Last week, I wrote about the horrible invalidation that comes with claims that dissociation is not real. But there is another belief about dissociation (and particularly Dissociative Identity Disorder) which leads to an underestimation of its prevalence. That belief is supported by movies and programs like Split (horrible) and United States of Tara (not as bad). That belief suggests Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D.) manifests in extreme ways. Of course, most of us know what is wrong with Split. It portrays those with D.I.D. as criminals. But even with United States of Tara, there are extreme behavior changes when switches happen. Does that happen in reality? Absolutely. But it is important to understand D.I.D. and its purpose so we can fully understand how it works.
D.I.D. (and any form of dissociation) is not about attention seeking. It is about coping. It is meant to go undetected. Most of the parts are trying to fit in, to gain acceptance. They are trying to behave in a way that will keep others from questioning them. There are exceptions. The freedom fighters are less interested in fitting in. And the defenders will do bold things to ensure safety. But most of the time, a switch is undetectable unless you are looking for it or know the person very well. What does this mean for us? It means that D.I.D. is far more common than we think. There are many people walking around with parts who have no idea they are switching. And nobody else around them knows either.
Now you may be asking yourself how you know if D.I.D. is a part of your life. So I will take this opportunity to explore what D.I.D. looks like. Outside of Hollywood, what are the real life scenarios for those of us who deal with severe dissociation? I will give you some examples from my own life. These aren’t the most embarrassing stories. I save those for my clients. They get to hear the worst of it. But these stories will help you understand what really happens. read more…
Recently I was alerted to an article on Psychology Today which denounced dissociation as a real response to trauma. Not surprisingly, this article made my blood boil. The most infuriating part of the article was how he kept repeating how dissociation was used as an excuse for behavior. So basically, he was saying that if someone doesn’t want to take responsibility for their behavior, they could claim dissociation caused it. It was written by someone with the letters behind his name. I am sure he had went to school and read the books. I am sure he has worked with some clients with some mildly irritating symptoms associated with some mild forms of trauma. And suddenly, he is an expert on what does and doesn’t exist.
These kinds of articles are irresponsible for so many reasons (most of which I don’t need to tell you). Dissociation is hard to acknowledge even for those of us who are graced with severe forms of it. We have learned denial from the best. That’s why we dissociate in the first place. Acknowledging dissociation requires us to admit there is another narrative, a narrative we have been denying a very long time. Of course, we need help with that. We need to hear from credible sources that we are on the right track, that what we are uncovering is real. We won’t hear that from our abusers. We won’t hear it from the general public. So we have to hear it from trained professionals. When they throw denial in our direction, they cause more damage than they will ever fully understand.
So why do they do it? Why do they use their credentials to enable the denial of something very real in such an irresponsible way? Why can they not accept dissociation as a trauma response considering all the research in support of it, all the experts who say it is real? Why do they continue to claim it is false? Well, I have some ideas. read more…
Paranoia is one of the most stigmatized symptoms of complex trauma. It is often viewed as a sign of a serious mental illness. But the reality of paranoia is different. It is everywhere. I believe childhood trauma makes it a guarantee. Paranoia can be so many things. It can be as simple as “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. It can be as intense as expecting abusers to come around the corner at any second. It can be as unrealistic as waiting for a lightning strike. But no matter the manifestation, it is debilitating. It holds us back from our purpose because we don’t feel safe or free to pursue what we want.
Paranoia is so confusing because it rarely exists on a conscious level. Our adult self will often have a mature enough understanding to have left most paranoid thoughts behind (although not always). But the paranoid thoughts exist in the unconscious with the inner parts who needed to create explanations for unusual and traumatic experiences. And as they linger there, they can make life very uncomfortable with strong anxiety, panic and hypervigilance as the manifestations. But why does it happen? Why do we suffer from paranoia in the first place? read more…
There is nothing more complicated after a childhood of complex trauma than navigating relationships. Why? Complex trauma is relational. We don’t have complex trauma without the failure of the primary relationships in our lives. And while the dissociation we use to stay alive is miraculous and amazing, it is also the nemesis of our adulthood. We can’t get our relationships to work because we only know extremes. Our inner parts which are created by dissociation are the source of our “all or nothing” thinking. And they make sure our relationships won’t be balanced … until we heal.
I have repeatedly heard from survivors of complex trauma that relationships are their most significant difficulty in life. They feel like they are swinging on a pendulum where they either chase people around or they lock the entire world out of their house. This way of relating is exhausting. It is also completely unfulfilling. We can’t live our lives chasing love that isn’t available and/or running from anyone who shows interest or might really love us. And I am not just talking about intimate relationships here. These patterns exist in almost all relationships.
So what is it that is really happening here? Our inner parts are battling. Why? They have different goals/needs and they will do anything to get them met. To resolve this battle, we must take steps to resolve the trauma that is driving the behavior. But that is as complex as the trauma itself. So I wrote some steps you can take to begin unraveling the relationship dysfunction running your life. read more…
I have been introduced to my second superior part over the past week. Unlike my superior defender, this part is a rebel who wants to do her own thing. At first, I found it a bit amusing to listen to her talk about how much better she is than everyone else. But in this work, no feeling stays for long (especially the good ones). This part is struggling. She is struggling with so much futility. She is struggling to find her way in a world that doesn’t acknowledge her. She went through horrific neglect and abuse. She was a child with great ideas who was never heard. She wanted to be different, but knew the visibility was too dangerous. And unfortunately, that is only part of her story.
