A couple of years ago, Sonia Friedman, of “Sonia Live” (CNN) snapped her fingers as America watched a young woman with Multiple Personality Disorder (M.P.D.) now known as Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) change her demeanor to that of a child of nine right before their eyes. (Bells and whistles here, please) Sonia’s “Oh! Show Me!” TV attitude left the woman stunned, the audience confused. It left me horrified. The clients I have with D.I.D. are not show stoppers, they are creative, ingenious and spiritual.
D.I.D. is not a sickness. It is an acute response to extreme childhood trauma. In order to survive the pain and sensory overload of the trauma, the child’s psyche splits into any number of separate parts or personalities. The people I have work with who have D.I.D. have dealt with a level of pain, often repeatedly, that is worse than what most people could be expected to survive in a life time. The whole concept of D.I.D. is hard for one who has not experienced trauma to comprehend unless you can put yourself in a survivor’s mind and body.
Imagine yourself as a two-year old, no taller than your desk. You don’t have all the survival tools you now have as an adult. You are brand new at living in the world, wide eyed with wonder and open to everything. You don’t have the same cognitive ability, physical size, vocabulary or support system you have now. Your caretakers, it seems, stand ten times taller than you and, given that you came from some place wonderful, your natural assumption is you that can trust them and your new world. Then, one of them, without warning, grabs you and abuses you in an unimaginable and painful way.
If your perpetrators are in a cult, they may first frighten you with unimaginable acts on animals or children that you are made to watch. Then they will threaten that the same will happen to you unless you do everything that they say.
Perhaps your perpetrator(s) was not in a cult but in your family or in your neighborhood. Your first sign of danger may come in the form of a sick feeling in your stomach each time you are near this person who is acting different. They touch you in private places and in ways that are painful. You become confused by their mixed messages. This person said I love you, yet he hurts me physically, mentally and spiritually. Despicable acts that you could never have imagined, torture your body, humiliate and horrify you. Then in one terrifying moment all your senses become overloaded, your body and mind are flooded with electrifying pain. You experience what no child should ever have to experience — the farthest extremes of pain, rage, hatred, powerlessness, and terror. The person/parent you once trusted has become a monster who, in a frenzy of unthinkable acts, and while dissociated himself, has lost any awareness of anything other than his own twisted need for power.
Your world starts closing in. You have no way to get away. In that split second time stops and your child’s psyche and spirit review the choices and make a decision about how you are going to survive. Your choices? Your consciousness could leave your body and you could stop feeling. Or, you could die. You could decide the world is a murderous place and you choose to become the most murderous in it in order to survive. You could give up, become a vegetable. Or, in an instant of spiritual enlightenment, you could split into different inner personalities, giving each personality a portion of the terror, rage and trauma that your core self cannot tolerate alone.
With lightning speed you start to create personalities inside that can each make sure that you will live through this ordeal. Each inner personality has a job. No single one has to do it all. One part holds the rage, another becomes the most murderous (a part of you must at least match the badness of your perpetrator in order to survive). One personality holds the pain, another makes pain. After all, if you can make pain, you can tell whether or not you still feel and — you can always stop the perpetrator’s pain by making your own. This is one way of taking control back. Another personality holds the hope that this is not all there is. Yet another remembers the words the monster said, and still another remembers what you saw. Someone inside is the look out whose job it is to warn the others because the monster comes back again and again. One inner person builds a wall which they can hide behind or a wall that will hide this terrible secret in case anyone, including your little core self, ever asks about what happened. And there’s the personality who becomes a Tinker Bell from some movie you saw long ago when you were still innocent…that lets you just fly away – so as not to feel anything…ever again…ever at all. Some personalities know about each other, some who hold the most pain may have to stay way back, pushed very far down inside n order to protect you from the pain.
You might not remember what happened to you, but you’d survive and that’s the most important thing you could have done. As you grow older, if or when, the horror repeats itself, you split again. You became very good at creating new personalities inside to handle the pain. However, the more time that passes, the less good you become at holding the personalities of your fragmented self together. One day, as an adult, you can no longer deny that you are loosing belongings, time, jobs, and friends. You always feel frightened and hesitant to trust. Reluctantly, you admit you can’t keep a continuous flow or understanding of your life from day to day. You seek help.
Today we are discovering more folks than we had ever imagined who have had to choose this exceptionally brilliant and spiritual way of surviving childhood sexual/physical or emotional abuse and violence. The choice to dissociate is indeed a spiritual one because it prevents an abused child from going mad, becoming totally consumed with hatred or dying. A child’s psyche is ingenious in the face of overwhelming odds. This choice to dissociate throughout life can be changed, and the percentage of folks who heal their core selves and regain control on their lives is very high. Healing this inventive re-ordering means going back to honor the pain you could not afford to feel as a child, but this time it is easier because you are healing. It also means finally feeling some of the same joy and love that was stolen from you. It might mean feeling anything for the first time since “the bad things happened”.
As I watch the courageous people with D.I.D. pull the dissociated parts of themselves back together I can’t help but wonder if they aren’t teaching us something about our own courage. All of us must now look at our own hidden, shadow parts, even those we have judgements about, and those we fear. We must be willing to invite our own parts with all their individual talents, qualities and uniqueness back into wholeness. To do this you need to work with a good therapist, specifically trained in this disorder. Don’t waste time with anyone who is not. This is not a hypnotherapy or energy work issue. We too, must be willing to remember it’s all me, every part of me is there for a reason and it’s all good.
© Dr. Dina Bachelor Evan 2008