This is a lovely 14 minute clip of Eleanor Longden describing her journey from a perceived madness to recovery. Besides any doubts we may have of her diagnosis of schizophrenia, her process of recovery sounds very much like recovery from DID. Take care, take faith, and take hope.
Have I created my dissociative disorder? This really interesting question has been posted in the comments section and I thought it deserves a more in-depth response because I have heard this question asked many times over the years.
The question whether people (either clients or therapists) can create a dissociative disorder has kept the therapeutic community divided for many years now. The good news is that nobody really knows. Whatever people believe is just that: THEIR BELIEF. We don’t know enough about how our marvelous mind works to be able to give a definitive answer.
It might be wise to be cautious and not believe everything therapists (and other people) tell you – including myself here – because we all make up our own reality as we speak or think for that matter. Our perception is so fickle, it’s more about ourselves and our own history and experiences than what we perceive is going on in the world. When you find that you are able to quieten your mind and use the stillness to listen inside to your own wisdom, you will find your truth. That’s the only one that you can live by! Not my one and no-one else’s.
But I am diverting – back to the question: In my personal view it is naive to think someone only has to read a book and then can talk themselves into having a disorder so severe that it causes mental and emotional distress. “Inventing it yourself” implies a purposeful act – like creating a make-belief story that then is lived out. If we watch a movie we might be affected by it, but we still know it’s a movie, a made-up story, it’s not real. That step doesn’t seem possible for people diagnosed with a dissociative disorder (or any other disorder for that matter).
‘Inventing unknowingly’ is a contradiction in itself – it doesn’t make sense and isn’t really a thought-through statement.
I have always perceived dissociative disorders on a continuum of awareness. To use a stereotypical example: the academic in their ivory tower who is not aware of his/her other needs and feelings, and is complete ignorant about leisure, health, family, etc. This kind of ‘life’ is – even though socially acceptable and at times even admired – in my view very dissociative. It is just not recognised as a pathology because the person is not signalling that s/he is suffering.
The person that ended up with a diagnosed dissociative condition seems to me to be a bit further on the way to ‘mental health and inner peace’ because their awareness is awakened to the aspects of their lives that don’t work for them. One way of going through the mental disorders of the DSM is to view all (or most) of the listed disorders as people’s individual way of coping with the problems life is presenting them with. Does the depressed person chose to be depressed? NO. Does the anxious person chose to wake up anxious every day? NO. Neither does the dissociative person chose to see him/herself as fragmented and disconnected. Due to complex circumstances (age, resilience, support, ability to conceptualise, etc.) these people have learnt to respond to life through these specific ways. There is not really a choice as in “I am consciously choosing x”.
If we look at mental disorders from a medical/pharmaceutical perspective, the answer is usually: it’s some form of mental brain malfunction for which – thanks to pharma – we have a pill that can be prescribed and things may or may not improve. Because dissociative disorders itself don’t respond to pharmaceutical interventions, many people lean to thinking they can’t be real and therefore must be a creation of the patient or the therapist! There you have it!
If we look at mental disorders from the perspective of how human experience is created, than all our experiences are due to each individuals way of making sense of life and ability to respond to life. In that sense we do create all our experience – but is it inventing? Certainly not, it is just what every human being is doing, it’s how nature has designed us to exist.
If someone tells you that you are creating your e.g. dissociative disorder, depression, or anxiety there is the implication that you’ve been naughty, it’s not real, you shouldn’t have done it, please un-do it quickly. They don’t understand it’s your personal response to life’s circumstances, it’s the best way you could cope with life given your resources, awareness, and thinking at the time. Once your awareness increases you will improve the quality of your responses to life.
Upon the Sharon Armstrong post from a wee while ago where I talked about NLP and eye accessing cues that can indicate whether a person is remembering or is constructing a memory, I received an email from a reader asking whether there would be a way for her to know whether she is making up what she has been telling her therapist. I have heard over the years from so many survivors that they find it hard to believe that they have been abused.