She grew up to be a woman in a “man’s career” and the pattern continued. She was the one with soft skills who was given all the tasks nobody else wanted. She was the one without the highly technical knowledge who had to prove herself by working harder and longer than the others. She handled all the stuff they hated. She struggled to be seen for the skills she really brought to the table. She was just the token woman in technology who could make them look a bit better, a bit less misogynistic.
And then, she became a survivor in an activist movement. Let’s face it, almost everyone in activism is a survivor. But she was an “outed” survivor. And with that comes baggage. It is not a decision to be made lightly. Survivors are not given the same clout as those who have read the books and taken the tests. They aren’t invited to the conferences to speak (unless it is to tell their story). They certainly aren’t invited to be an expert at anything. And they certainly don’t get to be an expert in trauma recovery. So the pattern continued. She worked harder than most to get her message out there, to get it taken seriously. She was treated as “just another survivor” by far too many. She was condescended to and treated like her opinion didn’t matter. What could she possibly share that hadn’t been shared a thousand times before? read more…
My recovery work has taught me that the original traumatic experiences are about 5% of the total problem. Almost all children experience traumatic events, but if they have supportive parents, they can come to understand what they experienced and recover from it in healthy ways. When the trauma is coming from our parents (or those who are closely tied to family), the trauma is horrible, but it is the manipulation and gaslighting which make recovery seem impossible. The games played by enablers become impossible to reconcile. And this doesn’t end when we become adults. As a matter of a fact, the older we get, the more important it becomes for our family to keep us confused about our reality. Lately, I have been thinking about how our families “up the ante” when we become independent adults. And I came up with five examples to illustrate it for you.
They deny the abuse. That doesn’t sound surprising at all. It may be so obvious that you are wondering why I wrote it. But when we become adults, the denial shifts. Don’t get me wrong, they still deny the trauma and call us crazy, but the denial develops nuances. For example, they may add some more adult terms into the gaslighting. They may start bringing up defamation of character or libel cases. They may make sure you know about “false memory syndrome”. They may point you to psychological and legal cases that support their denial tactics. They will claim you have disorders you don’t have or blame it on traumas that occurred in your adulthood (which were usually a direct reflection of your childhood trauma pattern.
They will act like the perfect family. Once again, I know they probably did this when you were a child too. But I am not talking about the mask to the outside world here. I am talking about how they act in front of you. Now that you are an adult, you aren’t triggering their trauma the way you used to. And since you aren’t with them every day, all day, they can put up a good front when you’re around. The nicer they act toward you, the more confused you get. You start questioning how bad it really was. “Maybe they weren’t so bad.” “Maybe I don’t have to work on recovery or alienate them because they are so nice now.” Deep down inside, your traumatized inner parts are screaming for you to validate their pain, but you are confused by their current outward behavior. Of course, this will dissolve if things get tough or you share a space for too long. But believe me, it is on purpose. It is meant to confuse you. read more…
One of the most frustrating aspects of trauma recovery is the constant feeling we are torn in multiple directions. It renders decision-making almost impossible. And it feels like we are crazy. As a matter of a fact, many people believe that holding two opposing opinions simultaneously is not possible or is the basis for a psychological disorder. Cognitive dissonance is often touted as a problem that needs to be solved. But let me tell you a secret. Everyone struggles with it.
When I first discovered my own inner parts, it was amazing to me how many things suddenly made sense. I could explain the unexplainable things in my life through the existence of inner parts. As time went on, I discovered that my own inner parts had taken over at times (often referred to as switching). This is also known as dissociative identity disorder (D.I.D.). In my case, I had stopped switching by the time I discovered it. But the presence of such a strong inner parts system has led me to deep understanding of my inner landscape. So for that, I am grateful.
But the presence of inner parts is not restricted to those with D.I.D. and severe complex trauma. Everyone has parts. The separation of parts of self is a natural response for children growing up in a traumatic world. Everyone has had a traumatic response in childhood. It is a given. And these inner parts are responsible for the dissonance that lives within us. It is there whether we see it or not.
You may be wondering what it looks like, so I will give some examples of how dissonance shows up through our inner parts. I have three examples of how our parts fight with each other, creating all sorts of dysfunction in our external lives. read more…
Most people who decide to work with me have been journeying through recovery for many years. They have been struggling to reduce their traumatic pain for decades. They have tried many approaches over the years. Some have worked a little. Some have worked well, but only for a while. And some have brought them permanent relief, but they seemed to hit a wall. Despite all these efforts, there is one statement that is all too common when I talk to survivors. “It feels like I’m getting worse.”
That statement isn’t a dramatic exaggeration coming from years of trying to heal to no avail. It isn’t coming from the inner tantrum thrown by the controller. It does feel like it is getting worse because we are getting closer to the trauma. It feels like it is getting worse because the traumatic emotions are rising to the surface while our defenses are dropping. Let me explain what is happening from an inner parts perspective.
