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You Did Not Shatter: A Message for Survivors with DID

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     After an absolutely fantastic experience at this year's annual Party in the Park - and even receiving some media coverage - we spent some time reflecting on the many conversations had there and wanted to extend some extra love and thought to those with Dissociative Identity Disorder today.  And, in doing so, hopefully we'll guide the general public to a richer understanding of the condition as well!

     After talking with the media - who were absolutely wonderful, receptive, and eager to learn - it was still evident through subtle head nods and knowing laughter following our jokes that their only prior introduction to DID had not been a positive one. They were so happy to see and understand it for what it really is, to adopt an entirely new view on whom it affects, why, and what that looks like. We witness versions of this exchange everywhere we go, almost any time we educate the public.  But, another thing we find, time and time again, is how many survivors have been given inaccurate information about themselves. Many have been privy to explanations and/or analogies used to simplify or summarize the disorder to the unfamiliar, some of which have led to the internalization of some pretty harsh ideas about themselves.  Sometimes these misconceptions are even held by the most loving and helpful therapists, not just the ignorant or uneducated ones.  Because of this, we not only want to offer clarity on the subject, but more importantly, fight to help restore your belief in yourself -- to help you realize the strength of your mind, NOT the 'brokenness'.
     This will also apply to many with Complex PTSD or even BPD, but will resonate strongest for those with DID.  So, with the ill-effects of films like Split still in the rearview, and with far too many in the psychiatric community continuing to hold on to misinformation on DID - we truly hope to silence those messages in your ears and lift you up in a way that maybe no one ever has before.


     For far too long, it has been believed, and often even cited in psychiatric works, that DID forms because the mind was just so traumatized, so overwhelmed by insurmountable upset and trauma, that it splits into all kinds of pieces and alters. Visual concepts like the mind being shattered, like a broken vase, or a scattered puzzle needing put back together, were not only all too common, they became the framework for how many clinicians would describe DID to their patients. A puzzle-piece awareness ribbon was even created as the representative for DID before it became the well-known symbol for autism awareness. This idea has, on one hand, given many survivors language to describe their experience to others. But, on the other, it have also left many survivors to interpret that as if they themselves are broken.  ...as if it was just all too much and they cracked and broke down - possibly even due to weakness or not being "strong enough".  ...as if they're fundamentally destroyed, irreparable or never able to be "put back together" the same again. This is just plainly untrue - both in terms of who these survivors are as people AND what actually happened to their minds in the first place.

     A dissociative mind is NOT a whole that breaks. It's one that just never came together into one, fully-communicating mind like it does for everyone else. EVERYONE starts out as scattered pieces when they are infants. Through childhood development, attachments get made, relationships become consistent, needs are met, and slowly, those pieces begin to integrate into larger pieces. Over time, those pieces develop self-awareness, and continue to merge and formulate ONE stable, solid sense of self.  "This is me, this is who I am, these are the things I like and don't like. I know who I am separate from my siblings, friends, and parents! Cool!". This usually completes by about age 9, and from then on life experiences continue to shape, mold and build that sense of self into perpetuity; shifting as one gathers more life experience. Our identity reflects that as we change throughout our teens, twenties and so forth. Even so, it is still just one, singular self-concept.
     We, of course, all have different aspects and versions of ourselves, but for those with a healthy childhood development, those aspects all communicate automatically and know about one another. Work You knows about and may influence the mood of At-Home You, and With-Friends You may let loose a bit, but is still aware that if you get a little too adventurous you may make things harder for In-A-Relationship You. Many aspects; one sense of self.  ...all communicating with and influencing the others.

     But when it comes to childhood trauma, all of that can get interrupted. Through extreme dissociation, many pieces stay separate. Walls and barriers get built to keep those smaller ego states from coming together because the mind has deemed that it's safer that way. Communication between and knowledge of what's beyond those walls can be minimal. What happens to During-Trauma You can't be known to At-School You because you wouldn't be able to function effectively if you had unspeakable trauma on your mind while trying to solve multiplication tables in math class. Over time, those compartmentalized collections of memory, emotion, knowledge, etc., will develop self-awareness and eventually their own sense of self, too -- just as they would for any developing child. The main difference is that these pieces of self may look considerably different from one another (and the whole) because they are only able to pull from a select number of life experiences within their little compartment to build an identity around.  Ergo: alters.  So, you didn't BREAK.  You most certainly were not too weak or fragile. The mind knew it could withstand the pressure of a violent storm by supporting your castle with an abundance of walls and columns instead. That's adaptive. That's strong. That's creativity and reinforcement; genius.  It's also beautiful.

     You did not crumble into rubble; you are not shattered glass. You didn't collapse or give out, nor were you destroyed by what happened.  You do not have to fuss with glue or tape to put yourself back together. Your mind repositioned its load-bearing beams and decided to stand strong a different way. It may not be like everyone else's, but I can promise that it's able to endure far more.  It has endured far more.  And you're still here.  Nothing can bring down that castle. You are rock solid. You were built to survive - and that creative, unique design kept you alive, kept you strong, and brought so much extra beauty.  You cannot even begin to imagine the richness that will bring to your living as you heal.

     We are amazed by how you found a way through. And we want you to know, as well as anyone who's ever misunderstood your condition, that:

You are not broken or weak. You are stronger than most could ever hope to be. You were made to last.

MORE RESOURCE POSTS YOU MAY FIND HELPFUL:

    DID Myths and Misconceptions: Dispelling Common Myths about DID
    Grounding 101: 101 Grounding Techniques
  ✧  Nighttime 101 and Nighttime 201Sleep Strategies for Complex PTSD
  ✧  Imagery 101Healing Pool and Healing Light
  ✧  Flashbacks 101: 4 Tools to Cope with Flashbacks
  ✧  Did You Know?: 8 Things We Should All Know about C-PTSD and DID
    Coping with Toxic/Abusive Families During the Holidays

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