Firstly, there is a difference whether you make statements to justify or explain the fact that you were recently caught with Cocaine or whether you talk about something that happened many decades ago in your childhood. Memories are not set in concrete like the content of a printer’s typeset drawer. They are subject to change over the years, some parts get ‘trimmed off’ and other parts get ‘added’ depending on what you do when you re-visit a memory.
Secondly, if you don’t believe that you have been abused, if you doubt your thoughts, wouldn’t it be a good idea to examine why it is important for you to know whether you have or have not been abused and to what extend? And thirdly, whatever the past trauma was, isn’t it important today to deal with the legacies of the trauma (depression, anxiety, stress, low self-confidence, poor social skills, dissociation, and overall poor self-relations) and re-build a healthy, happy, and balanced sense of self?
I think these are great questions to ask and work through with your therapist when you are not quite sure what it is that you are doing. Your therapist can give you an outside perspective that, together with your inside wonderings will hopefully form a picture that gives you peace of mind.
You might have noticed that I started telling the story of Anna, a person with multiple parts to her personality. If you want to know how Anna’s parts came to exist, and why, you will find many books, websites, and articles that talk about DID and alternate parts. I am getting a bit tired of all these clever explanations like the one in Wikipedia: “a single person displays multiple distinct identities or personalities (known as alter egos or alters), each with its own pattern of perceiving and interacting with the environment. The diagnosis requires that at least two personalities routinely take control of the individual’s behaviour with an associated memory loss that goes beyond normal forgetfulness”.
I found this quote today:
It’s a difficult thing to be out about. Homosexuality is okay. Depression and ADHD are fairly well mainstream. Multiple is a big stigma. Especially, when, like me, one has not been “diagnosed” by a “medical professional”. I feel like I’m … less than real.Learning to Say Yes, Feb 2009
It reminded me of the level of stigma and prejudices Multiples have to deal with every day. Although Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and having Multiple Personalities has become mainstream entertainment recently in the US through the new TV series "The United States of Tara", I wonder whether the show's over-the-top representation of the life of a Multiple is rather hindering people to let their friends and colleagues know "I am a Multiple". Of course, I understand that the producers of the show had to demonstrate the switching into different parts in an over the top way – the average viewer would not pick up the subtle cues and the different emotional energy that normally signals a switch has taken place.
A big obstacle to recovery is that often survivors of
sexual abuse do not know that the problems they have are related to
past experiences of sexual abuse. In fact, in my research 60% of the
participants did not link their mental health problems to their history
of sexual abuse. They were completely unaware of the significant impact
sexual abuse had in their emotional, physical, and mental life.
Making a connection with the therapist and equally so being diagnosed with DID have a huge impact on peoples understanding of who they are. Identity is the label of a group or social category that a person gives herself (Charon, 1998), for example ‘I am a woman’ or even ‘I am a multiple’. As such identity is an important part of one’s self-concept that constantly undergoes changes and is affirmed during one's lifetime in interactions with other persons.
DID clients were under the impression, that once the diagnosis was made, their therapist would know how to help them more effectively. It provided them with a sense of possible progress and instilled hope.
"The diagnosis is important… But I think, if you actually know what you've got, what you are dealing with, you know where to go with it. Or your therapist knows where she is going.” (Carol 1/27).
Receiving a diagnosis of having a dissociative identity disorder (DID) is not always a relief for clients. One woman in my research felt that once she was diagnosed with DID that therapists' focus was predominantly on the DID symptoms than on her as a person.
It was his ability to connect with me on some really deep unconscious level… I believe my therapeutic journey began before I was diagnosed DID, and in fact the best work for me was done before that diagnosis confused everything with people looking at the DID, wanting to learn about the processes of DID, rather than engaging with ME (Mona 3/1).
Mona's report showed again, that it is important to look at the client as an individual that can not be put into a certain box. Not all sizes fit all. Important for therapy is in every case to come to an understanding of treatment necessities together with the client.
Making a connection with a therapist had to be followed by making a connection through being diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID). It signaled for the DID clients I interviewed a break through in this first stage of their therapy that I have called 'Connecting'.
We finally seem to have got something so that I can say, we have got something to work with (Sharon, 1/6).