When we were growing up in a traumatic environment, we developed defenders. Our defenders are the protectors of our inner children and their secrets. The goal of our defenders is to keep everything as safe as possible. They do this by keeping the emotions squelched and the memories repressed. They push the inner children away with invalidation and scathing insults because they believe this is the safest route. They are willing to sacrifice our integrity to ensure safety. And the controller is the leader of the defenders. Their goal is to ensure we are safe no matter what. They employ many different defenses, including extreme levels of dissociation, to avoid risk.
While these defenses served their purpose in childhood, they are not working now. They are holding us back from who we are meant to be. But most importantly, they are not sustainable. We cannot use these defenses to push down the truth forever. Eventually, the defenses will not be able to squelch the innate power that comes from our core being. So while our controller may have been firmly in charge in our twenties, showing up as high levels of productivity and the ability to plow through almost anything, it won’t last forever. read more…
I have been taking steps to heal myself for most of my adult life. In my twenties, I learned yoga, meditation and Reiki. I went on special diets to heal my aching body. I sought out therapy in different forms with mixed results. When my children were born, they brought a level of urgency to the process. I knew I had to take it up a notch because the panic attacks were unbearable. So 11 years ago, I started the recovery work which led to memory recovery. It has been 11 years of emotional expression, recovered memories and body aching as I have transformed myself. I can honestly say that I am not the same person I was. Of course, my true self is the same. But now, I can actually see it.
This recovery journey has been amazing. It has opened my eyes to many things about myself and the world around me. I am glad I decided to take this path. I would never want to go back to the life I was leading when I started. That said, it has also been hard. It has been miserable at times. And honestly, if you had told me how long it would take at the beginning, I might not have signed up for it. What a tragedy that would have been. But back then, I would not have had the perspective to understand the timing was not the important part. And there have been many tantrums because of that. There have been so many tantrums. And no, I am not talking about the tantrums from my external or internal children. Those are separate. I am talking about the tantrums from my controller.
If there is one thing I have learned over these years, it is the resourcefulness of the controller. The controller will stop at nothing to stop recovery. They hate it. And while there are some more obvious defenses, there are other defenses that are incredibly stealth. Some of the controller’s defenses are so stealth, it is almost impossible to see them as trauma-related. And one of those defenses comes in tantrum form.
What do I mean? The controller hates recovery. They hate it because there is no timeline. They hate it because it is unpredictable. And most of all, they hate it because they can’t control it. Recovery is not controllable. Honestly, you know you are doing it right when you feel like a sitting duck. You have no idea what is coming next. In recovery, the inner parts are in charge of what they share. Any organization to the process (which is surprisingly organized) is happening by the higher self. And the controller hates the higher self if they will admit they exist. They think it is another part who cannot be trusted, making promises to be broken. read more…
Anxiety has been my lifelong companion. While it has been debilitating at times, my recovery work has helped me so much. I don’t have the same responses to life that I did in my younger years. I don’t get paralyzed in the same way. I can breathe through oncoming panic attacks. I can write from the emotions under the surface. I have come to a place in my recovery where I can stop anxiety before it overtakes me. I am proud of that. I love how anxiety is not always in charge anymore. But I have to admit, the past two days, it has been in charge.
I am paralyzed. I have a mile-long “to-do” list and none of it is getting done. I just keep scrolling through my Facebook feed reading articles and watching news streams. But here’s the thing. I know with all my being this is the wrong thing to do. I know all the ways to break out of anxiety and this is not it. But I do it anyway. When I do break away from my computer, I feel like I am on the verge of grieving all the time. That makes sense. The anxiety is meant to keep the grief away. Grief is about the uncontrollable and my controller wants this to be controllable. My inner rebel feels trapped. My inner children feel scared. And my inner mean kid wants to punch someone. So I scroll. I look for answers to make everything okay. But it isn’t okay. It was never okay. This is the world I live in. My controller can’t pretend right now. And that is terrifying.
I live an hour from Charlottesville, Virginia. I live in a town called Richmond, Virginia which might become news for similar reasons in the future. But 23 years ago, I graduated from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. I lived there for four years. I loved Charlottesville. It is one of my favorite places. Maybe it is because of what it represented. It was my first taste of freedom. I had escaped my family. I was living on my own. But as you might imagine, all was not rainbows and unicorns. I was terribly dissociated and my trauma manifested a ton of messy situations and relationships. But in my mind, I was free of that family and I was never going back to that house (and I didn’t). Charlottesville and I have a special connection.
Needless to say, I was heartbroken by what I saw on Friday and Saturday. Watching those terrorists walk through my college town around my Rotunda and down my lawn was horrible. And I didn’t realize until just now what that represented. It represented my family coming to my safe place and messing it up. It felt like my safe home was invaded by my abusers. It felt like that other shoe dropping like I always knew it would. And now my system has hit the ceiling, and honestly, this might take a while to calm down.
You may be asking (or it might be obvious to you), why would I equate the terrorists with my family? read more…
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