Trigger Warning: Mentions of Abuse/Self harm.
For many individual’s with DID or OSDD (Other Specified Dissociative Disorder) there are often some alters in their system that may feel quite scary to the host or their fellow head mates. Alters tend to develop their own ways of coping or reacting to the trauma that has happened in the past, whether it be by being filled with white hot rage or crippling sadness. Some may experience intense fear that causes them to act out in ways that are impulsive or self-damaging. There are even instances where abusers can manipulate a child’s natural ability to dissociate to brain wash them which can result in parts that are very confused because of the messages that have been instilled in them.
The important message to take away from this is, no matter how scared, angry or confused a part may be, there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ alter. All these responses are a result of trauma. The parts that are the hardest to accept and love are often the ones that hold the most hurt. It is their role to hold the pain that the host isn’t ready to feel yet and they are vital to the survival of the system as a whole.
It can seem contradictory that alters that are harming the body or putting the body in dangerous situations (these are referred to as ‘Persecutory alters’ or ‘Persecutors’) are crucial to the survival of the system. Believe it or not, these alters truly believe that they are protecting themselves and the other parts by carrying out these behaviours. It may be they believe that if they harm the body or repeat the actions of the abuser then abuser won’t need to do it or that will keep them safe from future abuse.
We have an alter in our system called Theadora who would fall into the ‘Persecutor’ category although we don’t like to refer to her as this because it seems like just another negative label that she doesn’t need. Theadora holds a lot of trauma memories and is an insurmountable of emotional pain because of this. She’s raging, terrified and is ultimately stuck in a period of our lives that was extremely unsafe. As a child, our abuser told us a lot of untrue things would happen, which included threats to us and our loved ones, if we didn’t behave the way he wanted us to or if we didn’t follow his rules. Theadora believes everything our abuser told us as a child, despite a rational adult seeing that a lot of what he had threatened isn’t physically possible and we are now safe from him. She spends every single moment of her existence tormented by demons that he put in our minds. She doesn’t want to live anymore and she’s in permanent fear that if she doesn’t follow his rules then our abuser will return and put everyone we love in danger. Theadora is hopeless and resentful because all she has ever experienced is abuse and fear. To an outsider, she might appear to be ‘bad’ or a bully; harmful to me and other vulnerable members of the system but when you understand her experience in its entirety, is it any wonder she acts the way she does?
So, what sort of things can you do to help these parts move forward?
Show them love
Try and show these parts compassion and love. Like Theadora, most of these parts will never have known love or kindness and at first, they are likely to be suspicious of it and resist it. Perhaps, it feels unsafe for them to accept it? Try to reassure them that it is safe to feel love and even for them to love in return. Tell them you are grateful for what they have done for the system and try to empathise with how they are feeling.
Build up communication with the rest of the system
A lot of these types of alters will tend to isolate themselves from the rest of the system or may be put in isolation because they are difficult to manage. Try and encourage them to use their fellow headmates as a support network. Enlist other parts to help and see if they can build up positive relationships in the headspace. It is often beneficial to find a therapist to help facilitate this. We found it helpful to create a safe space for Theadora to go to or be encouraged to go to if things began to feel uncontrollable, make sure it is somewhere calm and pleasant so that it is different to locking them away or punishing them.
Orientate them to the here and now
Alters can become stuck in periods of time where stress and abuse happened. They may not realise that time has moved on or they may be unable to identify with life how it is now. It can be helpful to show them how things have changed. Show them positive and safe things about the present and let them take time to become acquainted with the here and now.
Don’t rush them before they are ready
All these things will take time and should be approached with caution and respect. Try not to rush other alters or yourself, change is possible, but it won’t happen overnight. It can be damaging to push someone into facing things before they ready, take lead from lead and try to communicate openly with each other.