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, and even murdering his own therapist. 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, and for many reasons. 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 — most 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 significantly closer have still managed to paint survivors as untrustworthy, unfaithful, and unsafe (both toward others and themselves). These movies/shows are often the only exposure to the condition most will ever get. And, while viewers may know it’s “just a movie”, 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, their sole takeaway will be that those with DID are dangerous. That they have these “wild and reckless alter egos”, that they're "insane or sociopathic”, even leading some to wonder if it’s all fake and people are just lying in order to blame their crimes on alters. These recycled concepts are not only grossly inaccurate, they do a massive disservice to anyone with DID: complex trauma survivors.
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 credible about. We’d be letting trauma survivors down if we didn’t seize the opportunity to do so now. It’s the only silver lining in this otherwise extremely disheartening circumstance - a spotlight to educate. So, if you have 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 can only develop before the ages of roughly 6-9 (though some research suggests even earlier) and that is because the prolonged exposure to trauma interrupts the constant, ever-changing psychological development of a child. In the brain’s sheer attempt to survive, it creates dissociative barriers within the mind which, oversimplified, blocks off and prevents full communication across all parts of the brain. These compartmentalized areas - often containing the awareness of and painful emotions surrounding the trauma - continue to develop in both identity and character just as they would in any child at that age. But, because of those thick barriers, alters (also known as self-states or parts) with their own name, age, and personality can begin to develop - influenced and shaped by their limited exposure to the world. And, because of the inability to communicate freely across the whole mind, it often results in amnesia for much of the trauma. It is held within individual alters and often unknown by the rest of the system until therapy begins or something major triggers a more spontaneous awareness. They are not “alter egos” or “completely different people”. They’re parts of ONE mind, pieces that make up the whole person — each relating to the world, themselves, their perpetrators, and one another differently based on the knowledge and emotions they have access to at the time.
Alters can and do “switch” - meaning they can each take executive control of the body. However, while it's common to be unaware of these switches as a child, as the survivor grows older (particularly if they’ve begun therapy), those with DID can and often do know when it happens. For those who are still unaware of their DID, they may start to notice that they’re losing time, things are out of place, or they have no recollection of conversations that loved ones swear they had, etc. Things begin to add up and make them aware something is wrong, even if they aren't sure what exactly that is just yet. If one is in therapy or already self-aware, they can begin to greater gain access to these parts of their mind and learn to communicate - meeting one another for the first time, discovering and processing the traumatic material, and learning how to live more effectively and efficiently in the world. Together. Some individuals are even able to begin this without therapy. It can be really organic and healthy, despite intrinsically difficult and painful. So, survivors are absolutely in no way “insane”. The vast majority experience zero psychotic symptoms at all, and those that do have additional mental health struggles entirely separate from their DID. Most, however, do have co-occurring Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and will wrestle with flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and all of the other nasty, grueling symptoms that come with being a complex 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 out in the world every day -coping with and managing both their internal systems and posttraumatic symptoms - and live productive lives just like everyone else. And, they typically do so without anyone around them 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 violence. 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, they are far more likely to be re-victimized than they are to harm another individual. (Like, dramatically 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 nearly 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 forward at the time. That is not insanity. It does not hold up in a court of law. 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, paint an entire community of vulnerable, already-victimized individuals as if they are the ones who are violent and dangerous. These innocent folks have 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 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 pain and trauma processing, as a plot point for others' amusement or terror.
We recognize that M Night is an extremely talented, creative and gifted artist. He’s capable of mind-bending 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 long. 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 survivors, 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 lazy and has always been detrimental, but these survivors have been fighting for 50+ years just to be recognized in their own community, by their own physicians. They just want to be seen as valid, as honest, and in desperate need of educated treatment. We have finally started making progress in that battle, but we still have so far to go. So when it comes to public media, not having even ONE single positive portrayal of a survivor with DID is something to be unhappy about, but needing more than both hands to count each one that’s portrayed them as violent, dangerous, manipulative con artists and murderers? It’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 this highly intricate adaptation that they needed just to survive, but to effectively demonize them? Just so you can make a killing? (Literally and figuratively?) It is so sad, disheartening, frustrating, and so many other things. We ache 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 the battle you face 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 released a public statement regarding this film. They have worded things far more eloquently than we ever could hope, and we want to link their video and written statement so that you can further grasp the impact a film like this can have, and understand what 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.